stretch pants for winter - what would you buy?

7:09 p.m. on December 17, 2012 (EST)
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my current layering system on the bottom: base layer, loose synthetic layer over that, alternatively a heavier synthetic layer, shell pants on top of some combination of those.  i have two pair of shell pants; one is straight nylon, very breathable, reasonably windproof; the other is eVent, heavier-gauge fabric, suspender loops, reinforced inside cuffs.  usually use the eVent shells for winter, might take the others for windy/cold but hardworking hikes up to a tent site or shelter.

 i have a pair of insulated pants, can't recall using them for anything except standing/sitting around.

i understand the advantages of soft shell pants - good range of movement, good breathability, enough wind/snow resistance for many purposes.  in your view, why choose them over a hard shell? if you were going to get a pair of soft shell pants today, what would you get?

i don't own a pair of soft shell pants.  i'm not sure i need them.  on one trip a few years back, a friend had to limit his time on the mountain because high winds were getting through his soft shell pants and basically freezing his quads and lowering his core temperature. 

thanks for your points of view.....

7:35 p.m. on December 17, 2012 (EST)
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http://www.mec.ca/AST/ShopMEC/MensClothing/PantsTights/PRD~5020-627/mec-zero-r-pants-mens.jsp

I would buy these all over again! Turning out to be one of my favorite purchases. You kinda answered your own question with the positives of a soft shell pant but I would add that I also use these as an extremely warm mid layer and have shell pants (event) to put over them in very cold situations, extended trips.

Also to comment on your friends problem, like soft shell jackets they can vary greatly in breathablity, wind resistance, water resistance, etc. Sounds like he made a poor equipment choice with no back up plan? Would that be fair to say?

9:28 p.m. on December 17, 2012 (EST)
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he has a pair of arcteryx soft shell pants that looked pretty robust.  on a normal or even medium-bad day, probably no problem.  at -25 and 80+ mph winds, not enough, particularly for the wind.  he would have benefited from having a pair of wind pants with size zips.  

9:41 p.m. on December 17, 2012 (EST)
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I have Marmot Scree pants which feel nice and they move with the person well. But, they breath well also which could be bad in cold, windy conditions.

9:48 p.m. on December 17, 2012 (EST)
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Hahaha I didn't know we were talking -25 and 80 mph winds! Plain and simple then, that is just a poor decision by your friend. No back up to go over the pants?

4:32 a.m. on December 18, 2012 (EST)
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"Softshell" is the most underdetermined category of clothing, outdoor-wise. It could mean woven layers or glued layers, laminated membrane layers, or single layer...

Try them on and if they are not too restrictive, they will do you for any outdoor activity in the colder seasons, providing they are not the 'heaviest' type.

Marmot Scree pants are good value but I would put them at average for durability. There are some very durable fabrics, some even branded from the mill so you can recognise them, but I haven't yet got my head around what is what. IMO, the more elastic they put in the fabric, the less durable it seems to be. For instance, Patagonia use something that doesn't stretch very well and that has very little 'fluff' on the reverse, but which seems to last a long time. On the other hand, Marmot use something very stretchy in their jackets, with fluffy inner face, that starts to 'pill' within days! There is a thicker fabric by Schoeller (?) that seems durable but my version has a lot of fluff on the reverse and therefore I get too warm in anything above freezing, so hardly worn in the winters here (England). Mammut are popular in the UK and I have seen them in the shops and they look well-made.

[Edit: sorry, the amount of elastic in the weave probably has no bearing: I have an old Patagonia jkt that is very stretchy, with no brushed inner, and it has been quite durable - apart from the 'eco-glue', which doesn't seem to bond for long. Durability might be evident in how soft and light the fabric feels, i.e., the stiffer and tighter-woven fabrics are probably going to last longer.]

I find softshell trousers with light or heavy hardshell in the cold/rain/wind a better combination than thin baselayer with nylon trousers plus hardshell, in all but the coldest weather. I have worn a baselayer under softshell trousers a few times but it was mostly standing around (photography) and I imagine they would be slightly restrictive depending on the inner face of the fabric. The best solution would therefore be two weights for the winter.

