The word “salopette” comes from a French word for trousers, and its use in sporting gear appears to have originated in the ski industry. Unlike traditional “bibs,” salopettes extend higher up on the chest, providing more core coverage, and the shoulder straps are wider. While some models have shoulder strap adjustment, many only have lightweight stretch material in this area, which is good for mobility and warmth. They tend to be a little closer fit overall than bibs, often helped by some sort of waist cincher, suggesting mostly around-the-buoys and coastal use, although there is a trend toward making them more suitable for ocean passages with much tougher materials and slightly larger fit to accommodate layering. Either way, for many sailors, the salopette is the first line of defense, providing water and windproof protection from legs to core before adding a more bulky jacket or spray top. The salopette’s versatility is what makes it an ideal piece of gear for keelboat sailors.
Why go with salopettes over traditional bibs? It’s largely a matter of personal preference, but with stretch fabric that goes over the shoulder and onto your upper back, you don’t have straps digging into or sliding off your shoulder. The downside? You usually can’t adjust your torso length as easily as you can with bibs. However, even then, there are a few options that do have some adjustment, usually done with an envelope-style Velcro setup that eliminates buckles in the chest area.
As with any foul weather gear, you must try it before you buy it (or recommend it), so we collected the top-of-the line kit from seven top manufacturers and wore them throughout the 2021 Boat of the Year testing in Annapolis, Maryland, this past October. Although we weren’t able to try every one in every condition, it did give us the opportunity to examine them up close and use each of them in a sampling of real-world conditions. The biggest takeaway we had was that there’s no such thing as a “best salopette.” This is no cop-out. They’re all good for certain sizes of users and for certain applications, so your choice comes down to the conditions you’ll regularly sail in, your position on the boat, your need for specific features, and your budget. Either way, there’s definitely something here that will be just the right fit.
Gill OS1 Ocean Trousers
With one look at these, it was clear they’re built for offshore sailing. The four-layer laminate material is stiffer and heavier than almost everything in our collection, but unlike the more around-the-buoys types of salopettes that have stretch material from the waist up, these were all business, all the way to the top. The shoulder straps are not stretchy material, but they do have multiple Velcro adjustment points that provide a customized fit.
There’s a small chest pocket, perfect for a cell phone or small notebook, and lined hand pockets, along with a photoluminescent safety reflector mid-chest, which is a nice safety touch. We really liked the webbed waist cinchers, located on the outside of each hip. With a quick pull on the tabs, it felt like we suddenly had the security of a belt around the waist, which kept the lower part of the salopettes fitting correctly, regardless of position.
The OS1 was the only salopette in our group with a storm flap over the front zipper. That, coupled with a large gusset inside, provides insurance against water intrusion. One stand-out from the other salopettes, however, is that the front zipper is only one way. We contacted Gill about this, and they said, “Previous versions of the trouser had a ‘relief’ opening behind the zipper, which benefited from having a two-way slider. User feedback told us this opening was difficult and uncomfortable to use, plus it created an opening for water to enter the trousers. The updated construction is now waterproof to just below chest height.” The idea is that you can unzip your jacket from the bottom (or pull your smock up) and then zip the trouser down.
There are loads of features below the waistline, including a PLB attachment point and two thigh pockets. We especially liked how the pockets were positioned—not directly on top of each thigh but slightly around to the outside, which made storing items in them, such as sailing gloves or nutrition bars, seem less bulky. On the right-hand pocket is a cool knife sheath, with a snap attachment. The seat and knee patches are as beefy as you’d expect for this level of offshore gear and the seat patch has no center seam, which reduces the chance of leaking. There’s plenty of room in the legs for as much layering as you want and accommodating higher sea boots. $499. gillmarine.com/os1-ocean-trousers-os13t/
Helly Hansen Aegir Race Salopette
When we pulled the Helly Hansen Aegirs out of the bag we immediately started bargaining over who would get to use these first. They’re just heavy enough to make clear they’d be good in everything from around-the-buoys racing to coastal racing, and they also have all the features you’d want, starting with a stretchy Lycra top that made it feel like we weren’t wearing any foul weather gear from the waist up. And, it’s a whole lot cooler when wearing a smock or jacket.
Designed with input from ocean racer Thomas Coville and named after the mythological Norse God of the Ocean, the Aegir is made from Helly’s proprietary seam-sealed three-layer fabric. There’s a two-way front zipper, with a large gusset just inside that. The fabric from the waist down is breathable and waterproof, and there’s plenty of room in the legs for multiple layering. Like the Gill salopettes, these have webbed waist cinchers—definitely a plus for preventing the legs from sagging when heavy and wet.
There are large, articulated reinforcement patches on the knees and seat, but they don’t have a lot of stiffness, which not only makes these salopettes more comfortable, but that means they’ll pack small, taking up less space in your duffle. One small but cool feature is the trim on the pockets and the ankle fasteners—a fluorescent yellow, making locating them in the dark a whole lot easier. $450. hellyhansen.com/en_us/aegir-race-salopette-33871?color=291475
Henri Lloyd M-Pro Salopette 3HL GTX BLU
Even without putting them on a scale, we could tell these were clearly the lightest weight salopettes in the group and would be perfect for high-intensity buoy racing. Made with Gore-Tex Pro Recycled Face Fabric, this was one model we felt we could wear all day and never feel like we had to peel a layer on a downwind leg.
