Mountain Equipment's Ibex Mountain Pants
This review makes a modular case for winter legwear and references two related components. We recommend looking at the following reviews for a more complete idea of where we're coming from:
As always, we're looking at the M.E. Ibex trousers from the point of view of long distance trekking over tough terrain.
Test subject: Waist 33", Inside Leg 30", Height: 5ft 8"
Test item: Ombre Blue, Size = 34" (Waist), Short Leg
Kit Tests: Winter (multiple)
Disclaimer: None required (item not provided by manufacturer)
|Materials: Exolite 210 (Nylon / Elastane)||92% / 8%|
|Treatments: DWR (will shed snow and light rain)||-|
|Weight (General stated / 34" Short measured)||445g / 453g|
|Product Sizing Reference: 33" Waist, 30" inner leg =||34" Short|
Introduction: A Sea of Patches
This review is about an approach to winter mountain legwear and the item(s) that in our estimation best enable that approach. It's important to note (with some precision) where we're coming from as this solution may not be valid for many (e.g. traditional hillwalkers or classic alpinists).
We're considering kit from a somewhat fuzzy perspective where winter treks and mountaineering could be doppelgangers; where frozen, marshy lowlands and snow-capped icy peaks are merely the irregular undulations of an arduous trek. This is not the clear-cut world of the alpinist; harnessed, roped and helmeted, belaying and climbing, though some of the tools (and for the approach, a few of the practices) are common: ice axe, crampons, an eye on capricious conditions.
So, with that florid clarification out of the way, let's see how we navigated a do-everything sea of durable cordura patches and panels before discovering the rugged simplicity of the Ibex Mountain Pant.
For a long while we'd been fixated on the grail quest for the ultimate winter mountain softshell trousers. Realising there wasn't nor would there likely ever be such a thing, we finally gave up and began to re-think the whole legwear thing.
Did we really need crampon patches, knee and seat reinforcements, a waterproof backside and boot clamping ankle adjusters? If so, when and under what circumstances? And could this feature be provided by an accessory? Simply put, was a flexible modular approach possible when it came to legwear?
Before we get to that, let's very quickly run through some of the options we considered along the way.
The Red Herring Shortlist
The closest to the ideal winter softshell trousers we came across were Mountain Equipment's Mission and Mammut's Base Jump Pants. The Mammut Base Jump (now discontinued) had all the right reinforcements in all the right places, used a range of high quality fabrics and had an excellent cinching method at the ankle - they retailed for about £160. We're simply not going to recommend a pair of trousers that expensive. Mountain Equipment's Mission Pants were also close to ideal, but again very expensive (£140).
The other trousers in the mix that attempted what we now consider the impossible or rather the unnecessary, were Marmot's Highland Pants (too baggy, hipstery), Montane's Super Terra Pants (too heavy and expensive), Haglof's Rugged Mountain Pants (too heavy and again too expensive).
What you need, when you need it
You can have all the "bombproof protection" you like on a pair of softshell trousers, but in a downpour, as soon as you don your waterproofs, all that durable cordura protection is left cowering beneath your expensive, lightweight, rip-prone, waterproof over-trousers.
In deep snow, frozen marsh and sodden winter conditions, gaiters provide useful waterproofing for the lower leg while allowing the upper portion to breathe. Gaiters are the ideal partner for crampons. With their narrow fit, they mitigate the danger of excess trouser fabric catching crampon spikes. Since you only need reinforced crampon protection when you're actually wearing crampons perhaps having the reinforcements on the gaiter rather than the trouser makes more sense.
While gaiters offer protection from bogs, rain, snow and crampon spikes, waterproof over-shorts will keep everything above the knee dry and, unlike full waterproofs, are less prone to condensation. This leaves the softshell trouser exposed at the knee. Reinforcements would be nice but aren't necessary if the underlying softshell fabric is sufficiently tough.
Seat reinforcements? Well, I'd rather have simple waterproofing over reinforcements and few trousers offer genuinely waterproofed seat panels; none offer removable waterproofed seat protection. However, waterproof shorts do and at the end of each day of the 2020 winter kit test, I wore these over my sleepwear bottoms (the Rab Power Stretch Pro) around camp. Another benefit of a modular approach: transferable waterproof arse protection when you need it.
For the bulk of this year's wet, cold and very stormy winter kit test I used the legwear combo pictured above and only required my full length waterproofs (Keela Lightning Trousers, 270g) during the sideways downpours that accompanied a storm with a name on the first two days of the 8-day kit test.
The excellent Alpkit Colca Gaiters, in combination with waterproof over-shorts and the Mountain Equipment Ibex trousers worked so well it's left me questioning whether full length waterproof trousers are really necessary. In stormy, downpour conditions, I still think you need something to cover the knees, since if they get drenched, that water will eventually seap into the socks and then down inside the boot. However, I see no reason why an UL 3/4 length ("capri") waterproof overtrouser (in the 120g range) for emergency downpour use, couldn't replace traditional waterproofs when using knee length gaiters. We're currently getting some pairs made up as I write this and it's something I'm looking forward to testing. My guess is that both these and the waterproof over-shorts would fit inside one of the Ibex thigh pockets (removing 270g of carry weight from the shoulders).
A flexible, modular approach
A modular approach is both possible and desirable for outer legwear that has to be flexible enough to deal with a broad range of winter conditions: rain, hail, snow, gail-force winds and biting windchill, sodden marsh, icy peaks and snowdrifts. With a few simple accessories available to deploy when required, rather than a patchwork of reinforced panels and patches, what is needed to complete this ensemble is a far simpler, more spartan proposition: a durable, simple and effective softshell trouser. Enter the Ibex ...
