Challenging weather conditions are pretty much a given when you spend a lot of time in the mountains. So, it's essential that you have a durable pair of mountaineering pants that can stand up to rain, snow, and wind, not to mention rock and ice.
In this guide, I'll show you my 9 favorite pairs and explain how to choose the best mountaineering pants for your next alpine adventure.
Don't want to read the whole guide? The Arc'teryx Gamma AR is my top pick, and the Outdoor Research Cirque is a versatile runner-up if you're on a tighter budget.
My Review Process
I've spent years climbing and mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest, a region that's infamous for its sudden storms, rugged peaks, and all-around challenging conditions. Over that time, I've tried a lot of mountaineering pants from a lot of different brands.
To me, the things that matter most in a pair of backcountry pants are elements like weather resistance, durability, weight, breathability, stretch, pockets, and comfort. So, my top picks all excel in one or multiple of these areas.
Arc'teryx makes some of the best outdoor gear in the world, so it comes as little surprise that this company is behind the overall best pair of pants I've seen for the alpine.
The Gamma AR is water and wind resistant. And when I say resistant, I mean really resistant. They can stand up to moderate rain for several hours without soaking through. The DWR-treated fabric is stitched with a burly double weave that's light on weight, but durable enough to stand up to rocks and ice without scratching. There's no reinforced panel on the inside of the leg, though, so be careful if you wear these pants with crampons.
The soft shell pants are harness-friendly, with an integrated belt that sits above your harness and a pair of side pockets that sit right below it. The pants also feature an adjustable cuff and boot lace hooks that together can eliminate the need for gaiters in summer and fall conditions.
The Gamma AR isn't cheap, but if you can afford to splurge, this pair of pants is worth it. It lasts for years of hard use and is versatile enough for most three-season trips into the alpine.
The Outdoor Research Cirque II is a close second to the Gamma AR, and these pants are a great choice if you're looking for pants at a lower price point.
This softshell pant is highly water resistant and all of the pockets are sealed to keep water out in a downpour. The Cirque II also strikes a really nice balance of weight and breathability - they're warm enough to wear in the spring and fall, but breathable enough for use throughout the summer.
The biggest issue I have with these pants is that they don't take a harness quite as well as I'd like. Your harness will sit over the zippered thigh pockets, and it can also get in the way of the integrated belt. That said, the reinforced panels around the cuffs are a nice touch to protect your pants from crampons.
It's worth noting that OR makes a women's version of the Cirque II, which features all the same technical specs with a fit tailored for ladies.
Patagonia's Simul Alpine pants are among the lightest alpine climbing pants I've tried. They weigh in at just 13.6 ounces.
Patagonia also stripped weight in some unique ways. The integrated belt is a thin piece of nylon, with small cinch tabs that you can use to adjust the fit. The zippers are minimalistic, too, to cut weight and bulk. In addition, the exterior of the pants is very streamlined so there's nothing to catch when climbing.
These pants feature a gusseted crotch that offers excellent freedom of movement when climbing. However, it's worth noting that the zippered pockets are covered by a harness - an annoying design flaw considering how much attention Patagonia paid to other details.
The polyester fabric is relatively thin, so these pants are best used in the summer. That said, it is treated for water resistance and more durable than you might expect. IIf you're searching for a pair of lightweight climbing pants from a brand you can trust, the Patagonia Simul Alpine are ideal.
The Black Diamond Alpine pants were built with ice and mixed climbing in mind, but they excel at any sort of technical alpine climbing.
The pants feature four-way stretch materials and a slightly baggy fit that give you an extremely wide range of motion. Black Diamond also placed the zippered hand pockets low so that they sit below your climbing harness.
The Alpine pants are a little warm for sunny summer trips, but they're great in cooler spring and fall temps. If you get too warm, the thigh pockets double as vents. The fabric is finished with DWR, but don't expect to stay dry in a downpour with these pants.
However, if you need a pair pants that can handle any kind of mountaineering adventure, the Black Black DIamond Alpine are unbeatable.
The Outdoor Research Skyward is a pair of hard shell pants built for winter adventures. The pants feature a waterproof breathable AscentShell membrane (OR's version of Gore-Tex) and gaiters that stretch easily over ski or mountaineering boots.
While these pants are heavy - they weigh in at nearly 1.3 pounds - they're incredibly durable and built with comfort in mind. The adjustable waistband is lined to prevent scratching against your skin and there are thigh-length vents to help you dump heat while traveling uphill.
Another feature I like about the Skyward pants is that they come with a built-in avy beacon pocket. That's a key safety feature for ski mountaineering or ski touring.
Overall, these are a reliable pair of hardshell mountaineering pants with great breathability, waterproofing, and most of all they're very comfortable!
RAB built this hard shell pant with winter and late-season mountaineering in mind. The pants are fully waterproof, with a specialized inner layer that wicks away moisture and sweat. They're not insulated, but the material is burly enough to trap in heat as you move.
The Kinetic Alpine pants offer high performance for a variety of activities. They feature ProFlex fabric that offers surprisingly good stretch for a hard shell, while keeping a slim fit profile and a drawstring waist adjustment. There's also reinforcement around the knee and butt areas to ensure the pants will last for years.
The Mountain Equipment Ibex is an extremely versatile pair of pants for shoulder season activities. They feature a fleece-lined waistband, which both increases comfort and traps in heat against your body. The pant legs aren't fleece-lined, but the shell material is windproof and thick enough to keep you warm in most conditions.
