Trailbreaker Softshell Pant for Backcountry Skiing – Review Clothing, Outdoor Research

Post by blogger | September 7, 2011      
Backcountry Skiing pants, Outdoor Research Trailbreaker looks to be a good bet for the all-around leg covering I'm always searching for.

Backcountry Skiing pants, Outdoor Research Trailbreaker

Every few years whoever makes my favorite softshell pant quits making my favorite softshell pant. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps our review and recommend is the kiss of the reaper or something like that. More likely, the wispy ways of the backcountry skiing clothing business require that a brand’s model of anything, but it a car or sock, has to change. Sigh, I accept that.

Forewith, I reserve the right to change my mind, but the softshell pant I’m probably picking as my winter go-to is the Outdoor Research Trailbreaker. This to replace the previous crowd favorite OR Tremor model.

Trailbreaker pants are made with breathable softshell fabric (Cordura Thermolite) above the knees, waterproof/breathable Ventia below the knees. To me that’s an odd configuration; in wet weather what seems to get wetest the fastest for me is the cloth over my thighs. On the other hand, I’ve found pants made completely with waterproof/breathable (e.g., OR Tremor) to frequently be too hot and sweaty, especially for spring skiing. Thus, I’ll trust the OR designers and give this configuration a shot.

Trailbreaker pant review knee pad.

One of the best features of Trailbreaker pant is the user accessible knee pad pocket. I'm a big fan of knee protection, but don't always like wearing tight knee pads on my legs due to irritation of the tendons behind my knees. Pads in pants don't protect quite as well since they can move around during a fall, but you don't know they're there during normal use. I'd like the OR knee pad to be about an inch longer in at the bottom so it protects better when kneeling, but it's adequate as is.

Knee pads in pants for backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering.

I made my pads out of some low density foam we had lying around WildSnow HQ; they're easy to insert and remove through a small hole in the pad pocket. Nice.

The fully featured Trailbreaker pant is almost too technical. For example, you can hold them on your body with a belt through the belt loops, or a hook/loop/elastic waist size adjustment, or suspenders. If you have trouble keeping your pants up, use all three! The plethora of pockets is interesting; two regular hip pockets, as well as longer pockets located rearward of the conventional hip pocket location. I can see these holding a GPS, map or radio, but wonder at the added weight and bulk. All pockets are zippered, and you’ll find a key clip and avy beacon compartment in the right one. Here at we frequently carry our beacons in places other than the provided harness — nice to see a clothing manufacturer help with this sort of backcountry skiing detail.

Also note these pants do have built-in mesh/elastic gaiters. No provision is made in the cuff for cutting boot buckle slots, but such would be trivial to add by anyone with a sewing machine.

Trailbreaker pants beacon pocket inside hip pocket is perfect for ski mountaineering.

Mesh beacon pocket inside right hip pocket is WildSnow approved. Key clip can be used to attach beacon lanyard for total security.

Backcountry skiing pant ventilation zippers.

Speedo, commando or boxer, everyone will know when you deploy the long vent zippers on the Trailbreaker backcountry skiing pants.

Shop for Trailbreaker Pants.

(Disclosure: We picked up Outdoor Research as a sponsor a few days ago. They’d advertised with us years ago, so nice to have them back! This review was in process long before we negotiated the advertising deal. We like most OR gear, review it as frequently as possible, and any relationship between their advertising and our reviews is purely coincidental. We’ll long-term test the Trailbreaker Pants and file another review later this coming winter.)


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17 Responses to “Trailbreaker Softshell Pant for Backcountry Skiing – Review Clothing, Outdoor Research”

  1. Chet Roe September 7th, 2011 9:58 am

    Lou…….I agree re the softshell pants that always seem to get discontinued… Cloudveil Symmetry pants for spring stuff have been hanging in there for quite a few years, they fit, they breath, and they won’t last too many more years, and the fit has changed in all the cloudveil stuff [early on they happened to be cut pretty long, probably too long for average guys]………………anyway, my point is to be aware/tell us in your reviews what/if “models” of pants come in Long/Tall sizes?! at 6’2″ with longer legs, most S,M,L,XL sized stuff isn’t long enough for me……………thanks, Chet

  2. Joe September 7th, 2011 10:27 am

    Knee pads? Lou, are you secretly free heeling? Do you need a second disclosure at the bottom of this piece?

  3. Lou September 7th, 2011 10:29 am

    Sometimes, free heeling just happens, with any binding. In that event knee pads are nice!

    No need for second disclosure (grin)!