The 3HL (the 3 is for three-layer laminate) has four-way stretch Lycra material from the waist up, which allows for great temperature control and accommodates a wide range of body types. There are two convenient chest pockets—keep a phone in one and lens cloth or notepad in the other. There’s also a pocket on the right thigh with two different sized loops along with a long, narrow pocket for a knife or small flashlight. The Lycra is, of course, not waterproof, so if conditions are likely to be on the wet side, you’ll be adding a jacket sooner. Waistline cinchers are located in the bottom of each chest pocket. To tighten, pull the stretchy cord. To loosen, unzip the main zipper to waist level and use the release button on each side.
There’s a two-way front zipper, with a large gusset just inside the lower portion. Reinforcement patches welded on the knees and seat (therefore, no seams) are articulated, allowing them to be smaller, again saving weight but more importantly blocking as little of the breathable properties as possible. The legs on the 3HLs were slightly narrower than some of the other brands, a big plus for around-the-buoys sailing, but they might be a little snug if you’re planning on really bulking up with layers. Adjustable ankle cuffs are soft enough that they feel great on bare ankles when just wearing sailing sneakers and are large enough to fit over sea boots.
The 3HL Salopettes are also available in women’s sizes, which have a different cut, allowing for a shorter frame, leg lengths and curves. Henry Lloyd salopettes are manufactured in Poland from 100-percent recycled material and for North American customers, they only sell direct. Price: $445. henrilloyd.com
Mustang Meris MP3000 02 Sailing Salopette
Here’s another salopette we quickly started coveting. They’re just a touch heavier than the super-light Henri Lloyd M-Pro, but the Mustang Meris has a lot going for it. The biggest plus is that they’re just plain comfortable to wear. We spent a few hours in them and forgot we were wearing foul weather gear. For greater comfort, the light gray color also helps keep the inside temps down.
The design brief begins with the lightweight and super-comfortable stretch shoulder straps. They’re supplemented by beefy Velcro attachments that provide a three-inch adjustment range. This is a great feature for accommodating a large range of body types. There’s a chest pocket on the left-hand side and stretchy waist cincher on the right-hand side. Just above that is a Velcro strap arrangement for attaching accessories—think PLBs and the like.
The chest pocket and two-way front use beefy YKK Aquaseal zippers, which are touted as being 100-percent waterproof. With such a zipper, Mustang decided there was no need for a gusset, thus simplifying the design, saving weight and improving mobility. Take a big wave without it fully zipped and you’ll understand why it’s important to make sure it’s firmly seated.
There’s one pocket on the right thigh with a windowed section that we’re told is meant for seeing written notes (coordinates, polars, etc.) There’s also a slim pocket to the outside of the thigh pocket that’s perfect for a knife or small flashlight.
In addition to the Cordura reinforcement on the knees and seat, the knees have impact foam padding. Great for those times when having to kneel over a winch or on a hard deck to secure a sail. We sailed a couple of dinghies wearing these, and the few times we ended up on our knees, we really appreciated the padding. A Velcro tab on the outside of each leg, adjacent to the pads, keeps them firmly positioned on your leg. The Meris is constructed of four-layer “Marine Spec” material developed specifically for tough saltwater environments. $499.99 mustangsurvival.com/collections/mens-outerwear/products/meris-waterproof-bib-pants-mp300002
Musto LPX GTX Salopette
The first thing we noticed right away is how light the LPX is. Again, it’s one of those salopettes that you’ll hardly notice you’re wearing. The LPX is designed primarily for day sailing, although we could see it working for a coastal race, with the right layering. Made of three-layer Gore-Tex fabric, which runs all the way up to where the shoulder straps begin, these salopettes are waterproof almost up to your neck. As a result, you might be able to postpone adding a spray top and jacket just a little longer than those that aren’t waterproof that far up. Reinforced patches at the knees and seat are beefy enough to make clear these will take a lot but not so much that they add stiffness. Multi-layer elastic shoulders are solid and do a nice job of keeping the salopettes in position. Built-in elastic around the waist helps keep them close to your body.
Our only beef with the LPX GTX is that there is no device for cinching the waist, which would prevent them from sliding down below your hips. That means that when moving from, say, a seated position to a kneeling position, they can get a bit snug in the knees. It’s not a major, but something to consider if you’re working a high-movement position.
