Best Softshell Ski Pants for Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry Ski Pants

softshell ski pants

Patagonia Snow Guide and Arc’teryx Rush FL Softshell Ski Pants

You gotta get up to get down, and skinning uphill requires breathability in your outerwear. It’s easy enough to shed your ski shell when breaking trail, but your ski pants are a different story. As a result, backcountry ski pants need to vent, or better yet, be truly breathable. Waterproof-breathable technology is lighter and better than ever, but it still cannot offer the same level of breathability and easy-moving comfort as a good softshell fabric. If you’re going to commit to ski touring, softshell ski pants make for a better experience than wearing full-on GORE-TEX or similar waterproof-breathable pants.

In addition to being truly breathable, softshell pants are typically lighter and more comfortable than pants with a waterproof-breathable membrane. As a result, you’ll sweat less in softshell pants, which in turn keeps you dryer and warmer in all weather except for rain. Believe it or not, the stretch-woven blend in softshell outerwear offers a high degree of weather resistance for ski touring. The weather resistance comes from the tightly-woven nature of the fabric and a durable water-repellent (DWR) finish.

Here are our top picks for softshell ski pants purpose built for backcountry skiing – the Patagonia Snow Guide pants and the Arc’teryx Rush FL pants. The two different pants are actually quite similar in functionality, features and style. They are clean and simple with little in the way of bells and whistles – just the the way we like ’em.

patagonia guide snow pantPatagonia Snow Guide Ski Pants

The Patagonia Snow Guide Pans are all business. Like their predecessor, the Snowdrifter, the Snow Guide is a dedicated backcountry ski pant tailored to meet the needs of full-day ski touring.

The build features four-way stretch and the fit is trim but not tight with plenty of room to move through the legs. The stretch-woven material breathes very well without feeling breezy or too light. Zip thigh vents open to offer serious venting for warm days. The pocket set-up includes two zip hand pockets and two zip thigh pockets. The thigh pockets are generous in size and the right side includes a nice drop-in pocket for quick access to a phone or small camera. If you like to wear your avalanche transceiver in a pant pocket, read more about where to carry your avalanche transceiver.

The boot cuff is pretty streamlined. There’s a short built-in gaiter and a simple cuff adjustor to snug it around a boot if necessary. The instep is reinforced, but there’s no burly cuff guard or expansion zipper. They offer a straight-leg cut that’s got plenty of room for ski boots but keeps the cuffs low-profile and out of your way for hiking and scrambling.

The Snow Guide pants breathe and feel great. The thigh vents really boost the airflow on warm days, and there’s plenty of secure pocket storage for keeping small essentials close at hand. The Patagonia Snow Guide Ski Pants have everything you need and nothing you don’t. They are backcountry ski pants that are as dedicated to ski touring as we are.

Check price and availability on the Patagonia Snow Guide Ski Pants – $250

The Arc’teryx Rush FL Ski Pants

Arcteryx rush fl backcountry ski pantThe Arc’teryx Rush FL pants check all of the right boxes for backcountry skiing. They’re lightweight (the FL in the name stands for fast and light), breathable, water-resistant, have large, convenient pockets and offer easy movement. The mid-weight weave of the Rush FL is well suited to a wide range of temps while offering impressive weather protection. Add a baselayer for cold days or wear them without on warmer days – either way, they breathe and vent naturally while shedding snow and staying dry, so you stay dry inside and out.

The Rush FL pants (not to be confused with the Rush LT which are GORE-TEX shell pants) follow the basic design principle of keep it simple, keep it functional. They use a full softshell build with four-way stretch that lets you move without restriction. The fit is more relaxed than the Arc’teryx web images might lead you to believe. I’d say it’s more loose than trim in its fit. The suspenders are removable and there’s a built-in belt.

Zip thigh vents complement the breathable fabric for full venting on warm days. Two large zip thigh pockets keep essentials within arms reach, but there are no hand pockets. Although still what I would call a simple, backcountry purist design, the Rush FL includes built-in boot gaiters much like you find on a more resort-minded pant complete with a side zip cuff and burly reinforced instep cuffs for protection from ski edges and boot buckles.

Check pricing for the Arc’teryx Rush FL Ski Pant – $325

Comparing the Snow Guide and Rush FL Ski Pants

As shared above, the Patagonia Snow Guide and Arc’teryx Rush FL pants share several common design elements. Both are clean, straightforward designs that focus on touring functionality over unnecessary features. Both are pretty traditional in their style and fit, though when compared size for size, the cut of the Arc’teryx offers a looser fit throughout. The other main differences are that the Arc’teryx Rush FL has only two pockets (no hand pockets) and offers a wider boot cuff and more reinforced cuff, instep build. They also have a built-in belt for those who prefer to go without suspenders. The softshell fabrics are quite similar in weight and equally breathable, but I’d give the lighter weight nod to the Arc’teryx fabric – even if only just slightly lighter. Overall pants weight is quite similar based on the heavier cuff reinforcements on the Arc’teryx. The thigh vents are also nearly identical in size and functionality.

The bottom line is that both are great pants for touring. It comes down to fit and pocket preferences. The Patagonia Snow Guide includes zip hand pockets plus thigh cargo pockets and a trimmer fit, while the Arc’teryx Rush FL offers a roomier fit, a built-in belt and only thigh cargo pockets.

Read about another one of our favorite backcountry ski pants – the Outdoor Research TrailBreaker Pant

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