Winter Mountain Overtrousers
We've put seven pairs of winter mountaineering shell trousers through their paces all season. Here's how they compare...
Your body goes from overheating and sweating to cold and shivering in minutes. Add the often erratic alpine weather and you would be forgiven for bringing up half your rucksack full of clothes onto the mountains - I've seen many skiers on tours do exactly this. Of course this isn't ideal when you are often climbing in terrain that not only demands a 'fast-and-light' ethic, but one that simply doesn't allow you the time to stop and change layers as you wish. You've only to look at some of the speedy British ascents in the Alps this winter to realise that these guys don't stop to change their layers (Helliker-Bracey 4.20 hrs ascent of the Colton-Brooks on the Droites for example). The winter is that much harder too as your body cools down much faster resulting in very un-psyched belays and numb toes.
If you only get out occasionally and in 'good' conditions then there isn't really much need for such an expense, but if you find yourself out in the hills a lot doing battle with the elements as well then these are awesome.
The perfect clothing system doesn't exist as its very dependent on what you do climbing-wise and how you move, but personally I like to keep layers down to a minimum so as not to sweat too much and lose water unnecessarily (I sweat like a pig when I am moving together for extended periods of time)...others, as I say, will be different. In any case the torso is a part of the body that is easier to regulate as you can take layers on and off relatively quickly without having to take your harness off- ideally you'll just whack on a down jacket at belays and then move on without it. Trousers on the other hand are a bit more of a nightmare as you've got to do battle with your harness, and on a route it is not exactly ideal.
Well it's comes with all the jargon that all expensive hard shells come with nowadays:
Everyone seems to have it in for Gore-Tex at the moment but I'm still a big fan and this is one of those products where it really shines through. The Exum pant is basically trying to be as much of a Gore-Tex membrane as possible - it's lightweight and not hard wearing but it is incredibly wind and water proof as well as breathable. I've used this in all conditions now from a typical 'Gorms' day out in gale winds and thawing conditions, to blisteringly hot glacier days in the Alps, and everything between and they've been excellent.
Overall these pants are ideal for me. At first I was a little worried about the build quality because, let's face it, when you pick them up, you aren't impressed with how rugged they look. Forget about thick stitched and padded Paramo pants, these are really just a shell that has to be worn over thermal base. However, they've definitely seen a lot of action this winter and a lot of it involving very sharp granite that tears away at anything it can. I started using these at the end of last Autumn and, apart from some poor crampon work, they are still looking pretty good. There were times when I was sure that I had torn them whist trying to squeeze my way through a chimney but remarkably they come out pretty unscathed. The waterproof membrane started off really well and, even though I managed to get in two very wet and windy days up in Scotland after Kendal this year, I was dry as a bone the whole way through. 6 months later though and they could definitely do with a tech wash but then I think most clothes do at this point.
I think that these are the best trousers I have ever worn
The fit of the Exum is awesome. It has got full side zippers meaning that you can ventilate whenever you want (something which I think is key to all trousers) as well as meaning you can drop the back part of the pant to do your early morning business without half a ton of snow collecting in your trousers whilst you do so. Whilst we're on the topic, there are two 'sliders' on the zip which is great as I can never find my zipper through all the faff of gloves and harness - is it at the top or bottom? In this case you can't go wrong. There are integrated gaiters as well which work really well with ski or touring boots but less effective with mountaineering boots as they don't form a tight enough seal.
It's hard to really write anything interesting about a pair of trousers as, let's face it, they aren't the most exciting piece of gear on the market. The design attitude of Keep It Simple is definitely used here and that is what makes it so hard to write about. At the end of the day, I think that these are the best trousers I have ever worn - they are perfect for my needs. If you are looking for a really rugged pair of trousers then this isn't what you need; but if you want something light and fast for alpine ascents, this is definitely a great choice.
So what's the downside? Well the RRP is a whopping £280 which puts them up there with the most expensive hard shells you can buy. If you only get out occasionally and in 'good' conditions then there isn't really much need for such an expense, but if you find yourself out in the hills a lot doing battle with the elements as well then these are awesome.