Our rainy day experts have been testing pants for the last 6 years with over 25 different models exposed to rain and sleet. For 2020, this review covers 13 top pairs, which we've put head to head in a series of testing. We take the time to test each product in the field while hiking, biking, and exploring through all sorts of rain. Light, heavy, big drops, small drops, our expert testers rate ventilation, comfort, value, and several other key metrics. After exploring all the rainy places from Patagonia to the USA, and stops in between, we offer our award winners and recommendations, unbiased and designed to help you in your quest for the best rain pant.Related: The Best Rain Jackets of 2020
The Best Rain Pants of 2020
Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is ready to wait out any storm and stands out as the best on the market. Its lightweight construction is packable and comfortable to wear all day long. Arc'teryx utilizes one of our favorite waterproof fabrics, Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, and the Zeta is durable for most use cases, as well as stormworthy, and versatile. Throw it into your pack while on a long multi-day through the trip, and you won't even know the Zeta is there. It'll keep you dry when the clouds condense, darken, and rain down on you for days.
As a tradeoff for lightweight and simple is a lack of features. This pant has no pockets and lacks abrasion resistance. While it's fine for wearing while mountaineering above treeline or backpacking on a trail, it's not equipped for thorny bushwacks or canyoneering adventures where the material might rip.
Read review: Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant
Best for Comfort
Outdoor Research Foray Pants
The Outdoor Research Foray Pant is a compact, light protection layer that is made with excellent materials and ensures careful attention to detail. The fabric is soft and stretchy, and the cut is close and athletic; the pants weigh just 10 ounces and pack smaller than most t-shirts. In even the wettest and coldest of Adirondacks hikes, they kept us dry and comfortable. This is a rare combination. Packable and fully functional don't usually go together in rain pants, and other full-protection and readily breathable products are usually much heavier. Light products in this category are usually inexpensive and compromise on performance through the use of lesser materials.
The OR Foray makes fewer compromises. The primary limitation, as it pertains to function, is in durability. These are thin pants that won't hold up to extensive bush-whacking or use around sharp and abrasive things.
Read review: Outdoor Research Foray
Best for Light Weight
Outdoor Research Helium Pant
The Outdoor Research Helium wins a Top Pick Award 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 or wet turn.
The Helium, despite its weight, offers respectable storm worthiness; it isn't super quick to pull on, and provides average breathability. However, its upside is a minimal packed-volume, which proved half that of most in our fleet. At 6.5 ounces, this is by far the lightest pant in our review and is undoubtedly a benefit for specific users who might be looking for the lightest rain gear they can get away with.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium Pants
Best Budget Buy
REI Co-op Essential Rain Pants
The REI Co-op Essential Rain Pant is our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy winner because it is simply the best rain pant you can buy for the price. It boasts impressive stormworthiness, weight, and packed volume that we found to be comparable to many high-end options. The Essential Rain Pant is constructed with a 2.5-layer proprietary coated waterproof fabric that performed similarly in weather resistance and breathability to many of the more popular name brand rain pants. Another major advantage is that it weighs 9.5 ounces, which is less than many of its price-pointed competition. This attribute, combined with top-notch compressibility, allows it to easily disappear in our pack until needed.
This leads us to its primary drawback; while perfect as a just-in-case pant that you may put on for an afternoon thunderstorm or a couple of times during a week-long backpacking trip, it simply isn't as durable or breathable for someone who anticipates a great deal of aerobic use.
Read review: REI Co-op Essential Rain Pants
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel consists of gear testers Jediah Porter and Ian Nicholson; both international certified IFMGA/American Mountain Guides. Jed is based in the Eastern Sierra leads adventures that range from rock climbing to ski mountaineering. Ian is based in the Pacific Northwest, where wet weather is a regular occurrence. Ian estimates that over the last two decades, he has donned rain gear over 2,000 days. When they aren't guiding, Jed and Ian spend most of their time pursuing their own outdoor objectives. This team knows the value of having the right gear and is no stranger to unpredictable and inclement weather.
