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The Best Rain Pants of 2019

Monday September 23, 2019
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We thoroughly researched more than 50 of the top rain pants on the market. We then purchased the best 13 pairs of 2019, subjecting them to hundreds of hours of testing. Over the years, we've walked, splashed, strode, and slogged our way to enlightenment. The latest round of testing involved months of trial and error, culminating with a vernal Patagonian volcano in a bucket deluge and three weeks worth of trips spread across two months in one of the wetter spring seasons the Pacific Northwest has faced. After trodding the soggy depths, we've returned with information to illuminate your choice.

Related: The Best Women's Rain Pants of 2019


Top 13 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $225.00 at REI
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$96.99 at Backcountry
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$114.73 at REI
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$104.74 at Backcountry
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$89.25 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Lightweight, excellent stormworthiness, packable, sweet 3/4 length side zips, impressive breathabilityLightweight, stormworthy, quiet fabric, good breathability, 3/4 length side zips, effective elastic cuffsDurable, among the most weather resistant on the market, comfortable fit, excellent mobilityMega stretchy fabric, best breathability in the review, built in belt is the bombBy far the lightest and most compact pant in our review, great mobility, elastic waist band is extremely comfortable and functional
Cons No pockets, waist band is not as nice as others, expensiveNo zip fly, one marginally useful pocket, DWR didn't last as long as other models and needed to be retreated more frequentlyAnkle length zips, no venting options, no waist tightening/cinching options, no belt-loopsNot quite as abrasion resistant as other models, so-so weather-resistanceLess durable than most, hard to pull on over boots
Bottom Line Lightweight, yet tough, comfortable, and articulated enough for a week long backpacking trips where it rains every day.Highly protective pants that are light and compact for tucking away in your backpack.A basic, few-frills Gore-Tex pant that offers fantastic storm protection and mobility; it sacrifices little convenience for weight, without giving up anything in the way of performance.A fantastic all-around pant with rad stretchy fabric, which offers exceptional freedom of movement and the best breathability.Hard to beat for any trip where weight and packed space are at a premium - as long as there isn't too much off-trail travel, where their lower than average durability could be an issue.
Rating Categories Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant Outdoor Research Foray Pants Marmot Minimalist Pant Stretch Ozonic Pants Outdoor Research Helium Pant
Water Resistance (25%)
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10
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10
10
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10
10
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7
10
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8
Comfort And Mobility (18%)
10
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9
10
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10
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
Breathability & Venting (18%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Features (5%)
10
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8
10
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6
10
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7
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8
10
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5
Packed Size (12%)
10
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9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
10
Weight (17%)
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
10
Durability (5%)
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
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7
10
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6
Specs Arc'teryx Zeta SL... Outdoor Research... Marmot Minimalist... Stretch Ozonic Pants Outdoor Research...
Measured Weight 8.6 oz / 245g 10.2 oz / 289g 11oz / 292g 10 oz / 283g 6.5 oz / 184g
Waterproof Fabric Material Gore-Tex Paclite Plus 2L Gore-Tex 2.5 Layer Gore-tex with PacLite Technology 2.5 Layer Dry Q Active Stretch 2.5 Layer Pertex Shield+
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 40-denier nylon ripstop 2L 100% Polyester 50D 50D 100% Polyester w / Gore-tex PacLite Waterproof Breathable Membrane 40D Dry Q Active Stretch 30D 100 Nylon Ripstop w/ Pertex Shield+ Waterproof Breathable Insert
Pockets 0 pockets 1 pocket 2 pockets 1 pocket 1 pocket
Side Zips Length? 3/4 length side zips 3/4-Length 1/4 Length Ankle Zips Full Length Side Zips 1/4 Length Ankle Zips
Put on Over Hiking or Mountaineering Boots Yes Yes Hiking Boots, but not all Mtn Boots Yes No
Inseam Length, Size Medium 30, 32, 34 in 30 in 31, 32, 33 in 30, 32, 34 in 31 in
Stows Into Pocket? No Yes No Yes Yes
Waist band Style Nylon Belt + Elastic Band Elastic + shock cord 1/2 Elastic Nylon Belt + Elastic Band Elastic + Shock Cord

