REI Activator V2 Soft Shell Pants Review

REI Activator V2 Soft Shell Pants Review

Finding a good pair of winter hiking pants that will keep you warm while venting excess sweat is one of the more challenging pieces of clothing for winter hikers to acquire. While beginner winter hikers can get by with layering a pair of synthetic long johns under a pair of full-zip rain pants, the combination lacks in terms of breathability, comfort, weight, and freedom of movement. They’re often insufferably hot when you’re winter hiking or snowshoeing, which generates a lot more heat than three-season hiking.

REI Activator V2 Soft-Shell Pants

Water Resistance
Wind Resistance
Ease of Movement

Fantastic Winter Hiking Pants

REI's Activator V2 Soft Shell Hiking Pants are highly breathable cold weather pants suitable for winter hiking and snowshoeing. Warm and water resistant, they have a gusseted crotch for ease of movement and are available in a wide range of sizes for men and women.

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REI’s Activator V2 Soft-Shell Hiking Pants, available for both men and women, are soft-shell pants for winter hiking and snowshoeing. They’re water-resistant and highly breathable to prevent sweat build-up, with articulated knees and a gusseted crotch for freedom of movement. They can also be used comfortably for cool weather hiking in spring and autumn. I used the earlier version of these Activator Pants (V1) for the past two years, before upgrading to this latest version this year. The V2’s have more pockets and a more comfortable daisy-chain style belt that’s permanently attached to the pants so you can’t lose it. They’re also rated windproof to 35 mph wind and coated with a better DWR than the previous version.

Everyone’s metabolism is different, but 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 because they’re a single layer that’s easier to combine with others (See Winter Pant Layering for Hikers Who Sweat and KISS Layering).

The Activator V2 Pants have 5 pockets in total: two open pockets in front and one in back, as well as a zippered rear pocket and zippered pocket above the right 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 legs are slightly flared to fit over insulated winter hiking boots but don’t have ankle zips.

The pants have a heavy-duty YKK zip fly with a snap waist closure. A center gusset and articulated knees let you move freely without bunching.  I think my favorite feature on these pants is the belt, which is sewn onto the waistband and cannot be removed or lost in the laundry. The buckle hooks into daisy chain slots sewn onto the waistband that prevents it from loosening. The buckle is also flat so it fits comfortably under a climbing harness or backpack hip belt.

REI's Activator V2 Soft Shell Pants have a flat belt buckle that fits easily under a climbing harness or backpack hip belt for winter hiking
REI’s Activator V2 Soft Shell Pants have a flat belt buckle that fits easily under a climbing harness or backpack hip belt for winter hiking

I’ve found the Activator V2 Pants ideal for winter hiking down to about 15-20 degrees, when worn 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 V2 Activators in cold temperatures, covering everything except my knees with a second layer of insulation. While I have worn silk weight long underwear under the Activators on extremely cold days, it’s not something I need to do very often.

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.

REI’s Activator V2 Soft Shell 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. Have they changed anything other than the pockets and color with V2? I wish they made them in a dark olive so I could wear them instead of Scout uniform pants on those occasions when I need my Class A but it’s really cold.

  2. And as usual they don’t come in sizes for us big/tall guys. Back to Columbia I guess.

  3. I for one am not enamored of the “soft-shell revolution”. Softshells do not seem to provide nearly enough warmth for the weight in my own experience. And as a geezer weight is everything.

    Instead my winter pants are Duluth Traders DRY-ON-THE-FLY fleece lined nylon cargo pants. They are very similar to the nylon Railriders fleece lined pants and in my estimation the same quality. There IS one big difference – namely that Railriders fleece lined pants are about 50% more money! I think DT’s Chinese manufacturers are as good as Railriders Chinese manufacturers. ;o)

    These DT fleece lined pants over a mid weight or Polar weight base layer are warm to around zero F. If I’m moving at all.
    If I need sub zero protection I switch to Thermolite Micro synthetic fiber pants and jacket under GTX pants and parka – WITH polar weight base layer and a 200 weight Polartec jacket.

  4. I wore the REI V1 version of these pants on the first half of my 2018 AT thru hike. The fabric held up, they were water resistant until it started raining hard and very comfortable. Once wet they dried quickly. I very rarely wore long underwear underneath because when hiking my legs would heat up very quickly. I have memories of pulling off my pants and underlayer and being half dressed in the woods at 20 degrees as I had overheated!

    By the time I got halfway thru my hike it was starting to get warm and these pants aren’t ideal for hot weather – too hot! I sent these home for a pair of exofficio zip off pants which served me well to Maine.
    I think they are great pants and I’m wearing them again – walking the dogs.

  5. Thank you for the review! I’ve spent 2018 learning how to be a year round bike commuter. Been good down to 35 degrees. But with goals of cruising speeds up to 20mph on 20 degree days with 80% humidity, feet and legs have been my roadblock. Especially when I’m fine taking off layers when I get to work, but don’t want to change. And I’m on a limited budget.

    Think you convinced me to give these a shot.

  6. I bought my Activator V2 pants for Scotland in June and they were wonderful. Loved them. They worked so well in the cool, damp weather.
    I brought them to England to do the Coast to Coast. I thought the were a little warm for sunny but cool weather. Half way through the trip I discovered the crotch was ripped right below the zipper. I don’t see the other reviews about this same problem. I know I am not the only one who has had this problem.

  7. I just got a pair and wouldn’t call these “softshell” because they seem to be pretty much just like the Kuhl or Prana or any other of the new, stretchy, single-layer fabric pants for home or (casual) office, which are definitely capable of double duty.

    I think these activators would be great for hiking or fast packing with or without a base layer as needed, but mostly 3 season. I wouldn’t be thinking of them for windy bad winter weather, like a more traditional 2-layer softshell.

    I just came in from a 20 degree, 20 mph uphill snow fast pack/run in Mt. Hardwear over capri-length tights and felt fine. I don’t see Activators being able to do that comfortably without a substantial base layer.

    I think of “softshell” pants to be my much heavier 2-layer Mt Hardwear or REI, about 2x the weight and hardness of the Activators, though those more traditional softshell pants are still lighter than a softshell jacket.

    I’m definitely keeping the Activators for hard outdoor semi-cold weather exercise, as well as for wearing inside because they can do both.

    FYI – I’m usually a 32×31 and the 34×32 are snug.

    Great pants, thanks for the tip!

    • Too warm for 3 season. I only wear them in winter. It has to be really cold for me to wear long underwear.

      • Had them out in warmer but windy weather yesterday and can see how they’d be good colder than I originally thought. Pretty substantial for their weight.

  8. Great pants, but lack ventilation options. Used them in September in the Winds with temps low 20’s-mid-50’s. Nice for camp and starting the day but easy to overheat once temps neared 50.

    If I could sew or thought it was worth the extra price, adding vents would be perfect. Nice to have a 32×30 size option vs OR Cirque.

  9. Just checked this pant in REI today Dec 5th at Tysons corner store. Really loved how it felt but they have V3 version which still is not listed on their website or it’s not to be found on google yet. I wanted to buy the new version but decided to reviews and nothing on it yet. They removed built in belt and made pockets cleaner looking. The material and color is exactly the same but pants look so much cleaner.

    I guess I’ll have to buy to see if I’ll like them.

    • Don’t know about the V3, but the V2’s are 30% off. I’d snatch some up but I already have 4 pairs and they last forever.

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