The Outdoor Research Aspire pants are our unequivocal Best Buy award winner. They are light, packable, durable, and highly versatile. We could use them for light summer mountaineering and hiking trips as well as lightweight ski tours in milder winter climates. These are on the pricier end of rain pants, but for the quality, well worth it. They will last for many trips and prove useful on many adventures.
Outdoor Research Aspire Pant - Women's Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Lightweight, versatile, comfortable
Cons: Not full length side zippers
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Aspire pants are the pants we have been searching for. These were by far the most versatile in the review. In our year-round mountain lifestyle, we end up with a quiver of everything. These pants were light enough to earn a spot in our lightweight summer kit but burly enough to tag along on fast and light spring ski tours where we might still get slammed with the weather, but we want to move through the mountains wearing our softshell pants. We could get these over any footwear (except skis—which is why we would love them even more if they were full zip pants), and move through any terrain—from skiing to ice climbing to hiking.
The ability of rain pants to keep water off your legs is paramount to any good rain pant. The materials are consistently good in this category—they do the job. But there are other ways that pants can fail to keep water out. The OR Aspire pants had the best waterproof/breathable fabric and features that improved comfort and utility without compromising that waterproof seal. They are made of Gore-Tex Paclite material that has taped seams and pores smaller than a droplet of water—it keeps water droplets out mechanically because they just can't fit through the material.
We loved the waterproof zippers on these pants, which are generally better than flaps that cover non-waterproof zippers. In the wind or while moving, these zipper flaps can fold open, or in intense downpours, drips can find their way down the inside of these flaps. As such, the waterproof zipper was our preferred style to seal out the rain.
Comfort & Mobility
The Aspire was one of the most comfortable rain pants in this review, tied for top scores of 9 out of 10 with the Arc'teryx Beta SL.
The material feels supple instead of plasticky, especially on the interior. If fabric feel is your top priority with rain pants, the REI Talusphere feels even better with its softer, stretchy fabric. But for comfort, while hiking, climbing ice, and general ease of use, the Aspire, and the Beta SL took top marks. We love the Gore-Tex Paclite technology: it is softer and very light, which helps it move more easily with your every high step, kick turn, or slow jog.
The Aspire is easy to put on over boots of any sort with its 3/4 length zippers up the sides of the legs. The waist has a partial elastic band with grippy material on the back to help keep the pants in place. This is excellent because when it gets really, really wet out, rain pants can become heavy and start to tug downward or catch on your knees. These pants stayed in place much more efficiently. There is also a very simple and adjustable elastic drawcord to help secure them above your hips.
The cuffs have the same half elastic band and grippy interior. Additionally, OR added small fabric loops where you can tie cord to loop under your boots. This makes sure the pants stay down over your boots, acting more like gaiters. We loved this feature because it makes the pants useful on snowy adventures: post-holing in deep snow won't push the cuffs up and dump snow over the tops of your boots. This is another excellent way to help keep your feet dry, too, so long as your shoes are waterproof.
The cuffs are less adjustable than some of the pants in this review, with only the elasticity of the cuff providing the adjustability, but the zipper and button at the cuff allow you to flare them open if you're wearing ski boots. This is not our favorite solution, but it will work in a pinch, so it does add some versatility to the pants.
Breathability & Venting
We love Gore-Tex's Paclite technology. With all of the options for waterproof/breathable fabrics available today, Gore-Tex does not unequivocally hold the corner of the market anymore.
However, Paclite has brought them back into the limelight for us. It is super light and softer to the touch, which makes it feel much more supple and easy to move in.
The fabric is also thinner than burlier waterproof materials, which in our testing meant that it also felt more breathable (and cooler, in general). Since breathability depends upon the ability of our body heat to pump moisture from an area of higher concentration (near our bodies) to an area of lower concentration (outside the jacket), a thinner membrane seems to make this process easier.
That said, these would not be your most severe weather pants. They will hold up through milder winter use and summer mountaineering and hiking. If you were to go on an expedition in Alaska, you'd want something much burlier both for durability and to help seal out the strong winds and blowing snow. These pants also feature 3/4 length side zippers which can be unzipped from the top or the bottom. This makes for great vents if you unzip from the top: they are well placed to dump heat from the outside of your big thigh muscles. We can tell these pants were designed in the Pacific Northwest—venting is far more critical in mild, humid climates, where the humidity of the air can reduce the ease with which your body can pump moisture out the pores of the pants. If you travel in colder, drier climates, you may not need these vents, and you might dig the Arc'teryx Beta SL.
At 6.5 ounces for a small pair of Aspire rain pants, these were relatively middle-of-the-road for waterproof pants.
When we considered, however, the range of features and versatility of these pants, we thought they were an excellent use of 6.5 ounces in any of our backpacks—light enough to keep a spot in our summer mountaineering kit, and burly enough to use for mild winter trips in the snow.
Similar to the Weight category above, the packed size of the Aspire was impressive. Gore-Tex named their product well: Paclite. It packs well and is very lightweight. OR was wise to use this material for one of the most versatile rain pants on the market.
Outdoor Research thought through the features on the Aspire very thoroughly. They don't have hand pockets, but they added a single zippered back pocket, which you can also stuff the pants into for protection or to make them less unruly to throw into a small bag or duffel. There is a clippable loop in this pocket as well.
The grippy elastic waistband and adjustable drawcord make these pants easy to slip on, and the 3/4 side zips make it easier to get these pants on when wearing boots. The cuffs have that similar grippy elastic with a secure button closure to keep them from spontaneously unzipping. We also loved the tiny loops where we can tie cord to turn the bottoms of these pants into gaiters for use in snow or off trail where the legs can get inadvertently pushed up our legs either from the brush or as we posthole in the snow.
The Gore-Tex Paclite material proved very durable in our tests. We took it ice climbing and packed it with and around all of our sharp items without issue. It didn't snag on our ice tools when we held our tools by our side. But material durability is not our only consideration when assessing the durability of our rain pants. We examined the waterproof zippers for durability: excellent. The button closure at the bottom: strong. The fit and shape for any easy-to-snag areas: svelte and close to the body, which is good. The 50D polyester is also a solid weave. The only pant in this review that notched ahead in durability is the Arc'teryx Beta SL.
The Aspire is an excellent value despite its above-average price. Since we could use these pants for most of our mountain adventures, year-round, we think they are well worth the cost. They are also durable enough to last through many adventures and many seasons of use.
The Aspire is versatile, comfortable, very lightweight, intelligently featured for a variety of uses, and even looks decent for a rain pant. We were blown away by the thoughtful details and careful craftsmanship of these pants. The only thing that would make us love these pants more is if they were full zip and slightly more adjustable at the cuffs. We love full zips for lightweight ski tours, summer mountaineering, and hiking -they make it much easier (and safer, for the pants!) to put them on when a storm blows over from the opposite side of the mountain and catches you off guard in your comfortable softshell climbing pants. But overall, these pants were well worth that little bit of extra trouble and moderate loss of efficiency if you have to take crampons or skis off to get the pants on—less pack weight and bulk also contribute to efficiency, so we were still psyched.
— Lyra Pierotti