Best All-Around


Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant


89
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 25% 10
  • Comfort and Mobility - 18% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 18% 8
  • Features - 5% 8
  • Packed Size - 12% 9
  • Weight - 17% 9
  • Durability - 5% 7
Weight: 10 oz | Pockets: 1
Lightweight
Excellent storm worthiness
Packable
3/4 length side zips
Impressively breathability
Average durability
Minimal features
Expensive

Stormworthy and lightweight, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL is our best all-around performing pant. The Zeta achieves this magical combination, as it's simple, yet still offers the most essential features when it comes to comfort and weather resistance. This basic design features Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, one of our favorite fabrics. No other model matches the Zeta for its exceptional balance of weight, durability, and storm-worthiness and its versatility ensures it's an incredible just in case layer than can live in the bottom of your pack and can just as effectively beat back the pouring rain on a week-long backpacking trip.

The only design aspects that our testing team didn't particularly appreciate directly relate to the model's simple philosophy and its low weight. There are no pockets, though we found a way around this in using our jacket pockets. The model's lightweight fabric, while plenty tough for general mountaineering and backpacking, isn't equipped to endure consistent, abrasive use.

Read review: Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant

Top Pick for Comfort


Outdoor Research Foray Pants


Top Pick Award

$96.99
(45% off)
at Backcountry
See It

88
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 25% 10
  • Comfort and Mobility - 18% 10
  • Breathability & Venting - 18% 8
  • Features - 5% 6
  • Packed Size - 12% 9
  • Weight - 17% 8
  • Durability - 5% 7
Weight: 10 oz | Pockets: 1
Exceptionally comfortable
Lightweight, yet incredibly storm worthy
Tough
Good breathability
Quiet fabric
3/4 length side zips
Effective elastic cuffs
No zip fly
Only one marginally useful pocket
DWR didn't last as long as other models
Fabric needed to be retreated more frequently

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

Top Pick for Light Weight


Outdoor Research Helium Pant


Outdoor Research Helium
Top Pick Award

$89.25
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 25% 8
  • Comfort and Mobility - 18% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 18% 7
  • Features - 5% 5
  • Packed Size - 12% 10
  • Weight - 17% 10
  • Durability - 5% 6
Weight: 6.5 oz | Pockets: 1
Lightest, most compact in the review (6.5 oz)
Great mobility
Elastic waistband is comfortable and functional
Less durable than most
Hard to pull on over boots

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


Best Buy Award

$59.95
at REI
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 25% 7
  • Comfort and Mobility - 18% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 18% 7
  • Features - 5% 6
  • Packed Size - 12% 9
  • Weight - 17% 9
  • Durability - 5% 6
Weight: 9.5 oz | Pockets: 1
Cost
Lightweight
Excellent packed size
Reasonably weather-resistant,
Baggy cut makes it easy to wear over other layers
Low profile waistband doesn't pinch under a backpack
Surprisingly versatile
Not especially breathable
Clammy with moderate aerobic activity
No front hand-pockets (just a single side pocket)
Below average articulation

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. For this great price, it boasts impressive storm worthiness, 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 that needs a high level of durability or anticipates a great deal of aerobic use.

Read review: REI Co-op Essential Rain Pants


Why You Should Trust Us


Our expert panel was spearheaded by 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.

These two have spent upwards of 100 hours testing the best models on the market in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Our team hiked, backpacked, and climbed through Washington's National Parks and Wilderness areas, amassing a wealth of data about the overall performance of each in real-world applications.

