#ORInsightLab Review: Women's Trailbreaker Pants
With features and fabrics specifically designed and built for backcountry touring, I was pretty excited to test the Trailbreaker Pants since about 90% of my ski days are spent foraging for powder turns, and I heard these were the go-to pant for many. Here in Colorado, like much of the west this winter, the conditions have been less than optimal for skiing but I still managed to get the pants out on cold clear days, warm spring-like days (too many!) and for deep snowy turns. In fact, with such diverse conditions, I felt the pants were really put to the test.
This was my first real use of a soft shell fabric and I was interested to see how it would work in the backcountry where breathability and protection from the elements are both needed. First impressions were good, the fabric was solid, though stretchy, and the pants well made, as I would expect from Outdoor Research. The Trailbreaker pant has a hybrid fabric technology with a more waterproof fabric below the knees and a more breathable and flexible fabric above. When breaking trail or plowing down through deep powder the lower leg fabric prevents any moisture from getting through and above the knee the stretchiness of the material provides for significantly more freedom of movement than with a hard shell pant. I found it worked well in all conditions. On cold and clear single digit days they kept me plenty warm, especially when layered with good long underwear and a down skirt. In warmer conditions and on the up track, I utilized the large side vents which run the full length of the thigh and provided optimal breathability. And on the too few snowy days I have experienced this winter, any moisture was either brushed off or beaded up and rolled right off.
In terms of fit, which can be very individual, I tried these pants in my usual size (medium) and found them to be typical. With the adjustable Velcro tabs on the waist and the flexibility of the fabric they were very comfortable and fit well. In terms of length the Trailbreaker pant is good. I am 5' 10' and found them to be long enough, which is great as some pants often finish above my ankles.
One of the features of the Trailbreaker Pant, specific to backcountry skiers, is the exclusive Beacon Pocket which is designed for beacons to be securely and safely stowed while close at hand. The pocket is situated on the right hand side of the pant and accessed through a robust zipper located in the thigh crease. Thing is, I don't use my beacon near as much as my phone, maps, lip balm and other items which I like to have readily available and handy on my right side, being right handed as I am. That being said I did venture to move things around from my usual locations, which was mentally a struggle, and experimented with my beacon in the Beacon Pocket. Unfortunately I found the pants fit a little too snuggly around the hips for it to sit comfortably in the hip crease. Perhaps, for others, with a different body shape than mine, it would work but for me it was not comfortable. Additionally, accessing items in the pocket was a challenge with the opening being tight in the hip crease and the rugged toothy zipper was rough on the knuckles when putting hands in or out. In my opinion the optimal place for a beacon pocket would be on the left side high on the thigh and accessed with a side zipper. Any pocket on my right side is a primo location and needs to be reserved for items of frequent use.
Another feature of the Trailbreaker pant is the zip out gaiters with a power strap slot. So far I have used the pants only with the gaiters in and they perform well in the winter conditions fitting snuggly below my boot buckles, preventing any snow from entering. The power strap slots which allow you to tighten boots without lifting the gaiter did not work so well for me as I found the interior pant fabric snagged on the Velcro of the power straps and invariably the pant leg rose up and stayed up. I had to frequently bend down to set it straight and so I did not use them. On the inner cuff of the pant leg was a very strong robust fabric, presumably designed to prevent cuts in the leg from either skis or crampons. While I haven't yet tried them with crampons I believe they will fare well, as they seem distinctly stronger than any other pant cuff I have.
Overall I felt the Trailbreaker was a great pant for ski touring, the hybrid fabric design is genius and the thigh vents a huge plus. I really loved the warmth, breathability and stretchiness of the soft shell. If the Beacon Pocket were relocated and the front pockets were redesigned for more easy access then this would be my go-to pant for backcountry skiing.