The Best Men's Rain Pants of 2017 for Hiking and Backpacking
With so many rain pants on the market, it can be difficult to find the best pair. We researched 50 contenders and ultimately decided on 8 pairs to test, putting in over 100 hours of testing. We included pairs ranging from the all-around state of the art ultralight rain protection to the burly Gore-Tex pieces. We also compared our favorite, more budget-friendly general rain protection options. Our team put these competitors to the test while backpacking, hiking, and skiing through an enormous range of conditions, conducting both real-world applications and side-by-side comparisons in the lab. Keep reading to find out which pair will best suit the adventure you're after.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Rain Pant
Outdoor Research Foray Pants
The Outdoor Research Foray is our favorite overall rain pant for a slew of outdoor activities, including backpacking and hiking. After extensive testing and in-the-field use, our review team felt the Foray offered the best combination of storm-worthiness, durability, ventilation, breathability, weight, and features. It was among the most worthy of contenders in storms and scored highly in offering effective breathability; they also included some of our favorite features out of all contenders tested. The Foray offered enough mobility for mountaineering or more challenging scrambling objectives but was still light enough that we didn't mind bringing it as a just-in-case layer on extended trips (when the weather outlook was decent). In the end, if we could only own one rain pant for backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, and mountaineering, this would be it.
Highly water resistant
Only one pocket
3/4 length zippers
Read full review: Outdoor Research Foray Pant
Editors' Choice for Unparalleled Freedom of Movement
Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic Pants
The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic offered unparalleled freedom of movement, thanks to its extremely stretchy fabric. It was the most breathable and had most of the features backpackers and hikers need. Did we mention it was one of the lightest and most packable models we tested? While not quite as stormproof as the Outdoor Research Foray, this contender is an excellent choice thanks to its high scores across the board, with each Editors' Choice winner offering slightly different advantages.
Extremely stretchy fabric
Best mobility, range of motion, and breathability of all contenders
Built in belt
Not quite as abrasion resistant
So-so weather resistance
Velcro flaps come undone easily
Read full review: Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot PreCip Full Zip
The Marmot PreCip Full Zip wins our Best Buy Award for being made of an excellent balance of features, weather resistance, weight, and packability - versus cost. This pant faced stiff competition, most notably from the REI Talusphere Full Zip, $109, which offered a much stretchier fabric, along with better features, and was only $10 more. Overall, the PreCip is highly breathable, fully featured and storm worthy, and tough to beat for the price. With fewer features, the PreCip Pant Version is a zipper-less option of this pant. For $80, it would make an excellent emergency shell.
Most breathable proprietary in our review under $100
Easy to pull on and remove
Velcro flaps can come undone
Read full review: Marmot PreCip Full Zip
Top Pick for Light Weight
Outdoor Research Helium Pant
The Outdoor Research Helium wins for being the best option for folks who put a premium on every extra ounce and cubic inch of space in their pack. This award is also for folks who end up carrying a just-in-case pair of rain pants on day hikes, bike trips, cross-country ski days, and just about any outdoor activity in which the weather can take a blustery turn. The Helium, despite its weight, offers respectable storm worthiness; it just isn't quite as quick to pull on, and offers average breathability. However, its upside is a minimal packed-volume (half of most pants in our fleet) that weighs less than seven ounces. This is by far the lightest pant in our review and is certainly a benefit for specific users.
Lightest, most compact in the review
Elastic waistband is comfortable and functional
Less durable than most
Hard to pull on over boots
Read full review: Outdoor Research Helium Pants
Top Pick for Best Pant Under $50
Columbia Rebel Roamer
We scoured dozens of options to find the best pant for the least amount of money. In the end, we felt that the Columbia Rebel Roamer easily stood out in this category, far outperforming its competitors in the $50 and under price range. Even among more expensive options, the Rebel Roamer offers decent weather resistance, packed volume, and versatility, at a lower-than-average weight. The Rebel Roamer's only downsides are that it isn't super breathable and it offers very few features (not even a single pocket). For folks on a tighter budget, or for those not wanting to spend a lot of money on something they are likely to carry in their pack 90+ percent of the time, the Rebel Roamer is light enough to work as a just-in-case layer but versatile enough to use for downhill skiing or snowboarding.