Beyond that, this is mostly a no-frills salopette and is the most economical of the group we tried. It has a two-way zipper with a large gusset behind it, two thigh pockets with zipper closures and elastic/Velcro tabs at the ankles. Its simplicity is one of the things we liked. After all, this is not something you’re going to use sailing offshore for weeks, but it will be in its element in day races. We tried the platinum version (it also comes in black), and it kept us comfortable even when the sun was shining strongly—never experiencing a sensation of overheating. $395. team1newport.com/Musto-LPX-Gore-Tex-Salopette-81212/productinfo/MU81212/
North Sails Ocean Trousers
The first question asked when these came out of the box was, “Where did these bad boys come from?” Clearly the heaviest duty of any of the gear we checked out, but they’re amazingly light for what they are. With tough but pliable reinforcement on the seat and knees and an oversized fit for maximum layering, it was clear: if you’re going to the Southern Ocean, these should be on your gear list. Not surprisingly, that’s reflected in the price. Technically, these are bibs, but they had enough in common with salopettes that we decided to include them.
That’s not to say these won’t cut it for less extreme sailing. Prior to our Annapolis tests, SW’s editor Dave Reed used a demo for the Chicago-Mackinac Race (on deck and sleeping through off-watches and loved them) and then loaned them to a teammate for the cold and windy J/24 Nationals in Vermont where they performed like a champ, emerging no worse for the wear after being dragged across the non-skid for days. Would you want them for everyday around-the-buoys racing? They’d be overkill, but they could very well be the last pair of salopettes you ever buy.
Constructed with GORE-Tex Pro and an innovative TightWeave fabric, if they’re not bulletproof, they’re darn close to it, but the real deal is in the seat and knee panels, which do not have seams, thereby eliminating common leak points. The front zip is two-way and has an internal gusset to keep water out. The overall design is simple and clean, with just two big thigh pockets. The internal high-density foam padding at the knees is a great feature, and the pads are removable by sliding them out from the side of each padding pocket.
Shoulder straps are made of 50mm elastic with a hook and loop adjustment that keeps any excess strap safely tucked away. We discovered that you need to pull the two parts of the hook side up so the strap with the loop is sliding through and only touching the outer side of the fabric—it’s a bit like putting battens in a big-boat mainsail without a batten tool. A bit challenging at first, but once in place, you’re good to go, and they shouldn’t need further adjustment. And they’ll certainly stay where you set them. $800. team1newport.com/North-Sails-Offshore-Bib-Trousers-27M440/productinfo/NS27M440/
Zhik OFS 800 Salopette
Our first reaction on seeing these was, “This looks like a good, solid, all-around salopette.” After we had used them for a while, that reaction was confirmed. They fit great and were comfortable, even on 70-degree days. They’re made with “eVent” fabric, which is new to the marine market and boasts exceptional breathability while retaining high levels of waterproofness and durability. In fact, Zhik claims these are 60 percent more breathable than their previous salopettes, and durability falls into the military grade category.
The shoulder straps are made of Spacer mesh, which is also great for breathability, and they are attached with dual Velcro tabs. Again, it was a little challenging to adjust, but once there, we were good to go. The seat and knees are reinforced with durable nylon panels. The front zipper is backed by a large internal gusset, and there is a side-accessed pocket on the right-hand side. A small niggle, but this placement makes it a little more challenging to access for right-handers. However, left-handers should be pleased. There are two elasticized adjusters to cinch the waist and two thigh pockets with Velcro closure flaps. We liked the velcro pocket closures but found ourselves wishing the elasticized waist adjusters were non-stretch webbing instead. Again, not a major concern, but it’s one of those “it would be nice to have” features. $579.95 zhik.com/featured/ofs800-range/black-ofs800-salopette.html
Helly Hansen’s Women’s Aegir Salopette
Martha Parker, Founder Team One Newport, provides insight into her favorite salopettes: I’ve worn salopette-style foul weather gear trousers for years, and it wasn’t until the Helly Hansen Women’s Aegir salopettes came along that I finally found a pair that fits me. I’m 5’2”, so it’s difficult to find a pair that fits my size. To complicate matters, I use them on a wide variety of boats—team racing on Sonars, fleet racing on J/24s and IC 37s and offshore—and everything in between. I’m usually on the bow or in the pit and prefer salopettes because the tops are flexible, making movement easier, and when I have a smock or jacket over them, which is about half the time, they’re not too bulky and cumbersome.
The Helly Hansen Aegir salopettes were designed with the help of the women on Team SCA in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race to assure a true female fit. They’re made of a tri-laminate Helly-Tech Fabric with articulated reinforcement in the seat and knees, along with an adjustable waist. The two thigh pockets are perfect for storing my multi-tool, sunscreen lip protection, snacks, and a sail tie. I always wear knee pads, and there is plenty of room for those.
The best thing? A drop-seat feature. It utilizes a waterproof YKK Aquaseal Dry zipper that starts at the right hip, goes all around the back at the upper hip area, and stops at the left hip. This allows the bottom part of the trousers to fall down towards the knees, allowing me to use the bucket or head without having to take off my smock—a true bonus when there are only 15 minutes between races and we’re trying to get the boat ready for the next race. $450. team1newport.com/Helly-Hansen-Womens-Aegir-Race-Salopette-33885/productinfo/HH33885/