Published Sep 8, 2022 5:00 PM
Having functional rain pants or rain gear is one of the best ways to ensure your time outside is enjoyable, no matter the weather conditions. If you’ve ever been in a downpour with less than functional rain gear, you know how horrible and sometimes unsafe it is to be drenched in the backcountry.
While many of us have a decent rain jacket, what about a pair of quality rain pants? Although not always necessary, depending on the trip and outdoor activity, they can be just as welcome in the elements as a jacket. The best rain pants protect you from the rain but are also designed well enough to be comfortable even during strenuous activities like hiking or backpacking.
Why It Made the Cut: The Arc-teryx Beta AR pants are a versatile and high-performance pair of pants you can depend on, regardless of activity or conditions.
- Weight: 1 lb 0.4 oz
- Materials: N80d 3L Gore-Tex Pro & Keprotec 100D Cordura PowderCuffs
- Waterproofing: Arc’teryx Nu water-repellent treatment
- Durable materials and construction
- Excellent ventilation design
- Versatile for work, hiking, and mountain sports
- Reinforced in high-wear areas
- Easy care and maintenance
- No full-length leg zippers
The Arc’teryx Beta AR rain pants are not a cheap investment, but for the price, you have a pair of pants that should last you a lifetime. The durability of these pants is astounding, and while they boast a very versatile design, they have extreme sports and severe weather in mind.
With these pants, you get a complete and water-tight seal. The seams, pockets, and ventilation are sealed in a way that allows enough breathability without compromising the waterproof performance. Although they have ventilation on the thighs, there are no zippers running up the side of the pants. This can make it difficult to wear with some boots.
The articulated knees and gusseted crotch of the pants make them ideal for mobility, increasing their versatility. Reinforced high-wear areas like the instep patches prevent early wear and tear from boots or crampons. Despite the high price, these are an excellent all-around pair of rain pants that you can take anywhere for years and years.
Best for Women
Why It Made the Cut: The Mountain Hardwear Women’s Stretch Ozonic rain pants are a comfortable and stretchy rain shell you can trust on and off the trail.
- Weight: 10.6 oz
- Materials: 100% recycled polyester
- Waterproofing: Dry.Q® 50D Stretch Ripstop 2.5L
- Stretchy yet secure fit
- Breathable materials
- Lightweight and packable
- Excellent features
- Durabilty is questionable depending on the use
If you are searching for a comfortable yet practical pair of rain pants, the Mountain Hardwear Women’s Stretch Ozonic is an excellent choice. These pants are lightweight and packable enough to toss into any day pack or to bring along backpacking. Features like the belt and full-length zipper add to the user experience and overall comfort while wearing them.
Regarding weather protection, these are not the best all-around waterproof pant choice but they perform slightly above average compared to cheaper alternatives. Their weather protection is good enough for most backpacking conditions that encounter rain. Beyond the specially designed Dry Q fabric, the zippers and storm flaps add to the watertight fit.
The leg zippers make it easy to take on and off while on the trail, and when zipped close, they provide a snug fit around your boots. The overall breathability of the pants and the ventilation give you added comfort as you hike or work outside.
Best for Hiking
Why It Made the Cut: Available in both men’s and women’s designs, the Black Diamond Stormline Stretch pants are comfortable, lightweight, and easy to wear while hiking.
- Weight: 7.64 oz
- Materials: 100% nylon
- Waterproofing: DWR finish
- Ultra stretchy and comfortable
- Lightweight and portable
- Easy to take on and off while hiking
- Soft and quiet material
The Black Diamond Stormline Stretch rain pants are a lightweight and reliable pair of waterproof pants that are easy to pack on any hike. Having rain gear ready—even on a day hike—is a great way to feel prepared and stay comfortable the entire time.
Unlike other rain pants designs, the stormline stretch uses a soft, lightweight fabric with a DWR finish to make them waterproof. Available in both men’s and women’s designs/fits, the stretch fabric provides unbeatable mobility and comfort, especially for hiking.
Since weather can change quickly on a hike, it’s helpful to have pants that are easy to put on over top of what you are already wearing. The stretch materials and ⅓-length DWR treated zippers on the legs make it easy to put them on and take them off without having to remove your boots.
Best for Men
Why It Made the Cut: Potentially also the best lightweight rain pants, the Outdoor Research Men’s Helium Rain Pants provide reliable protection without the bulk of too many added features.
