I’m standing in the closet, packing for weekend of ice climbing or skiing, holding a pair of pants in each hand and asking the same old question: hard-shell or soft-shell? Softshell pants are flexible and breathe well, but not waterproof. Will it be warm enough for water to drip on the ice? Will the snow be wet? Can I be sure? Of course, nothing is sure. Sometimes I wear my hard-shells and sweat; sometimes I wear my soft-shells and soak my knees and butt in soggy ice.
Review by: Drew Thayer, Senior Contributor
Luckily, I don’t have to make this decision as often with the Mixed Guide Pants, which combine Patagonia’s H2No waterproof material with stretchy and breathable Polartec Powershield fabric. These pants are basically soft-shells that incorporate waterproof fabric where you need it most.
The Mixed Guide Pants are built with Powershield material in the groin, inner, and outer legs for a stretchy, breathable fit, yet generously employ hard-shell protection around the knees and rear to keep you dry while kneeling and sitting in wet snow. The waterproof knee patches are large enough cover the region of thigh that becomes exposed to rain or sleet while hiking or skinning. This mix of fabrics creates a pant that performs with breathability and good range of motion while remaining effectively waterproof in all but a full downpour. As an ice climber, I appreciate keeping my knees dry on those hero-ice days when things get a little wet.
These pants adapt well to alpine climbing and skiing with integrated powder cuffs that fit over mountaineering and ski boots. Patagonia includes tie-points on the cuffs for elastic cord, which work as an effective snow gaiter on boots or approach shoes. Conveniences include an ankle zips to pull over boots, an integrated belt, and a two-way crotch zipper (zips up from the bottom as well) which I find is surprisingly useful for taking care of business while wearing a harness. Zippered vents on the upper outer leg provide a small amount of ventilation, but don’t really ventilate enough for rigorous approaches on a warm day. Large bellows pockets sit below leg loops and offer ample room for gloves, bars, etc. I would rather see at least one pocket close securely with a zipper, although I have not experienced the pockets opening unwanted yet.
In terms of fit, these pants are snug around the waist and crotch yet offer free range of motion because of the soft-shell fabric. The legs are baggy to fit over ski boots, and are perhaps a little baggier than I’d like for ice climbing as there is danger of snagging a crampon. I’d like to see Patagonia offer a long option to accommodate all body types; I fit a size small at the waist but could use an extra couple inches in length.
Bottom Line: The Mixed Guide Pants are an ideal choice for cold-weather climbing and skiing. They combine the best of both worlds: the fit, motion, and breathability of soft-shell fabric with waterproof protection where you need it. With elastic cord the cuffs will seal around everything from approach shoes to ski boots. I’ve enjoyed them both mixed climbing and backcountry skiing in cold weather, although the small side vents aren’t really adequate for warm-weather aerobic activity. I’d like to see a few changes to the pant next year: a longer leg option, more ample vents, and zippered pockets, but in their current form the Mixed Guide Pant has already become my go-to choice for cold weather alpine excursions.
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