Trailbreaker II vs. Trailbreaker
Outdoor Research released the Trailbreaker II, which features an updated waistband with thermo-regulating technology. The new waistband boasts ActiveTemp, which is a technology designed to help regulate your body temperature when you're exerting yourself. The upper portion of the pant is now constructed of a nylon/polyester/spandex blend, and the bottom portion and scuff guards 100% nylon (200D and 420D, respectively). Though this year's pant still has loops on the waistband to accept suspenders, it seems as they are no longer included with the pant. Compare the Trailbreaker II (first photo) to the Trailbreaker we tested (second photo).
Though we are now linking to the Trailbreaker II, the review below pertains to the previous incarnation of this pant.
Hands-On Review of the Trailbreaker
The Outdoor Research Trailbreaker pants are purpose-built lower leg garments for human powered skiing and snowboarding. The features, cut, and materials are all tailored to exactly this sort of mountain travel. The pants are super comfortable. It is almost like wearing your pajamas, especially as compared to bulky and stiff resort ski pants. The weather protection system is a little interesting, as is the pocket selection and distribution. These pants weigh quite a bit more than other backcountry specific ski pants.
It is difficult to directly compare the overall performance of touring pants like these to the overall performance of resort-specific ski pants. Nonetheless, they fall into the same overall category. Touring pants are inherently more comfortable (mainly due to lower weight and more flexible fabrics) and more breathable. Venting scores and comfort scores increase for touring pants. Weather protection and style are generally compromised for the touring pants. These are practical pieces for uphill travel. You don't need the same warmth, and you don't prioritize as much how they look. The result, for the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker, is below average overall scores, but excellent backcountry performance.
The OR Trailbreaker pants, doing just that.
Backcountry pants emphasize breathability and comfort over weather resistance. To strike the compromises necessary, Outdoor Research equips the Trailbreaker Pants with waterproof fabric on the lower front of the leg while everywhere else is more breathable soft shell fabric. This is somewhat logical, in that the front of your shins encounter the snow first, on the way up and the way down. Anecdotally, though, in the decades of experience of our test team, it is the butt and front of the thighs that soak through first. We wish the waterproof layers were actually located in these spots rather than the front of the lower legs.
Deep snow and "downhill trailbreaking" in the Outdoor Research backcountry specific pants. Its a dirty job but someone has to do it.
The backcountry Top Pick Patagonia Descensionist is constructed entirely of very breathable and mostly waterproof laminated fabric. The Patagonia model is way more protective than the Trailbreaker. Neither of these is at all comparable, in weather protection, to the resort-specific pants we assessed.
Fit and Comfort
The OR Trailbreaker excels here. It isn't an exaggeration to say that, as compared to resort ski pants, these feel like sweat pants. They are light, soft, flexible, and stretchy. The fit is slim, built for endurance athletes. Size accordingly.
In terms of both fashion and fit, the Trailbreaker is slim and close.
Ventilation zippers are what set the OR Trailbreaker apart from your general-purpose alpine climbing soft shell pants. The long, externally aligned, meshless vents are great. While touring in even the warmest of ski conditions you can open these and dump piles of excess heat. The dual vents, per leg, of the FlyLow Chemical Snow Pants vent even better, but the dual zippers impede range of motion more. The Outdoor Research vents are just right, all things considered. The vents of the Patagonia Descensionist are about three inches shorter than those on the Trailbreaker and this is noticeable in the warmest of conditions.
The side zip vents of the OR Trailbreaker let in a ton of air when you want it.
These look more like climbing or hiking pants than like ski pants. You will stand out at a ski resort but look right at home high on Mount Rainier or deep in the San Juan backcountry.
Backcountry pants need to have just the right amount of insulation. There is a delicate balance to walk. For a year-round, all-conditions skier, the OR Trailbreaker is just barely on the warm side of perfect. For a powder-only backcountry skier, they are a little cold if not just right. They are a little warmer than the Patagonia Descensionist.
Late day ski laps on Wyoming's Teton Pass in the OR Trailbreaker pants.
The Trailbreaker pants have many features. There are five pockets, for instance. All the pockets are zippered. The two handwarmers are located where you'd expect. The one on your right contains a stretchy inner sleeve and a stout clip for storing your avalanche transceiver. The two thigh pockets are interestingly located on the rear of the pants. One opens from the side, and one opens from the top. Our test team was almost perfectly divided on these rear thigh pockets. Half loved them while half found it weird to feel stuff in that location on their legs.
The dedicated transceiver pocket of the OR Trailbreaker helps those that carry their transceiver in their pocket.
The pants can be held up in three different ways. The Trailbreaker comes with removable suspenders, velcro tabs at the waist, and belt loops. The result of all these features is pretty heavy overall weight. Even when you remove the suspenders for a closest comparison, the Patagonia Descensionist is many ounces lighter. This difference alone tips the balance for our Top Pick backcountry award to the Descensionist. The additional features of the Trailbreaker don't justify the extra weight in a human-powered endeavor.
Usage of these is clear. Get them for any and all human powered skiing. As compared to the Patagonia Descensionist, the Trailbreaker edges ahead in a couple of instances. First, they fit and feel different. Next, all the pockets may better suit your style. The Patagonia Top Pick is more stripped down in this regard.
Most backcountry gear is more expensive than its inbounds version. Thankfully, pants do not fit this generalization. The OR Trailbreaker are quite a bit less expensive than inbounds pants and less expensive than the Patagonia Descensionist. If you are on the fence about getting dedicated touring pants to complement your resort wear, don't pass by the OR Trailbreaker. They are not super expensive, will last a long time, and are way better than resort pants for backcountry skiing.
The full inner cuffs are one of the things that set the OR Trailbreaker apart from your typical alpine climbing soft shell pants.
The three pairs of backcountry specific pants we tested are all at least a little different. First, the Arc'Teryx Rush LT is an outlier that serves just a tiny little niche of human powered skiers. Both the Patagonia Descensionist and the OR Trailbreaker have wider general appeal. It is fair to say that the Trailbreaker is an alpine climbing pant that has been modified and augmented for skiing, while the Patagonia Descensionist is a ski resort pant that has been slimmed and stripped down for backcountry use. Our test team includes skiers of all types and backgrounds. Generally, we prefer ski gear and clothing that is ski-tilted, even for backcountry use. It isn't surprising, then, that the Descensionist edges ahead of the Trailbreaker. Nonetheless, the Outdoor Trailbreaker has many loyal fans and certainly deserves your consideration.