The idea, find three pair of slim somewhat “Euro-cut” ski touring pants, with thin enough fabric for warm spring days. All had to easily fit over ski boot cuffs, internal gaiter not mandatory.
It wasn’t easy. Some trousers used nice fabric but fit like golf shorts. Others initially appeared beautiful but would not pull over my ski boots without spraining my finger ligaments. Still other ski touring jodhpurs were more hard-shell than breathable, simply not what I prefer for spring in the sunny U.S. Rocky Mountains.
My bias? I like slim fitting pants I can wear anywhere, preferably in dark colors. I prefer an adjustable waist so I can let the suspenders drape while stumbling around Cortina and quaffing spritzers. Or, after the muffuletta reconfigures my stomaco. Oh, and I’ve got skinny legs, so even “slim” pants can feel plenty roomy.
The Contenders reviewed (in alpha order)
Due to a slightly thicker stretch fabric (they call it “soft shell” but it’s really a hybrid due to what appears to be a super tight weave or else a highly breathable membrane), I’d call Dynafit Mercury a “crossover” pant that works for warmer winter days or cooler spring days. Fit is medium, with average length inseam.
I like the less slick texture of the Dynafit “Silver Shell” fabric, and the “Night Black” color works well for traveling when brighter colors can sport mystery stains that make your presence questioned at finer establishments. Internal gaiters fit over my boots, but had the annoying habit of velcro sticking to the inside of the cuff fabric due to the Silver Shell fabric’s plush inner surface (which by the way feels nice against bare skin, perhaps inspiring one to go commando in the right circumstances). I get so tired of velcro within a meter of a boot cuff or gaiter…but what’s the alternative? I don’t know. Fortunately greater minds than mine are on the problem — though it seems it’s taking a while to figure out.
Mercury side vents are backed with privacy panels, obviously designed for going without your boxers or perhaps to prevent the ingress of Japow experienced during your lastest best day of skiing of your life. No back pocket but reasonable pair of hip pockets and one side pocket. A somewhat non-standard suspender anchor at the rear (suspender anchor inserts left-right instead of front-back, if that makes any sense) dictates perhaps ordering the Dynafit suspenders along with these — research before you buy. I like the simple girth adjustment, perfect for accommodating an extra large schnitzel.
Size tested, Large
Color: Night Black
Weight without suspenders: 564 grams
Best feature: Nicely breathable with good basic venting
Non-feature: Slightly warm for hot days
Availability: Appears to be in stock
Patagonia Men’s Kniferidge
These drawers are made a less breathable yet thin fabric, Polartec Power Shield Pro, with more water resistance than the straight soft-shell offerings. You’ll definitely want thigh vents with Power Shield (they’re here), and you’ll like the versatility of this excellent stretchy fabric if the days shifts from sun to rain before you drop back to the gasthaus for a strudel.
When testing day-to-day with other breeches I easily noticed the Patagonia Kniferidge to be less breathable — but they work. Excellent feature is the classic Patagonia style drop seat that operates while you’ve still got your suspenders on. Surprise is the long inseam, honestly a few centimeters too long for these to be my go-to pants without a trip to the sew center for a leg shortening. Is that doable? Some pants have an easy seam to pull for shortening, Kniferidge does not though an expert tailor can still do the task. Definitely check the fit before you commit.
Lack of pockets on the Kniferidge is a bit strange: one small one lower on the right thigh. We’d like to know the design philosophy behind that. At least give us two pockets, one for wallet and one for beacon. But hey, if you want a “clean” touring pant made with excellent fabric look no farther. Due to lack of internal gaiters (drawstring with cord clamp) and pockets, don’t let the low weight seduce you into thinking these have some kind of secret weight-saving sauce. On the other hand, if you don’t want pockets and you’re a “long legged man,” go for it.
Patagonia Men’s Kniferidge
Size tested: Medium
Color: Underwater Blue
Weight without suspenders: 482 grams
Best feature: Clever drop-seat (been around for years, nice latest iteration)
Non-feature: Really long inseam, a feature if you’re long legged.
Availability: Shop at Backcountry.com, women’s version appears to be only model in at present
La Sportiva Castle
With this slim Euro-stylers on I found myself doing spins every time I passed my wife’s dressing room mirror. Oh, don’t I look fine! Shows you my heritage, I’ve just never been good in pants that are 4 times the diameter of my thighs. These guys have the slimmest fit of our three testers. Color them denim, give them to Tim McGraw on stage, you wouldn’t notice he wasn’t wearing jeans. Or would you? Girls, your opinion?
Amazing miraculous occurrence is the Castle has a hip pocket for your North American style wallet. Boot gaiters are nicely minimal and even then, easy to scissor out (which I did for spring skiing). Fabric is a thin, highly breathable stretch that could still use side vents, but less so than warmer pants. Printed logos are minimal, a bit brighter than other brands but you still don’t feel like you’re paying Sportiva for the privilege of displaying. Personally, my clear favorite pantalones due to rear pocket, slim fit and breathable fabric.
La Sportiva Castle
Size tested: Medium,
Weight without suspenders: 536 grams
Best feature: Simplicity and slim fit
Non-feature: Lack of thigh vents
Availability: Apparently fall of 2016, so keep this post on your favorites, especially if you want the McGraw look!
Meanwhile, the Sportiva Chalten pant is also an option, though in my opinion not quite as good spring skiing. What if you need to shop NOW? Check out Dynafit or if you’re long legged, Patagonia. Another option that looked good though not tested is Arcteryx. Beware of pants that are too hot, or don’t fit over your boot cuffs.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.