With so many rain pants on the market, it can be challenging to find the best pair. After thoroughly researching over 50 contenders, we purchased 10 pairs to review, putting in over 100 hours of testing. Do not despair, as we have trodden the soggy depths of the rain pant world and return with information to illuminate your choice. Over the years, we have walked, splashed, strode, and slogged our way to enlightenment. The latest round of testing involved months of trial and error, culminating with by far the hardest, coldest rain our lead test editor has ever endured. There, at tree-and snow-line on a vernal Patagonian volcano, in a bucket deluge, this entire review iteration distilled and virtually wrote itself. We organize our thoughts and observations for you, assessing each pair of pants, and comparisons between them, regarding water resistance, comfort and mobility, breathability and venting, features, packed size, weight, and durability. With thorough testing and expert analysis, this mutually exclusive and comprehensively exhaustive set of scoring metrics sums up all you should need to know to make your next purchase. Consult our charts, read the articles, and splash informed.
The Best Rain Pants For Men
For the autumn of 2018, we added two new products, pulled one from consideration until we can assess its updated version, and swapped lead test editors. OG OGL tester Ian Nicholson has handed off the review to IFMGA mountain guide colleague Jed Porter. Jed moves the hub inland, from Washington to Wydaho, but takes every opportunity to get out in the wet and wild. Most recently, and where he oversaw a team testing a few new-to-us pants, Jed spent the austral spring in Southern Chile. They know rain there, and we know pants as a result. The sturdy and durable, but remarkably light and packable, Arc'teryx Alpha SL pant displaces a prior Editors' Choice winner to share our top spot with the ultra-comfy Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic. We really like the Marmot Precip line of shell gear, and have for decades now. With that in mind, we added the 1/4 zip Precip Pants to our testing, complementing the Marmot PreCip Full Zip pants we've had up and compared for a while now. We can't quite grant either of the Precip pants an award, but they nonetheless are well-suited to many different types of users. As we publish this iteration of our full review, Jed is inventorying three new pairs of pants and distributing them to the first round of testers. Watch for another update shortly.
Best Overall Model
Arc'teryx Alpha SL Pant
The Arc'teryx Alpha SL are our favorite. To understand our award choice, you have to understand how to use these models. In short, you really don't want to use them. You use them reluctantly. But when you need them, you really, really need them. They have to be packable enough that you will actually bring them with you. And then when you deploy them, they need to be ready for the job; this is true no matter where or how you recreate outdoors. With that in mind, it should make sense that our top choice will carry the manufacturer's "super light" (SL) designation. Arc'teryx makes more robust, "better" versions of their Alpha pants, but they are just too heavy to carry like most people carry rain pants. The Alpha SL keeps outside water out, lets enough inside steam out, fit very well, and pack down into a small corner of your knapsack.
We have two chief complaints, though, with the Alpha SL. First, a pocket or two would be worth an ounce of weight penalty. Next, the fabric, especially when new, is loud and the texture really turns some people off. They break in, eventually. But, again, you don't really want to be using your rain pants enough that the "break-in".
Read review: Arc'teryx Alpha SL
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 storm-proof as the Arc'teryx Alpha SL, this contender is an excellent choice thanks to its high scores across the board, with each Editors' Choice winner offering slightly different advantages.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic
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 on day hikes, bike trips, cross-country ski days, and just about any outdoor activity in which the weather can take a blustery, wet turn.
The Helium, despite its weight, offers respectable storm worthiness; it just isn't super quick to pull on, and provides only 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 undoubtedly a benefit for specific users.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium Pants
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op Rain Pants
The REI Co-Op Rain Pants is the best model you can buy for the price. Our entire review team was impressed by how well these pants performed both in-general and considering their $60 price tag. Even price aside, these pants kept us dry as well as many models that topped $100 but simply don't have much in the way of bells and whistles.
Instead, these pants have a more minimalist design and are one of the lighter and more compressible models in our review. We found this model to be quite versatile, and its low weight and minimal packed size make the lack of features an easy trade-off for most backpackers and hikers who will likely carry them far more then they wear them.
Best Buy 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.
Read review: Columbia Rebel Roamer
Analysis and Test Results
Rain pants that keep you dry and comfortable when the weather turns soggy can be worth every mile you might have carried them; especially if the sky opens up, and the wind starts to blow. A waterproof shell protects your lower body and ensures comfort and safety on both shorter and extended adventures. Even if these pants live largely unused in the bottom of your pack the majority of the time, they will instantly become worth it when you're prepared on a stormy day (or week), allowing you to continue your adventure, despite the potentially grim weather. The pants tested can be used for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, snowshoeing, cold-weather nordic skiing, and a slew of other outdoor activities.
We chose our test fleet from over fifty models. We took into account a broad array of designs and features that appealed to our review team. These ranged 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, a modern replacement for an old worn out pair, a versatile option that can pull double duty for occasional downhill or backcountry skiing, or an ultralight model to add to your quiver, you're starting your research in the right spot.
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 and minimize any restrictions of mobility. This allows the user to continue their activity despite the conditions, whether scrambling to a mountaintop or out on a rainy morning hike.
We take pride in determining the cream of the crop for each category we review, as well as the contenders that offer the highest price to value ratio. For 2018 we have honored two Best Buy winners - both of which offer up exceptional performance for a price that won't light your wallet on fire. We've awarded the REI Co-Op Rain Pants and Columbia Rebel Roamer Best Bang for the Buck Awards.
A rain pant should keep its user dry in the rain, whether hiking, backpacking, watching a sporting event 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 all of the pants in this review use fabrics that 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 spring ski mountaineering on the volcanos above Chile's temperate rain forests to snowshoeing around Lake Tahoe, with a handful of classic 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 starts 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 regarding breathability and longevity. However, 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. If you're interested in the more technical side of the fabrics, be sure to check out our Buying advice section where we talk about that further in-depth.