- Weight: 6.5 oz
- Materials: 30D 100 nylon ripstop w/ Pertex shield and waterproof breathable insert
- Waterproofing: 2.5-layer Pertex shield
- Extremely lightweight
- Functional design
- Compact and packable
- Ideal mobility
- Can be difficult to pull over boots
- Less durable than other options
The Outdoor Research Men’s Helium Rain Pants are a no-frills, lightweight pair of pants that are easy to travel with, whether you’re backpacking or hunting. The nylon ripstop materials provide a relatively strong pant design, but they are not quite as durable as other options on the list. These are great if you are hiking on well-maintained trails, but if you plan to do some bushwhacking and trail finding, durability will pose an issue.
To cut back on weight, these pants do not have many features like full-length zippers or pockets. The elastic waistband makes them easy to slip on and off, but even with the zippered legs, it can be hard to get them over some boot designs. The waistband also gives the pants a lower profile which is ideal when wearing them over another pair of pants or a backpack.
The waterproof protection of these pants is impressive for the weight. You will have no issues staying dry when out in these pants. The breathability of these pants is decent, but they don’t offer much in terms of ventilation so layering appropriately might be key to staying comfortable in these pants while hiking.
Why It Made the Cut: If you’re on a budget but still want reliably waterproof pants, Helly Hansen Moss Rain Pants are worth considering.
- Weight: 14.1 oz
- Materials: 100% polyurethane
- Waterproofing: HELOX+® waterproof PU technology
- Repair kit included
Finding rain pants that will keep you dry without spending too much money can be difficult. If you are okay with the classic pullover rain pant design, the Helly Hansen Moss Rain Pants are an excellent fit for you and your budget. These pants still utilize some of the best waterproofing technology adapted from one of the most traditional fishing lines from Helly Hansen.
They are not the most durable option on the market, but for the price, you are getting an excellent value in waterproof protection. They provide a comfortable fit and are easy to take on and off over boots. If you follow proper instructions and wear them with care, the durability shouldn’t be much of an issue, and you’ll have an affordable pair of rain pants to keep you dry on every hike.
Best for Fishing
Why It Made the Cut: The Grundens Gambler Gore-Tex Bibs utilizes a rugged, waterproof design that is unbeatable in, on, or around water that can be paired with the Gambler Jacket for a complete waterproof fishing system.
- Weight: N/A
- Materials: 80d 100% nylon face with Gore-Tex Tricot Backer
- Waterproofing: Gore-Tex and “Keep You Dry” guarantee
- Full zipper leg opening
- Thigh pocket storage
- Zipper fly
- Reinforced leg cuffs
- Excellent mobility
Having the best rain gear for fishing also means having the best rain pants or bibs in this scenario. Rain pants are not particularly popular while fishing, but a quality pair of waterproof bibs will do the trick and keep you dry. The Grundens Gambler Gore-Tex Bibs come with innovations from the pros from a company that has been in the business for years.
These bibs are functional but can also be paired with the Gambler Jacket for a complete waterproof system. A few useful things that stand out about these bibs include the aqua-guard protected zippers on both the legs, pocket and for the fly. The leg cuffs are reinforced, providing some much-needed durability to an area we stand on often.
For some comfort and mobility, the brand has added a stretch woven upper back suspender, making it easy to bend over without feeling constricted. These are a durable pair of bibs you can depend on to keep you dry.
Things to Consider Before Buying Rain Pants
Rain pants are notorious for being a hot, sweaty mess, especially when you need to wear them while working outdoors or backpacking. To help you avoid those situations, here are a few things to consider before shopping.
Knowing how, when, and how often you plan to use your rain pants can greatly impact how much you want to budget and the overall design/functionality. For instance, you likely don’t need a $400 pair of technical pants as a backup pair on a camping trip you take twice a year.
The durability and breathability necessary for different activities and people’s general preferences will differ. Then, like any pair of outdoor pants, it helps to know how comfortable they are when you wear them. If they are too tight and limit mobility, they probably aren’t perfect rain pants for hiking, but they may work for other things.
Understanding the level of water resistance is important. How companies define waterproof material is different, so knowing the level of moisture exposure expected can help identify if certain pants will work for your use.
The materials used and the type of waterproof coating are helpful, but the overall pant design is worth noting. All rain pants (in our opinion) should have taped seams, offering a water-tight seal. If pockets or vents exist, the closures must be secure and designed well enough to stay closed even while moving.
