Dark clouds are gathering on the horizon and there’s a chill in the air. This could only mean one thing – a miserable torrent of rain is about to come tumbling down to ruin your hiking trip; that is if you’ve come unprepared.
While many of us carry rain jackets to keep our torsos warm and dry, few remember to protect their legs.
Below you’ll find some of the best waterproof rain pants for hiking, and they’re going to be a complete game-changer for how you experience hiking in inclement weather.
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Best Rain Pants for Hiking Comparison Table
Things to Consider Before Buying Rain Pants for Hiking
Getting a good pair of rain pants seems pretty simple – they need to be waterproof, but that’s only going to get you a pair that can save you in an emergency.
To find a pair that will become a part of your everyday outdoor gear, you’ll need to research the features a little more closely. You can enjoy the outdoors even in the harshest of conditions with a weather resistant and hiker conscious pant design. Here’s what to look for when buying a new pair of reliable waterproof hiking gear for your wet weather adventures.
It goes without saying that this is the most important feature of any pair of rain pants; if they don’t adequately repel water, they’re just another piece of clothing weighing you down.
Most rain pants manufacturers have their own proprietary waterproof fabrics, but they’re all based on synthetic nylon. Most common wet weather gear will use standard waterproof technologies such as a durable weather repellant treatment (DWR) added to the outer face and a polyurethane layer to the inside (Gore-Tex).Stay dry during wet weather
Any pair of rain pants is going to be highly water-resistant, as this is the main purpose of wearing them; where you’ll find differences between models is in their breathability, comfort, and durability.
Comfort and Mobility
Rain pants are by nature uncomfortable – they are a second pair of pants to be worn over your normal clothing.
Some are more comfortable than others though and this usually comes down to fit and freedom of movement.
You might think that a looser pair of pants would be more comfortable to hike in as they won’t be rubbing and getting twisted up with the clothes underneath. The pant design should come with articulated knees to allow comfortable fitting.
That’s not exactly true though, as a loose fit will feel like your wearing trash bags around your legs. They’ll also more likely to catch on bushes to the side of the trail.
One personal point of preference though is the waistband; many hikers prefer an elastic waistband that makes the pants easy to take on and off.
However, that design comes at the cost of keeping your pants up; pairs with belts will stay up better if you have heavy objects in the pockets or if they get weighed down with mud.
It’s also important to take into consideration the difference between men’s and women’s bodies. Men have narrower hips than women, which means that the best hiking pants for men might not be the best hiking pants for women.
The pant designs for men and women should be given extra attention because of the inherent physical limitations or requirement of both men and women hikers.
Fortunately, most manufacturers of high-quality rain pants will have men’s and women’s versions – you can get all the same benefits of the pants no matter your gender. Only with cheap, big-box store brands will you see unisex fit rain pants.
A final consideration with comfort is how easy the pants are to put on over hiking shoes or boots.
Most will have a zipper near the ankle cuff that makes it easier to put on, but the zipper length varies.
Full-length zips go all the way up the thigh and make donning boots a cinch, while quarter length zippers are more useful for running shoes and shorter boots.
Breathability and Venting
The primary goal of rain pants is keeping the water out, but a close second is preventing moisture from staying in.
A makeshift pair of pants can be constructed on the trail from a couple of trash bags, but those bags won’t breath one bit and you’ll be sweating buckets in no time.
As with water resistance, the breathability of the pants comes down to the type of coating that’s used.
The waterproof fabrics that are used in manufacturing wet weather gears comes at different retail prices and quality.
More expensive and complex coatings like Gore-Tex, a waterproof breathable fabric usually do a better job at moving moisture out of the pants, while less expensive ones, like polyurethane laminate (PUL) will do a good job of keeping the rain out. Some manufacturers will compensate for this by adding vents, but the more venting you have, the less waterproof the pants become.
Rain pants are great to have, but unless you’re hiking in the rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula or southeastern Alaska, you probably won’t need them all the time.
As such, the size that the pants pack down to is absolutely critical. Much like your packable down jacket, many of the lighter weight pairs can be scrunched down to around half the size of a liter Nalgene bottle. Beefier pairs will take up as much space as your normal hiking pants.
If you’re bringing rain pants as a just-in-case, think about getting pair that you won’t even notice in your pack – something under half a pound.
If you think you’ll spend more time wearing them than storing them, feel free to get a pair that’s heavier and takes up more space.
This goes hand in hand with the packed size consideration, if you’re using these pants on a weekly basis, it’s critical that they hold up.
If they’re for emergencies and only see a couple uses a year, durability will probably be an afterthought.
Rain pants, like hiking pants, are almost exclusively made from nylon, and so durability mostly comes down to one factor, deniers – the thread count of your pants.
Higher denier cloth, particularly those above 40, is going to last a lot longer and hold up to more abuse.
Higher thread count also makes extra weight though, so factor that into your decision-making process.
Best Waterproof Hiking Pants Reviews
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As with most products from Arc’teryx, the Beta SLs are the pants to get when you need the absolute best.
They’re constructed from Paclite Goretex, which is pretty much unmatched when it comes to water repellency and it’s also quite breathable.
They feel much more like a regular pair of pants, although the Goretex does tend to make some pretty loud noises as the legs rub together (all the better to keep the bears away though).
The Beta SLs do not have any pockets though, which can be a bit of an inconvenience, though the full-length zippers along the sides allow easy access to your pants pockets underneath.
