The Best Women's Rain Pants of 2020
Best Overall Women's Model
Arc'teryx Beta SL Pant - Women's
Arc'teryx granted our shell pant wishes with the Beta SL pants. For our reviewers, these pants are a dream come true. Finally, one pant we can take everywhere (okay, except for a Denali expedition). These pants are light and breathable enough for milder climates, and they feature full side zips and a subtle crampon patch, making them durable and useful for alpine climbing, winter hiking, and mountaineering. We are thrilled at the performance to price ratio, should you need a "do anything" pair.
These pants had a small learning curve with the lack of a front fly zipper; to save weight and simplify, these two side zippers are how you put the pants on or take them off, even if you're not donning them fully unzipped to get them over your skis or crampons. But there was even an amusing upside to that learning curve; they make a drop-seat for, well, 'emergencies' that require one, which is not a bad idea for pants you're wearing in otherwise challenging conditions.
Read review: Arc'teryx Beta SL - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip - Women's
The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip pants are a surprise addition to our award panel after significant updates to the design. TNF retained the basic feature set of the old model but used a much more lightweight material. This makes for a very competitive, lightweight, emergency shell pant that is a great companion for your might-be-wet hiking adventures.
The Venture pants are very simple and streamlined to be so lightweight, so that means there are not many extra features. The waist cinches tighter with little more than a shoelace, and the cuffs close tighter around your ankles with Velcro. These solutions work well, and they keep the pants light and compact enough to earn a spot on your next backpacking trip.
Read review: The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip - Women's
Best for Variable Climates
Outdoor Research Aspire Pant - Women's
Outdoor Research knows rain. Born in the Pacific Northwest, the Aspire Pants are an impeccable blend of waterproof/breathable fabric and are ideal for venting on those humid days. As a bonus, they're also lightweight and comfortable. We don't always like to carry shell pants, but OR makes it easy to do. These are versatile enough to take on a wide variety of mountain adventures and durable enough to withstand the use. In the Northwest, there is a saying: If you don't like the weather, wait 20 minutes. Some say five. Either way, the point is, the weather can change quickly, and OR has designed pants that can zip and unzip, vent or seal, be put on or taken off in a hurry, to keep up with the rapidly changing conditions. If you recreate in a similarly changeable climate, these might be the rain pants for you.
The Aspire Pants are excellent for hiking in all conditions and even have enough features to be suitable for mountaineering, if that's what you're after. They have side zips that allow you to get the pants on over your mountaineering boots and grippy waist and ankle cuffs that keep them in place when moving fast. They also have attachment points for cord if you want to hold the bottom of the pants down by looping cord under your boots (great for deep snow). If you never take them above treeline, you'll enjoy the simplicity and light weight of these pants all the same.
Read review: Outdoor Research Aspire Pant - Women's
Best for Simplicity and Versatility
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Pant - Women's
The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L received a significant update over the original model, which was made of 2.5 layer fabric. This upgrade of materials makes the pants notably more durable and much more comfortable. The face fabric inside feels soft to the touch instead of clammy as many 2.5 layer rain shells do. The added durability also means these pants are significantly more versatile. All of this put together means these are a great value from a reputable company.
With the new, heavier weight fabric, these pants could have a few more mountaineering-friendly features; 3 layer shells like these can be excellent for summer mountaineering trips. As they are, they won't be your go-to mountaineering shell, but they'll be up for a trip or two, and are more than adequate for backpacking trips.
Read review: Patagonia Torrentshell 3L - Women's
Best for Cycling
Showers Pass Transit - Women's
Showers Pass is a cycling clothing company based in Portland, Oregon—in the heart of the Pacific Northwet. As such, their Transit pants are impeccably optimized for bike commuting in cool, wet climates. They feature a Velcro cinching system that quickly and easily gathers your pant material at the lower leg, so it doesn't get caught as you're pedaling. This design still allows you to don the pants easily and quickly by expanding and then unzipping 1/3 of the leg length; this also ensures the pants can easily be pulled over your casual or cycling shoes.
The Transit pants, complete with reflective trim, are designed for cycling and have some features which may not be as useful for other wet weather activities. They do not have any pockets or vents, which could be a pro or a con; however, the burly 3-layer waterproof fabric and simple design ensure they will be useful if cycling is your main outdoor pursuit, and they'll still be quite handy if you try another wet weather activity.
Read review: Showers Pass Transit Pants - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Rain pants are a critical item for anyone looking to recreate in wet climates. For warm, humid hikes, they can keep your legs dry hiking through dense vegetation, and you might use them in conjunction with an umbrella (and no jacket) for the ultimate insider-tip for "breathability" on warm, wet weather adventures. On the opposite side of the spectrum, shell pants might be critical to your survival on a vertical ice climb or several weeks into a polar expedition. Our testers have experience in all of these environments.