Above average durability
Excellent storm worthiness
Not easy to put on when removing footwear
Read full review: Columbia Rebel Roamer
Honorable Mention for the Backcountry
The Marmot Minimalist Pant was another strong contender for our Editors' Choice award. It is even lighter and more durable than the Outdoor Research Foray and is equally as storm worthy. However, this contender doesn't have as many features, including side-zippers to facilitate putting them on and taking them off while wearing boots. That said, this is only a small downside, and the Minimalist's slightly wider diameter boot cuffs make it a far superior option for downhill or backcountry skiing.
Read full review: Marmot Minimalist Pant
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Analysis and Test Results
Rain pants that keep you dry and comfortable when the weather starts nuking can be worth every mile you might have carried them, especially when the sky opens up, and the wind starts to blow. A waterproof shell protects your lower body and ensures comfort and safety on both extended and shorter adventures.
Even if these pants most frequently ride in your pack the vast majority of the time, they will instantly be worth it when you're prepared on a stormy day (or week), allowing you to continue your trip, despite the potentially grim weather. The pants tested can be used for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, snowshoeing, and a slew of other outdoor activities.
We chose our fleet from nearly a hundred models. We took into account a large array of options that appealed to our review team, ranging from affordable rain protection for short day hikes and general outdoor activities to ultralight rain protection for extended backpacking trips and mountaineering. Whether you are searching for your first pair of rain pants, a modern replacement for an old now worn out pair, a versatile option that can pull double duty for occasional downhill or backcountry skiing or snowboarding, or an ultralight model to add to your quiver, you're starting your research in the right place.
Below you'll find detailed descriptions of our evaluation criteria, how we tested the products and information regarding each of the top performers (and how they compared to similar models). In our individual product reviews, we go into detail about each model's features, explain the reasoning behind our scoring in each comparison category, and compare and contrast each product to its closest competitors. If you want to know the details of how each pant's side zipper functions, how packable each contender was, or how each model fared in our weather resistance tests, you'll find those details in each product's individual review. The best of these pants lock out the rain and snow while allowing your sweat to escape, minimizing any restriction of mobility. This allows the user to continue their activity despite the conditions, whether scrambling to a mountain top or out on a rainy morning hike.
Criteria For Evaluation
A rain pant should keep its user dry in a rain storm, whether hiking, backpacking, or out walking the dog. In our scoring, this was the most heavily weighted category - at 30 percent. Manufacturers used many different construction styles and waterproof fabrics. While there has been a significant amount of testing (conducted via the manufacturer) to quantify how waterproof the fabrics are, it's important to understand that the fabrics used are waterproof and it's more a matter of design as to how well they kept us dry.
The stormy environments included in our testing spanned from exceptionally wet fall backpacking trips in Olympic National Park's temperate rain forests to snowshoeing around Lake Tahoe, with a handful of mountaineering adventures thrown in for good measure. All the pants we tested had the seams taped after sewing, offering as watertight of a package as possible. What differentiates the performance when the rain is driving down mostly comes down to each models' overall design, including pocket closures, how well the vents stayed closed, and to a slightly lesser extent, the longevity of its DWR.
The material makes a more noticeable difference in terms of breathability and longevity; from a strictly water-resistant standpoint, the fact that one fabric is waterproof to 30 PSI and another to 50 PSI doesn't make a functional difference to the wearer.
Rain, sleet, or snow is not going to penetrate the fabrics that make up these pants. However, in a downpour, running water could potentially seep in through a pocket, leak in via a side pocket that is not completely closed, or work its way down to where the waist band meets your body. To test water resistance, we stood in the shower for four minutes, determining which contenders could withstand the test. We also performed a side-by-side spray down with a garden hose (for five minutes) to systematically compare their weather resistance and storm worthiness.
We also tested how each contender kept us dry in the field, using them over the course of several months, enduring many wet fall overnight backpacking trips and day hikes in the Pacific Northwest (with a handful of mountaineering and snowshoeing trips thrown in). These trips ranged from extended outings in the temperate rain forests of Olympic National Park to mountaineering in the North Cascades. After extensive testing, we found that the Marmot Minimalist and the Outdoor Research Foray Pants kept us the driest in both real world and side-by-side testing, both scoring a perfect 10 out of 10. The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic performed nearly as well as the previously mentioned models in our testing, scoring an 8 out of 10.
