Friday, January 9, 2015

Equipment Review: OR Trailbreaker Ski Pants

This winter, I finally got lucky.  I owe it to impeccable timing and an unwavering commitment-even after two years of striking out- to owning the best ski pants ever made.

For the last two years, the Trailbreaker Pants have been on my radar.  Being the most generic size for male mountain travelers, I haven't been able to secure a pair of these legendary pants until now because the Men's mediums simply leap off the shelves.  Last year the winter line of apparel at Outdoor Research hadn't even been available for a month, but medium Trailbreakers were already sold out.  But this year I made my pilgrimage to the Outdoor Research Retail Store in South Seattle, and there they were!

The Trailbreaker Pants are a perfect blend of breathability, durability, and protection from the elements.  They are constructed of a lightweight softshell material above the knees, and a waterproof fabric below.  The pants feature thigh-long zippered vents to dump heat quickly.  On each side, there are two generously-sized zippered pockets, one in the front of the thigh, and one behind.  The pant leg features an elasticized and removable mesh gaiter underneath the reinforced waterproof material, and an inner scuff guard.  In case you are a snowboarder, or plan to wear these pants with mountaineering boots, there is a standard gaiter clip in the front of the cuff to attach to laces, as well as eyelets to attach paracord to for a more complete gaiter set-up.  The waist is adjustable via two velcro pulls at the hips, and there are belt loops as well as attachments for O.R.'s universal suspenders (sold separately).

With the slow start to the season this year, I haven't had a chance to put the pants to the rigorous task of multi-day ski tours.  That said, I have logged around 15 touring days in them so far and have made an effort to test out the features and the durability.  The thigh zippers are easily the most impressive feature of the Trailbreakers.  They are easy to zip and un-zip quickly, and are a game-changer for me on the skin up- I haven't found myself overheating at all, which is usually a constant issue on the ascent.  You have to be extra careful not to fall over with the zippers open however, as there is nothing stopping the snow from entering the vents.  I consider this a small price to pay for such an amazing feature, and added incentive to stay on my feet.

The other feature that really sets the Trailbreakers apart are the well-thought and equally well-designed combination of waterproof and softshell fabrics.  Whether fiddling with bindings, digging pits, or simply taking a quick break on a steep slope, dropping to ones knees in the snow is a pretty common position in the backcountry.  The waterproof material allows you ample protection for this, rising just above the knee to make sure you aren't going to soak through.  I also like that they leave the butt of the pants as softshell material rather than waterproof, signifying the commitment to maximum breathability. Whether waterproof or not, you should never be sitting directly on the snow anyway!

The Trailbreaker Pants by Outdoor Research have fully lived up to my ideals as the best backcountry ski pants I have owned yet.  It is worth noting that the Trailbreakers are a very specialized pant, and would not be very comfortable for riding chairlifts as the softshell material will likely soak through pretty quickly, or for skiing in very cold climates.  But for ski tours in deep snow where breathability is equally as important as water protection, the Trailbreakers are king.

Pick up your own pair here!

--Andy Stephen, AAI Instructor and Guide

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