The 'crème de la crème' of soft shell ski touring pants are the Mountain Equipment Spectres. Full of features, loaded with good looks and oozing with quality design, they are simply the best we’ve ever tested. Add to this Gore Windstopper and you’ve got a Gear of the Year Award winner on your hands (or rather your legs).
The Backcountry Skiing Canada Team.
The vast majority of backcountry skiers wear resort inspired, waterproof ski pants when ski touring. While these will keep you warm and dry (from the outside) they do tend to get a little clammy when pumping out laps on the skin track. Let’s face it, Gore-Tex really has no advantage when it comes to ski touring. (Unless you happen to do an excessive amount of ski touring in the rain). If you haven’t tried soft shell pants specifically designed for backcountry skiing, then you’re missing out. They are waaaaaaay more breathable and keep you surprisingly warm and dry. Having reviewed soft shell ski touring pants from Outdoor Research, La Sportiva, Haglofs, Black Diamond, Ibex and Stio, (click the links to read the respective reviews), I thought it was time to take the Mountain Equipment Spectre Pants for a few walks in the backcountry.
Front and back of the Mountain Equipment Spectre Pants.
The Mountain Equipment Spectre Pants fit snug and are slim through the waist and knees while still leaving lots of room to accommodate alpine touring boots and provide great range of motion (ROM) thanks to the inherent stretch of the softshell fabric. Aggressively articulated knees and a gusseted crotch only help to improve the fit and ROM.
There’s a built-in belt and removable suspenders that ensure your pack will not ride down the pants as you climb. While the 32” waist fit me perfectly and was snug enough to stay up around my waist (where they should be) I preferred to wear them with the suspenders for double protection against a southerly migration. If suspenders aren’t your thang, then the extra wide and burly built-in belt will do the trick on its own. I tried this option as well just to ensure it would suffice.
The vents are incorporated to look like cargo pockets and are designed to allow warm, moist air to escape while not letting snow in, thanks to their centre thigh location and built-in mesh guard. Being accustomed to side thigh vents that dump considerable amounts of heat, these zippered mock-pocket vents were limited in the amount of cooling they could provide. In colder temps and inclement weather this vent style performed well, but some will prefer larger sized leg zip vents that can really let the breeze reach those bits that need cooling most. To help the Spectre pants dissipate heat as much as possible, I find opening the two hand warmer pockets helps, as they are mesh lined which increases air flow.
I’ve been ski touring in soft shell pants for over a decade now and swear by them. The hard shells only come out on days when there is excessive wind, bitterly cold temps or rain forecasted (but then the skiing would likely suck and I’d just stay home anyways). The Mountain Equipment Spectre Pants are the first soft shell touring pants that get pretty much everything right for this reviewer. The use of Gore-Windstopper is well worth the price of admission and the fit is spot on for my 32”x32”, 175lb, 6’1” frame. While I would like to see larger thigh vents for dumping heat faster, the fact that the soft shell fabric breathes so well almost negates the need for them. I typically only wear base layers under the Spectre Pants if the mercury is going to dip below -10°C as this adds welcome insulation and warmth.
The Spectre Pants also get full points for the location and size of their transceiver pocket. I haven’t worn my transceiver in its chest harness since I started carrying an iPhone (for pics) and a radio for emergency communications. Electronic devices need to be at least 20cm apart when switched off (the radio and iPhone that is) and 50cm apart when switched on. Keep this in mind the next time you harness your transceiver right next to your phone. If you haven’t considered carrying your transceiver in a pants pocket (securely zipped and clipped in of course) then give it a whirl as it’s far more efficient in searches and much quicker to access.
The large, almost bell bottomed legs on the Spectre Pants may not be en vogue if you plan on going out for dinner after a day in the backcountry, but they work flawlessly over any ski touring boot. La Sportiva’s soft shell touring pants are notoriously close fitting, whereas the Spectre Pants from Mountain Equipment don’t have this affliction and provided more than enough room when my AT boots were in walk mode, even with all the boot buckles wide open.
The final feature that makes me smile (aside from the Spectre’s good looks and comfort) are the redundancy of a built-in belt and optional suspenders. You can’t have enough ways to hold your pants up when you’ve got a pack on your back, as it and gravity are typically in cahoots to slowly migrate them southward. I find that both work best but I have also forgone the suspenders for the sake of simplicity.
One final note: Mountain Equipment is not to be confused with Mountain Equipment Co-op which is a Canadian institution here in the great white north. These are completely different companies, and Mountain Equipment is based out of Great Britain. Due to the similarity in their names, Mountain Equipment is not allowed to be sold in Canada. So, if you want to get your hands on a pair of these awesome pants use the links below.
If you haven’t given soft shell ski touring pants a try, do yourself a favour and do it. You can thank me later. For more soft shell reviews (jackets and pants), click on over here.
Price: $333CAN / $299.95US
Sizes: 30-38 Regular and Long
Colours: Black, Kiwi, Marine
Weight: 760g / 26.8oz
Quality / Price 2/2
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