After spending several hours researching different products and making a selection for this review, we purchased each product (at retail) to test each product in hand. Our experts have spent 100+ hours testing the best models on the market in the rainy Pacific Northwest. We've hiked, skied, backpacked, and climbed in remote terrain with wind and rain pouring down on us. These experiences help us amass a wealth of data on each rain pant to objectively compare each product. In addition, we keep tabs on the market, making sure we have the low down on the newest technology, the best products, and updating them as they become available at our fingertips.
Related: How We Tested Rain Pants
Analysis and Test Results
Great rain pants will keep you dry and comfortable when the weather gets wet and soggy. The best rainpants offer ventilation to keep you from sweating while you're on the move. You also want a pant that'll pack away when you're not using it.
In this review, we focus on a broad range of rain pant designs and features. The ones we select offer some level of packability, breathability, and water resistance. After testing each product while backpacking, hiking, and mountaineering, we evaluate each comparatively using six key metrics. These include water resistance, comfort & mobility, breathability & ventilation, features, packed size, and weight. This is where our award winners and recommendations spawn from. Read on to learn about the technical comparisons of each product out there.
We take pride in determining which models to select as the cream of the crop for each category we review. We also deliberate deeply as we calculate which contenders offer the highest price to value ratio. We've recently awarded the REI Co-op Essential our Best Bang for the Buck Awards, as no other model can match its storm worthiness, weight, and packed volume for the price.
A rain pant should keep its user dry in the rain, whether hiking, backpacking, watching a sporting event, or out walking the dog. As a result, this was the most heavily weighted category - at 30 percent. Manufacturers use many different waterproof fabrics and construction methods with different design characteristics and, thus, different performance levels depending on the application. While there has been a significant amount of testing (conducted via the manufacturer) to quantify exactly how waterproof each fabric is, it's important to understand that all of the pants in this review use waterproof fabric, 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 Washington's Ptarmigan Traverse as well as the volcanos above Chile's temperate rain forests. Testing also included snowshoeing around Lake Tahoe backpacking in Olympic National Park, with a handful of classic mountaineering adventures across the western US thrown in for good measure.
All the pants we tested have the seams taped after sewing, offering as watertight of a package as possible. What differentiates the performance when a light sprinkle turns to a downpour mostly comes down to each model's overall design, including pocket closures, how well various vents stayed closed, and to a slightly lesser extent, the longevity of the outer materials DWR.
The differences between the various materials are more noticeable when it comes to breathability and overall 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 despite some manufacturers hype.
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 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 for 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, OR Foray, and Arc'teryx Zeta SL kept us the driest in both real-world and side-by-side testing. The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic and the REI Talusphere Full-Zip performed nearly as well as the previously mentioned models in our testing, earning high scores.
Another vital 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 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, and Arc'teryx Zeta SL stood out above the rest. All the models we tested beaded water well when we first bought them; however, similar to any piece of rain gear, they should be retreated to renew DWR when needed.
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 Arc'teryx Zeta SL was our next best performer when it came to mobility and freedom of movement. Its fabric did not feature any stretch, but it did offer incredible overall articulation and moved with us as while hiking or climbing as well as any model; something that was even more impressive considering its slightly more slender fit.
The Marmot Minimalist and the Outdoor Research Foray, both offered a solid design with good articulation, and we could easily clamber over down logs blocking the trail with ease. Among the more price pointed options, it's worth noting that the REI Co-op Essential and the Patagonia Torrentshell Pants both offered above-average mobility and comfort and performed exceptionally when it came to comfort and mobility.
