Comfort, ease of movement, and versatility quickly become standout features in a good pair of rain pants. To find the best, we researched and whittled our list down to over 30 models, before purchasing the top 6. Then we discussed options with our review team and tried to figure out, based on specifications, which ones would be the most useful, the most comfortable, and the most durable. For three months, we traveled and adventured with these pants. We pushed the limits, from the standard terrain of the Pacific Northwet (not a typo!) to the cold, harsh winters of Montana. We experimented with these pants, and pushed the limits of movement as well, taking the walking and hiking to climbing and skiing. After years of experience with some of the best and worst rain wear in the industry, we were excited to spend time with some of the best garments out there. We hope this review will help you filter through the noise and find the best pairs for your uses.
The Best Women's Rain Pants of 2018
Soggy winter months can put a damper on your psyche to spend time outdoors—but it feels so good to be outside and get some fresh air! Our testers in the Pacific Northwest know the feeling—long, dark days can get tiresome. For this reason, we feel it is super important to have gear that makes it easy to recreate and helps us stay motivated to spend time outdoors. Our brand new review includes six contenders, and we point out the best uses for each model.
Best Overall Women's Rain Pants
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, venting for those humid days, light weight, and comfort. We don't always like to carry shell pants, but these make it easy to do. They are versatile enough to take on a wide variety of mountain adventures and durable enough to withstand the use.
They have enough features to make them suitable for mountaineering—like side zips that allow you to get the pants on over your mountaineering boots, 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). These pants are durable, but still light enough that we didn't mind bringing them along for security—even when we were 99% sure the weather was going to be sunny.
Read review: Outdoor Research Aspire Pant - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot PreCip Full-Zip Pant - Women's
Marmot's PreCip line has been in our lives for a very, very long time. We were thrilled in this review to get to test their full zip pants. We love full zip rain pants—it ensures you can get them on over any footwear, even skis! We could even wrangle them on while wearing a harness if we wanted to show off. Full-zip rain pants make otherwise lightweight gear much more mountain ready. As such, we would consider these to be a great first rain pant for someone trying out summer mountain adventures for the first time.
They are much more affordable than hard shell pants, but they are easy to put on if you're wearing crampons. These are not going to provide much wind protection for higher elevations or shoulder seasons when the weather can take a much more severe snap for the worse. But these will hold up to many adventures, many days—so you'll certainly get your money's worth.
Read review: Marmot PreCip Full-Zip Pant - Women's
Top Pick for Mobility & Versatility
Arc'teryx Beta SL Pant - Women's
Arc'teryx seemingly won't release a product until they know it is the best it can be. The Beta SL is no exception. These were by far the most comfortable rain pants for climbing—which might sound odd, because who wants to climb in the rain? Well, we used them for ice climbing. Yes, they are that tough and that nimble. They held up to our sharp objects and drop-knees. And the inner ankle even features a smooth panel that makes it much harder to snag your crampons—even though these don't have a stiffer material there to resist a crampon's grazing motion.
They are an excellent blend of durability by design, without adding any extra weight. We would have loved these pants even more with full side zips—that would have made the perfect ultralight mountaineering shell pant. But as they are, they are light enough to be an emergency storm pant for hiking, compressible enough to earn a spot in your pack for any adventure. For our uses, we loved watching freezing drops of water just roll right off them when we had to climb through a section of drippy ice. Outstanding, Arc'teryx.
Read review: Arc'teryx Beta SL Pant - Women's
Top Pick for Ultralight Rain Pants
Outdoor Research Helium Pant - Women's
Outdoor Research knows rain so well they have two award-winning pants out of the four in this review. The Helium pants are much more of a niche rain pant. They are extremely light, very breathable, and very easy to move in. We felt comfortable running in these pants. As such, we think these are an excellent choice for ambitious mountain runners who want to go far but be sure they have adequate layers for a safe adventure in the mountains.
These pants are so light that you won't hesitate to take them with you, even if you don't think you'll use them on your trip. They're an excellent emergency storm shell. They are difficult to get on over boots, however, so they are less optimized for mountaineering and winter sports—but realistically, they are a bit too light for higher mountain sports anyway. These are a very affordable emergency storm pant that you will hardly notice in your backpack.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium Pant - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
Rain pants can turn a soggy weekend into a memorable adventure—or they can leave you feeling damp, clammy, and miserable. We took a selection of some of the best contenders we could find and ran them through the wringer in the wet Pacific Northwest winter months. We took them all across the western states to see how they performed in colder climates as well. When we were satisfied, we compiled our notes to shake out several award winners—some for versatility, others for performance in a particular niche, like ultralight apparel. Read on to find out how we assessed each pair of pants according to each metric.
Shopping for the best pair money can buy? Our price to value comparison chart below can help. We've included all six contenders, with the Marmot PreCip Full-Zip Pant - Women's winning our Best Buy award. You'll find that the products with the highest price to value can be found toward the bottom right of the graph.
