The REI Co-op Essential is our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy winner because it is simply the best rain pant you can buy for the price. At the price, it's extremely comparable, and in some aspects slightly better than most other pants in a higher price range. They've been constructed with a 2.5-layer proprietary coated waterproof fabric that looks and performs similarly to many of the more popular name-brand rain pants. At a mere 9.5 ounces, it offers top-notch compressibility that disappears in the bottom of our pack when needed. They're perfect for storing in the bottom of your pack in case of an afternoon thunderstorm or to take on a week-long backpacking trip.
REI Co-op Essential Rain Pants Review
Cons: Not especially breathable, clammy with moderate aerobic activity, no front hand pockets, below average articulation
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Essential Rain Pant is a basic but extremely functional rain pant that is nearly impossible to beat for the price. For less than half the cost of the majority of the models in this review, these pants work exceptionally well for folks looking for a pant for just in case it rains day-hiking and backpacking trips.
You can certainly buy a nicer pair of rain pants, but it's nearly impossible to find a better pair for the price. The Essential isn't a top performer, particularly when it comes to breathability, limiting its aerobic applications but it did prove plenty storm worthy, and its weight and packed size are in line with some of the highest-scoring models we tested.
The Essential uses REI's proprietary 2.5-layer waterproof breathable fabric. While this pant is basic, it kept us dry in both real-world uses while mountaineering and backpacking in the North Cascades as well as our side-by-side shower and hose tests.
All of our testers wondered how this budget pair would stack up against more expensive models. This model performed similarly to the majority of other price-pointed proprietary 2.5-layer models, like the Patagonia Torrentshell, the Marmot Precip Pant, or the North Face Venture pant.
Comfort and Mobility
These pants have a slightly loose fit; this makes them easy to layer over the top of hiking pants or shorts in the event of unexpected rain showers, or to help stay warm on colder days. This baggier cut also gives this pant a reasonable range of motion and mobility but has limited articulation overall, which is one of the few drawbacks when compared to other budget-friendly contenders.
These pants, like other models using a more basic 2.5-layer coated waterproof insert, will feel clammy if you are working up almost any type of sweat. They can feel downright wet inside if you are truly exercising aerobically. The below average breathability is made worse by the fact that there is no real ventilation option to help dump heat and help manage moisture. These disadvantages are mostly shared with the non-side-zip Marmot Precip Pants and the Patagonia Torrentshell, though several of our testers noted that the interior of the PreCip and Torrentshell feel ever-so-slightly better against bare skin.
We liked the inch (and some change) wide elastic waistband, which was able to be tightened with a simple drawstring, which can be tied in the front. The waist belt is low profile enough and we could easily wear these pants comfortably under a heavily laden backpacking pack's waist-belt without feeling any pinching. The stretchiness of the waistband allowed us to easily pull them over additional layers.
Breathability & Venting
This pant offers no ventilation options nor is particularly breathable, which is why we recommend it as a just in case layer rather than something you'll plan to wear for more aerobic activities. While we didn't find it near as breathable as some of the higher-end pants such as the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, the Outdoor Research Foray, or the Marmot Minimalist, it offers similar breathability to other pants that used a proprietary 2.5 layer material (and will cost you eighty to one hundred and twenty dollars). While all of those models featured superior ventilation options, none were notably better for straight-up breathability.
This pant, like its namesake implies, is bare-bones and just the essentials. It features a quarter-length zipper to helps pull the pant on without having to remove your shoes. Something we found easy with trail-runners, manageable with light hiking boots, and possible with limited pairs of mountaineering boots but it took some effort. This pant has no true front hand pockets, just a single side hip pocket that doubles as a stuff pocket. After extensive use, none of our testers found this to be a problem, instead noting that when wearing these pants, we nearly always had a rain jacket on, which had pockets that were generally more comfortable to utilize.
This pant is impressively light, weighing in at 9.5 ounces. This makes it lighter than a majority of options that use a similar proprietary 2.5 layer waterproof fabric.
The Essential is similar in weight to the Patagonia Torrentshell (9.5 oz) and the (non-full side-zip) Marmot Precip pant, and offers similar levels of stormworthiness. Both of these options feature zippered hand pockets at a slightly higher price.
Smaller than much of its sub $100 competition, the Essential is perfect for those who want to bring a pair of rain pants just-in-case but aren't likely to use them very often. These pants aren't quite as small as the Outdoor Research Helium pants which were the most compact in our review, but offer a similar packed size to many higher-end models.
These pants are tough enough for what they are intended for, which is to be used sparingly for afternoon thunderstorms, or a few rainy days along a week-long backpacking trip. While we wouldn't say they are notable for durability, they are comparable to models in the one hundred dollar and under range.
These pants are an excellent option for those who need a basic pair of waterproof rain pants. They're perfect for day hikers, trekkers, and backpackers who will often want to bring a pair of rain pants in case of foul weather but aren't likely to use them much. For folks who aren't likely to be deterred by soggy backpacking trips or who regularly go out in damp weather, we might recommend something a little more durable, breathable, and/or heavily featured. These pants will do the trick for occasional downhill skiing or snowboarding and will fit over a majority of ski and snowboard boots, but they aren't tough enough to use regularly for this purpose.
These pants are a fantastic price and offer similar performance to some of our favorite models, like the Marmot Precip or Patagonia Torrentshell. While many of these models offer more features, we don't mind the simplicity of the REI Essential, and appreciate how light and compact they are.
This pant is the best overall model you can buy for the least money. Constructed with a similarly performing material as several of the more expensive models, this rain pant is certainly no-frills but will perform well for the types of applications that most people are looking for.
— Ian Nicholson