When traveling in the mountains or adverse weather, a great pair of soft-shell pants are an invaluable item to keep you comfortable, warm, and dry. Rab has produced a hard-wearing, weather-shedding product called the Rab Ascender Pants. Like most, I usually plan trips to the outdoors during clear-weather windows. But many times, just like I’m sure all of you have experienced, the forecasters can be terribly wrong. Clear weather does not alway signify a pleasant experience. High afternoon winds can turn an otherwise warm, sunny day into a blisteringly cold endeavor.

Soft-shell pants excel in a number of categories, but are not the best in each. What they do well is provide protection from the elements in a variety of conditions. They are what you could call a jack-of-all-trades garment. The Rab Ascender Pants, made from Matrix DWS, provide outstanding wind protection, freedom of movement, and breathability in a simple design.

Rab Ascender Pants: First Impressions

Colors: Beluga (gray, shown), black

Sizes: 28 – 38″ waist (short, regular, and long)

Weight: 21 oz. / 570 grams

Material: Mid-weight Matrix DWS is used as the primary material, heavy-weight Matrix DWS as reinforcement on the seat and knees. I have found that this keeps moisture and cold from seeping in when kneeling or sitting on snow or wet ground. The heavy-duty Matrix SWS kick patches help prevent crampon punctures and the usual wear that generally occurs on the inside leg of trousers. This adds extra protection if the conditions allow for the absence of gaiters.

Fit and sizing: The Rab Ascender Pants are listed as relaxed fit, but I found them to still be in the athletic-fit category. Due to the high stretch of the Matrix DWS, they still allow for full athletic movement and the ability to layer in colder conditions. While testing these pants, I have had no issues and have been very comfortable high-stepping while climbing, skiing, kneeling, and squatting. Although they’re made more for fall, winter, and spring use, the material wicks moisture very well and kept me dry even during full exertion when the temperatures were in the upper 50s. The inside face of the Matrix DWS is much softer than the outside and allows for all-day comfort.

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Price: Around $150, although these can be found at a number of online retailers for much less.

Unique features: All the pockets on the Rab Ascender Pants are YKK zippered and functionally placed. The two hip pockets are placed and articulated to work well and still be accessible with a climbing harness on. The right-sided thigh pocket is large enough to hold a compass, gel packet, or similar-sized items. The zippers are smooth and can all be manipulated with one hand. The waistband has a tricot lining that is soft and prevents chaffing when wearing a harness or pack all day.

The zippered leg closure does not open all the way for full venting, but is very convenient when using larger ski boots. With the zipper closed, the pants fit snuggly over a pair of hiking or mountaineering boots (below). Open the zipper and they fit equally as well with a your favorite pair of ski boots. This feature makes these a versatile pant, great for climbing, backpacking, or skiing.

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Application: Springtime conditions can wreak havoc on your layering system with below-freezing conditions in the morning and warm temps in the afternoon. The Rab Ascender Pants are a great fit for these variable conditions. Getting stuck in 40-MPH winds is never fun, but these pants block the wind almost as well as any hardshell pants I’ve used in the past. If you want a tough-wearing pair of pants for climbing, ski mountaineering, cool-weather backpacking, or operating overseas in cool weather, the Rab Ascender Pants are a great option.

Pros: 

  • Reinforced seat, knees, and lower leg.
  • Zippered lower leg to accommodate a variety of footwear sizes.
  • Leg opening hem drawcord.
  • Pockets are accessible with climbing harness on.
  • Tricot waistband and pant lining are soft and keep chaffing at bay.
  • High wind and water resistance.
  • Durable and breathable stretch material.

Cons:

  • The tricot waistband soaks up sweat, but dries quickly.
  • The pants don’t have back pockets. This is not really a problem, just a user preference as I would like to see at least one back pocket.
  • No upper leg side zips for venting.

Bottom line:

The Rab Ascender Pants are a great option for those seeking a soft-shell garment that will last multiple seasons, can be worn in a variety of conditions, and allow freedom of movement. Due to their breathability and quick drying, these pants can be worn for multiple days in a row. I would not recommend these for summertime use, but when the weather cools and you are headed on an adventure, they will keep you warm and dry in everything but a torrential downpour.