Winter Mountain Overtrousers
We've put seven pairs of winter mountaineering shell trousers through their paces all season. Here's how they compare...
Trousers are one of these things that I tend to get through very fast. Its either that I change the combination of what I wear (ie soft-shell one year, or thermal and waterproof the next) or that they get hammered by my front points. What I really want is a pair of windproof and waterproof trousers that are highly breathable and have some kind of thin insulating interior (ie light fleece or something) all complete with full pit vents down the side. As of yet that doesn't really exist mainly because the technology doesn't exist to offer the kind of breathability that I want coupled with the warmth. However this is just one of those 'ideal world' situations! Unfortunately we live in the real world so when I received the Tour Pro 2 trousers I was excited to see whether this would bring me one step closer to my ideal trousers.
I like to think that I've used pretty much every type of trouser as well as thermal+trouser combo but these were quite different. Instead of a hard-shell or soft-shell exterior it uses Schoeller fabric which basically feels and acts like the result of a head on collision of Lycra and standard soft-shell. The result is a stretchy and very comfortable fabric. Weird? I certainly thought so but then it works and that's the important thing.
"I like to think that I've used pretty much every type of trouser as well as thermal+trouser combo but these were quite different"
It has taken me a while to come around to soft-shell. My natural scepticism kept me away from any sort of clothing that I thought might just be a gimmick. I'm now totally converted. It was with a knowing smile that I pulled on my big boots and set off from the North Face car park on to the Ben. It was dark and although not snowing, there was a freezing wind (it was -7 in the car park!). My partner had Gore-tex salopettes on over some thermal pants - and this would have been my usual attire too, but not today.
I walked in to the CIC hut in the Tour II salopettes, which were light, wind-proof, stretchy and comfortable. I didn't over heat and they breathed superbly. When we got near the route the weather turned really bad, so I opted to throw on a pair over over-trousers, however if the sky had been blue, I would have stuck with the soft-shell.
The soft inner fabric works well next to the skin and the fit is great. Soft-shell salopettes are a great option for a base/mid layer in bad conditions and as an outer layer in good conditions.
"The soft inner fabric works well next to the skin and the fit is great"
The trousers are aimed at the skier and alpinist market- whilst they are water resistant they are by no means waterproof. They are a salopette design and by offering really good movement are incredibly comfortable for both skiing (yes I have been skiing this year) and climbing in. They also have an interior and an exterior fabric meaning that it offers me that little extra insulation which I like so much in trousers for the Alps. I still wear thermal bottoms with them but then I rarely don't wear thermal bottoms in the Alps- belays can get pretty cold.
They also boast an interior gaiter, which whilst nothing 'new' is great for those who don't like wearing gaiters but do want some protection from the snow. We are talking about skiers and alpinists here who don't have to break trail in 2 feet of powder- interiors don't do much when it comes to that. To compensate for the fact you aren't wearing gaiters they have added an abrasion patch to the inside of the leg (see image attached) to try and protect the trousers. Whilst they work to an extent I would have preferred something a little more rugged as mine have taken a few holes already, but at least they are there. However the stretch in the fabric itself means that they can get away with making the 'flairs' quite small whilst still allowing them to fit/ stretch over your boots. What this means is that you don't end up with any 'flapping flairs' that are normally so easy to get caught in your crampon front points.
As for the breathablilty I think they are great, as you might expect from a soft-shell! However since they aren't just your typical one layer of fabric trousers I was expecting them to be hindered somewhat on the breathablilty front by the inner. Not so. I've used them in all types of conditions now and never had a problem with breathablilty. Even when I was being (literally) dragged up some of the easier alpine routes by Will Sim this year and the rest of me was heaving with exhaustion and sweat, my legs stayed relatively dry which was awesome as it gets very cold when you stop all of a sudden.
As for the fit I felt they were fine. One thing that I really didn't understand though was why the straps on the salopettes were so short. I'm definitely in the 'small' department and the elastics had to be on full extension to fit me. In the end I actually cut them off as firstly I don't really like salopettes (I find emergency shits on routes hard enough with a harness on let alone with salopettes on too) and secondly they were still marginally too short on me. Thankfully these are more trousers with suspenders on rather than full on salopettes so there is no difference in cutting them off, I have been told though that my trousers were a sample pre-production pair and that by the time the production ones are made the short suspenders will not be a problem.
My one annoyance with the trousers was that it didn't have any pit vents down the side. I think they are the dogs bollocks and never understand why they aren't a standard when it comes to alpine based trousers. I realise that it can compromise the waterproofness of the trousers but personally I think they are a must.
I haven't climbed in mine as much as Jon, but I think he has brought up some pretty good points. The features I liked on the pants were: The soft internal fabric, the multitude of pockets, the quite tough crampon panels and the fit. The braces on my pair were perfectly long enough, and I'm really tall, so it would appear Jon's gripe has been fixed now. I would have preferred a bigger and double ended zip on the fly, as operating that one in gloves under a pair of over-trousers was tricky. I was quite impressed with the over-all lightness of the pants - on the Tesco kitchen scales mine came in at only 600g.
"I would have preferred a bigger and double ended zip on the fly"
I've been wearing them for a long time now and have no complaints. They've been great on the mixed as the comfort and movement they afford is brilliant. There have been times when they have gotten a little wet, but it has not been enough to bother me. If you want a pair of Winter Alpine or skiing trousers then I reckon you can't go wrong with these. At £150 they aren't cheap but then I get through the cheaper trousers so quickly out here that it just doesn't become worth it - at least these, I know, will last a few more years of use and abuse.
"They've been great on the mixed as the comfort and movement they afford is brilliant"
A tough soft-shell that fit me perfectly. Great as a base/mid layer and usable as an outer-layer in good weather. Overall, I'm extremely impressed. They got me up Point 5 - what more can I say!!
"They got me up Point 5 - what more can I say!!"
Weight: 600 grams
Jon Griffith is based in Chamonix, France. He is a professional mountain photographer, you can see his work on his website: Alpine Exposures. He has been climbing for many years, starting in the Avon Gorge, Bristol. His true passion is for "big mixed alpine routes that potentially involve a couple of nights bivying...".
Jack Geldard is the editor of UKClimbing.com. He climbs rock, ice, choss, turf, anything - even limestone! He is based in North Wales and climbs several times a week. His ticklist spans the globe, with first ascents in several countries, from 6 metre gritstone highballs to 700 metre Morrocan big walls. He has recently discovered Parisella's Cave....