Another important factor to take into consideration is the longevity of the pant's water resistance and its durable water repellent (DWR) treatment. This treatment is factory applied to the exterior of the fabric and makes water bead and shed rain and snow. Even though nylon and polyester are both quite hydrophobic, to begin with, if they aren't treated with a DWR (or once their DWR has worn off), they will wet out. The result is the exterior of the pant becomes covered with a thin but continuous film of water, which results in a heavier pant and reduced breathability. The DWR used on the Marmot PreCip Full Zip, Marmot Minimalist, and REI Talusphere Full Zip stood out above the rest for their DWR treatment. All the pants we tested beaded water well when we first bought them. Re-apply DWR when needed. Check out more about DWR maintenance in our Care & Cleaning section.
Comfort and Mobility
Whether hiking, climbing, Nordic skiing, riding your bike, or just crawling over a downed log, comfort and mobility were defined by how much the pant's design and fabric might limit the users range-of-motion and ability to engage in particular actives. The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic, with its super stretchy fabric, had the best overall mobility and was by far a cut above the rest. We mean it when we say this fabric is STRETCHY, almost at a level like we haven't even seen before (and it was awesome).
The REI Talusphere Full Zip also featured a stretchy fabric, but it wasn't nearly as stretchy as the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic; both of these contenders scored a perfect 10 out of 10 in the Comfort and Mobility metric. The Outdoor Research Foray Pant and the Marmot Minimalist weren't too far behind the Talusphere, offering a solid design with good articulation, though their performance wasn't quite as good as the two previously mentioned models. It's worth noting that the Columbia Rebel Roamers, despite being inexpensive, offered above average mobility and comfort, taking home an 8 out of 10.
Breathability & Ventilation
Our water resistance category compared how well each pant kept their user dry from the outside, while the Breathability and Ventilation metric quantifies how well each competitor keeps their user dry from the inside. We took two main factors into consideration when awarding scores for this metric (which is weighted at 25% of our overall ratings).
First, we took into account the ability of the pant's fabric to breathe; this is where the different waterproof technologies distinguished themselves. These multi-layered fabrics allowed water vapor to be wicked through the fabric, from the inside to the outside, where it could subsequently evaporate. We also studied how well the features of any given contender allowed for ventilation and moving moisture directly.
While breathability and ventilation are important factors that can play a role in keeping their wearer dry, they do not play an equal role. For example, if it's raining hard or you're simply walking up wet brush or an overgrown trail, having your side zippers open isn't an option. In fact, opening your side zips on a rainy day is a quick way to soak your legs and your boots, as any water that comes in your vents runs down the inside of your pant leg and directly into your footwear. Brrrr. Due to this unavoidable problem, we weighted breathability significantly higher than a pant's ability to ventilate.
Side-By-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of all of these pants on wet hiking and backpacking trips (which the Pacific Northwest served plenty of this past fall), as well as in a handful of systematic tests, including a 10-minute stair master comparison with plenty of cooling time between laps.
As far as keeping the user dry, ventilation makes less of a difference in real world applications when compared to breathability. Why? It can be difficult to utilize ventilation if it's raining with any amount of volume. Ventilation can be worthwhile after it has stopped raining and you can't stop and take your pants off. The reason that most shell pant manufacturers design pants with full and three-quarter length side zippers is to make them easier to quickly put on and remove (AKA pull on without having to remove footwear).
Breathability and Ventilation Comparisons
In the end, the most breathable pant in our review was the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic; it took home the only perfect 10 out of 10. Constructed with Dry.Q Elite fabric, this fabric is a General Electric fabric (who also makes eVent) but has been re-branded by Mountain Hardwear. Unlike Gore-tex, Dry.Q Elite is air permeable and doesn't require the wearer to build up heat in exchange for breathability. Trailing closely behind, the next most breathable options were the Outdoor Research Foray and the Marmot Minimalist, scoring a 9 and 8 out of 10 (respectively). Both of these pants featured Gore-Tex PacLite, with the REI Talusphere Full Zip using its proprietary fabric that appeared to be similar to Mountain Hardwear's Dry.Q.
