A dirtbag-buddy of mine showed up for a ski tour in early April wearing new pants, which he said he found on the clearance rack at Neptune’s for $50. Cool, no big deal…but over the course of the day I began to notice a few details on the pants–perfect vents, perfect pockets, some hard-shell material in the right spots, a pretty spot-on cut…so, “wait a sec,” I asked, “let me see those things.”
And at that moment I met the best backcountry ski pant ever produced, period: the OR “Trailbreaker.” I confess I haven’t been much of an OR consumer over the past decade. Maybe it’s because Rab is my “hometown” brand (being in Colorado) or I’ve worked for a Swiss dude (good deals on Mammut!), but for whatever reason, since buying a pair of OR Crocodile gaiters sometime in the early ’90s, I haven’t owned an OR product. After a day of ski-touring with my bud, though, I immediately put in a call to a friend who does PR for OR.
“Here’s the deal, I’m going to buy these things one way or another, but I’d love to ‘test’ a pair of these during my upcoming ski-mountaineering course,” I said to him.
He chuckled and answered, “Let’s see what I can do.”
So yes, the pants were gratis for “testing,” but like most products I review here, it’s something I was drawn to and was pretty sure I was going to like. Once the Trailbreakers arrived, I did a couple days in them, then to Alaska for a 10-day course, and now I’m home and have guided another three days in them. I can say beyond a doubt these are the best backcountry pants made, down to the choice of zipper pulls. Here’s why:
The fact that OR nailed the design so well makes sense in hindsight, as I discovered IFMGA-guide Martin Volken had substantial, direct input during the creation of the Trailbreaker. Volken runs Pro Guiding Service in the North Cascades, is an instructor and examiner for the American Mountain Guides Association. I’ve not worked with him yet, but he’s earned the rep of being dialed, smart, and a tough-but-good teacher.
The Trailbreaker skis well, tours fantastically, is comfortable (I slept in them during a bivy on the HooDoo glacier above Valdez), and offers all the organization, venting, and performance you’ll ever need. Those are the upsides…
Downsides? As I see it, the only drawback is weight. It ticks 1 lb. 9 oz. with my suspenders (Mammut variety) added. The additional pockets, zippers, stitching, etc, certainly add some ounces, but in my opinion they’re worth the weight. As a devotee of Schoeller fabrics I’ll say, sure, you can make the upper, soft-shell portion of the garment out of Schoeller Dryskin/Extreme, but practically nobody’s building out of Schoeller anymore, so it’s a moot point. Most manufacturers’ textiles are starting to approach Schoeller, anyway, so I can live with OR’s proprietary stuff and I can certainly live with a pant costing $100 less than a Schoeller-built model. The Trailbreakers retail at $175–a freakin’ deal when you compare it with other models.
Bottom line: I love these things and I’m going to buy another pair, just in case vulture capitalists take over OR and change the design. The Trailbreaker is DIALED, top to bottom, and though I love my Rab, Patagonia, and Mont Bell gear…I gotta say, OR OWNS the backcountry ski pant niche at this point…look no further, this is the pant.