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REI Co-op Activator 3.0 Review

These comfortable and durable pants perform well in the shoulder seasons when you need just a little more insulation
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REI Co-op Activator 3.0 Review
Credit: REI Co-op
Price:  $100 List
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Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Ben Applebaum-Bauch ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 15, 2021
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 7.0
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 4.0
  • Versatility and Style - 15% 6.0
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 8.0
  • Features - 15% 8.0

Our Verdict

The REI Co-op Activator 3.0 is a well-designed, durable pair of hiking pants. This model excels in the cool weather of early spring and late fall. It comes equipped with a comparatively simple but thoughtful set of features, including zippered front and thigh pockets. The soft and thick fabric blend is both comfortable and warm. Though this somewhat limits its versatility, this pair is for the hiker who just can't wait for all of the snow to melt and mud to clear before hitting the trail. Though they are on the expensive side, we love having these pants around to extend the hiking season.
Well-positioned zipper pockets
Lack versatility

Our Analysis and Test Results

This 63/26/11 nylon, polyester, spandex blend is soft on the inside and weather-resistant on the outside. We love that they are wind-resistant, comfortable, and warm in cooler temperatures.

Performance Comparison

rei co-op activator 3.0 - these warm and comfortable pants are great for cool days.
These warm and comfortable pants are great for cool days.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Comfort & Mobility

Despite their weight, these pants are comfortable and allow for wearer mobility. The three-fabric blend includes a higher-than-average proportion of spandex, which is responsible for its stretchy quality. The articulated knees also increase mobility. Though the gusset in the crotch isn't especially roomy, the overall cut of the pants doesn't restrict movement in any significant way. Though there is no waist liner, we didn't really experience any discomfort from it.

In fact, we love the feel of the inner fabric in the legs and seat. It is super soft and prevents chafing, even on longer outings. The waist sits higher than some other models, but we found this to be a positive thing when wearing a backpack over them since it means they sit over the hips and don't get pushed down. They come with traditional belt loops (so, bring your own), which are wide but low-profile (again, helping minimize discomfort). They are also manufactured with BlueSign (human and environmentally friendly) approved fabric.

rei co-op activator 3.0 - in addition to the stretchy fabric, the gusseted crotch (the...
In addition to the stretchy fabric, the gusseted crotch (the trapezoid of fabric in the middle) increases comfort and breathing room.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Venting & Breathability

The strength of these pants is their warmth, which consequently means that they are not especially breathable. Though they do have mesh-lined pockets, the mesh itself is comparatively dense and even with the pocket zippers open, during testing, we didn't feel it was enough to make a meaningful difference when it came to the amount we were sweating. The fabric is also dense and not breathable.

In terms of other venting options, they do have a cinch cord in the ankle that allows them to be rolled up to the calf or above the knee, but we found in practice that these pant's ideal temperature range is cooler than the type of weather that really necessitates using the cuff cord in the first place. That is, the cord is a totally functional feature, but we didn't really need to use it.

rei co-op activator 3.0 - the cinch cord tightens down easily when you need to roll up the...
The cinch cord tightens down easily when you need to roll up the pants to stay cool.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Versatility & Style

Unfortunately, these pants do have some limitations. It became apparent fairly quickly that this pair is not for summer hiking. If you are looking for a model for skin protection while hiking in lower-latitude deserts, we would look elsewhere for an airier pant. However, they do well in cool, even damp environments. In addition to shoulder-season hiking, they are also a viable option for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

Having said that, we do think that these pants look pretty good. They are neither slim-fit nor baggy and are straight through the leg. They have a little bit of a sweatpants look, so we also like them for travel, outdoor work, and potentially paddling when there isn't a huge probability of dumping in the water. The cut is such that it is also possible to fit a thin base layer underneath.

rei co-op activator 3.0 - the soft interior liner is not only comfortable but warm as well...
The soft interior liner is not only comfortable but warm as well making these great for cooler weather activities.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Weather Resistance

The Activator 3.0 shines when the sun isn't. They are warm and effective in 30-degree temperatures. Though they are far from snow pants, they are definitely what we would choose to wear in the shoulder seasons with the first snow of fall or when there is still snow on the ground in early spring. The soft interior is also more insulative and doesn't feel cold at all against the skin, unlike many other models. If we took a seat on some snow or a damp fallen tree, we definitely felt the moisture while we were sitting, but they kept us well-insulated once we started moving again.

We were also very pleasantly surprised by how wind-resistant they are. Though this is not entirely unique to this model, the difference is that because of the weave of the inner fabric, it doesn't feel cold when the wind is pressing it against your body. The DWR coating is solid, not spectacular, but we found in practice that the fabric is thick enough and dense enough that moisture struggles to penetrate, even in moderate to heavy precipitation. Having said that, this pair also takes longer than average to dry out due to its thicker fabric.

rei co-op activator 3.0 - the beading on these pants isn't exceptional but we didn't...
The beading on these pants isn't exceptional but we didn't experience actual absorption through to the inside either.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch


These pants have a simple but valuable set of features. There are five pockets; two zippered handwarmers; two rears with a button and cover flap, and one zippered thigh. It is subtle, but one thing we love about this leg pocket is that it is situated just off to the side on the front of the thigh, as opposed to being fully on the side. This makes it easier to zip, unzip, and access its contents. It also reduces jingling and shifting of items inside. On top of that, we appreciate the zippers on the handwarmer pockets which brought us an added sense of security for our small items. All of the pockets are deep enough to hold a large smartphone. We aren't huge fans of the buttons on the rear pockets. We found them difficult to open and close with one hand, the flaps somewhat inhibited our ability to grab the items, and the snaps can be abrasive if you have sensitive skin (or dry winter hands).

As noted above, the ankle cinch cords are totally functional and actually keep the pants securely in position if you want to roll them up midday. This feature could technically be used to secure the pants around a pair of boots as well, but they are not an adequate substitute for gaiters and limit mobility if they are “anchored” to footwear. We do, however, appreciate the double front buttons. They are secure individually and super strong together. They also lie flat so you don't feel them with a backpack waist strap over them.

rei co-op activator 3.0 - the zippered side and cargo pockets are a real asset for keeping...
The zippered side and cargo pockets are a real asset for keeping items secure.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch


The Activator 3.0 is not the least expensive of the bunch but we definitely think you can get your money's worth with this pair. Its value as a cool weather pant is large and because of this somewhat niche spot that it holds in the hiking pants pantheon, we think it is a great option to have in your repertoire if you are a multi-season adventurer. We also found that the thick fabric is durable, making it a good long-term investment since it stands up well to frequent use.


The REI Co-op Activator 3.0 is a durable, warm hiking pant that does well in cool weather. Though their thicker fabric limits their versatility, they are nonetheless an excellent option to have on hand if you want to take advantage of hiking outside of the summertime, or for winter sports like cross country skiing or snowshoeing.

rei co-op activator 3.0 - these cool-weather pants are some of our favorites.
These cool-weather pants are some of our favorites.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Ben Applebaum-Bauch