  4. Dan September 7th, 2011 10:43 am

    Lou, it looks like the pant bottoms have an internal gaiter? True? I really like all the pockets, esp. the beacon pocket. However, I suspect that OR, like many other companies, will offer only the basic 4 sizes: S, M, L and XL. Mammut offers about every reasonable combination imagineable for inseam and waist. Personnally, I like simple pants bottoms as were offered with the Mammut Champ pants…simple elastic that could be grabbed while gloved and easily pulled over the boot cuff. The “old” Marmot Scholler fabric ski pants also made use of the elastic pant bottom…very nice. of course, both the Champ and Marmot pant referenced have been discontinued. The elastic bottom reduces the fiddling during the exchange and less stuff can go wrong with it. It would also be nice if more manufacturers of softshell ski pants made them available in a light color. Skinning in all but the coldest temps is warm/hard work and a light color pant helps on a sunny day, even when cold. FYI: One can have ski pants custom made at “” for a fairly reasonable price. Although, I believe they changed their name. Sorry, I do not know the new name but googling Beyondfleece might take you to the new site.

  5. Scott Nelson September 7th, 2011 11:14 am

    Looks kinda like chain sawing chaps for some reason. Always liked OR gear though. Durable. Comfortable. But the “chaps” look, not sure.

  6. Greg Louie September 7th, 2011 11:24 am

    Those look promising, but knee pads? I was thinking more along the lines of TLT5 buckle cutouts . . .

    Agree about companies changing the best softshell pants from the past, Cloudveil seems to be aiming at the croquet player from Long Island market these days; fortunately I stocked up on Symmetry and Switchback pants a few years ago.

    More power to OR, they’re putting out some good stuff.

  7. Lou September 7th, 2011 11:55 am

    The buckle cutouts would be incredible… easy to provide.

  8. Mark W September 7th, 2011 12:24 pm

    Beacon pocket I have used as well, but sometimes I am reluctant as this results in a slight lifted weight penalty per one leg’s stride.

  9. Lou September 7th, 2011 12:41 pm

    Dan, internal gaiter, yes. They zip out. I’ll add to review.

    All, as far as I can tell the Trailbreaker is not sold with inseam length choices for a given size. Too bad, but they’ll probably fit most people. I’m using size Medium, and they’re just slightly longish but feel good and free around the knees.

  10. Johm S September 7th, 2011 1:54 pm

    I have these pants and really like them. I think the beacon pocket is one of the best features and hope more pants incorporate it. The upper soft shell material pills badly with use, and I hope this is not an indication of shortened life. The price is also a tad high, retailing for $220 in Canada. Most soft shell pants (other than Dead-Bird) are priced lower.

  11. Ed September 7th, 2011 9:08 pm

    The knee pockets have one great use for me . . . . ensolite inserted here is GREAT for climbing low angle (say 45-55 deg) glacier ice on summer alpine trips – endless hours of semi-kneeling and cold, cold knees. Yuck! We also put holes down one side of each pad (use a three-hole punch) and with three binder rings threaded and snapped closed, the two small pads become an extra insulated seat for lunch. For me, OR scores with this feature!
    I’d like to see this feature on a set of bib pants!

  12. Zeb September 8th, 2011 9:18 am

    Lou — a while back you raved about Polartec’s new neoshell. But I can’t seem to figure out what products have it or how to get them. Polartec’s web-site doesn’t give the information (at least where I could find it) and they did not return my emails. Any ideas? Maybe a chart showing what products use what? Thanks!

  13. Lou September 8th, 2011 9:54 am

    Zeb, thanks for asking, amazing it’s not easier to figure that out, their media/PR people need to get it together! The Neoshell really is good. Not sure I have time to get a chart together, but I’ll see what I can do with making some clothing suggestions. Stay tuned, working on today’s blog post at the moment.

  14. The Contessa September 8th, 2011 10:20 am

    These pants are brilliant, they must have been designed by a god, I swear

  15. Martin Volken September 9th, 2011 10:01 am

    The original design idea for the Trailbreaker pant was simple. We wanted to create a a world class skitouring and skimountaineering pant.
    The pant was intended to be as breathable as possible while offering a good amount of protection against snow and moisture where most needed. I have toured on the pant for many days now and the mechanical venting feature is very useful as it the beacon pocket. (by the way, if you are opposed to wearing your beacon on anything other than your beacon harness, simply don’t use the beacon pocket feature..) The mesh gaiters do a surprisingly good job. They were intended to act as a gaiter, but to keep it breathable.
    By the way, the upper fabric sheds snow very well.
    I have used the pant as well as a colder weather alpine climbing pant (Mont Blanc etc. ) and it worked very well. I just zipped out the little gaiters.
    All in all I believe that OR created one of the best true skitouring pants (or the best?) on the market.

  16. Jonathan Shefftz September 21st, 2011 9:16 am

    Speaking of ski pants, just learned that Dynafit will be offering two of their pants this season in North America.
    Seraks is a full-featured soft-shell design:
    And Movement is kind of like halfway between regular pants and the bottom of a race suit:

  17. George October 18th, 2012 7:40 am

    I am looking for a multi-sport softshell pant (ski & hunt). Is the Trailbreaker’s lower fabric too noisy for elk hunting? I have my choices narrowed down to the OR Trailbreaker in grey or the Sitka Timberline ( in camo. Both offer knee pads in a tough softshell. The Sitka camo may be redneck but I like the waterproof knees and back for both skiing and hunting. GT

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