Between these models, the Outdoor Research Foray and REI Talusphere had a slight edge over the Marmot Minimalist's overall score in this category. This is due in part to the three-quarter and full-length zipper (respectively) which allowed for additional venting, while the Minimalists had a short quarter-length ankle zip. The last model worth noting is the Marmot PreCip Full Zip; while it was not as breathable as the previous models, it was a noticeable cut above the rest, especially in its $100 and under price category.
A Note on Breathability
Remember that you can get hot and sweaty while hiking uphill when you're only wearing a base layer. We've overheard far too many people complaining that their shell pants didn't breathe at all, or enough for their needs. Every competitor in this review allows moisture to pass through them. However, they might not always be capable of letting as much moisture pass through as you'd like at any given moment, especially if you're working hard while potentially wearing too many layers, or while operating at a high exertion rate in warmer temperatures. Consider that if there is a point when your lightweight t-shirt can't pass moisture quick enough to stay completely dry, know the same is likely true for the rain pants you're wearing. Wear the minimum you can get away with for the conditions.
In our ease of use category, we compared several features that made a given model easier to use; this encapsulated features such as pulling on and removing a pant quickly and at times, over larger footwear, as well as specific adjustments or additions that helped keep them from falling. When it starts to rain, it is rarely convenient to remove your footwear; because of this, we gave higher scores to models that were quicker to pull on (without having to remove our boots or trail running shoes).
We thoroughly tested and compared each model regarding how easy they were to pull over larger volume boots while mountaineering, snowshoeing, or nordic skiing (where many people deploy these pants for additional warmth) compared to low volume trail runners or light hiking shoes. Several models utilized designs that let the pants completely zip in half. While this wasn't a necessity, it certainly made donning pants over larger volume footwear, snowshoes, or crampons easier.
We did discover a few small downsides to the full zip models. For example, some models needed to have a beefy velcro or snap closure at the waist (near the top of the zipper along the waist); if there wasn't a robust enough closure, our pants fell. Some of these models' velcro flaps could have been beefier, as they'd unexpectedly come undone, even when we were hiking with our pants zipped up. Once undone, the side zips would slowly start to unzip, and our pants would annoyingly slide down. Conversely, some models with beefy velcro or snap style closures would pinch under a pack's waist belt if it was heavily loaded. Full-length zippers are an obvious weight trade-off. Most of our testers (depending on activity) thought that these few ounces (3-5 additional ounces on average for side zips) made donning and shedding our rain trousers far easier and thus were worth the minimal extra weight.
In the end, we thought the Outdoor Research Foray's 3/4 length zippers were our favorite and made for a pleasant balance of ease of use and functionality. They could be pulled over small to medium volume footwear easily, though large footwear might prove to be somewhat more challenging. The upside of the zippers not going all the way to the waistband meant there was nothing that would pinch under a waist belt, nor would these pants fall while wearing them. Among full zip models, we liked the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic that had a low profile side closure that performed well while worn under larger packs. It's built-in webbing waist belt meant it rarely, if ever, slid down.
Among more price pointed pants, the The North Face Venture Half-Zip offered a nice balance of price and functionality, and despite featuring only a half-length zipper, its larger diameter legs made it possible to pull over smaller and even medium volume footwear without much effort. The Marmot PreCip received a multitude of high scores, but were the most prone to coming un-velcroed while wearing a backpack; in turn, the zipper would subsequentely creep open. The REI Talusphere Full Zip was also a strong performer in other categories, but was our least favorite when worn under larger packs with heavier loads.
We loved contenders that featured a waist cinch or belt of some kind as it would help keep our rain pants from creeping down We liked the Outdoor Research Foray's low profile shock cord toggle closure, but the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic's built-in flat webbing waist belt was the cream of the crop for comfort and functionality.
We also compared the pockets on each pair of pants, though this was much less of a factor than say, the ease of putting on or taking off. Besides, most folks put far more items in their jacket pockets rather than their pant pockets. That said, it is nice to have at least one pocket option. Our testers didn't particularly enjoy low pockets on pants (mid-thigh) because when full, they would just generally feel less comfortable when the stowed items weighed a considerable amount.
For most users, regardless of application, packed size is likely one of the most important features when on the hunt for a pair of shell pants. Even more than rain jackets, rain pants tend to live in the bottom of most people's packs, only taken out occasionally and sparingly used when the weather turns grim, often carried as a just-in-case layer on extended outings.