These pants are a great choice if you know the trail will be wet and that you’ll be wearing them from the start.
They’re incredible waterproof and comfortable enough, but they’re kind of bulky and don’t pack down that well so they’re less useful as a backup.
As most hikers know, Arc’teryx makes some of the best hiking pants for men, but each of their hiking and rain pants models also comes in a women’s version that better suited to their body shape.
So ladies, be sure to check out the Beta SL women’s as they are definitely some of the best hiking pants for women.
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The Minimus pants from Montane are one of the best examples of lightweight rain gear that’s designed for infrequent use.
Montane’s Pertex Shield fabric does an excellent job of keeping the rain out and reasonably well at venting moisture from inside the pants.
They’re also quite comfortable, with a drawstring waistband that ensures they stay up even in the toughest of conditions. The two biggest complaints with the Minimus pants have to do with its features and durability.
These pants have no pockets, which means you can’t access your phone or keys without reaching into your pack or your hiking pants underneath.
The ankle cuffs also have a rather short zipper, which makes it near impossible to slide these on with anything larger than trail running shoes.
As might be expected with such lightweight gear, they’re also not durable and probably will only last a season or so if you wear them frequently.
Montane manufacturers men’s and women’s versions of the Minimus, making these some of the best hiking pants for men and women that want to go ultralight with their rain gear.
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The Ozionics from Mountain Hardware represent something of a middle ground when it comes to choosing the best waterproof hiking pants.
Weighing in at just over ten ounces, they don’t fall into the ultralight category, but they are somewhat packable and reliable weather protection for your hiking trips.
They’re constructed from 40-denier nylon, which is moderately durable and has enough stretch in it to not feel constrictive. There’s a single, front-facing pocket over the thigh, which isn’t particularly useful as it’s quite small, but better than nothing.
One feature that makes these some of the best rain pants for hiking is the full-length zipper along the side, which makes putting your boots on a cinch, no matter how tall they are.
One minor complaint with zippers is that the Velcro tabs at the top of the zipper tend to come undone.
The Ozionics also come with a belted waistband rather than the standard elastic that comes with most rain pants.
This is a big advantage if you’re carrying anything in your pocket as they won’t slip down as easily, plus the waistband is fleece-lined to keep the fit as comfortable as possible.
If you’re not sure what kind of weather you’re going to run into, but want to remain prepared for anything, the Ozionics are an excellent choice that should cover all your bases.
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If you’re settling into the idea of wearing rain pants as an outdoor gear, the Torrentshells are some of the best to start out with.
They’re made from 50-denier recycled nylon, so these pants will last quite a few seasons before you need to upgrade. However, that thick fabric doesn’t seem to weigh them down too much, they still pack small enough that you won’t notice much of a bulge in your bag.
They also have two pockets, which is somewhat unusual for rain pants, which sometimes have just one.
The Torrentshells are not without their disadvantages though, and the biggest is with their breathability. If you’re doing any kind of intense activity, they’re going to feel clammy.
They also aren’t that comfortable; they don’t have a great fit and they come with a drawstring waistband, which feels like an oversight on Patagonia’s part.
While there’s also elastic in the waistband, it feels like they weren’t confident enough in it, but also didn’t feel like adding a full-fledged belt that would have done the job better.
Honestly, these are a solid pair of pants if you don’t see yourself using them all the time and want something you know will work when you have to pull them out on a rainy day.
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If you need to go fast and light, these are the pants for you. Outdoor Research has done an excellent job cutting weight and saving space, with the Heliums coming in at just over five ounces.
They’re also incredibly comfortable with a soft elastic waistband that doesn’t dig into your skin after a few hours of wearing them.
What they’re lacking in is features though.
The quarter-length zipper running from the ankle cuff isn’t enough when you need to pull these on over a pair of taller boots. It would be great if they could manufacture a full-zip version because its one of the finest hiking gear the offers ultimate freedom of movement in every step.
They also have just one pocket, which I suppose is because the elastic waistband can’t hold up much more than the five ounces of pants.
As you might have guessed, that lightweight fabric doesn’t hold up to Mother Nature so well. If you’re wearing the Heliums on a regular basis, expect to do a few patch jobs as they get torn fairly easily.
If you’re a trail runner that needs something small to stuff in their pack for emergencies, the Outdoor Research Helium Pants are probably going to be your go-to pants.
Final Decision: What are the Best Rain Pants for Hiking?
This is going to be different for everyone; the best rain pants for hiking in northern Maine will be different from the best waterproof hiking pants for southeastern Alaska.
What matters most is how much rain you anticipate – if it might be pouring for a couple of hours every day of your multi-day hike, it’s best to invest a little more in your rain gear and get something that’s durable.
Arc’Teryx’s Beta SL pants definitely fit the bill on that one with excellent durability, unbeatable waterproofing, and they’re comfortable enough that you won’t mind wearing them through the whole day.
On the other hand, if there’s a chance of sporadic showers and you need a little just-in-case set of water-resistant pants in your pack, a pair of Outdoor Research’s Heliums is exactly what you need.
They pack down smaller than a Nalgene bottle and weigh only a couple of ounces. If the day never calls for them, no harm no foul.
Water-resistant pants are vastly underrated by most hikers; until the rain starts falling, many of us never consider how miserable it is to hike in sopping wet clothes.
We’ll bring jackets to remain dry enough for warm, but having a good set of pants can make a world of difference in comfort.