Related: How We Tested Rain Pants


Analysis and Test Results


Rain pants that keep you dry and comfortable when the weather turns soggy can be worth every mile you've carried them. This might be especially true if you are in an exposed area when the sky opens up and the wind starts to blow. A waterproof shell for your lower body protects your legs and ensures comfort and safety on both shorter and extended adventures. Even if these pants live largely unused in the bottom of your pack, they will instantly become worth it when you're prepared on a stormy day (or week), allowing you to continue on with your adventure, despite the potentially grim weather. The pants tested can be used for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, snowshoeing, cold-weather Nordic skiing, and as a slew of other outdoor activities.

Drying out after several days of testing and side-by-side comparisons in the field. A large fall storm rolled through and we "took advantage" of the conditions on an extended backpacking trip.
Drying out after several days of testing and side-by-side comparisons in the field. A large fall storm rolled through and we "took advantage" of the conditions on an extended backpacking trip.

We chose our test fleet from over fifty models, taking 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.

Trekking and testing our exciting fleet!
Trekking and testing our exciting fleet!

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.

Don't let a poor forecast keep you from embarking on a hike or backpacking trip you've been planning for ages. With the right rain gear  even a wet and windy trip can be nearly as enjoyable as a sunny one. At the very least  it's likely to have a little more solitude. In the review below  we break down the advantages of different pants for different applications.
Don't let a poor forecast keep you from embarking on a hike or backpacking trip you've been planning for ages. With the right rain gear, even a wet and windy trip can be nearly as enjoyable as a sunny one. At the very least, it's likely to have a little more solitude. In the review below, we break down the advantages of different pants for different applications.

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 selected 11 models among nearly a hundred options for this review. We picked models based on overall performance  specific features that were advantageous for certain applications and the best options among more price pointed models.
We selected 11 models among nearly a hundred options for this review. We picked models based on overall performance, specific features that were advantageous for certain applications and the best options among more price pointed models.

Value


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. For 2019, 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.


Water Resistance


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.

It is in duress that the full zip attribute of a pair of shell pants becomes truly valuable. Here  lead test editor Jed Porter on a Chile's Volcan Lonquimay in tough weather  preparing for a white-out ski descent.
It is in duress that the full zip attribute of a pair of shell pants becomes truly valuable. Here, lead test editor Jed Porter on a Chile's Volcan Lonquimay in tough weather, preparing for a white-out ski descent.

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.

All of the fabrics used in the pants we tested proved to be waterproof. While differences in fabric have a big impact on breathability and longevity  the water resistance a given pant has more to do with its design than the actual fabric. Tracey Bernstein breaks out the shell pants during a week long ski traverse in the French and Swiss Alps.
All of the fabrics used in the pants we tested proved to be waterproof. While differences in fabric have a big impact on breathability and longevity, the water resistance a given pant has more to do with its design than the actual fabric. Tracey Bernstein breaks out the shell pants during a week long ski traverse in the French and Swiss Alps.

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.

ll of the pants we tested were waterproof. The field comparison of shell pants here demonstrates kneeling and rolling around in wet snow while teaching crevasse rescue techniques on Mt. Hood  Oregon.
ll of the pants we tested were waterproof. The field comparison of shell pants here demonstrates kneeling and rolling around in wet snow while teaching crevasse rescue techniques on Mt. Hood, Oregon.

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.

In addition to using these pants on trips over several months  our review team also performed two side-by-side tests: a four minute in the shower test  and a five minute garden hose comparison to help fine tune the water-resistance metric.
In addition to using these pants on trips over several months, our review team also performed two side-by-side tests: a four minute in the shower test, and a five minute garden hose comparison to help fine tune the water-resistance metric.

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.

The DWR beading up water  not only keeping the wearer dry from the outside  but also maintaining breathability by not wetting out. The photo shows the DWR on the REI Essentials pant.
The DWR beading up water, not only keeping the wearer dry from the outside, but also maintaining breathability by not wetting out. The photo shows the DWR on the REI Essentials pant.

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.

Ian Nicholson runs into... rain pant testing!
Ian Nicholson runs into... rain pant testing!

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.