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 entirely closed, or work its way down to where the waistband meets your body. To test water resistance, we stood in a standard indoor 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, day hikes, and mountaineering excursions in the Pacific Northwest. After extensive testing, we found that the Marmot Minimalist and the Arc'teryx Alpha SL 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 and the REI Talusphere Full Zip performed nearly as well as the previously mentioned models in our testing, scoring an 8 out of 10.
Among the lesser priced products our entire review team was quite impressed with how well the REI Rain Pant performed particularly considering their $60 price tag.
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 water repellant to begin with, if they aren't treated with a DWR (or once their DWR has worn off), they will absorb a little moisture. 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, REI Rain Pant, Arc'teryx Alpha SL, 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 material, 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.
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 Arc'teryx Alpha SL and the Marmot Minimalist weren't too far behind the Talusphere, offering a solid design with good articulation.
It's worth noting that the Columbia Rebel Roamer, 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 considered two main factors 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 as the differences between models was quite dramatic in some cases. These multi-layered fabrics allowed water vapor to pass through the material, from the inside to the outside, where it could subsequently evaporate. We also studied how well each model's features allowed for ventilation and moving moisture directly.
While breathability and ventilation are essential in keeping their wearer dry, these two factors do not play an equal role. For example, if it's raining hard or you're simply walking up a wet brushy 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 is likely to run 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 as well as in a handful of more systematic tests.
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 challenging 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).
In the end, the most breathable pant in our review was the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic; it and the Arc'teryx Alpha SL took home the only perfect 10 out of 10. The Ozonic is constructed with Dry.Q Elite fabric. This is a General Electric fabric (they also make EVent) that has been rebranded 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. The Arc'teryx pants achieve their breathability with Gore-Tex and full-size zip ventilation. Trailing closely behind, the next most breathable options were the Marmot Minimalist and REI Talusphere Full Zip both scoring a 9 out of 10.
The last model worth noting is the Marmot PreCip Full Zip and regular 1/4 zip iterations. While these Marmot PreCip pants are not quite as breathable as the previously mentioned models, their breathability is impressive at the price points they hit.
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, primarily 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 pants you're wearing. Wear the minimum you can get away with for the conditions.
In this category, we compared several features that made a given model easier to use. This includes things like putting on and removing a pant quickly and how well it could be donned over various pieces of footwear. 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 shoes). We also took into account any features or adjustments that helped keep different models from falling down. Finally, we considered pockets in the features category.
We thoroughly tested and compared each model in terms of 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 it easier to don the pants over more substantial volumed footwear, snowshoes, crampons and even skis.
We did discover a few small downsides to the full zip models. For example, some models needed to have a strong 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 sometimes slid down. 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 particularly for mountaineering applications.
Among full zip models, we liked the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic and Arc'teryx Alpha SL. Both of these have a low profile side closure that performed well while worn under larger packs. Built-in webbing waist belt meant that neither rarely if ever, slid down.
Among the price-point pants, the The North Face Venture Half-Zip offered a nice balance of price and functionality. 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 Full Zip received a multitude of high scores but were the most prone to coming un-velcroed while wearing a backpack. Once the velcro failed, the zipper would creep open. The REI Talusphere Full Zip was also a strong performer in other categories but had a waistline that 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 Marmot Precip's low profile drawstring 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 model. Because shell pants are worn only occasionally and almost always over pants or shorts that have pockets of their own we weighted pockets below other features. This was much less of a factor than say, the ease of putting on or our pants off. 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 they would generally feel less comfortable when storing heavier items.
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 at the bottom of most people's packs, only taken out occasionally and sparingly used when the weather turns grim.
The most packable pant in our review was the Outdoor Research Helium, which took up about half the volume of nearly every other product in our review. Even the next closest models, such as the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic, Columbia Rebel Roamer, REI Co-Op Rain Pants and Arcteryx Alpha SL were all at least 40% bulkier than 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. Even among the selected models, which are all designed to be lighter weight, there was a significant difference in weight.
We measured the mass of all models on our scale. The Outdoor Research Helium came in at around seven ounces, which was nearly half the weight of many of the pants on our list. While the Outdoor Research Helium lacked durability and features, it makes for an excellent "just in case" rain pant. If weight is a primary consideration of yours, the Helium is hard to pass up.
The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic was particularly impressive; for a little more than 10 ounces, it finished among the top contenders in our fleet in this scoring metric. This Editors Choice 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 Arc'teryx Alpha SL were still lighter than average while providing some of the best durability in the review. Among the price pointed models we liked how small and light the REI Co-Op Rain Pants are.
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. Your rain pants will walk down overgrown trails, play near crampons, and crawl over logs. While most people don't end up wearing their rain pants as frequently as their rain jacket, they are exposed to more threats.
The most robust pants we tested were the Arc'teryx Alpha SL, 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 include the Outdoor Research Helium and 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 and the like.
Again, we know you don't actually want to wear rain pants. Wearing rain pants means its raining, and raining hard. Hard rain puts a damper on virtually all outdoor activities (what activity is better in the rain? There has to be something?). However, hard rain without rain pants is uncomfortable and can be downright dangerous. All technical clothing can be considered safety gear, and rain pants are no exception. Choose wisely, and consider all we have enumerated above. The lesser understood criteria you should look out for are price and weight. You can intuit how a product's performance will affect your comfort, efficiency, and safety. It is tougher to see the connection between price and weight and safety. However, if it is too expensive, you won't buy it. If it is too heavy, you won't carry it. And the most useless rain pants are the ones you don't have. Purchase wisely, but purchase something. When you purchase something, purchase something you will actually carry.
— Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson