The Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II softshell pants are inspired by the design of alpine climbing pants. The stretchy material breathes well and protects against most snow and wind, earning our Top Pick for backcountry skiing award. These are specifically made for human-powered skiing, with large vents and a breathable shell material that will keep you cool on the uptrack. Softshell pants are inherently less waterproof than hardshells, but these do the trick if the snow isn't too deep. The pockets and features are well-conceived, and the pants are so comfortable that you'll think you are in pajamas. These pants weigh about the same as other softshell pants in the market. There are lighter options, but those pants sacrifice durability and warmth.
Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Stretchy, soft, comfortable, many pockets, breathable
Cons: Not waterproof, thin material, climbing style
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Trailbreaker II is a niche product for backcountry skiing, an activity that requires different attributes in outerwear. As such, these pants don't perform well in a few of our performance metrics, like warmth and style. However, as a backcountry ski pant, they perform well in everything they are supposed to.
Backcountry pants sometimes sacrifice weather resistance for breathability. As such, many backcountry ski pants feature softshell fabrics that don't provide bomber waterproof performance, but rather protect against drier snow and a little bit of liquid water. This describes the Trailbreaker II. The fabric feels protective and does a great job of repelling dry snow on all but the deepest days.
To add weather resistance, OR added waterproof panels on front of the lower legs. This makes sense, but our experience shows that the thighs also get soaked quickly, from snow shedding off one's upper body, whereas the lower legs are only exposed to snow while skiing through it. These don't protect the thighs from getting wet, which isn't necessarily a deal-breaker in the backcountry, but it does affect this product's performance in our scoring matrix.
If you are a daily resort skier, these pants probably won't provide enough protection for you. We'd recommend almost any other pant in the review that has a waterproof shell. Chairlift rides will expose the thighs to any snow falling from the sky, which will melt from body heat and soak through the pant leg.
Fit and Comfort
The OR Trailbreaker II is a well-fitting and comfortable pant. Compared to most ski resort pants, these are much more comfortable. They are light, soft, flexible, and stretchy. The fit is slim, but not tight. We like the way they fit and stretch with our acrobatic movements.
Softshell material is much more comfortable than hardshell material. Some waterproof pants have figured out how to be supple and comfortable, but comparatively, softshells feels like cotton against the skin. You'll barely notice that you are wearing these pants. The waist comes equipped with velcro straps to help customize the fit, and the pockets are placed so that they'll be comfortable, even when full.
Backcountry skiers spend a lot of their time moving uphill at a slow and steady aerobic pace. The result is that they generate a lot of body heat, and often wear just a base layer or thin fleece on their upper bodies, and a thin baselayer on their lower legs, if at all. They also expect their outerwear to have great ventilation to dump this heat when it becomes excessive or when the sun pops out from behind the clouds.
The softshell fabric used in the OR Trailbreaker II is very breathable. Furthermore, the waterproof panels are located away from areas that generate a lot of heat, which is a good thing for breathability. Compared to hardshell pants, these are much more breathable. Compared to other softshell pants, the material is on the thicker side, which is good for durability. We think the Trailbreaker II strikes a good balance between breathability and weather resistance.
Ventilation is further enhanced by two long outer leg vents that open without mesh backing, almost from the knee to the waist. There are zipper tabs on either end, which allows you to ventilate the top half of your leg without getting any snow into the bottom half when you are moving your poles forward on the ski track.
Backcountry pants don't need to provide that much warmth. The OR Trailbreaker is pretty much perfect for touring in most mid-winter conditions. For warm spring tours, they might be a little warm still.
Of course, for resort riding, these pants cannot compare to more downhill-oriented competitors. Technically speaking, these pants have no insulation. The only thing between you and the environment is a thin piece of stretchy fabric. The softshell material will allow air to move freely between your inner world and the outside, carrying your body heat with it. If you want to be warm while wearing these pants in the ski resort, you'll have to layer up underneath.
For backcountry skiing, we expect skiers to be on the move most of the time, and to have a good understanding of how to adjust their system as the day changes. These pants will accommodate temperature fluctuations in the backcountry and provide the right warmth for most conditions.
The Trailbreaker pants have four pockets, all of them zippered. There are two hip pockets, one of which contains a plastic clip that secures your avalanche transceiver. Two more pockets are located on the rear of each thigh. We liked this placement because storing things along the front of the thigh is very uncomfortable when skinning uphill. All of the pockets are big enough to be useful.
These pants feature elastic powder cuffs that open wide enough to fit over boot buckles in uphill mode. Another feature we like is the slots in the powder cuff for a power strap. This allows easy transitions between uphill and downhill mode, without having to pull up the powder cuff to adjust the power strap.
Compared to most pants we have looked at, the Trailbreaker II pants are decidedly snug. Ski resort pants have been moving towards a neutral style, not too tight, not too baggy, with a single color design and zippers that blend in with the fabric. These are more reminiscent of alpine climbing pants and have a technical look to them. You'll stick out at the ski area, but in the backcountry, you'll fit right in and look sharp.
The pants have a snug fit through the hips and thighs, with just enough space to not be skin-tight. They are more baggy through the knee and lower leg. This cut is on the snug side compared to the fashion trend of most ski outerwear. The color options are very limited.
The OR Trailbreaker pants are less expensive than most resort-specific pants, but won't keep you as warm or well-protected. For dedicated backcountry skiers looking for a pair of pants for most days of the winter, these are a great value. We have worn past versions of this product for years, and they hold up for a long time. Plus, Outdoor Research has a great warranty policy, which means that you'll get great customer service if anything goes wrong.
These pants lack the warmth and weather resistance needed for inbounds skiing, but their comfort, flexibility, durability, and features make them very useful for human-powered endeavors. As such, we award the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker II our Top Pick for backcountry skiing.
— Jeff Dobronyi