10 Best Winter Hiking Pants of 2021-2022

10 Best Winter Hiking Pants

The Best Winter Hiking Pants are highly breathable softshell pants that prevent the accumulation of perspiration when hiking, snowshoeing, climbing/mountaineering, or even ski touring in winter. They’re made with woven nylon or polyester that is warmer and more windproof than normal three-season hiking pants and are treated with an exterior DWR coating to help them repel water. Many softshell pants have features that can be used for multiple winter sports while others are more hiking-specific. The fit also varies by activity: climbing style pants tend to run slim while pants that are good for hiking/snowshoeing are roomier and more easily layered. Popular features include a buried/integrated belt providing for hipbelt and climbing harness compatibility, zippered side vents, zippered pockets, and ankle adjustability.  Be sure to read our FAQ below about how to choose the best softshell winter pants for your needs.

Here are the 10 best softshell winter hiking pants that we recommend.

Make / ModelMen's ModelWomen's ModelFit
REI Activator 3.0 Softshell PantsMensWomensStandard
KUHL Klash PantsMensWomensRelaxed
Marmot Scree Softshell PantsMensWomensRelaxed
Arc'teryx Gamma AR PantsMensWomensStandard
Outdoor Research Cirque II PantsMensWomensRoomy
Black Diamond Alpine Softshell PantsMensWomensSlim
Patagonia Simul Alpine PantsMensWomensSlim
Norrona Falketind Flex1 Softshell PantsMensWomensStandard
Mammut Courmayeur SO PantMensWomensSlim
Mountain Equipment Ibex/Chamois PantsMensWomensRelaxed

1. REI Activator 3.0 Softshell Pants

REI Activator 3.0 Softshell Pants
The REI Activator 3.0 is a softshell pant with a gusseted crotch, moderate stretchiness, and three zippered pockets.  It has a good balance between breathability and warmth and is coated with an external DWR to prevent blowing snow from making the pants wet. It requires an external belt (previous models had an integrated buried belt). Despite its relative lack of technical features, they’re a winter hiker favorite, very durable and long-lasting, and quite affordable.  A women’s model is also available. Read our REI Activator 3.0 Pant review.

Available from:
REI

2. KUHL Klash Pants

Kuhl Klash Pants

KUHL’s Klash Pants are durable softshell pants with a roomy fit that is perfect for winter hiking and snowshoeing.  They provide excellent freedom of movement, they dry quickly when they get wet, and have lots of pockets so you can stay organized. They have belt loops with an Ultrasuede waistband for a comfortable fit, a gusseted crotch, and articulated knees. The pants have a zippered bottom hem gusset to fit over boots, hooks that can be used instead of gaiters to help seal out the cold, and ankle cuff guards to protect against abrasion.  A womens model is also available. Read our Kuhl Klash Pant review.

Available from:
REI | KUHL

3. Marmot Scree Soft Shell Pants

Marmot Scree Softshell Pants
Marmot’s Scree Pants are durable and breathable softshell pants for winter hiking and snowsports. They have belt loops and a relaxed fit so they can be worn over a baselayer. The pants come with three climbing harness-compatible front pockets:  a zippered thigh pocket and two front pockets made with mesh lining that lay flat and don’t bulk up. However, the pockets on the men’s model are substantially larger than the ones offered for women. Finally, shock cord adjustable ankle openings let you adapt to different boots. A women’s model is also available. Read our Marmot Scree Pant review.

Available from:
Backcountry | Marmot | Amazon

4. Arc’teryx Gamma AR Soft-Shell Pants

Arcteryx Gamma AR softshell Pants
The Arc’tyeryx Gamma AR Pant is a wind-resistant softshell pant with a durable water repellent finish to fend off moisture and a brushed inner face for thermal comfort. They have an integrated, buried belt for climbing harness compatibility with a micro-fleece waistband for comfort. There are three zippered pockets: one thigh pocket and two handwarmer pockets. A gusseted crotch and articulated knees and seat provide for excellent freedom of movement while adjustable ankle cuffs and lace hooks provide good boot integration.  A women’s model is also available. Read our Review.

Available from:
REI | Arc’teryx | Amazon

5. Outdoor Research Cirque II Softshell Pants

Outdoor Research Cirque II Softshell Pants
Outdoor Research’s Cirque II Softshell Pants are serious softshell pants for winter hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, and ski touring. They’re made with a 90d, double weave fabric that is highly durable and warm with a gusseted crotch, articulated kneed, and plenty of stretch for big moves. The fleece-lined waistband has hook & loop side tabs to dial in a perfect fit and is suspender compatible (suspenders not included). There’s a thigh pocket, two handwarmer pockets, and an avalanche beacon pocket. Ankle scuff guards, zippers, drawcord cuff adjustment, and lace hooks are all included.  A women’s model is also available.