To test this gear category, we enlisted the help of Rock Guide and Pacific Northwest guide Lyra Pierotti, who knows the ins and outs of both daily life in wet climates and high-stakes climbing situations, like the backs of her hands. Lyra is an AIARE avalanche instructor and AMGA Rock Guide, and her expertise makes this review a valuable resource for finding the right pair for you, whether casual or technical.
This review began with thorough online research, as we scoured the Internet for the best models we could find. We then selected the most promising models for our rigorous field testing phase. Our team first established key performance metrics to compare and contrast the pants; then, we set out on a progressively structured testing strategy. We tested them in casual settings, as well as hiking, cycling, ice climbing, and mountaineering.
We conducted field tests in the notoriously temperamental winters of the Pacific Northwet, a prime location for a broad range of wicked weather.
Related: How We Tested Rain Pants for Women
Analysis and Test Results
Recreation is important to us year round, and that means being ready for a variety of weather conditions. For our reviewers in wetter climates, there is no such thing as bad weather, so they say, only bad clothing. For this review, we set out to recreate in all conditions, through all seasons. And we didn't just expect to stay dry in our chosen shell pants, we expected to be comfortable. We selected a panel of models to represent our best interests in warm to cool climates. (This is not the review to look for expedition weight hardshell pants.)
Admittedly, rain pants are not a daily part of our wardrobe. As such, we expect them to be light enough to be "dead weight" in our backpacking packs, conveniently designed to throw on in a hurry, durable to withstand burly conditions, and affordable enough to justify buying them for how little we hope to be wearing them.
At OutdoorGearLab, value is incredibly important. As such, we highlight the models that present themselves as high value and ensure that you, the reader, are aware of wallet-friendly deals. We've included various budget or high value models, such as The North Face Venture Half Zip 2, which wins our Best Buy Award, as well as the Marmot Precip Eco and REI Talusphere. While all are in similar price ranges, not all offer comparable performance.
Water-resistance is, for obvious reasons, the first metric we test, and by far the most important. Really, this should mean that all rain pants get a perfect score for water resistance, but this is surprisingly not the case. The main way pants can fail in this category is through design flaws; when you introduce holes, like pockets, vents, and side zippers, this is an opportunity for water to find its way through the pants.
Different manufacturers tackle this challenge in different ways: either with waterproof zippers or with flaps over the zippers. Waterproof zippers are great, but can sometimes feel a bit sticky or stiff when you zip and unzip them.
Other manufacturers use flaps to cover the zippers. This is not our favorite design because they can fold or flap open, and little droplets or streams of water coursing down your jacket can wend their way into the zipper and leak. This may not be a lot of water, but it could be enough to damage your phone that's hiding inside.
We fell in love with the Arc'teryx Beta SL pants. These had full-length waterproof zippers and are made of excellent Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, reliably waterproof and impressively light and breathable. They excelled in the weatherproof metric because they are easy to get on in a hurry with the full side zips, no matter if you have shoes, boots, crampons, or skis on your feet. The weather doesn't care what footwear you're wearing when it comes crashing down on you.
The most ingenious use of a zipper flap was in the OR Helium. Outdoor Research used zipper flaps only on the back pocket; that way, gravity matters. Water falling down will just run right over it, rather than potentially running into the zipper flap (as it could on side hand zipper pockets which are aligned more vertically).
There are some differences between the waterproofness of different fabrics. In this review, we tested two-layer Gore-Tex technology as well as 2.5 layer rain pants, and 3 layer fabrics, as well. These distinctions have to do with the way the waterproof material is layered with other fabric technologies, which affect the feel, durability, weight, and breathability. For all practical purposes (and most normal rain storms) we did not notice a remarkable difference in the abilities of the different materials to keep water out - rather, that difference emerged in other metrics below.
In general, however, thicker fabrics are burlier and more suitable for severe weather and harsher environments. Typically, 3 layer shell pants are considered "hard shells" for the burl-factor and durability. In this review, we really liked the addition of 3 layer fabric to the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L, making it more durable and more comfortable at the same time…
Comfort and Mobility
Our second most important metric is comfort and mobility. In this category, we assess the range of motion of each pair of pants, and how easy it is to move around in them. Are they comfortable to walk in? All of the models could handle walking and easy hiking, at least. But what about more complex movements, like climbing? We took the pants out and moved over scrambling terrain and even went ice climbing in them.
Some pants are designed for walking, while others have been optimized for complex movement patterns. Our favorite model for mobility was the Arc'teryx Zeta SL; they are shaped so well that we loved taking them ice climbing or on strenuous hikes. They're light and compact enough and we barely noticed them in our backpack. The Showers Pass Transit rain pants are optimized for cycling, so the articulated knee, relaxed fit, and cinching lower leg feature (using Velcro, brilliant) ensure your pedaling is unencumbered.
