The Backcountry Guide Pants are branded as Patagonia's top of the line soft shell trousers. For winter use I've always been in favour of thin hard shell trousers because my legs freeze if it gets windy on long belays: soft shell just didn't quite cut it in the past. However, at first glance the Backcountry Guides were thick set and looked like they should be able to repel a strong wind as good as any thin hard shell. I tried them out with an open mind in the French Alps last winter, and during spring in Alaska.
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"...They were used in anger from nail biting winds and wet snow storms to painfully hot sunny days and I wouldn't have asked for anything else..."
Fast forward to another continent and a completely different alpine terrain and climate. Here it is blisteringly hot in the sun but bitterly cold in the shade: more extreme in range than the European Alps without a doubt. After a few days of using my hard shells I ditched them and decided to try the Guide Pants. Needless to say that I didn't swap back again.
Patagonia Backcountry Guide Pants
While out in Alaska we got three weeks of really terrible weather where we just watched the snow fall around us day after day. During that time we spent a lot of time digging the tent out and just touring a lot to keep the fitness levels up. The trousers were incredibly comfortable for touring, as you would expect from soft shell, and waterproof enough so that I didn't feel wet even when the elements turned nasty, which seemed to be all the time.
They have partial vent zips on the legs, which have a webbing on the inside meaning that you won't get any snow either blown in or when you fall over in the snow. OK it means they don't vent as well but it's actually a very useful idea.
The soft shell fabric itself is highly durable with wear patches on the knees and has suspenders as well if you need them. These are fully removable though, so it's up to you whether you want them or not. There are also integrated gaiters and a clever flare zip system, which allows you to get them over even the widest of ski boots without a problem. If you are good about tying the internal gaiter down then you can get away without needing an external one: we climbed numerous peaks in deep fresh snow and didn't wear external gaiters.
In the climbing environment the Guides are brilliant. Very flexible as you'd expect from a soft shell trouser and the fit was great. Not baggy in any places, which was a real joy to climb in as it meant there wasn't extra fabric for crampon points to catch on when pulling any weird feet moves. A two toggle zip fly system also means that you won't spend an age fiddling for the one toggle with a harness and gloves on: great for belaying and relieving yourself! Being soft shell, they were also really breathable, which was great when romping up easy terrain and even with thermal base layers I didnt find myself getting too warm.
All good so far. In the field they performed really well: they were used in anger from nail biting winds and wet snow storms to painfully hot sunny days and I wouldn't have asked for anything else. These are, however, winter trousers, if you are looking for an Alpine summer system then I'd definitely look at a lighter system, possibly with bigger vent zips. But if you are like me and like the security of hard shells in the winter then this is a great stepping stone and one that you won't regret. It's hard to say whether these would be a good Scottish trouser as I haven't climbed enough there and I have yet to use these there. I suspect that all soft shell trousers are going to suffer in a Scottish winter but these really are quite thick and robust and would take a lot of beating before showing signs of wear.
MORE INFO: on the Patagonia Website.
About Jon Griffith
Jon Griffith, left and Jack Geldard
Jon Griffith's first climbing days were in the Avon Gorge at Bristol. After university he moved to Chamonix, where he works as a professional mountain photographer: www.alpineexposures.com.
"It's hard to pick one specific type of climbing that I prefer over the others but I think my heart still lies with big mixed alpine routes that potentially involve a couple of nights bivying. I am still getting used to the whole Chamonix 'get back in time for the last lift' style - I still include bivying as a part of any decent mountaineering experience. I am also still getting used to crack climbing - it hurts.... a lot."
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