Available from:
REI| Outdoor Research | Amazon

6. Black Diamond Alpine Softshell Pants

Black Diamond Alpine Pants
Black Diamond’s Alpine Softshell Pants are made with a double weave four-way stretch fabric with a DWR coating for water resistance. They have a buried integrated belt for hipbelt and climbing harness compatibility and have two zippered pockets, one on the thigh and one in the rear.  The ankles also have adjustable cuffs that fit over boots to keep out rocks, ice, and snow. The fit is slim.  A women’s model is also available. 

Available from:
Backcountry | Black Diamond | Amazon

7. Patagonia Simul Alpine Pants

Patagonia Simul Alpine Pants
Patagonia’s Simul Alpine Pants are softshell pants with a buried and integrated waistband for climbing harness and backpack hipbelt compatibility. They’re made with recycled polyester with a DWR coating to resist moisture. A gusseted crotch provides freedom of movement and slim legs let you see your feet. They have three zippered front pockets; one on the thigh and two hip pockets. Narrow, adjustable lower-leg cuffs and tie-down loops provide compatibility with alpine boots.  A women’s model is also available.

Available from:
Backcountry | Patagonia|

8. Norrona Falketind Flex1 Pants

Norrona Men's Falketind Flex1 Pant
Norrona’s Falketind Flex1 softshell pants are well-suited for all-season trekking in the alpine. The pants are soft and stretchable providing good wind resistance and water repellency. They have a custom-fit waist system with velcro side tabs in addition to belt loops, a gusseted crotch, mesh-lined ventilation from the hips to the knee, two hand pockets, a back pocket, and a thigh pocket – all with zippers.  A women’s model is also available. If you run cold, the pants can be worn with a baselayer. They’re also available in a heavier and more durable softshell model, called the Falketind Flex1 Heavy Duty Pant.

Available from:
REI | Backcountry | Moosejaw

9. Mammut Courmayeur SO Pant

Mammut Courmayeur SO Pant
Mammut’s Courmayeur Pants are highly breathable wind-resistant pants made with Schoeller softshell fabric coated with DWR. A gusseted crotch, articulated knees, and strategically placed seams provide high mobility and comfort. They have an adjustable waistband and integrated belt along with three zippered pockets that are located for climbing harness compatibility. Adjustable leg openings and lace hooks provide flexibility with different footwear. These pants have an athletic fit and run a bit small, so size up. A women’s model is also available.

Available from:
Backcountry | Amazon

10. Mountain Equipment Ibex and Chamois Pants

Mountain Equipment Ibex Softshell Pant
Mountain Equipment Men’s Ibex Pants and their counterpart the Women’s Chamois Pants are double woven softshell pants that provide extra warmth and excellent durability. They are loaded with five zippered pockets: two side pockets, one rear, and two thigh pockets. They have an integrated buried belt with a microfleece waistband for added comfort. They have gusseted ankle zips which are also large enough to fit around ski boots.

Available from:
Backcountry | Moosejaw | Amazon

Softshell Winter Hiking Pants – FAQ

What are the best winter hiking pants?

Many experienced winter hikers prefer softshell winter pants because they’re simpler to use than wearing rain pants over a pair of long underwear. Softshell pants are also more form-fitting and don’t make any noise. The problem with rain pants and long underwear is that it can be difficult to vent your rain pants or take off your long underwear without first removing your rain pants and boots. Softshell pants are breathable enough, meaning that your sweat will evaporate through them, if you start to warm up and perspire.

Are softshell pants good for snow?

Softshell pants are good for snow because they have a DWR coating on the exterior the repels water and they’re highly breathable so you don’t overheat. Hiking in snow or snowshoeing requires a lot of energy and it’s easy to overheat and perspire. You want to avoid getting too warm and sweating because it will wet your clothing and reduce its ability to insulate you.

Are softshell pants waterproof?

Softshell pants are far more breathable than the waterproof rain pants that some hikers wear, so you’ll stay cooler and perspire less when working hard when hiking up mountains or snowshoeing. While they have an external DWR repellent coating for enhanced rain resistance, they are not waterproof or as windproof as hard shell rain pants. We recommend carrying both softshell pants and rain pants on cold-weather hikes, the latter for rain and wind protection, as well as added warmth when layered over the softshell pants.

Are softshell pants windproof?

Softshell pants are more windproof and warmer than regular hiking pants, but they’re designed to be highly breathable and let some wind through. If you need protection from the wind, we’d recommend layering a pair of wind pants or rain pants over a pair of softshell pants when you need added wind protection.

Should you wear a baselayer under softshell pants?

You can wear a baselayer (long underwear) under softshell pants, but it’s often not necessary except on extremely cold days. Softshell pants are warmer than regular hiking pants and usually sufficient to keep you warm when you’re actively hiking or snowshoeing. If you need additional warmth because you’re being chilled by the wind or because you’re standing still and not moving and generating heat, you can warm up by wearing a pair of rain pants over your softshell pants. Also, if you wear a baselayer under softshell pants and find yourself overheating, it’s very difficult to delayer without taking off your boots and pants, unless your baselayer long underwear has side zips and is removable without requiring that you get undressed.