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 were 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 in anything more than a light drizzle is a quick way to soak your legs and likely your boots. Your boots are extremely likely to get wet if your side zips are open, as any water that comes in through these areas 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, backpacking, and mountaineering trips as well as in a handful of more systematic tests such as during a 10-minute stair master test at the Seattle Vertical World.Ventilation
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 is the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic; the Ozonic is constructed with Dry.Q Elite fabric. Unlike Gore-tex, Dry.Q Elite is air permeable and doesn't require the wearer to build up heat in exchange for breathability. This means they keep breathing even if once you have stopped working hard, something that products using Gore-Text and other ePTFE fabrics can't do nearly as well.
The next most breathable models are the Arc'teryx Zeta LT, Outdoor Research Foray, and the Marmot Minimalist. All three of these pants offer similar designs while using Gore-Tex Paclite Plus. If we are exerting effort and the outside air temperature is cold, these fabrics could breathe equally as well as the Stretch Ozonic. However, if we weren't working as hard or it's warmer out, the Stretch Ozonic offers superior breathability.
The last model worth noting on the more price pointed end of the spectrum is the Marmot PreCip Full Zip and regular 1/4 zip iterations. While the Marmot PreCip pants are not quite as breathable as the previously mentioned models, their breathability is impressive at the price point they hit.
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 take into account any features or adjustments that keep different models from falling down. Finally, we considered pockets in the features category.
We thoroughly tested and compared each model and 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 zip entirely in half. While this wasn't a necessity, it certainly made it easier to don the pants over more substantial volume footwear, like snowshoes, crampons, and even skis.
We did discover a few small downsides to the full-zip models, which zip 100% of the way from the waist to the ankle. These models needed to have beefy Velcro or snap closure at the waist (near the top of the zipper along the waist area); if not robust enough, our pants would come undone and sometimes slid down. Some of these model's 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. The Stretch Ozonic feature a low profile side closure that performed well while worn under larger packs. A built-in webbing waist belt meant that it rarely, if ever, slid down.
With all that talk about full-length zippers, our testers found that in the majority of cases, they preferred 3/4 length, as they strike a nice balance of easy on and off, and ease of use. We loved that the 3/4 zipper saved a bit of weight and didn't require a bulky closure system near the waist of the pant. We also found that we could still pull these pants over most light-to-medium weight footwear.
The North Face Venture Half-Zip offers a nice balance of price and functionality. Despite featuring only a half-length zipper, its larger diameter legs make 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 was the most prone to coming un-velcroed while wearing a backpack. Once the velcro failed, the zipper would creep open.
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 not for anything in specific but just as an easy place to stash something while cooking in camp or out on the trail. 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 in the bottom of most packs, taken out occasionally, and used sparingly 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, Outdoor Research Foray, or Columbia Rebel Roamer, were all bulkier than the Outdoor Research Helium.
The Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Zeta SL takes this honor for its excellent weather protection and breathability in a form that packs smaller than most. These are the pants you choose for superior weather protection but will carry in your pack most of the time. They're a little smaller than the compared models above but still more substantial than the 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 Helium lacks 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 next lightest pants we tested are the non-full-zip Marmot Precip and the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, which both weigh an impressive 8.0 and 8.6 ounces respectably. In the case of the Zeta SL, this is notable, particularly because the Zeta features 3/4 length side zippers. The next lightest models were the Patagonia Torrentshell, the Outdoor Research Foray, and our Best Buy award winner, the REI Co-Op Essentials Pant.
Many people appreciate having the ability to purchase a high-quality product that will be as light as possible.
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 Marmot Minimalist, Outdoor Research Foray, and The North Face Venture Half Zip; these competitors exceeded our expectations for durability. Each competitor withstood at least one week-long mountaineering traverse, which involved a fair amount of bushwhacking. 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. Our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Zeta SL surprisingly durable for its 8.6-ounce weight.
Using rain pants can help you make the most out of even the stormiest of days. We hope our review delivers the advice you need to help you make the best selection for your next trip, outing, or ambitious goals down the line. We know that making a good choice means that the times you do use rain pants while out on an adventure will be more comfortable and hopefully near every-bit-as-enjoyable than if it was bright and sunny.
— Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson