Patagonia Inferno Pants
Fabric: 4.0 oz microfibre
Price Paid: $50 on sale
After considerable experimentation (see below), I think I've finally found the perfect pants for lift-served skiing. The Patagonia Inferno Pants are trim, light, warm, breathable, windproof and they do indeed keep you dry.
Based on a concept developed by Paramo/Nikwax in Britain, the goal of the combination pile inner/nylon shell outer is to force water out by body heat faster than it can come in from rain and snow. The key to this simple but effective design is to bond the wicking/insulating pile directly to the nylon shell so perspiration has the shortest possible path to the outside, and then use a breathable shell without seam taping, coating or a membrane to impede moisture transfer.
Maybe this sounds like some Wal-Mart warm-up pants without the suspenders, but the shell isn't just any nylon, it's a 4.0 oz. microfibre impregnated with silicone to make it highly water-resistant and quick to dry.
I've used the Infurnos now for half a winter of Montana skiing in wind, wet snow, and light rain, and they work just as advertised when worn over long johns. A wet seat on the chair lift or rain will wet out the exterior, but the pile closest to my skin always stayed dry, and the shell dries quickly--although not noticeably faster than Gore-Tex with a good DWR treatment.
And although these pants are black, they can be comfortably worn in warmer weather (50 degree sun reflecting off the snow) than Gore-Tex because they breathe much better. As with all full zip shell pants, you can put them on over skis, boots, and crampons, drop the seat when you have to go, and open them to the knees to vent the upper legs (while the suspenders keep them from falling off).
The pack cloth protection on the inner legs, size by waist (instead of only S,M,L), elasticized back waistband, and gusseted crotch are all the usual Patagonia pants features, but the Infurnos also have a zippered fly--very convenient and somewhat rare on shell pants. The fly zipper has pulls at both the top and bottom--convenient if your harness covers one of the zipper pulls. I can do without the attached internal gaiters, but they are so unobtrusive that I don’t even notice them.
After all this, it should be said that these pants are pretty specialized; they're for winter only. I haven't tried them for cross-country skiing, but I think they'd be too hot, ditto for glacier climbing. For vertical ice though, I think they'd be nearly perfect. Still, you're going to need regular non-insulating shell pants to keep the rain off your bare legs in the summer. Also, these pants don't have pockets. Most shell pants don't either, but because the Infernos are designed to be worn over either long johns or nothing, there's no place to put your hands, keys, money, etc. A zippered back pocket (like on other Patagonia pants) wouldn't hurt.
Before I tried the Infernos, I thought a combination of long johns, 200 weight fleece pants, and a waterproof/breathable shell was the best winter leg protection. However, except in really dry and cold conditions (below 20 degrees), I've always had sweat condense on the inside of my Patagonia Triolet pants, even when night skiing in 25 degree weather. The combination of separate fleece and shell pants is also noticeably heavier, bulkier (especially in the waist), and more restrictive than the Infurno. I've been comfortable wearing fleece pants under an Activent (Pneumatic) shell, but the seat and knees of Activent pants will soak through, and the light fabric is easily cut by ski edges.
Wearing fleece pants alone make you look like you're skiing in your pajamas, and they do nothing against wind and wetness. For cross-country skiing and just screwing around, I still use heavy wool pants surplus to the needs of various European armies--they are moderately warm, reasonably windproof, and sort of water repellent. They also are heavy, take forever to dry, require a belt, and are prone to having buttons and crotch seams blow out. Although I've never had a pair, I think the pants made from Schoeller fabric (Ibex, Cloudveil, Patagonia, Black Diamond, etc.) would be great for spring skiing: windproof, water resistant, supposedly indestructible, and extremely expensive.
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