How are softshell hiking pants different from ski pants?

Ski pants are usually much heavier, bulkier, and warmer since there is so much start and stop activity involved especially if you’re skiing at a resort with chair lifts. many ski pants also have internal gaiters which are hot and awkward to use when hiking and snowshoeing.

Why do softshell pants have a buried or integrated belt?

A buried or integrated pants belt loops around your waist like a regular belt but is covered with fabric around the back and sides of the pant. This makes the belt compatible with a climbing harness or a backpack hipbelt. When climbing higher mountains, you may be required to rope-in with a climbing harness.

Why do softshell pants have zippered pockets?

Softshell pants have zippered pockets that are usually located in front of the pants and are positioned so they can be easily accessed even if you’re wearing a climbing harness. Zippered pockets are more streamlined than regular pockets and less likely to interfere with gear hanging from a climbing harness.

Why do some softshell pants have ankle cuffs?

Some softshell pants have a built-in ankle cuff on the inside of the legs to provide crampon protection when climbing, backcountry skiing, or winter hiking. The ankle cuff isn’t as substantial as a high gaiter and doesn’t replace wearing them, but can be a useful convenience for winter use, especially if you want to use the same pants for ski touring.

Why do softshell pants have articulated knees?

Articulated knees are baggier than the knees in regular pants and provide more freedom of movement especially for climbing.

What are gusseted softshell pants?

Gussetted pants have added fabric panels, usually triangular, that add more width to the crotch, making it easier to raise your knee when taking large steps or climbing vertical surfaces.

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14 comments

  1. Thanks Philip!

    What’s the temp range/conditions you typically switch from regular hiking pants to a softshell pant for winter? Certainly see the benefit in consistent, snowy conditions, but how about cold conditions without a lot of snow?

    Thanks!

  2. Thanks Philip for this overview of an often overlooked piece of gear.

    My choice for “winter pants” is DULUTH TRADING “Dry on the Fly” fleece lined nylon cargo pants.
    At least as good as RailRiders version and less money.

    • I can’t hike in a lined pant in winter. No way to de-layer when you get too hot. I wouldn’t recommend it, but to each his own.

      • Please elaborate. Do soft shell pants breathe better and not get as hot as a fleece lined pant?

        • It really depends on the weight of the fleece in the fleece-lined pants and what the pants are made of. But frankly, fleece lined pants will be god-awful hot if you plan to snowshoe or winter hike in them. Because they’re part of your pants you’ll be unable to take them off to cool down. It’s always best to layer over a base layer of some sort, rather than under, so you can take a layer off to cool down and stop sweating.

    • Another good Duluth option is the Flexpedition pants. They stretch, and have a DWR coating, and the lining is pretty light on the insulation, so they aren’t too warm in the winter. The “hidden” cargo pockets aren’t all that useful, though.

  3. I have the LL Bean Knife’s Edge Pants and love them. Not many products from LL Bean are much good on the trail anymore as they’ve gone more fashion and less function, but they do still have some good gear. Found them at an outlet store and for the price could not leave them. My wife loves the REI Activator pants so much that she has a second pair stashed away.

  4. I use Ibex wool jeans (from the old Vermont co.), Bean Maine Guide wool pants (unlined and with suspenders) or Railriders Versatac-mids…

  5. Phil – thanks for publishing this list. I was mostly unaware – or skeptical – of hiking pants specifically for winter/cold. Previously I would just layer under normal hiking pants or go with lightly lined ski pants depending on the mercury level. Inevitably at the end of the day I was damp with sweat.

    I picked up a pair of the Kuhl pants and have been wearing them this winter with no other base layer and only carry a wind layer to go over if needed (hasn’t been needed yet). My bottom half stays cool throughout the day but I always return to the car dry.

    My one criticism of almost all of these is that they’re not made in any tall sizes. The reason I went with the Kuhl is because it was the only one I could find with a 32″ inseam which is still about 3″ to short for me but gaiters cover that up.

    • Try the Norrona Falketind Flex1 Softshell Pants. They’re sized for tall thin dudes with long legs. They’re really awesome pants. I’ve been using mine lately for XC, now that we have a lot of snow. They’re surprisingly windproof with a tight softshell weave, so they insulate pretty well.

      • Thanks for the recommendation. Looking for them now most places seem to be out of stock – likely due to getting at end of season. I’ll put them on the list for potential Fall purchase!

  6. I’m intrigued by the Soft Shell pants but have never owned them. I currently use a Mountain Hardware waterproof breathable bibs style pant for winter hiking that is easily vented. Would there be an advantage to switching from this style of hard shell pant? Also, do you find that the pants get pushed down a little in back from a pack?

    • No, my pants don’t get pushed down. If what you have works, why change it? In passing, I tried to use a pair of long underwear and hard shell pants with full side zips (Montbell Atomics) once this winter and almost drowned in sweat. I just find Softshell pants to be infinitely more breathable and comfortable. I never have any noticeable perspiration buildup in them at all, even when I am breaking trail in snowshoes.

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