In the world of backcountry touring, gear is everything. Unfortunately, finding the right gear for the right occasion is really, really hard. Unbiased, detailed gear reviews can help you narrow down the choices, and here at SnowBrains, that’s what we’re all about!
I was sent the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II pants to review this past winter and spring. I’ve broken the review up into five sections: fit, uphill performance, protection from the elements, miscellaneous pros/cons, and “the bottom line.” This is my unbiased review of the shell; I was under absolutely no obligation to provide a positive review.
- Name: Clay Malott
- Days toured with the Trailbreaker Pants: 55
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 160lbs
- Testing location: Aspen, Colorado
As a person with long, skinny legs and a thin waist, it’s always been difficult to find ski pants that fit. Unfortunately, the Trailbreaker pants are no exception. The leg length is absolutely perfect; they are long enough to reach down and around my ski boot to prevent snow from building up, but they aren’t too long to the point where they feel baggy at all. Unfortunately, just like every other pair of ski pants that I’ve ever owned, the waist is too big, even with the adjustable velcro along the hip (which does help, just not enough). However, I found a good solution in a flexible belt that I thread through the loops along the waist, making the pants fit perfectly. For anyone who is not particularly slender like me, I think these pants would fit just fine, especially because the velcro makes the waist circumference of the pants very adjustable.
One thing that I really like about the Trailbreaker pants is the space within the pant. Unlike some other touring shells that I’ve owned in the past, the Trailbreakers aren’t too tight around my legs, so it doesn’t restrict my movement at all, which is something I really value while touring. Other than the waist (which I was able to solve pretty easily, I was pleased with everything else about the fit.
Of all the touring shell pants that I’ve owned, the Trailbreaker is probably my favorite in terms of uphill performance. Most importantly, the breathability of these pants is ridiculous. The pants come with zip vents that run along the outside of the legs, but even touring in 50F weather with bright sun, I didn’t need to use them once. For anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to try multiple different touring pants, this is extremely impressive. Sweat is never a good thing when touring because it’s hot and uncomfortable on the uphill, and at the top, it can freeze and chill you to the core. The Trailbreaker pants really allow me to avoid sweating, which makes backcountry skiing a lot more enjoyable. In the late spring, I did find that temperatures in the 60s and 70s at the bottom forced me to zip the vents to prevent sweating and overheating, which provided a ton of relief! I was extremely grateful for the extensive zip system along the sides of the pant.
Like I mentioned before, these pants have great mobility. This makes strides a lot easier and decreases overall effort while touring. The pants themselves aren’t stretchy, but enough space in the pant allows for easy movement.
These were really nice to tour in and extremely comfortable as well. I give the OR Trailbreaker pants a 10/10 on uphill performance.
This section focuses on protection from the elements, which essentially can’t be avoided in the backcountry, so it’s a fairly significant part of the review. Like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi jacket (you can read the SnowBrains review here), the Trailbreaker pants definitely sacrifice protection from the elements to achieve its insane level of uphill performance.
On ridgetops and during strong winds, I can definitely feel a chill through the pants. But considering its breathability, I’m actually fairly impressed with how much wind protection it provides. Most of your overall warmth comes from the core, so the fact that strong winds give me a bit of a chill isn’t a huge deal, as long as I wear enough layers on the upper half of my body.
The Trailbreaker pants are marketed as water-resistant rather than water-proof, as most softshell pants are. But through my own tests, I found that the Trailbreaker pants were extremely water-resistant. I ran the pants underwater in a sink and found that it took over several seconds for my hand to get wet on the other side, which is more than most softshell materials. I did wear the Trailbreakers on some very stormy days and did not find any moisture inside the pants at the end of the day. I probably wouldn’t wear the Trailbreaker pants out in torrential rain on its own, but even in the heaviest, wettest snow, I don’t think my legs would get wet at all.
In terms of protection, I also had to consider the protection from other elements, like trees and rocks. In the backcountry, tree skiing can get pretty tight; I’ve destroyed plenty of jackets and pants skiing through said tight trees before. However, even after weeks of skiing through shrubby, tight trees with plenty of potential to destroy clothing, the Trailbreaker pants held up great. They escaped completely unscathed, without even a scratch! So far, I’m really impressed with the durability. The durability has been very impressive so far.
Aside from the three major categories, there are a couple of miscellaneous pros and cons about these touring pants that really stand out.
One thing that I dislike about these pants is the snow cuff that goes around your ski boot. The circumference of it is great, and it reaches around the cuff of your ski boot really well. However, past the stretchy part, the cuff is made out of mesh that I found occasionally let in snow. The mesh is there to add breathability, which is certainly welcome and actually increases temperature comfort on the uphill a lot. It took some fiddling to figure out, but the outer part of the pant can be zipped down very tightly over the ski boot as well, which I found prevented any snow from getting in my boots at all. This is pretty minor since it was easy to fix, but it would be nice to have a completely hassle-free cuff.
One of the things I actually like most about the Trailbreaker pants was the pockets. This may seem minor, but I don’t want to be tasked with fiddling around with zippers to open the pockets when dealing with cold fingers and such in the backcountry. The pocket placement is perfect, with two on each side, and they are really easy to zip down and stow things in. When stuffed absolutely full, they don’t feel uncomfortable, as pockets have on other touring pants that I’ve worn in the past.
The bottom line
Overall, I was really impressed with the Trailbreaker touring pants. They’re light, breathable, and hold up in inclement weather far better than I expected. There are a few things that I would love to see Outdoor Research improve upon in the future, but overall I’m incredibly stoked to have the Trailbreakers in my backcountry arsenal. I give the Trailbreaker pants a 9/10 overall, all things considered. You can shop the Trailbreaker II pants from Outdoor Research here.