New Sabre AR vs. Old Sabre
Arc'teryx released the Sabre AR this year. The two pants are very similar, with similar fit, fabric, and features. However, the Sabre AR includes an updated touring gaiter to keep snow out, a webbing loop in the left thigh pocket to secure keys, and a sleeve in the right thigh pocket that holds a smartphone. Compare the pants below — the first image is the Sabre AR and the second image is the Sabre we tested.
We're linking to the Sabre AR and have purchased a pair to test. However, until our test period ends and we publish our findings, the review below is still our play-by-play of the previous Sabre.
Hands-On Review of the Sabre
Simply the best ski pants we have used. We have tested multiple generations of Arc'teryx Sabre pants now, and each year they improve. Initially, four years ago, their fit and performance were exceeded by other products. Arc'teryx made improvements that were important to us and the pants have won our Editors' Choice Award in recent years. They are protective, comfortable, and durable, with that slick look that Arc'teryx is known for. The Sabre pants use the best possible materials and put it together in a nearly immaculate form. They can be worn for a few laps on a posh European ski vacation just as well as they can be used for two months of ski bumming around the smaller resorts of rural America. We even prefer them to the backcountry-specific Arc'teryx Rush LT for human-powered skiing.
To call the award the "Editors' Choice" is a bit disingenuous. To some, this implies that our editors look over the products and pick one. This is kind of true, but it isn't that simple. Our editors and testers team up to compile our scoring rubric and appropriately weight the scoring, before testing any of the products. Each time we update a review, we revisit the scoring metrics and weighting to ensure that they represent how consumers will use a given category of equipment. Then, that same test team ranks each product in each scoring category. We choose the scoring system, but we ultimately let the system and the math make the Editors' Choice. We then "gut check" that by asking ourselves "is this winner the best product we know of?" With the Arc'teryx Sabre Pant, this process worked exactly like that. While OutdoorGearLab has tested them every year for a while now, we look at it fresh each time. We try to get testers involved that haven't tested in the past, as well as our consistent category experts. Through it all, the Arc'teryx Sabre rose to the top.
Sunset powder laps in the back bowls of Western Wyoming's mountains. The Sabre Pants are super versatile ski pants for all kinds of riders.
We can pretty reliably count on the weather resistance of Arc'teryx products. They don't always get everything right, but we have yet to find a product that doesn't protect well in tough weather. The Sabre pant is consistent with our previous experiences. These are very protective pants. The Gore-Tex license is virtually unequaled in terms of protection. There are many fabrics that keep wind and water out. However, it is the relationship between Gore-Tex Inc and the manufacturing process that really stands out. Gore will only send a manufacturer their waterproof material if the designs and products are approved by Gore themselves. This means that an external third party is examining and testing the product for full waterproof protection. All products that carry the Gore-Tex label have been assessed by both the manufacturer and by Gore Inc. The taped seams, DWR treatment, and waterproof zippers of the Sabre Pants are sourced and chosen by Arc'teryx but also approved by Gore-Tex. The result is that all Gore-Tex labeled products protect very well.
The Sabre pants protect very well. In the same category of protection, for all intents and purposes, are the Arc'teryx Rush LT, the Patagonia Powder Bowl and the Spyder Dare. All of these are also licensed by Gore. The FlyLow Baker Bibs offer similar (if not greater by virtue of the bib construction) weather protection. FlyLow uses their own proprietary fabrics, but still raises the bar with fully taped seams and waterproof zippers. At the other end of the spectrum, the Columbia Ridge 2 Run II are made with fully waterproof and windproof fabric, but the zippers and some seams are not fully sealed.
Muted colors and neutral styling are complemented by Arc Teryx's smooth construction and finish.
Fit and Comfort
Arc'teryx tailoring is legendary. How they manage to fit wide-ranging body types is a bit of a mystery. They don't always "nail it" though. The first version of the Sabre we tested was too baggy with a low crotch that impeded motion. The last few iterations of it, though, have remedied this. The purple pants we tested for 2019 are the best yet, with an immaculate athletic cut and fabric that is the right balance of soft and draping while also being stiff enough to hold up to weather and abuse. In a testament to their comfort, we found the burly and resort-specific Sabre to be also excellent for backcountry touring.
Among the shell-only resort ski pants we tested, there are no more that are more comfortable. The soft and stretchy design of the insulated Salomon Chill Out Bib feels more like sweatpants than ski pants. These are way comfy. The backcountry-specific Outdoor Research Trailbreaker and the Top Pick for Backcountry Patagonia Descensionist are also more comfortable. It is hard to compare the comfort of lightweight, stretchy backcountry clothing to the more robust resort designs. We aren't surprised that the Trailbreaker and Descensionist pants top our comfort list.
The upper legs of the Sabre pants fit quite a bit closer than the bottom.
