I’m sure all of you outdoor enthusiasts are well aware of what softshell jackets are and what they do best. You may even know from experience how great the fabric is for trousers as well.
What you may not know is the difference between a pair of “normal” walking trousers and a pair of “high-performance” softshell trousers. Have you ever wondered why one person would opt for one over the other? What makes softshell trousers better than walking trousers and vice versa? Well, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to provide you with a brief comparison of the two so that you can find the proper trousers for your next outdoor pursuit.
Softshell – a real all-rounder
Softshell is a fabric that usually consists of two to three layers. The outermost layer has a water-repellent coating for protection against snow and water. The middle layer, on the other hand, has wind-repelling qualities and serves to prevent you from getting cold, whilst the fleece-like character of the inner layer is designed to keep you warm and cosy. I know it sounds like we’re asking a lot, but in addition to all those great properties, a high-quality softshell product should be highly breathable as well.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that works in every climate and every sport. For precisely this reason, it is important for you to know when and where you can get the most out of your new softshell trousers.
Softshell trousers – strengths and weaknesses
Stretchy fabrics and durability
Regardless of whether you’re mountaineering, skiing, mountain biking or climbing, you could never blame your softshell trousers for a lack of mobility. Depending on the area of use the trousers are designed for, they usually feature reinforced fabrics at the knees and seat as well, which serve to increase their overall durability.
Breathability and wind and water repellence
The keywords for almost all outdoor activities. As soon as you engage in aerobic activity outdoors, it is of utmost importance that the fabric be moisture wicking. And, softshell trousers are exactly that. Even though softshell products are not suitable for extreme conditions like hardshell trousers, softshells are significantly more breathable in light weather conditions and during moderately difficult activities.
Lightweight and quick-drying
Softshell trousers are rarely completely waterproof, since this would cause them to lose their breathability, but they are capable of withstanding a rain shower due to their water-repellent finish. Another great thing about softshells is the fact that they dry extremely fast, take up very little space and can be worn in place of a mid-layer depending on the climate you’re in. So, next time leave your long underwear at home and pack a pair of softshell trousers instead.
Unfortunately for softshell trousers, they’re not terribly good at handling warm and humid climates. So, as you can probably already imagine, this is where walking trousers come in. Not only are they great for humid weather, but walking trousers also have a few extra features designed to make the lives of Alpine Trekkers much easier. We’ll talk about what those are in the next section.
As the name already suggests, walking trousers are designed for long foot marches in more or less technical terrain, so not only does the fabric need to be tough, but the trousers themselves need to provide the wearer with enough storage space to carry all sorts of important and less important items.
Where walking trousers outdo softshell trousers
Softshell trousers can handle just about everything you throw at them, but not quite everything. There are, indeed, a couple of advantages that walking trousers have over softshells:
Warm, humid, unpredictable
Walking trousers really shine in warm and humid climates where it alternates between short downpours and sunshine. Even though they tend to be more loosely woven than softshell trousers, walking trousers still provide enough protection from direct sunlight and light rains, thorns or mosquitos and are a bit more comfortable to wear as well. Plus, there are some walking trousers with zip-off legs, allowing you to convert them to shorts. It hardly gets any better than that!
Pockets, pockets, pockets
I mean, it’s not like it’s a matter of life and death, but having to take off your pack every time you need something can be quite the hassle. That’s why walking trousers have pockets, and loads of them, for everything from maps and compasses to pens and whatever else you might think you need along the way.
Good walking trousers also have a dirt and water-repellent coating, adjustable leg endings and a comfortable fit with reinforcements at the knees and seat, all of which makes them a great choice for multi-day adventures where washing machines are hard to come by.
Softshell fabrics are currently the best there is in terms of all-round function. Precisely because of this versatility, softshell trousers will probably be the best choice for most of your outdoor pursuits. For anything that involves a lot of aerobic activity, you should probably opt for some breathable softshell trousers. However, if you’re venturing out on a longer trip or a long foot march, we recommend getting a pair of walking trousers with all those nifty extra features we mentioned above.