Best Softshell Pants of 2023

Outdoor Research Cirque Softshell Pants

Outdoor Research Cirque Softshell Pants

Regular hiking pants might not provide sufficient warmth for your legs in cold weather. To keep your legs warm you can use either softshell pants or long johns. However, long johns are not the best option for hiking (except in super cold weather) as they restrict your movement and rub against your pants. Furthermore, they are also hard to put off (you need to first put off your boots and pants) and don’t provide any protection against the rain and wind. Softshell pants, on the other hand, provide warmth (depending on the thickness and construction of the material – lightweight, midweight or heavyweight softshell) and also protection against wind and light rain; they are water-resistant but not waterproof. In extremely cold winter conditions, they can also be worn over a pair of long johns for extra warmth. Therefore, they are the garment of choice for hiking, backpacking and mountaineering in winter and cold conditions.

Below is the list of the best softshell pants. We only listed high-quality softshell pants which provide good protection against the weather and sufficient warmth for hiking in cold conditions.

If you are looking for a pair of pants for hiking in (heavy) rain check out our selection of the best rain pants instead. Rain pants offer much better protection against the rain than softshell pants do, but are also less breathable.

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1. Our Softshell Pants Picks

Best Softshell Pants

Best Softshell Pants for Hiking

  1. Outdoor Research Cirque 2 Pants
  2. Arcteryx Gamma AR Pants
  3. Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Alpine
  4. Mountain Equipment Ibex Pants
  5. Outdoor Research Iceline Versa

2. Comparison of Softshell Pants

Scroll Horizontally
Feature/Product Outdoor Research Cirque 2 PantsArcteryx Gamma AR Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Alpine Mountain Equipment Ibex Outdoor Research Iceline Versa
Material50% Nylon, 43% Polyester, 7% Spandex46% Nylon, 46% Polyester, 8% Elastane91% Nylon, 9% ElastaneExolite Softshell85% Polyester, 15% Spandex
Weight22 oz17 oz15 oz16 oz27.5 oz
Weight (metric) 617 g490 g425 g445 g780 g
Pockets4 zippered3 zippered3 zippered5 zippered4 zippered

3. The Selection

Outdoor Research Cirque Softshell Pants

Outdoor Research Cirque Softshell Pants

1. Outdoor Research Cirque 2 Pants

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Snowshoeing

The Outdoor Research Cirque 2 pants are very warm and thus perfect for hiking, mountaineering and other activities in winter. They are made of heavy-weight 90-denier softshell fabric which does not only provide good insulation but also great protection against wind and rain. Even though the material is relatively thick, the pants provide good freedom of movement and stretch due to the Spandex fibers in the fabric. Mobility is additionally increased with articulated knees and a gusseted crotch. The pants feature two zippered hand pockets, an avalanche beacon pocket and a zippered thigh pocket. They also have two loops for suspenders, but the Outdoor Research suspenders are sold separately. In the ankle area they are reinforced with a more resilient fabric so that they don’t get torn if you hook on to them with crampons. At the bottom, the pants also have boot lace tabs which allow you to attach the pants directly to your boot laces and thus prevent the dirt and snow from entering into your boots. However, the pants also fit perfectly under the gaiters. The Outdoor Research Cirque 2 pants are a great choice for outdoor enthusiasts who often hike/climb on snow covered trails in winter.

Women's Version: Available - Outdoor Research Women's Cirque 2

Note: Women's version might slightly differ from the men's version.

 

Pros:

  • Warmth
  • Freedom of movement
  • Pockets
  • Ankle guard
  • Boot lace tabs

Cons:

  • /

Video

Arcteryx Gamma AR Softshell Pants

Arcteryx Gamma AR Softshell Pants

2. Arcteryx Gamma AR Pants

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Snowshoeing

The Arcteryx Gamma AR pants are slightly lighter than the Outdoor Research Cirque 2 pants mentioned above but also less warm. The pants are made of Burly double weave softshell with a density of 275 g/m2. The fabric is also treated with DWR so that the pants repel water and thus provide good rain resistance. The pants offer good freedom of movement as they have articulated knees, articulated seat and gusseted crotch. Furthermore, the fabric has four-way stretch which additionally increases the mobility. The pants have three zippered pockets; one thigh pocket and two conveniently placed hand pockets which don’t interfere with a climbing harness or the hip belt of your backpack.  The cuffs are adjustable and have boot lace tabs so that you can secure them directly to your boots in order to prevent dirt and snow from entering. The pants come with a low profile adjustable webbing belt which fits perfectly under a climbing harness or the hip belt of your backpack.

Women's Version: Not available

 

Pros:

  • Weight
  • Boot lace tabs
  • Freedom of movement
  • Easy accessible pockets
  • Integrated belt

Cons:

  • /

Where to buy?

Also available at:

REI

Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Alpine

Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Alpine

3. Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Alpine

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Snowshoeing

The Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Alpine pants are best for mountaineers and hikers who need a durable pair of pants for their demanding adventures. They are made of a midweight softshell fabric which provides great breathability and weather protection. The fit is slightly tighter so that the pants lay close to the body and are thus more protected against tears and abrasion. The soft shell pants have two zippered hand pockets and a zippered thigh pocket. The cuffs can be widened (by zipper) for better fit. The pants come with an integrated belt which fits perfectly under a climbing harness. The Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Alpine pants offer great performance for various outdoor adventures.

Women's Version: Available - Mountain Hardwear Women's Chockstone Alpine Pants

Note: Women's version might slightly differ from the men's version.