As with all trousers, where I use my legs to support my top half when climbing a hill (no poles or single pole), the DWR soon rubs off at the thighs and I don't bother to replenish it that often. Even still, they hold off 'wetting out' for quite a while, considering how little I replenish the Nikwax. Saying that, when the snow is wet or it starts to rain on a cold summit and I cannot be arsed putting on hardshell trousers until the descent, I have sincerely regretted it, as a pair of softshell trousers that are soaked in the cold wind will quickly chill you and take much longer to dry out than a synthetic baselayer/nylon combination, once you don the rain pants. But that is a practical error.

In short: lightweight softshell for warmer weather or backpacking, mid-weight for above freezing, heaviest (with vents and crampon patch) only for very cold. No membrane unless it is very breathable. Hardshell trousers for warmth and protection.

Good luck.

NB, if you have softshell that is two glued layers, as with some MHW and Arc jackets, do not dry them on a hot radiator as the glue will permanently form creases in the fabric.

9:12 a.m. on December 18, 2012 (EST)
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I have never really been a fan of softshell clothing of any sort. It just feels too restricting to me, I prefer looser fitting items. On my legs in winter I just wear capaliene 2 long johns, winter weight bdu pants, and ecwcs goretex pants when needed. In camp I will wear cabelas down pants/ long johns under the bdu pants. They are by far one of my favorite items I have purchased.

5:05 p.m. on December 18, 2012 (EST)
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I have worn a combination of exped wt polypropalene long undies with a nylon shell pant. good enough for the winters here in california. never had to deal with 80 mph winds, never will. my snowcamping days are over!

11:14 a.m. on December 19, 2012 (EST)
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I will wear stretch pants the day I start to sit down to pee.

3:57 p.m. on December 20, 2012 (EST)
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Clearly, wantonly petitioning for my point of view...Ok then, here we go...

Yes. To softshell pants, that is.
 

I think of softshell (and it is really quite a nebulous word, no?) pants as baselayer pants that have had one side calendered, if only because that's what most of them are. No surprise then regarding the variability, as there are dozens of baselayer fabrics as well. 


The thing is, they work really well. All the benefits of a light baselayer with a little wind/water protection. I wear a pair of Patagonia Simple Guides for almost anything which requires pants, and add a pair of First Ascent Igniter Pants over the top when it gets really brutal. I've always hated that, when wearing a traditional baselayer/shell pant combination on day with big temp changes, I'd either have to be cold in the morning, warm in the afternoon, or stop to take off my shoes and pants; with the Simple Guides it's one pair of pants: they wick, they stretch, they insulate, they repel water and wind, they are durable, and they are comfortable.

6:06 p.m. on December 20, 2012 (EST)
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There seems to be different opinions what “soft shell” means.  To me soft shell is a wind proof - but not water proof – shell garment.  As such it is most suited to sub freezing temps, permitting perspiration to better escape the layers of clothing.  Dispelling the notion soft shell are less effective as wind shells is the fact artic style down parkas often have an external soft shell.  You may also use a soft shell above freezing, but not a wise idea to relie on it as the outer shell if rain is a possibility.

Ed

4:57 a.m. on December 21, 2012 (EST)
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I will wear stretch pants the day I start to sit down to pee.

You most likely already do, as "going for a poo" is a synecdoche.

Taiwan minister says men should sit down to urinate

7:55 a.m. on December 21, 2012 (EST)
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John,

 

This was my first encounter with the word "synecdoche" and given the context I will most likely remember it.  :)

I bet you don't get to use that one often in casual conversation.

10:01 a.m. on December 21, 2012 (EST)
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As I sit reading this on the throne, I just realized almost everything stated can be perceived as a synecdoche.  But in the immediate instance is "going" a synecdoche, or must the subject always be a related noun, and a hierarchical one at that?  Anyway, that is far more than a three dollar word: the vowels alone are worth half of one's winnings on Wheel of Fortune.

