Best in Bottoms: Best Soft Shell Pants for Uphill Travel

If the colder months are calling your name, our Best in Bottoms Collection is the first place you should visit to plan your fall and winter adventures. Today we’re diving into the best soft shell pants for uphill endeavors in the backcountry. Find your perfect fit by checking out the rest of the Best in Bottoms Collection right here.

Layering your bottom layers is a tricky game during winter in the backcountry. When the weather and temperature is moderate, and you’ll be spending a lot of your day working hard uphill, you need a lighter weight, more breathable solution to the typical hard shell getup. Picking a pair of pants that can slip on over your base layers, and still fit great when worn alone, is tricky – unless you know where to look.

For as long as we’ve been making them, the Cirque Pants have been on the top of mountain guide’s expedition packing lists. Seriously: Check out the Recommended Mountaineering Gear page from one of the world’s most trusted professionals, International Mountain Guide (IMG). It’s their great fit, versatility, and reliability in bad weather that’s made them so popular over the years. So why mess with a good thing?

This season, we’ve improved upon perfection with the Men’s and Women’s Cirque II Pants: A makeover of the best-selling, most reliably durable soft shell pants perfect for ski touring, mountaineering, or rugged hikes and approaches to alpine climbs. These are the bottoms you’ll want to be wearing for any strenuous uphill activity in the backcountry.

Purpose built for the 4-season athlete, the Cirque II Pants feature a harness-compatible waist and reinforced scuff guards to aid every adventure on your winter tick list. Plus, the Cirque II Pants feature a waistband that’s amplified by ActiveTemp™, the thermo-regulating technology that adjusts to your body temperature to keep you cool, dry, and comfortable during high-exertion activities. Everything you loved about the original Cirque Pants is still there – including wind and water resistance, movement-mirroring stretch, and unmatched breathability, making these the perfect choice for high-energy alpine climbing, mountaineering, and ice climbing.

If the weather turns on your winter plans, and you need more than the Cirque’s soft shell construction, take a look at the newly updated Men’s and Women’s Trailbreaker II Pants. More improvements based off athlete and customer feedback, the new Trailbreakers have the same breathable stretch-woven soft shell upper half that you love about your Cirques, but with waterproof lower legs to protect you where you’re most exposed to snow.

Maybe the “waterproof” factor doesn’t mean much to you – and you’re just looking for the absolute burliest, most durable, rugged rock-and-ice thrashing pants you can find. In that case, you might find that the Men’s and Women’s Iceline Versa Pants do the trick for you. Longtime acclaimed, awarded, and best-selling, the original Iceline Pants were built for ice climbing, and reinvented as the Iceline Versa Pants for an even more versatile take on tackling steep ice, warding off abrasions, and providing warmth for cold climates. Think – taking the deep research and knowledge of ice climbers and applying that to technical ski touring, harsh alpine approaches, and blustery mountaineering trips. You get the picture.

And if the weather dials it back a bit, and you need something lighter and less warm than the Cirques, we’re stoked about the new Men’s and Women’s Hyak Pants. Named after the Seattle local ski hill, the Hyak are the best midweight soft shells for ski touring, winter hiking or snowshoeing, or as approach pants to big alpine climbs.

Landed on the perfect pair of bottoms? You’ll want to make sure the rest of your kit is in sync. Here are our top picks for head-to-toe pairing with our best backcountry soft shell pants for winter:

  • Vigor Collection: Your guaranteed ticket to layering intuitively and effectively for cold weather adventures. Each Vigor piece is powered by ActiveTemp™, the thermo-regulating technology that adjusts to your body temperature to keep you cool, dry, and comfortable during high-exertion activities. This tech works hand-in-hand with Vigor’s grid fleece fabric, which wicks sweat and allows total breathability when you’re gunning it uphill. 
  • Enigma Collection: This base layer collection wicks sweat, dries quickly, weighs next to nothing, inhibits odors, and – that’s right – it’s built with sustainable materials. Blended drirelease® merino wool and E.C.O. (Environmentally Correct Origins) fabrics provide temperature-regulating warmth that’s committed to your comfort and to the conservation of the outdoor places in which we love to play.
  • Illuminate Collection: The Illuminate Down Hoody and Jacket are the lightest, warmest, easiest-to-grab midlayer pieces that pack 800-fill responsibly sourced down insulation into their own left-hand pocket. A sturdy nylon shell and lining provide light weather resistance and next-to-skin ultra-soft comfort, while fine-tuned details like a brushed tricot interior and zip chest media pocket ensure hands and valuables stay warm, dry, and safe.
  • Refuge Collection: The Refuge collection – in all its different weights types of construction – are all pieces that were fundamentally built to keep you warm when you’re moving fast, and sweating hard.
    • The Refuge Hooded Jacket was the hoody that started it all, the pinnacle release of VerticalX™ technology perfect for retaining warmth during start-stop activities.
    • The Refuge Hybrid Hooded Jacket strips the classic hoody of weight and warmth for better weather days, using a stretchy, wicking material on the arms and hood, and insulation only in the vest area.
    • Finally, the Refuge Air Hooded Jacket is the lightest weight, fastest to move moisture solution for when you’re more concerned with staying dry from sweat than staying out of the elements.

You can count on us to stoke your journey with purpose-built gear for however, wherever, and in whatever season you like to explore. Find your perfect pair by checking out the rest of our Best in Bottoms Collection right here.