Softshell pants are, in my opinion, one of the single greatest clothing innovations to come along in quite a while, especially for climbing.  I have tried the traditional 3 layer approach on my legs and it fails every time.  Hard shell pants simply cannot breathe as fast as I need.  The other problem with the 3 layer approach is the climbing harness.  I have never heard a good explanation of how someone is supposed to adjust their layers while in a harness.

Insulation inside the Mixmaster softshell pants.

Insulation inside the Mixmaster softshell pants.

The better solution is one pair of pants that do everything and handle a wide range of conditions.  The reality is in freezing conditions, there just isn’t that much water to worry about, so claims of waterproof pants being a necessity are overblown.  Breathability and wind blocking ability are the real keys.

My favorite cold conditions softshell pants are the Patagonia Mixmasters.  I’ve used mine all over the Andes to good effect.  These have a very durable face material that has stood up to granite quite well.  Any holes in the outer material are easy to fix with a dab of Seam Grip to stop unraveling, no special patches necessary.  The cut is athletic and the material is stretchy and soft, making these some of the easiest pants to climb in that I’ve ever found.  The insulation is just right for a wide range of temperatures.  I find I don’t even need to wear a baselayer under these pants until it is constantly below zero.

Patagonia Mixmaster pants pocket with Seam Grip repair.

Patagonia Mixmaster pants pocket with Seam Grip repair.

A key criticism I hear about softshell is how long it takes to dry.  What I have found after soaking my pants on river crossings is that I continue to stay warm and comfortable even though the pants are wet.  I can remove them, squeeze out as much moisture as possible, and then continue on, letting my body heat dry them.

Another nice feature is the cuff design of these pants.  I rarely use gaiters anymore.  The cuffs seal well around my boots, and there are two loops of webbing in the cuff.  I lace some tent shock cord through the webbing loops and run that under my boots to hold the pants down.  This creates a nice, gaiter-like seal.

Note: I was disappointed to find out that Patagonia had discontinued the Mixmaster pants a few years ago.  DON’T WORRY! I contacted Patagonia, and they explained that they have updated the Mixmasters, and are now selling them under the name  Speed Ascent Pants.  I’ll buy a pair and review them as soon as I can wear out my Mixmasters!

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