Ed

10:38 a.m. on December 21, 2012 (EST)
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Or is the term 'soft shell' a metonym?  :)

thank you for all the comments, it is really helpful.

my question was definitely about freezing/subfreezing use.  above freezing, i'm fine with shorts and a pair of wind pants or rain pants if it starts to blow or rain.  if it's hovering near freezing, a baselayer (mid-weight merino tights, Nike Pro winter tights, or Patagonia synthetic baselayers are all great) alone or with wind pants/rain pants works perfectly fine for me.   

what I distill from this is that i could get good moisture transfer, freedom of movement, and decent wind protection in cold weather from one of the heavier soft shell options, with or without a baselayer underneath depending on how cold it is.   at the same time, i know from experience that 50 mph or more winds and cold weather render soft shells alone inadequate. 

a related question - i'm looking forward to  using my marmot soft shell this winter when i hike/climb, polartec neoshell that is a soft shell fabric but is waterproof and virtually windproof.  haven't seen any pants made from the material, though.  does anyone make true soft shell/neoshell pants, and might that be a worthwhile option? i could see neoshell pants all but eliminating the need for hard shells, short of hurricane-force winds where you don't really belong above treeline anyway.  but, neoshell softshells aren't very stretchy, which might make them less than ideal for pants (the only neoshell pants i have been able to find are really hard shells, which i don't want or need). 

 

1:42 p.m. on December 21, 2012 (EST)
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Ed, I think you're right. Metaphors we live by, eh?

leadbelly, I had the same idea but was thinking only for urban cycling as wpb would be really hot after exertion? MHW used to have some wpb membrane trousers but I haven't seen those for a while.

I reckon a good way to ask these questions might be "has anyone ever gone back to using baselayer/trekking pants/hardshell combo after going to softshell/hardshell..." Irreversibility in consumerism tells us loads if fashion can be excluded, IMO.

Oh, and backpacking would be an exception for me, as having the baselayer to wear at night as well is more versatile than just having a pair of trousers like softshells, should it get unexpectedly cold.

5:11 p.m. on December 23, 2012 (EST)
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what is the difference between trekking pants and soft shell pants?

i'm not thinking a soft shell would be a replacement for a baselayer.  i'm going to carry both in any event....if i'm persuaded that a softshell pant is really worthwhile.  still on the fence. 

4:13 a.m. on December 24, 2012 (EST)
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what is the difference between trekking pants and soft shell pants?

'Trekking pants', as in those TNF pack pants and MHW mesa pants...what is the correct term for that type? The cargo pocket things.

Some shops are calling thin windproof hoodies "softshell" these days, so matching cargo pants would be a softshell suit (on the seashore). If a wind-cheater, a glued-together wicking liner and nylon face fabric, a glued/hanging fibre pile and nylon face fabric, and a wicking/wind/waterproof/membrane sandwich can all be softshell, then I don't know what the word means and I doubt the industry does. The term is almost meaningless when applied to jackets, less so for trousers, but such is marketing. "We invent reality", someone once said...

If wearing a baselayer, it is worth finding out how much friction the inner side will cause, as some are much smoother than others. Using them for urban biking, the seat area is worn away within weeks on the wicking inside but the outerside lasts a lot longer.

A good summer-weight brand of trousers (UK) is Trangoworld, from Spain.

Perhaps Cloudveil are to blame for all this? :-)

Edit: What would Santa wear?

2:04 p.m. on December 24, 2012 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

..50 mph or more winds and cold weather render soft shells alone inadequate...

 

As mentioned earlier, the term soft shell connotes a garment that is windproof but not a good option against rain.  A soft shell may or may not possess insulating properties; a wind shirt doesn’t while an artic down parka does – both are soft shells so long as they are not water proof.  Folks may assign other definitions to the term soft shell, but those definitions are vague to the point of making the term useless outside a sales brochure.

Ed

2:49 p.m. on December 24, 2012 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

leadbelly2550 said:

..50 mph or more winds and cold weather render soft shells alone inadequate...

