Review of Burton's Ballast Shell Snowboarding Pant, for Use in Mountaineering
and workplace Covid safety (for example, creating more physical space between employees on the production line). On the demand side, people who wouldn’t normally be spending a lot of time outdoors are now doing so because their usual means of entertainment or physical exercise have become unavailable during the Pandemic. No sporting events, movie theaters, bars, gyms, yoga classes, etc. So: people are buying more outdoor gear and emptying the shelves. Adding insult to injury, the increase in demand and the increase in manufacturing costs have caused the price of gear to rise.
Shakespeare famously said “misery makes strange bedfellows” and such has been the case in the world of outdoor gear during the Pandemic. People have been gear-hacking (using ordinary items as substitutes for specialty outdoor gear), cruising the used gear market with unusual zeal, borrowing gear, renting gear, wearing their gear threadbare, and (to get closer to the point) looking outside of the normal gear market of their particular outdoor sport.
Gaining weight has also been a side effect of the Pandemic, adding more woe to those who have outgrown and need to replace hiking clothing. My size medium Marmot mountaineering pants, which had fit me just right in 2018 and 2019 (without a lot of room to spare, unfortunately) had become unpleasantly tight around the waist. Since I was planning a lot of serious winter mountain hiking (including an overnight trip to Baxter State Park) I needed a new pair of shell pants. Trouble was, almost every brand was sold out of my size—Patagonia, North Face, Marmot, Black Diamond, etc. (Arc'teryx was still in stock—but I’m not a Rockefeller). So I started looking further afield, at gear built for sports that are similar to mountaineering. And I landed on the website of Burton—famous for their snowboards and snowboarding gear. I have never snowboarded and wasn’t familiar with Burton, but I could see that they were building some sturdy, waterproof, snow-proof shell pants that probably could double as mountaineering pants in a pinch.
Burton offers about a dozen different shell pant models with a range of prices comparable to good quality respected-brand mountaineering pants. Their pants come in a variety of fits (“regular” and “baggy”), lengths— and color choices. And they were NOT out of stock. After some waffling, I settled on a Burton’s Ballast Pant in a nice “true penny” coppery-ginger (a hue I particularly like) for a reasonable $209. The pants have features desirable for mountaineering: zippered heat vents, Gore Tex breathable fabric, soft waist band, roomy zippered cargo pockets for snacks and small gear items, built-in boot gaiter with clips, and sturdy fabric that won’t tear on branches. They also have a little pull cord behind each ankle, to cinch up the rear of the pant cuff and keep it from dragging under the boot during intense activity—a feature you won’t see on mountaineering pants (which may not have much utility outside of snowboarding).
Above, showing zippered cargo pockets, heat vents, zippered cuff and gaiter, and velcro waist adjustment (click to expand).
I took them for a shorter test-run hike, then the real test—four days at Baxter State Park—long miles, skiing, unbroken trails, deep snow-- (to use snowboarder parlance, why not) “gnarly” conditions.
I found my Burton pants warm, comfortable, and tough. We broke a lot of trail through deep snow during the trip, and on the way out of the park it rained on us—but the pants remained dry throughout. I used the pants during vigorous skiing and snowshoeing outings. At temperatures above 15°f with light wind I found that I was comfortable wearing just a pair of short underwear beneath, zipping the heat vents open or closed as needed. They vented well, and I stayed warm and dry the entire day. For lower temperatures, a pair of long midweight underwear beneath was sufficient to keep me warm. I suspect that above 30°f on a sunny day with no wind could make the pants too hot—but I have yet to test them under those conditions (and might not wear a mountaineering shell under those conditions anyway). The large zippered cargo pockets were ideal for keeping a robust cache of warm snacks, a trail map, phone, spare glove liners, and a headlamp—and they kept out the snow and rain. Although the pants have an inner Velcro waist band adjustment, I found that I also needed a belt to keep them snug at my hips—but this may have to do with the fact that I had bought a pair near the outer range of my hip-size.
There were just two minor drawbacks: I noticed a little tightness in the thighs when lifting my legs up high to overcome snow drifts on the uphill, but it wasn’t enough to cause me any noticeable fatigue over the course of a long day of hiking. And the built-in gaiter was a little loose around the ankles—probably because it was built for burly snowboard boots, not hiking boots. It did keep snow out of my boots most of the time, but I had to supplement with my Outdoor Research gaiters to remain completely snow-tight during extended trail breaking through deep snow. But I normally wear my gaiters with shell pants anyway, so no big deal. The pants would be an even better product with full-length leg zips but few manufacturers are making mountaineering pant models with that feature.
Overall, the Burton Ballast Pant proved to be a great find and a valuable addition to my winter hiking wardrobe.
Baxter State Park photo credits: Doug Settele