REI Activator 3.0 Softshell Pants Review

REI Activator 3.0 Softshell Pants Review

REI’s Activator 3.0 Soft-Shell Pants, available for both men and women, are softshell pants for winter hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing. They’re water-resistant and highly breathable to prevent sweat build-up, with articulated knees and a gusseted crotch for freedom of movement. They’re rated windproof to 35 mph wind and coated with DWR (durable water repellent) for moisture protection. This DWR prevents the pants from becoming soaked when you fall on snow.

The Activator 3.0 Pants have five pockets. There are two side pockets and one over the knee that close with zippers, and two rear pockets that close with snaps. The women’s model has a slightly different knee pocket that zips up along the inseam and not over the knee. All five of the pockets are mesh backed for enhanced ventilation.

The pant’s fabric is quite stretchy, which also enhances its comfort. The pants close in front with a burly zipper and two robust snaps at the waist. The Activator 3.0 also comes with belt loops although you need to supply a belt: the previous Activator 2.0 Pant had a sewn-in belt but could be difficult to use if it slipped back into the fabric sleeve that covered it. It was less prone to slippage under a backpack hipbelt or climbing harness, but I suspect many people found it awkward to use compared to a normal belt or no belt at all.

The two back pockets on the Activator 3 pants close with snaps
The two back pockets on the Activator 3.0 pants close with snaps

The Activator 3.0 Pant legs are slightly flared to fit over insulated winter hiking boots but don’t have ankle zips or snaps. However, they do come with a new drawcord adjustment at the ankle that lets you cinch pants down over boots to keep out debris, or roll ’em up to ford a stream. Mind you, I find these pants too warm in anything but winter temperatures when most streams are frozen over.

Softshell Pants are Ideal in Winter

While everyone’s metabolism is different, I’ve found that softshell pants alone provide the most comfort in terms of breathability, temperature regulation, water resistance, and wind resistance for winter hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing. I find that I can wear the Activator 3.0 pants down to 15-20 degrees F before I need to add a wind layer on top for added protection and warmth when I’m actively hiking, snowshoeing, or XC skiing.

I usually wear my Activator 3.0 Pants with 6″ Under Armour boxer shorts, insulated high-top winter boots, and super breathable high gaiters. While none of these are considered layers in the strict sense of the word, they do significantly boost the range of the Activator 3.0 Pants in cold temperatures, covering everything except my knees in a second layer of insulation.

You actually want to run a little cool when winter hiking or snowshoeing because your body is generating so much heat. That’s why it’s important to have extra layers handy when you stop, like a puffy insulated jacket or a pair of rain or wind pants that you can pull over your winter hiking pants, to slow the release of body heat. The combination will warm you right up if you’re standing still.

Knee Slash Pocket Zipper Closup - the knee pocket is large enough to hold a Apple Smartphone.
Knee Slash Pocket Zipper Closeup – the knee pocket is large enough to hold an Apple Smartphone.


REI’s Activator 3.0 Softshell Pants are available in 30, 32, and 34″ lengths and in waist sizes from 30 to 42″, including women’s regular, tall, and petite sizes. If this is your first pair of winter hiking pants, I’d recommend getting them a bit shorter than normal since you’ll be wearing winter boots and gaiters: any bunching of extra pant fabric around your feet will be awkward and make your calves sweat significantly more.

Disclosure: The author purchased this product,.

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  1. I have an older pair of these pants and use them all winter. Glad to see though that they replaced the sewn in belt with loops, as it seems to me more flexible offering use of a belt or suspenders.

  2. Do you think the 3.0 version is enough of an improvement on the 2.0 version (now on sale) to spend an additional 50 dollars?

    • It will be when they sell out the 2.0 version. Really depends on wherher you like the old belt or the no belt. I happen to prefer the old belt because i can’t lose it but its not a deal killer for me.

  3. You say you add a wind layer on top when temps dip below 15-20. What do you normally pack with you for this circumstance? I’ve been wearing thermals underneath my winter hiking pants but like you tend to run warm and end up sweating. It never occurred to me to forego the thermals entirely and bring an extra outer layer.

    • I wear something I can pull on or off without removing my boots. Either a montbell rain pant, golite, or enlightened equip. If you have really big boots, full zip Marmot Precips work likea charm.

  4. I’ve never been a soft-shell fan but I DO like myDuluth Trading Co. “Dry on the Flyfleece lined nylon cargo pants. All the features and quality ofRail Rifers fleece lined nylon pants but a lot less money

  5. Bought the new version of these, absolutely love them. Its great to not have the bunching of long johns underneath like you mentioned. I much prefer the new belt loops as I love to hike with my Arcade Belts elastic stretchy belt. Maybe the most comfortable hiking pants i’ve worn.

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