 

As mentioned earlier, the term soft shell connotes a garment that is windproof but not a good option against rain.  A soft shell may or may not possess insulating properties; a wind shirt doesn’t while an artic down parka does – both are soft shells so long as they are not water proof.  Folks may assign other definitions to the term soft shell, but those definitions are vague to the point of making the term useless outside a sales brochure.

Ed

Mountain Hardwear had the Windstopper Tech pants(which was classified as a softshell.) They have been replaced with the Mountain Tech line. 

I have the Windstopper Tech jacket on in my avatar. I have been on the lookout for some new old stock Windstopper Tech Pants. 

10:12 p.m. on December 24, 2012 (EST)
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valid points.  i'm finding that short of trying things on and having them in hand, very difficult to distinguish.  the discussion is helping define my thinking, for what it's worth.  

i guess the way i'm defining this, what i'm thinking about in terms of function, is somewhere in the middle of a spectrum roughly defined as follows:

-on one end of the spectrum, a pair of fleece pants (polartec's original fleece, basically), which offer little in the way of wind resistance or water repellant capabilities.

-on the other end of the spectrum, a waterproof/breathable 'hard shell' (a nylon shell with a membrane like gtx or eVent, or an equivalent like like polartec's 'wind pro' fleece or a pair of polartec neoshell pants, if such an animal exists.)  i have a pair of shell pants, don't need a softer-stretchier replacement for those - a neoshell soft shell pant would probably be overkill, i would overheat in them unless it were truly awful out.  if i found something with very good wind resistance and very good ability to bead up moisture on the outside, that's also somewhat stretchy, imparts a little warmth, and resists abrasion pretty well, it might be useful.

 

2:43 a.m. on December 25, 2012 (EST)
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leadbelly2550 said:

...if i found something with very good wind resistance and very good ability to bead up moisture on the outside, that's also somewhat stretchy, imparts a little warmth, and resists abrasion pretty well, it might be useful.

 

 ...and that's ~90%of all softshell garments out there

Ed is, as usual, correct. Trying to define "softshell" is a moot exercise.

If, however, there is a "softshell" fabric which truly embodies the things you've listed, leadbelly, it is Schoeller Dryskin Extreme or Polartech Windpro...

3:08 p.m. on December 25, 2012 (EST)
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i should buy stock in polartec.

polartec power shield or wind pro, i'm guessing, is in the right general area.   

9:48 a.m. on January 9, 2013 (EST)
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I didn't read everything above but here is my $.02. 

This is in temps around 20 or so during the day, single digits and below at night.....

Walking with gear: Expedition or mid weight base with GT shell pants with no liner on bottom and expedition base layer and GT shell coat up top.

Standing around the site during the day: Expedition weight base, GT shell on bottom. Base layer, wool sweater,  and GT shell up top.

Standing around the site at night: I have a full vintage Eddie Bauer down suit, bib pants with suspenders and a parka. I can get both in to small or medium compression bags to save room. I can wear just these with the expedition weight base layer underneath and be too warm. Sometimes just the pants with a wool sweat is enough unless there is precip.

For feet it depends on what I am doing. Standing around I only use my old Sorel boots. I bought an extra liner for them this year since last year my feet sweat so much they got wet. Now I can switch them out while the others dry. I think it will be well worth the $50. Mid-weight wool sock with these otherwise my feet are swimming.

It all depends on activity level and temperature really. I used to wear too much, I have learned how to regulate so I don't burn through clothes getting them wet with sweat. Unless it is an outer layer I also try to only use moisture wicking material. I should say that under my base layer I typically put on a wicking t-shirt if I am going to be moving around a lot.

In the end everybody tolerates cold different. I tend to get cold easy but I can quickly get hot. It is a delicate balance to stay warm but not hot and cool but not cold. Each year I get better but forget what I did the year prior! This year I am literally going to take notes so I know what I did and what worked and what didn't!

Happy Trails!

July 26, 2014
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