We saw some of the biggest differences between models when it came to mobility and freedom of movement. Some models like the Arc'teryx Zeta SL offered excellent articulation for their mobility while others like the REI Essentials relied on a baggier cut to minimize how much movement they restricted.
We saw some of the biggest differences between models when it came to mobility and freedom of movement. Some models like the Arc'teryx Zeta SL offered excellent articulation for their mobility while others like the REI Essentials relied on a baggier cut to minimize how much movement they restricted.

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.

Testing rain gear is uncomfortable. But hiking without it in the rain is even less comfortable. We made sure to test all the attributes in all the conditions. Here  assessing mobility in a driving South American rain storm.
Testing rain gear is uncomfortable. But hiking without it in the rain is even less comfortable. We made sure to test all the attributes in all the conditions. Here, assessing mobility in a driving South American rain storm.

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.

Many of the pants we reviewed feature three-quarter or full-length side zippers. These sidezips can facilitate some ventilation  but their primary design is to allow the wear to quickly pull the pant on  or easily remove them over larger volume footwear. The reason they don't offer ideal ventilation is because if it's actually raining hard or you're walking up a damp bushy trail  water will just run inside your pants. This soaks your pants and your boots quicker than if you weren't wearing them at all.
Many of the pants we reviewed feature three-quarter or full-length side zippers. These sidezips can facilitate some ventilation, but their primary design is to allow the wear to quickly pull the pant on, or easily remove them over larger volume footwear. The reason they don't offer ideal ventilation is because if it's actually raining hard or you're walking up a damp bushy trail, water will just run inside your pants. This soaks your pants and your boots quicker than if you weren't wearing them at all.

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.

Comparing breathability was a difficult task. We asked several testers and friends of testers to help compare models through extensive real-world use and side-by-side testing.
Comparing breathability was a difficult task. We asked several testers and friends of testers to help compare models through extensive real-world use and side-by-side testing.

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).

Three-fourth length zippers offer nearly all the same benefits of full-length-zippered models  such as ease of putting on over bulky footwear and excellent ventilation. However  all of our testers found that the lack of Velcro and subsequent lower profile waist to be far more comfortable (particularly with a pack on) than their full-zip counterparts.
Three-fourth length zippers offer nearly all the same benefits of full-length-zippered models, such as ease of putting on over bulky footwear and excellent ventilation. However, all of our testers found that the lack of Velcro and subsequent lower profile waist to be far more comfortable (particularly with a pack on) than their full-zip counterparts.

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.

There was a pretty big difference in breathability among models we tested. We found that models using Gore-tex PacLite scored the highest in our breathability tests (though not by much)  with the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic and the REI Talusphere performing similarly.
There was a pretty big difference in breathability among models we tested. We found that models using Gore-tex PacLite scored the highest in our breathability tests (though not by much), with the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic and the REI Talusphere performing similarly.

The next most breathable models are the Arc'teryx Zeta LT, Outdoor Research Foray, and the Marmot Minimalist. All three of these pants offers similar designs while all 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.

Being able to dump a little heat especially once it has stopped raining  between storms  or is if it is only misting is certainly an additional benefit
Being able to dump a little heat especially once it has stopped raining, between storms, or is if it is only misting is certainly an additional benefit

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.

We found breathability to be a far more important attributed than ventilation for backpacking  hiking  mountaineering or most other outdoor sports. This is because if it is really raining hard opening vents to "stay cool" is a sure way to get wet.
We found breathability to be a far more important attributed than ventilation for backpacking, hiking, mountaineering or most other outdoor sports. This is because if it is really raining hard opening vents to "stay cool" is a sure way to get wet.

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.