Fortunately, Arc'teryx also makes a full zip pant that avoids ever having to take your footwear off. For the more technically inclined, we like the spectacular Arc'teryx Beta SL. They don't feel as much like regular pants, like the Zeta SL, but they are well worth the short learning curve in how to best use them.
We also considered the range of activities that the pants would allow you to do. On one hand, ease of movement is great. As such, the Outdoor Research Helium pants were terrific, even when we picked up the pace and started running. However, they were limited in the terrain they could handle (too light for all-mountain use), so they didn't score top marks.
Pants that only handle hiking and walking got the lowest scores in this category; however, many have other redeeming attributes. The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip have a very nice, soft feel; they're also comfortable and flattering, easy to slip on and off over hiking shoes, and have an athletic cut. These pants are thicker and less breathable than some in our fleet, but will certainly hold up to hiking. Pants that restrict high-stepping and bigger movements, such as steep hiking or scrambling, did not score as well overall in this metric, but may have other comfortable attributes.
Breathability and Venting
With water resistance hitting the upper limit of quality and performance among most modern shell fabrics, it is the peripheral qualities of the materials that help to set some brands and models apart from the rest. In particular, breathability is a critical and valuable assessment —and one that has proven much harder to master than water resistance.
It's relatively easy to keep water molecules out, but if a fabric doesn't breathe, you're liable to get wet from within; this is a terrible irony. And it means that the moment you pick up the pace, especially if you're exercising in a warm, humid climate, you're going to sweat. At that point, you might want to take the jacket off and rinse the sweat off by standing in the rain! It's a terrible irony for a waterproof material to make you get wet from the inside.
But that's not the full extent of the problems we encounter in this assessment metric. Breathability depends upon pressure differentials. It's an osmosis thing. That means that for water vapor (sweat) to get pushed out of the jacket, it must be moving to an area of lower concentration. In humid, mild climates, this can give even the least sweaty lady issues while hiking in the rain.
The Pacific Northwest is a great place to test the breathability of rainwear because the temperatures are relatively mild, and the air is moderately humid. When it is raining, it's even more humid, which makes it easy to find the limit of a garment's breathability. This is when venting becomes infinitely valuable. Our testers in the Sierra Nevada won't encounter this problem, and we didn't have any issues in the cold, dry winters in Montana. The dry air helps suck the moisture through the membrane of the pants.
This phenomenon is displayed well by Outdoor Research, born and bred in the Pacific Northwest, The Outdoor Research Aspire pants have well-placed vents and use highly breathable 2 layer Gore-Tex. Our Top Pick, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, has no vents, but a very nice fabric that integrates Gore-Tex Paclite and breathes very well (especially in colder climates).
The full-length side zippers of the Arc'teryx Beta SL are designed to make them easier to put on and take off when you're wearing big boots or crampons; you don't have to step into them to get them on over what you're wearing, but they also serve as vents. They can be unzipped from the top, leaving the hook-and-loop closure in place to hold the pants up around your waist. These pants feature an excellent, versatile design from the outdoor industry's get-what-you-pay-for (and-it's-a-lot) leader, Arc'teryx.
Similar to the OR Aspire, we loved the clever, dual-purposed side zippers on the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L rain pants. They unzip to the knee, making them easy to put on and take off--but they have another zipper that unzips from the knee so you can ventilate using the same zipper system. Brilliant!
Now we're getting serious in our metrics. With our weight assessments, this is where we start to get nitpicky. The first three metrics are minimum requirements: water resistance, comfort, and breathability. But now we are getting into the details that can set one pair of rain pants apart from the rest, should weight be a concern to you. The main question we sought to answer in this metric is, Would we want to carry these pants in our backpack if we didn't think we would need them? That, in our experience, is the hardest call to make.
This category does not tell a full picture but contributes to the big picture very efficiently. An ultralight pair of rain pants might have to make some compromises to its feature set, or it might be less comfortable. All of these things will shake out in our complete assessment. So, for this metric, we stuck strictly to the measured weight of each pair of pants and ordered size smalls. There is often no standard for reporting weights in the garment industry, so sometimes you can't be sure whether or not the reported weight is for a size small or medium. In this review, you can rest assured that we're comparing apples to apples.
For the lightest pants in this review, check out the OR Helium pants. These have gotten heavier in the latest model update, and due to the mounting competition, surpassed by the far more durable (and affordable) Best Buy winner, The North Face Venture Half Zip 2. If you want a fully-featured shell pant, don't be dissuaded by the seemingly heavier weight of the Arc'teryx Beta SL. You get a whole lot more pants with a few extra ounces, and they're the lightest we've found for the versatility that they offer.