Waterproof coatings, like DWR, wear off over time. So, while this is an important feature, rain pants need to be re-waterproofed eventually. The durability and structural integrity of the pants should play a larger role in whether those rain pants are suitable. Durability should also consider the thread strength because if you wear a pair of pants that are easy to rip and tear, it doesn’t matter if it has seam seals if there are holes in other areas of the pants.
Comfort and Mobility
Comfort and mobility are a priority for all outdoor recreation clothing. Because rain pants are often designed to slip over clothes or standalone pants, having the right fit is essential. If a pair of rain pants is too tight in any area—but especially in the knees and hips—it can be challenging to continue hiking. The pants can restrict your natural movement when stepping over logs or scrambling up rocks.
If possible, trying pants on in person is ideal. However, most of us do our shopping online these days. If that’s the case, look at the overall pant construction and their measurements in terms of sizing and fit. These extra efforts can significantly enhance your comfort in that pair of pants (and help you get the right size).
Other comfort considerations include the waist type and the material. If the material is plasticy and loud to walk in, that can be uncomfortable. If the waist uses a drawstring versus a button and zipper, it may not be as secure, causing you to stop and readjust your pants often. All of these factors add up to your comfort level in (usually) less than favorable weather conditions.
Breathabilty and Ventilation
Another rain pant comfort factor can be the level of breathability. This is a difficult balance for many product designers because if a pair of pants is too breathable, they won’t be water-resistant. That’s where things like vents come into play. Since they can’t use mesh or strictly ventilated fabric for the pants as a whole, vents allow the wearer to get some airflow even when it is raining without compromising the effectiveness of the pants.
Where the zippered ventilation is located on the pants also matters. Some pants have a side zipper that goes up the legs, and while this can be nice, in most situations, this is ineffective. If you are hiking through brush, your legs will get wet. Your legs will get wet if it is anything more than a light drizzle. Other areas for ventilation could be on the inner leg or on the thighs with flaps to protect your legs but allow some airflow to pass.
Staying dry while hiking in rain pants is a delicate balance because it’s easy to get sweaty while wearing them. How you layer can also impact the moisture you trap under the rain pants.
Q: What are good pants to wear in the rain?
Any fabrics with moisture resistance or wicking properties are suitable for rain pants. Specially designed rain pants are waterproof, keeping your underlayers dry, but other materials like merino wool and most synthetic fabrics are quick drying and generally moisture-wicking as well.
Q: What pant material is waterproof?
Most waterproof rain pants are made from a synthetic material like coated nylon or polyester blends. Materials that are fully waterproof on their own are not generally suitable for pants, which is why the best rain pants utilize a breathable waterproof coating on top of the already water-resistant materials.
Q: Are ski pants and rain pants the same?
No, rain pants and ski pants are not the same but share similar qualities. Both are waterproof, but ski pants tend to be insulated. Rain pants are designed to be worn in warm weather during rainy seasons, so they use a breathable fabric to prevent heat retention. Ski pants can have ventilation, but since they are designed to be used in the snow, they tend to be less breathable and utilize thicker materials.
Q: Are jeans good for rain?
Jeans can be okay to wear in light rain and for short periods, but because jeans are made from cotton, they are generally not conducive to long exposures. Cotton is a very absorbent material; once it is wet, it takes a long time to dry.
The best rain pants don’t have to be the most expensive, but they should be the ones that provide the most value to meet your individual adventure needs. All waterproof outdoor gear has its pros and cons. While we often primarily look at performance, it is important to understand the durability and impact those materials, coatings, and chemicals have on us and the environment. Even if you didn’t find the best rain pants for you on our list, use our buying considerations above to help you make more ethical and informed purchases.
How We Made Our Picks
Rain gear is one part of your outdoor wardrobe you never want to fail. Choosing the best rain pants for various people’s needs and outdoor recreation pursuits often only comes down to a few key factors. Most of these things are covered in our buying considerations section, but a few other vital driving forces that helped us compile our list include:
- Longevity: How durable are the pant materials? What type of waterproof coating is used, and how often does it need to be reapplied? Is there a repair policy or warranty of any kind? Does the company provide any resources for care and repair?
- Versatility: Are the pants suitable for several outdoor activities? Are they breathable enough to wear while working or hiking outdoors?
- Customer Satisfaction: Is the company responsive to customer needs and requests? Does the company have plans for manufacturing errors or other customer complaints? Is the company website clear and transparent about products, values, and sustainably?
Other factors were also considered, such as personal experience with certain products, company-specific research, and verified customer testimonials.