This is a relatively obvious metric to list first—and to count for the highest percentage of the rating in our review. The trouble is, however, that most fabrics on the market today are pretty darn good at keeping the water out. As such, you won't see a broad range in the performances of the pants in this metric.
But we did find that there were some features that impacted the water resistance, in ways we didn't necessarily anticipate. Any time you cut a hole in the fabric to make a pocket, a vent, or side zippers, you're creating an opportunity for water to leak inside. Some manufacturers answer this with waterproof zippers, such as the Outdoor Research Aspire, our Editor's Choice winner.
Others designs employ flaps over the zippers—which is not our favorite design. We find that these flaps can be flapped open by the wind, and water droplets can weave their way behind, beneath, and sometimes through those zippers. Outdoor Research used the zipper flap in the best way with the Outdoor Research Helium by using it only on a back pocket. In this way, the flap works with the force of gravity: water droplets can fall on the back of the pants and roll over the flap. With side flaps, a droplet of water just has to find its way behind the flap; then it can drip down the sides.
Comfort & 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 pants 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.
What we discovered was that some pants are designed for walking, and others have been optimized for such complex movement patterns that we were able to pull off drop knee moves while ice climbing. Our favorite model for mobility was the Arc'teryx Beta SL. They are shaped so well we loved to take them ice climbing. They were light and compact enough to barely notice them in our backpack, and when we arrived to find our ice climb dripping with water, we just slipped them on (though we had to take our warm mountaineering boots off to do so), and climbed on.
We also considered the range of activities that the pants would allow you to do. On the one hand, ease of movement is great—so the Outdoor Research Helium pants felt very good even when we picked up the pace to running—but they were limited in terrain they could handle (too light for all mountain use), so they didn't get top marks.
Pants that could only handle hiking and walking got the lowest scores in this category, but still, none of the pants fell below the average score of 5 out of 10.
Breathability & Venting
With the water resistance hitting the upper limit of quality and performance, 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 your 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 relatively humid. When it is raining, it's even more humid. This makes it easy to find the limit of a garment's breathability. This is when venting becomes infinitely important. 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 perfectly by our award winners. The Editor's Choice winner, the Outdoor Research Aspire has well-placed vents—and hails from Seattle. Our Top Pick, the Arc'teryx Beta SL, a Canadian company, has no vents, but a very nice fabric that integrates Gore-Tex Paclite and breathes very well (especially in colder climates). This could have been purely coincidence, but we thought it was at least funny—to us, all of Canada iscold.
Now we're getting serious in our metrics. With our Weight assessments, this is where we start to get nitpicky in our review. 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. 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. For this review, we had all size small pants, so the weights we measured will more clearly compare the pants. 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 for a pair of pants is for a medium size or an extra small. In this review, you can rest assured that we're comparing apples to apples.
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, again, with 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.
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 and make them accessible in case the storm kicks back up again. So there are a few ideas of how you might use the stowable pocket.
The highest score in Features often was a result of the full set of features featured in the pants. Our Editor's Choice winner achieved top scores because the feature set ensured a highly versatile pair of rain pants, making them an excellent value. We considered carefully what story each pair of pants was trying to tell: is it a fast and light machine? A rugged movement artist? This category mixed things up a bit, with our Best Buy earning the second highest score. The Marmot PreCip Full-Zip pants were so versatile with a broad range of features that when we added that to the light weight, they came out a winner.
Given how infrequently we wear rain pants (yes, they mostly go for a ride in our backpacks and never come out to play), we named Durability our last metric. The key assessment here is for safety, so we assessed each pair of pants for any catastrophic durability issues that could leave you in a bad situation with a pair of rain pants that don't seal out the rain. This was not an issue in this review.
Our next priority with durability had to do with whether or not we were getting our money's worth. Would the pants hold up to the rigors of mountain use? Or were they so fast and light and paper-thin that you'll want to be very selective about when you take these out to adventure with you? Or, are these a daily workhorse you could do your gardening in? All of the pants got above average marks, with the perfectionists at Arc'teryx stealing the show with the Arc'teryx Beta SL. Runners-up included the Editors' Choice award winner, the Outdoor Research Aspire and the Patagonia Torrentshell which narrowly missed our Best Buy award.
We hope this review has been helpful in parsing out the pros and cons and details you might consider before purchasing a pair of rain pants. Our testing team put these pants through the rigors of hiking, biking, running, and even ice climbing—to really test the limits of the garments. We have spent years in the mountains, as guides and outdoor professionals, searching for the best gear to keep us warm, dry, and happy in the mountains.
For how much we like to get out, our gear can really ensure our habits remain sustainable and enjoyable. Or it can quickly become a burden, either physically, mentally, or financially, when our gear fails. As such, we strive to find the best values out there: the gear that lasts, works, and holds up for a long time. But we can't forget about the importance of earning a spot in our backpacks. It's hard work carrying all of your gear on your back—modern textile technology is making gear so light now that we can get back to enjoying moving through the mountains with excellent, durable, lightweight gear.
— Lyra Pierotti