The most packable pant in our review was the Outdoor Research Helium, which took up around half the volume of nearly every other pants in our review. Even the next closest models, such as the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic, Columbia Rebel Roamer, and Outdoor Research Foray were all roughly 40% bigger (when compressed) compared to the Outdoor Research Helium.
Most people carry their rain pants in their packs more often than they end up wearing them and thus we weighted weight higher in our scoring metric than other pieces of technical outerwear we've tested in the past. Even among the selected models, which are all designed to be lighter weight and geared toward backpacking and hiking, there was a significant difference in weight.
We weighed all models on our postage scale and in the end, the Outdoor Research Helium came in at around seven ounces, which was nearly half the weight of many of the pants in our fleet. While the Outdoor Research Helium wasn't nearly as durable or as feature rich, it makes for an excellent "just in case" rain pant. If weight isn't a determining factor in deciding which contender is the best for you and will suit your adventures, the Helium is hard to pass up, especially since it's plenty durable for most trail-focused hiking.
The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic was particularly impressive; for a little more than 10 ounces, it finished among the top contenders in our fleet for feature-rich pants tested. Feature-rich meant the pand included full-length side zippers, a webbing belt closure, and mega stretchy fabric; these were all features that the Outdoor Research Helium didn't offer (and the Stretch Ozonic was only three ounces heavier). While a little heavier than the Ozonic and the Helium, the Marmot Minimalist Pant and the Outdoor Research Foray Pants were still lighter than average while providing some of the best durability in the review.
Many people appreciate having the ability to purchase a high-quality product that will be as light as possible; however, it's worth noting that most of the time, rain pants see far more wear than their rain jackets counterparts - even though they're often used less.
Every time you kneel or sit while traveling in the backcountry, there is a chance of tearing of puncturing your pants. There is also more overall wear, not to mention walking down overgrown trails, wearing crampons, or even just crawling over a log. While most people don't end up wearing their rain pants as frequently as their rain jacket, they stand a chance of being destroyed faster.
The toughest pants we tested were the Outdoor Research Foray Pants, the Marmot Minimalist, and The North Face Venture Half Zip. All three of these competitors exceeded our expectations for durability, especially when compared to others in the review. Each competitor withstood a week long mountaineering traverse which involved a fair amount of bushwhacking, holding up better than we expected. The least durable were certainly the Outdoor Research Heliumand the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic, which not surprisingly, also happen to also be the lightest and most packable options. It is worth noting that the Outdoor Research Helium and the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic Pants are durable enough for most hiking and backpacking trips - as long as there is only minimal bushwhacking and you take care crawling over downed trees or tasks of that nature.
While all the models we tested were for hiking and backpacking, it was a nice bonus if they were able to pull a little double duty and be used for other outdoor activities. In addition to damp hikes and backpacking trips (which these pants got plenty of days of testing in), we tested and compared how well each model would be suitable for snowshoeing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, backcountry skiing, and mountaineering.
The limiting factor for most of these pants for several winter-type applications is the girth of their pant leg. Ski and snowboard boots are bigger in diameter than hiking boots and the majority of these pants couldn't fit over the top of them easily, which resulted in snow pouring in.
The Columbia Rebel Roamer, The North Face Venture Half-Zip, and REI Talusphere are all great options if you're on the hunt for a pair of pants that will serve in both mild and winter climates. The Marmot Minimalist and Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic were not the best options if wanting the pant to double as a ski pant, but were still plenty wide enough to fit over nearly all insulated winter boots (for snowshoeing or similar activities). We think that for mountaineering purposes, all of these contenders suffice in terms of weight, packability, and mobility, likely playing slightly stronger roles - in addition to backpacking and hiking.
With so many options on the market, figuring out which rain pant is right for you might seem difficult at first glance. The obvious goal of each rain pant is the same: keeping you dry while allowing you to continue to enjoy your adventure (despite the weather). How well each pair achieves those goals, in relation to features like breathability, mobility, and durability, can make a big difference on extended adventures. A great pair can also help you make the most of your soggy days in the field. Our hope is that our review and test results have helped you narrow down your selection to find the best pair for your adventures. If you are still not sure of which pant is best for you, consider taking a look at our buying advice article.
— Ian Nicholson
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