The amount of room rain pants take up in your pack is another important consideration when answering the same question as in the weight category above. This has to do with, again, how willing we are to take up valuable space in our backpack for an item we're 75% sure we won't use given the forecast for the upcoming weekend. Do we need those rain pants? They were dead weight last time…
Weight and packed size combine similar assessment characteristics to account for 25% of our scores when added together. Given that space in a backpacking or climbing pack is a hot commodity, this is not surprising. Furthermore, it is much easier to justify carrying a rain shell or hard shell jacket, but when we start to think about pants, a lot of hikers and climbers rely on the fast-drying properties of their hiking and softshell pants. That makes weight and packed size even more critical for rain pants than for shell jackets.
Some rain pants pack into their own pocket. Typically we like jackets to stuff into a pocket so we can clip it to something, like a harness to take on a climb. It is difficult, however, to change pants while on a multi-pitch rock climb, so we are not as excited about pants packing into their pocket. While it is handy for compressible items like down jackets to stuff into a pocket to keep them compressed, rain pants are not particularly compressible.
That said, if you're into stowing your rain pants in their own pocket, the OR Helium pants stuffed easily into their back pocket and make for a small and neat package that we found easy to throw into just about any bag we were taking on our next (potentially) soggy adventure. This stow pocket may also protect the lighter weight fabric from snagging or catching on the other contents of your backpack when packing or unpacking.
This category is a catch-all for any special features the previous categories may have missed. The most popular "extra" feature this year seemed to be the ability to stuff the pants into a pocket and reveal a loop that you can clip to something. This is a feature we love in jackets; it means if we get slammed by a thunder or snow storm while several pitches up, we can throw on this jacket for warmth or protection and start our descent.
Pants, however, are another matter. We're not going to throw on a pair of rain pants over our harness while dangling from a hanging belay; we're just going to motor ourselves down and put them on in a sheltered or flat area for the hike out. When we're caught out in a storm, our shoulders and upper body tend to take the brunt of the moisture first. It's when we're hiking through thick, rain dampened brush, or post-holing through deep snow that we find we need waterproof pants.
However, we do understand that rain pants suffer significantly from dirt, grime, sweat, oils, etc., so being able to stow the pants in a way that helps keep them clean can be a great idea. And if you're out for a week and your pants get soaked from hiking through the rain, then it stops, and you take them off, you can bundle them up and prevent them from getting everything else in your backpack wet. So that's cool. You could even clip the pants to the outside of your pack to make sure they're not dripping on anything; this also makes them accessible if the storm kicks back up again.
The highest score in features often was a result of the full set of features featured in the pants. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Beta SL, earned top scores, as the feature set ensured a highly versatile pair of shell pants, making them an excellent value. We carefully considered what story each pair of pants was trying to tell: is it a fast and light machine? A rugged movement artist? The Marmot PreCip Eco pants are made of more environmentally friendly fabrics, they're super affordable, and versatile, with a useful range of features. Another Top Pick is the Showers Pass Transit, with Velcro straps to secure the material of the lower leg. This was one of our favorite features in the review, and it's a creative, simple, and clean solution to wet weather pedaling.
Realistically, a lot of rain pants just go for a ride in our backpacks more often than we actually wear them. This makes us care a little more about weight and packed size rather than durability; that is, unless you plan to regularly hike in a torrential downpour. But for most of us, since rain pants are less frequently used, we list durability as our last metric. And our main concern for this metric is for safety; are these pants durable enough to do their job when you need them to? Normal wear and tear should show up more gradually, so we scanned each pair of pants for any red flag catastrophic durability issues. We found none.
After safety, we wanted to know we were getting our money's worth. If the pants are mountain-ready, are they really ready? Will they hold up against a brief encounter with a rock? Or worse, a crampon point? Or are they paper-thin fast-and-light pants that tear when you so much as think about snagging them with your crampons? Alternatively, are these pants that could hold up to some serious wet-weather gardening, kneeling on wet grass and mud?
There are two pairs of pants in this review that get bonus points for durability due to the use of 3 layer fabric are the Showers Pass Transit and the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L, both of which we loved.
We hope our critical view of rain pants has helped you sift through the various models available and find a pair to suit your needs. Rain pants are a key garment in climates with challenging or severe weather, ensuring you can recreate all year round. In the Pacific Northwest, good clothing is the answer to so-called "bad" weather. As outdoor professionals, we value high quality clothing that can keep up with us, and keep us happy, in all kinds of weather. As guides, we don't always get to choose the days we play outside, but when it comes down to it, we know we're lucky to enjoy some fresh air, rain or shine, all year round — and reliable clothing helps us appreciate it all the more.
— Lyra Pierotti