Importantly, these pants also have a few adaptations for nasty weather. The fabric is DWR treated for water resistance, and the cuffs enable you to put your pants over boots to serve as gaiters. We'd like to see features like an articulated knee area or reinforced panel to prevent crampon damage, but these don't detract much from the Ibex. They are excellent lightweight mountaineering pants with solid protection from the wind and cold.
The Iceline Versa from OR are designed with ice climbing in mind, which makes them perfect for everything from technical climbing to wet weather mountaineering. The three-layer Ventia fabric is as effective as Gore-Tex at shedding water and moving heat away from your legs. At the same time, the inside of the pants is insulated with micro-fleece to keep you warm in cold weather.
The pants feature reinforced knee panels and a hard, crampon-resistant material around the ankles. Although they feel stiff when you first put them on, they're surprisingly flexible and handle big climbing moves with ease. The biggest problem I have with these pants is that the cuffs won't fit over a ski boot, but that's not an issue for most mountaineering objectives.
If you're looking for warm, durable, and comfortable pair of ice climbing pants, the Iceline Versa ticks all the boxes.
Fjallraven is known for taking a different design tact than most American companies, and the Vidda Pro pants reflect that. The pants look a bit utilitarian, which reflects the durable construction and heavy-duty fabric. The seat area is fully reinforced, which also helps these pants last longer.
Notably, the Vidda Pro is made with a cotton blend, so these pants are best for mostly snow-free summer routes. The material is extremely breathable, so they excel in warmer weather.
Another thing to like about the Vidda Pro pants is that they're covered in pockets. Not just zipper pockets, either - many have snap closures. This is really nice if you like to store snacks, maps, and other items in your pants.
In summary, these Fjallraven Vidda Pro pants are perfect for springs and summers in the mountains.
What To Consider When Choosing Mountaineering Pants
There are a lot of things to consider when picking out a pair of pants for the alpine. I'll cover the elements that I think are most important, but keep in mind the types of trips you expect to go on and the conditions you are likely to encounter.
Weather protection is, of course, a huge deal in the mountains. If your pants can't keep you dry in the rain, you're going to be cold, wet, and miserable.
Almost all softshell mountaineering pants are treated with DWR to confer water resistance, but just how weatherproof they are can vary. It's a good idea to test out a new pair of pants in the shower if you're not sure they'll be water-resistant enough. You can also apply your own after-market DWR coating to add weather protection.
If you typically climb in areas with particularly bad weather, consider opting for a hardshell pant.
Breathability is often at odds with weather protection. Most softshell pants are highly breathable, and some even feature thigh-length vents to help you dump excess heat.
Hardshell pants aren't that breathable, although manufacturers will claim that they are. At the end of the day, one of the reasons to use this type of pants is because of the fact that it traps in hot air. Look for three-layer materials like Gore-Tex that are designed to wick away moisture. Thigh- and full-length zippered vents are also important to stay cool while climbing and warm while descending.
Flexibility is extremely important if you plan to do any technical climbing in the mountains - whether on rock, ice, or both. Softshell pants offer a lot more stretch than hardshell pants, but range of motion can vary widely between designs. Look for features like a gusseted crotch and four-way stretch fabric that typically allow for more movement.
Weight might not seem like a big deal, but the difference between the lightest and heaviest mountaineering pants can be more than a pound. If your aim is to travel light and fast through the alpine, opt for a pair of pants that's as streamlined as possible. If the weather is cold and you need a burly pant that can keep you warm, then focus on that first and weight second.
Alpine travel can be extremely rough on a pair of pants. Your pants will be scraped across rocks, snagged on ice, and hit with ice axes, crampons, and ski edges. So, durability is a huge concern.
The good news is that most manufacturers know this. Softshell pants typically feature double weave material to make them more durable, while hardshell pants are designed to be scratch-resistant.
Look particularly for reinforcement in the spots that see the most wear and tear: the knee and seat areas. In addition, a reinforced panel on the inside of the ankles is key to avoiding tearing a whole through your pants while wearing crampons.
Pockets seem like an obvious feature that you need in a pair of mountaineering pants, but there's more to them than meets the eye.
Many manufacturers still design pockets that aren't harness-compatible. This is surprising since so much of mountaineering requires a harness and rope. If your pockets aren't harness-compatible, you won't be able to use them at all for much of your trip.
Another thing to consider is whether you need a dedicated pocket for an avalanche beacon. If you're planning to use your pants for ski mountaineering, this is an absolute must-have - beacon pockets are designed to keep your beacon attached to you even if your pocket were to open during an avalanche.
How Should I Care for My Mountaineering Pants?
Taking care of your pants is critical to getting many years of use out of them. Before you throw them in the wash, it's important to know that the specialized materials most pants use require specialized care.
If your pants don't smell after a trip, you can simply hang them to dry without washing. If they do need a wash, you'll need to use a softshell-specific detergent instead of whatever standard laundry detergent you use for your other clothes. Wash the pants on their own on a gentle, cold water spin cycle, then hang them to dry.
Hardshells are a little bit easier to wash since you can use regular detergent - but only use a small amount. Use warm water instead of cold water, and run the washing machine twice to make sure that all the detergent is rinsed away. Then hang your pants to dry them.
Finding the best pair of mountaineering pants is essential to having a good experience in the alpine. Different pants are optimized for different conditions, so be sure to think about what types of trips you have planned when choosing a pair.
I think the Arc'teryx Gamma AR is the best all-around mountaineering pant for most trips thanks to its extreme weatherproofing, harness-compatible design, and overall versatility. If you're looking for a more budget-friendly alternative, the Outdoor Research Cirque copies a lot of the Gamma AR's best design features and works extremely well for three-season climbing.
For those also in need of a new tent, check out my list of the best mountaineering tents next.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.