Rating: 4 / 5
I bought these pants for around town use, and my experience with them in the backcountry is fairly limited. In a word, the MH Winter Wister pants are non-insulated, quick drying, quite windproof, somewhat warm pants suitable for hiking and bushwacking. However, they are also quite noisy and not really warm enough to take the place of my deep winter hiking pants or windproof enough to take the place of my wind pants as part of my backpacking gear.
The fabric MH uses in these pants is slightly stretchy with a smooth, hard outer face and a somewhat softer inner face. The outer face is quite durable and resistant to staining. I'm sure they would hold up fabulously to bushwacking through about anything but razor wire. The fabric is also highly hydrophobic but doesn't have a DWR that I'm aware of. I've walked in them while it was raining and they got completely soaked, but once it stopped raining, they dried out almost instantaneously. This gives them a definite advantage over most winter softshell pants with regards to being able to leave the rain pants at home (although I don't know why I'd ever want to do that on a winter hike). They also have an advantage over ultralight windpants in that they do insulate somewhat by themselves.
Because these pants aren't fleecy insulated like softshell mountaineering pants, they aren't too uncomfortable in hot weather. However, where these really excel is on those cold, windy, snowy days, when a lighter hiking pant just wouldn't cut it. For this reason, they would probably work just fine as a main hiking pant on a trail that ascends into an early season snow storm and drops down into a 70 degree valley in the same trip. Since I bought them for around town use and that's what I use them for, these high performance characteristics makes them a very superior alternative to any sort of cotton pant in the winter time, living in a small mountain town. They also work well as a skiing pant.
My first problem with them is that their use in an ultralighter's backpacking kit is fairly limited, as I've already partly pointed out. Although they are well suited for winter or late season hiking as a worn layer, they are not as warm or as versatile as mountaineering softshell pants, in my opinion. For instance, a warm pair of softshell pants with a 3/4 leg zip can be unzipped and vented in warm weather, but also zipped up for sub zero weather. The Winter Wister pants aren't much good below about 15-20 degrees. In warmer weather, a lighter pair of polyester hiking pants would be perhaps more comfortable due to the Winter Wister pants' lower breathability (they are slightly windproof) and relative warmth. My second problem with them is that the fabric is quite noisy. It's almost as noisy to walk around in these pants as it is to walk around in a pair of full rain pants. Granted, on cold and windy days, where these pants do well, noise is not really an issue. However, the rest of the time, the swish-swish-swishing kind of bothers me, especially in the colder parts of the year, walking down a quiet trail. Or, as I often use them, walking around the office.
In conclusion, these are great around town pants in the winter time and they would be an excellent worn hiking pant in certain conditions, but the rest of the time, I feel that there are better options for backpacking.