What is surprising is the limited comfort of the Arc'teryx Rush LT. The Rush LT is pitched as waterproof backcountry skiing pants. They are indeed that, but they have some interesting comfort compromises, especially as compared to the Arc'teryx Sabre. First, the fabric of the Rush LT is a stiff, scratchy, "loud" texture. The Sabre is quieter. Next, the inner lining of the Rush LT is smooth and cold. The Rush isn't at all comfortable to wear directly against the skin. The Sabre lining is soft and fleecy without being too hot. As a weather-ready backcountry shell, we prefer the Arc'teryx Sabre to the Rush LT, primarily in terms of comfort.
Size medium Sabre pants on our 5'10" 160lb lead test editor.
Arc'teryx equips the Sabre with external leg vents. These vents are long, with two-way zippers and no mesh backing. Opening them up leaves you somewhat vulnerable to snow incursion, but air is freely exchanged in this position and this orientation. We like vents like this. Some prefer mesh backing for keeping snow out and for some modesty. No one, though, debates that the best ventilation comes with vents that don't have mesh.
The long, two-way zippered opening, external, mesh-less zip configuration of the Arc'teryx Sabre offers almost the best ventilation available. The only better option is to put vent zippers on both sides of each leg. Both FlyLow pants we tested feature vents like this. Open all four zippers on the Chemical Snow Pants or Baker Bibs and the only way to get more air flow is to wear shorts. Aside from the FlyLow products, nothing vents better than the Sabre. The Arc'teryx Rush LT and OR Trailbreaker match the performance, while the inner-leg, mesh-lined vents of the Spyder Dare vent far less effectively.
The external leg zips, with no mesh backing, vent better than almost any other venting set up.
The Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Sabre is slick and polished. The cut is closely tailored around the hips and upper legs with only enough flare at the bottom to work over ski boots. This matches current styling trends in ski clothing. The statement you make with the Sabre certainly isn't a bold one, but no one will complain either. The colors available for 2019 are relatively quiet.
Choose these pants for their function and comfort, and you won't be disappointed by the style. If you wish to make a more bold choice, the bright colors available with the Patagonia Powder Bowl or the Columbia Ridge 2 Run II stand out more. Similarly, the baggy and "core" look of the FlyLow Chemical Snow Pants stand out, but for different reasons. The Sabre style is similarly polished and understated to the Spyder Dare and its color options. The Salomon Chill Out Bib has a "Euro" look while the Best Buy The North Face Freedom can be purchased in bright, stand-out colors or muted options.
We granted the Arc'teryx Sabre a low score for warmth. This is almost its lowest mark. You don't count on these shell pants to provide a great deal of warmth. They are uninsulated pants made with "three-layer" construction. The end result is a pair of pants that feels and looks as though it is made of one layer of fabric. That fabric is actually a laminate of the shell material, the Gore-Tex membrane, and the lining fabric. The lining fabric, in this case, is a little fleecy on the inside. This augments comfort against bare skin and lends a tiny bit of insulation.
The Patagonia Descensionist, FlyLow Chemical, and FlyLow Baker Bibs are also made with three-layer fabric construction. None of these have the fleecy lining of the Arc'teryx Sabre, so they are a little bit less insulating in comparison. The separate hanging lining of the Patagonia Powder Bowl, Columbia Ridge 2 Run II, and the Best Buy The North Face Freedom lend more insulating value than the fleecy lining of the Sabre. The fully insulated Salomon Chill Out Bib and the Top Pick-winning Spyder Dare are significantly warmer than the Sabre.
The Sabre pants have three pockets and an integrated belt. One of the pockets contains a simple key clip. They also snap to matching Arc'teryx ski jackets. Otherwise, the feature-set of the Sabre is pretty minimal.
Other pants enhance their feature sets with more pockets, bibs, suspenders, belt loops, and features inside of the pockets. These things are all nice options to have, but far from necessary. We have found that, largely, we wish for nothing on the Arc'teryx Sabre. If you seek more bells and whistles, consider the seven pockets and full-bib construction of the Top Pick Marmot Discovery Bib.
The wide Sabre cuffs are actually slimmed down a bit from previous versions.
We can't think of a situation in which these pants aren't suited. They have a very wide application. The shell-only construction isn't as warm in super-cold conditions as insulated pants. That might be the only niche in which something else would excel. In those conditions, though, tap into the ever-expanding list of options for layering beneath. One interesting development, recently, is the advent of "long underwear" that features insulated sections above your boots. We dig this sort of base layer wear under shell pants in super cold Northern Intermountain West skiing.
The only good thing we can say about the value of the Arc'teryx Sabre is that they will last a long time. The initial purchase price is, quite frankly, atmospheric. The performance accolades listed in this review come at a steep price.
Spendy pants that do it all, and do it all really, really well.