Whether day hiking and encountering a fallen log that must be negotiated  hopping across rocks over a stream  or putting up a new route in Patagonia  there are a near infinite amount of reasons why having exceptional range of motion and mobility are important factors (when buying a pair to keep you dry on stormy days). Photo: Graham Zimmerman climbing a new route on Los Gemelos  Torres del Paine area of Chilean Patagonia.
Whether day hiking and encountering a fallen log that must be negotiated, hopping across rocks over a stream, or putting up a new route in Patagonia, there are a near infinite amount of reasons why having exceptional range of motion and mobility are important factors (when buying a pair to keep you dry on stormy days). Photo: Graham Zimmerman climbing a new route on Los Gemelos, Torres del Paine area of Chilean Patagonia.

Features


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 compared several features that made these pants easier to use  focusing mostly on how easy each model was to put on and remove. Here  Rebecca Schroeder pulls a pair of shell pants over the top of her skate skiing tights to add some warmth on a cold day in Mazama  WA.
We compared several features that made these pants easier to use, focusing mostly on how easy each model was to put on and remove. Here, Rebecca Schroeder pulls a pair of shell pants over the top of her skate skiing tights to add some warmth on a cold day in Mazama, WA.

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.

When you need shell pants  you don't want to take off your boots. Whether with full side zips  or smaller openings at the cuffs  you need to be able to get your pants on over whatever your chosen footwear.
When you need shell pants, you don't want to take off your boots. Whether with full side zips, or smaller openings at the cuffs, you need to be able to get your pants on over whatever your chosen footwear.

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.

While we liked the idea of full side zips and their ability to be pulled over any boot  our hips appreciated the comfort that a 3/4 length zipper provided while wearing a backpack; there wasn't any excess Velcro or other materials to be pinched against our hips.
While we liked the idea of full side zips and their ability to be pulled over any boot, our hips appreciated the comfort that a 3/4 length zipper provided while wearing a backpack; there wasn't any excess Velcro or other materials to be pinched against our hips.

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.

All of our testers appreciated the benefits of side zippers. However  after extensive testing  most of our testers preferred the 3/4 length designs because they still offered nearly all the benefits of full-length models while being slightly lighter and typically more comofrtable in the waist area.
All of our testers appreciated the benefits of side zippers. However, after extensive testing, most of our testers preferred the 3/4 length designs because they still offered nearly all the benefits of full-length models while being slightly lighter and typically more comofrtable in the waist area.

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.

Some models only had a quarter-length zipper near the cuff of the pant. This helped facilitate dawning the pants over lightweight footwear like trail-runners or lightweight hikers but any medium-to-high volume footwear like hiking or mountaineering boots would need to be removed in order to put the pants on.
Some models only had a quarter-length zipper near the cuff of the pant. This helped facilitate dawning the pants over lightweight footwear like trail-runners or lightweight hikers but any medium-to-high volume footwear like hiking or mountaineering boots would need to be removed in order to put the pants on.

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.

A feature we liked for several reasons and applications (especially snowy ones) is some type of pant cuff cinching feature. Several pants either sported a Velcro flap or a piece of shock cord and toggle. These types of features were particularly nice for snowy applications because they helped keep snow out of your boots while snowshoeing or hiking and made it less likely that you'd catch a crampon on them while climbing or mountaineering.
A feature we liked for several reasons and applications (especially snowy ones) is some type of pant cuff cinching feature. Several pants either sported a Velcro flap or a piece of shock cord and toggle. These types of features were particularly nice for snowy applications because they helped keep snow out of your boots while snowshoeing or hiking and made it less likely that you'd catch a crampon on them while climbing or mountaineering.

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.

Rain pants with hip pockets are nice  but you won't actually put your hands in them all that often. Doing so funnels rain water from your upper body right towards your crotch.
Rain pants with hip pockets are nice, but you won't actually put your hands in them all that often. Doing so funnels rain water from your upper body right towards your crotch.

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.

Pockets are useful features  adding to a pants ease of use and functionality. However  because most folks tend to use their jacket pockets more often  we didn't weigh a pant's number and functionality of pockets as importantly as other factors.
Pockets are useful features, adding to a pants ease of use and functionality. However, because most folks tend to use their jacket pockets more often, we didn't weigh a pant's number and functionality of pockets as importantly as other factors.