The Ibex Mountain Pant: Overview
The Ibex trousers come in at around 450g, the very low end of the spectrum for winter trousers. But not so low when you plan to combine them with a few accessories:
- + 208g : Alpkit's Colca Gaiters
- + 90g : Custom Waterproof Shorts (using Mountain Warehouse's Pakka Overtrousers + elasticated belt loops + Sea To Summit 10mm Accessory Strap belt)
In a sense you could say the Ibex are the main component of a highly durable, 750g, almost fully waterproof, highly wind-resistant, reasonably breathable, crampon-compatible, modular softshell trouser. One that can be stripped down to its core for spring and autumnal conditions.
Before we take a closer look at the Ibex, here's a quick overview of its features:
Features: Top to Bottom
Poppers, Fly, Hand Pockets, Belt Enclosure
Firstly, you'll notice that I switched out the belt, more on this in a moment. The Ibex has a twin press-stud closure at the waist and a useful belt enclosure (rather than just belt loops) which keeps most of the belt nicely out of the way. The two zipped hand pockets work fine and everything is up to Mountain Equipment's usual high standard.
The highlight here is the double zip on the fly. Being able to open the zip from the bottom-up came in handy a number of times and makes taking a piss possible without having to remove a harness or belt system.
The (Replaceable) Belt
The only minor weakness of the Ibex is its belt. At Scramble, we're probably on the fussy side when it comes to such things but I wasn't impressed. It works, it's okay and pretty standard fare to be honest, but I don't like this type of buckle and the belt does loosen a little when stressed. However, Scramble's recommended "Trekking Trouser Belt", the 25mm Edelrid Turley is an ideal replacement for these trousers and fits perfectly.
Looking at the back, it's pretty unfussy; a single zipped back pocket and a better view of the Ibex belt enclosure.
The Ibex trousers feature two vertically zipped thigh pockets. These aren't voluminous but are large enough to be useful. In winter, I use one pocket to hold a pair of Buffalo Mitts (our recommended emergency thermal option). The other pocket houses my ultra-packable, custom waterproof over-shorts and could easily hold another pair or two.
On The Inside: Mesh Pockets, Fleece Lined Waistband, Soft Inner Lining
The thigh pockets are mesh lined, designed to double as vents if required. In winter (or early spring, late autumn) I've never found the Ibex to be suffocatingly warm. They're actually quite a breathable option in cold conditions.
The waistband is fleece lined, not something I particularly noticed, but they're a very comfortable trouser to wear. It's worth stating that for sub zero conditions I pair the Ibex with the underwear outlined here (Odlo's Cubic Tights aka Active F-Dry Light Leggings and a pair of F-Lite's Megalight 140 Base Layer 1/2 Shorts). So there's no part of the Ibex that is against my skin. That said, the lining is a soft twill (see right panel below) and wouldn't be uncomfortable.
Lower Leg: Ankle Zips & Hem Drawcord Channel
The ankle zips run from the mid-calf and have an internal gusset panel, allowing them to flair and accommodate larger mountain boots. I didn't require the ankle zip when getting them over the reasonably chunky Altberg Bergens.
I like the fact that Mountain Equipment have left it up to the user to decide how they want to cinch these trousers to the boot. They've incorporated a drawcord channel at the hem. This is far better than providing a mediocre solution that one is stuck with (as Keela did for example with the HW OP trousers).
I used a high quality 3mm elastic cord with a fastlock (see #2 below). These are the ones with an inner wheel often used as quick adjusters for shoelaces. It's a little bulky, but goes unnoticed when tucked inside the trouser, resting against the outside of the boot.
Once set, I didn't need to adjust the hem over the 8 day kit test and they'd stretch over my boot and clamp to them for the whole day.
I like that Mountain Equipment have realised that some people (like me) are very finicky when it comes to such issues whereas others will not care at all and will simply leave the hem alone.
The only negative we've come across over numerous outings with the Ibex is the belt. An issue easily fixed with the Edelrid Turley, but for us a minor let down. Apart from that and the fact that Mountain Equipment, like Rab insist on calling trousers "pants". That's about it. We've docked them 1 point for function.
Conclusion & Rating
Using a good pair of gaiters like the Colcas has cemented our conviction that a simple "base" trouser with a few quality accessories trumps traditional mountain softshell trousers (pictured above) when it comes to long distance trekking in sub zero conditions.
Mountain Equipment's Ibex Pants fit the bill perfectly. They're a simple, durable trouser with a range of standard features all thoughtfully executed. They have sufficient stretch to go unnoticed while climbing and the Exolite 210 fabric dries quickly when wet conditions abate. Wind resistance and breathability are well balanced and the cut leans toward the "alpine" without being overly fitted or tight (more "Mission" than "Highland").
With the right choice of baselayer and outer accessories, the Ibex do a great job of handling extreme winter conditions and when spring and autumn arrive, gaiters and waterproof shorts can be ditched in favour of traditional full length waterproofs.
As part of a flexible modular approach to winter legwear, Mountain Equipment's Ibex Pants (available in a range of leg lengths and colours) are Scramble's top pick in the "Heavy Duty Cold Weather Softshell Trouser" category.
Rating (out of 10)
* The value score is derived from two factors:
1) Competitive Market Price (CMP). This represents our judgement of a competitive online price point if we were to stock the item. e.g. if we feel we would need to sell an item at 40% off (i.e. 60% of its full RRP) to be competitive, then our CMP score will be 6/10.
2) Customer Value Price (CVP). We then make an honest appraisal of the maximum price we would be willing to pay for the item (and we're mean). So if we'd pay 80% of its RRP our CVP score would be 8/10.
We then average the two scores to get our final value score, which in our example would be 7/10.
Last Updated: 21/03/20