 

Pros:

  • Fit
  • Durability
  • Integrated belt

Cons:

  • /
Mountain Equipment Ibex Softshell Pants

Mountain Equipment Ibex Softshell Pants

4. Mountain Equipment Ibex Pants

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Snowshoeing

The Mountain Equipment Ibex pants are with the weight of merely 16 ounces the lightest softshell pants in this review, but also slightly less insulated than the other pants. They are made of Mountain Equipment’s Exolite softshell fabric with a density of 210 g/m2 which provides good weather protection, breathability and stretch. The fabric is also very smooth on the outside and therefore repels the water. This also helps the pants to not getting caught in obstacles such as branches. The pants are equipped with 5 zippered pockets; two hand pockets, two thigh pockets and one rear pocket. The Mountain Equipment Ibex pants also come with a minimalistic integrated belt and have extendable cuffs (zipper) so that they fit well with any kind of footwear.

Women's Version: Not available

 

Pros:

  • Weight
  • Pockets
  • Extandable cuffs
  • Integrated belt

Cons:

  • /
Outdoor Research Iceline

Outdoor Research Iceline Versa

5. Outdoor Research Iceline Versa

Suitable for:

  • Hiking
  • Mountaineering
  • Trekking
  • Backpacking
  • Climbing
  • Snowshoeing

The Outdoor Research Iceline Versa pants are designed for use in harsh winter conditions. They utilize the sophisticated Ventia fabric. On the inside the fabric has a brushed lining which is very warm while also wicking moisture (perspiration) away from the skin. The Ventia fabric is very stretchy as it has a high content of Spandex fibers. In the areas prone to abrasion the soft shell pants are additionally reinforced with 420-denier nylon. They also feature articulated knees and a gusseted crotch for better freedom of movement. The pants have four zippered pockets and an instep lace to secure pants over boots and crampons. The Outdoor Research Iceline Versa pants are best for hiking and mountaineering in very cold conditions.

Women's Version: Available - Outdoor Research Women's Iceline Versa Pants

Note: Women's version might slightly differ from the men's version.

 

Pros:

  • Freedom of movement
  • Insulation
  • Weather protection
  • Fit

Cons:

  • /

4. Softshell Pants Buying Advice – What is important?

Material

Softshell pants are typically made of a tightly woven synthetic fabric (such as blend of nylon, polyester, spandex etc.) which blocks wind and light rain as well as provides warmth. Softshell fabrics come in different densities – the denser (thicker) is the fabric, the more warmth it provides. On the inside the softshell fabric typically features a brushed lining (for insulation) while it is super smooth on the outside to repel rain. Softshell pants are usually very breathable, comfortable (they offer good stretch) and quick drying. Some manufacturers develop their own softshell fabrics while others use softshell fabrics from well-known manufacturers such as Schoeller. To learn more about softshell fabric, check out the softshell section in our Comparison of Shell Materials.

Weather Protection

Softshell pants are treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellant) so that they repel water (rain). They are also made of tightly woven fabrics which efficiently resist wind and light rain. Unlike rain pants, softshell pants don’t have a membrane that blocks water droplets from the outside. Therefore, softshell pants don’t provide as good protection against the rain as rain pants. However, they provide much better breathability.

Breathability

Softshell pants provide very good breathability. The fabric is actually air permeable. For example, rain pants are not made of air permeable fabrics. The fabric is only capable to transmit moisture vapor from inside to the outside. Softshell pants breathe as any other garment.

Washing and Maintenance

Most softshell pants can be machine washed at 40°C. Softshell pants should be washed with DWR detergent or DWR should applied to them after the washing. For washing softshell pants you can use Nikwax SoftShell Proof Wash-In If you are applying DWR after the washing we recommend the Nikwax Softshell Proof Spray-On. Many softshell pants are treated with antimicrobial agents and thus don’t have to be washed after each activity.

Fit

Softshell pants should fit snugly but not too tight. They should also provide great freedom of movement. If softshell pants don’t fit snugly, it’s easy to hook the teeth of crampons into them and tear them during winter activities. Putting gaiters on too big pants is also a hassle. Nevertheless, don’t buy too small pants as they’ll restrict you during activities.

Pockets

Pockets allow you to keep your essential gear close by. Therefore, softshell pants should have at least a few easily accessible pockets. The pockets should also be deep enough or zippered to prevent stored items from falling out.

Weight

The weight of softshell pants depends mainly on the density (thickness) of the material – note that thicker pants are heavier but on the other hand they are also warmer. However, it is not recommended to wear excessively thick pants for aerobic activities such as hiking as this type of pants typically don’t provide sufficient freedom of movement and are so heavy that you get slowed down too much on trails. All the pants in this selection weigh less than 25 ounces while providing good warmth and weather protection.

5. Questions and Answers

What are softshell pants?

Softshell pants are made of tightly woven synthetic fabric which is water-resistant and windproof. On the inside they often have brushed lining for extra warmth. They are typically used for outdoor activities in winter.

Are softshell pants waterproof?

Softshell pants are water-resistant but not waterproof.

What is the difference between softshell pants and rain pants?

Rain pants provide better protection against the rain and are lighter. Softshell pants are more breathable and comfortable to wear than rain pants. The fabric is more stretchy and thus allows better freedom of movement. Softshell pants are usually worn next to skin, while rain pants are typically worn over other pants – and only used when it’s actually raining.

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Author Information

Blaz

Outdoor enthusiast with experience in all types of hiking and mountaineering. Hiked in the Alps, Iceland and other countries. In love with via ferrata trails and snow-covered slopes. Check out my hikes.

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