Soft Shell Trousers

With colder months coming, it’s time to swap the light, flappy, insect-repellent trousers of summer for something a bit more resilient. In this guide we’ll consider the whole range of options for autumn and winter walking. You’ll find a range of approaches from sleek soft shell to super-toughened combat pants. All of them are windproof and water-repellent: they won’t all keep your legs dry in persistent rain, but they will hold off a shower and dry out sharpish afterwards. And some of them are very surprisingly light. Obviously everyone’s legs are different and trousers tend to be the hardest product in which to get an accurate fit given the idiosyncrasies of leg, waist, rear defensive padding and muscle structure. Our buyers guide will help you find the best softshell walking trousers for your outdoor adventures.

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

 

WATER RESISTANCE

Most of these pairs will hold off light rain thanks to a DWR finish (Durable Water Repellent). They won’t keep you as dry as a full pair of waterproof overtrousers, but they should stop your legs from getting too cold and wet, and dry out quickly afterwards. Plus they’re less faffy and more stylish than the dreaded overtrousers anyway.

WARMTH

A few of these pairs come with a warm inner lining for deep-winter walks. Just make sure they can also cool down when you need them to – a zipped vent down the side can help with that. 

STRETCH

The stretchier the face fabric, the more it will move with your legs, allowing them to flex more freely on steep ascents. Stretch tends to add cost, but is almost always worth the investment.

REINFORCEMENT

Look for toughened sections around the knees, seat and ankles, which will help you tackle rocky or prickly sections of your walks with confidence. You can be just as grateful for reinforced hems in the brambles of the New Forest as you can on the crags of Cumbria.

ANKLE CUFF

Trousers for winter are usually designed to close tightly over the tops of your boots, so they are often tapered and use a fastener (either a Velcro strap or buttons) to seal out water, mud and wind. This tends to cut down on their social chic.

SIZING

Most pairs come in Short, Regular and Long leg as well as the usual waist sizes – but we do find curious discrepancies between waist measurements. Some 34s are generous on Nick; some make him feel he needs to diet badly. Again – try before you buy.

FIT

Standard walking trousers tend to have quite a loose, relaxed fit, but these winter pairs are sharper, leaner and more fitted. This means that trying them first is very important before you buy – even if it’s a pair we love.

POCKETS

Most winter trousers skimp
on pockets to minimise the risk of water ingress. Most have very shallow hip pockets; a few offer cargo pockets, but make sure you can seal them effectively in a downpour.

 

ADVICE

 

CARGO QUANDARY

If there’s a cargo pocket, question what you’d put in it, and how safe it would be in there. On soft shell trousers, the cargo pockets are hardly ever big enough for a map, and they can also be too big for a GPS or phone. Also make sure the zip is securely water-resistant. 

STICKY STUFF

Scandi brands like Bergans and Didriksons are very fond of these things: sticky strips  around the hem which stick to the top of your boot and seal out nastiness. Very handy if you hate flappy trouser bottoms, and great for retaining warmth on cold days.

HATE WET LEGS?

If you’re a committed all-weather walker (or you’re planning on walking a long-distance path on set dates), it’s worth paying more for trousers that are fully waterproof, rather than having to dig out and pull on overtrousers when the clouds build. The  Nikwax Analogy fabric  used by Páramo can feel odd against your skin – but by golly it does the job.