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.

On a super wet hike near snow line on Chile's Volcan Llaima  lead test editor Jed Porter took multiple opportunities to swap pants. It is this head-to-head comparison that allows us to make authoritative conclusions.
On a super wet hike near snow line on Chile's Volcan Llaima, lead test editor Jed Porter took multiple opportunities to swap pants. It is this head-to-head comparison that allows us to make authoritative conclusions.

Packed Size


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.

Depending on most people's intended use we'd recommend that most people weigh packed volume pretty highly during their selection process. This is because most people's rain pants end up taking up space in their pack more than they protected them from the elements and we don't feel like any of the models in our review skimp to a point of unreason when it comes to weather protection.
Depending on most people's intended use we'd recommend that most people weigh packed volume pretty highly during their selection process. This is because most people's rain pants end up taking up space in their pack more than they protected them from the elements and we don't feel like any of the models in our review skimp to a point of unreason when it comes to weather protection.

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.

Since rain pants are a piece of gear most people end up carrying more than wearing weight is an obviously important factor and we weighed each pair of pants in-house for our review.
Since rain pants are a piece of gear most people end up carrying more than wearing weight is an obviously important factor and we weighed each pair of pants in-house for our review.

Weight


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.

Weight is an important factor when selecting rain gear for outdoor activities. Most people will likely carry their rain gear much more frequently than they'll wear it  and there is a pretty big difference in weights among models  even among options we tested  despite the fact that they are all geared towards backpacking and hiking.
Weight is an important factor when selecting rain gear for outdoor activities. Most people will likely carry their rain gear much more frequently than they'll wear it, and there is a pretty big difference in weights among models, even among options we tested, despite the fact that they are all geared towards backpacking and hiking.

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.

Whether you are simply out for a day hike or 20 pitches up El Captain when it starts to rain  it seems you can never get your rain gear on quick enough. Being able to pull your shell pants over your shoes and existing clothing can never be too convenient  whether it's due to a muddy trail and not wanting to get your socks wet  or because your harness is the only thing keeping you alive. Ryan O'Connell getting prepared just as it starts to rain on the final (exposed to weather) pitches on Tangerine Trip.
Whether you are simply out for a day hike or 20 pitches up El Captain when it starts to rain, it seems you can never get your rain gear on quick enough. Being able to pull your shell pants over your shoes and existing clothing can never be too convenient, whether it's due to a muddy trail and not wanting to get your socks wet, or because your harness is the only thing keeping you alive. Ryan O'Connell getting prepared just as it starts to rain on the final (exposed to weather) pitches on Tangerine Trip.

Durability


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.

Rain pants can see a lot of wear  often even more so than their upper body counterparts. Even more than the obvious bushwhacking and overgrown trailing hiking  many folks don't think about the times when you sit down on a log for a break  or when you kneel down to fill up your water bottle at a stream. Often times  you are (even unknowingly) grinding rocks  dirt  and pine needles into your pants  slowly wearing them out.
Rain pants can see a lot of wear, often even more so than their upper body counterparts. Even more than the obvious bushwhacking and overgrown trailing hiking, many folks don't think about the times when you sit down on a log for a break, or when you kneel down to fill up your water bottle at a stream. Often times, you are (even unknowingly) grinding rocks, dirt, and pine needles into your pants, slowly wearing them out.

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.

For most users  packed size  along with weight  is one of the most important considerations  especially for a pant that is more frequently carried rather than worn.
For most users, packed size, along with weight, is one of the most important considerations, especially for a pant that is more frequently carried rather than worn.

Conclusion


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.

Hopefully you have found this review helpful in choosing the best option to help you to continue to have fun on your next rainy (or wind  or snowy) adventure.
Hopefully you have found this review helpful in choosing the best option to help you to continue to have fun on your next rainy (or wind, or snowy) adventure.


Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson