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For this update, our soggy weather testers researched over 30 pairs of the best rain pants for women. We then purchased the top 9 you see here. We love wet weather and brought each pair on a variety of adventures. We compared each model's performance, using our extensive side-by-side testing process. With professional guides on our testing team, our ladies geared up for ice climbs, backcountry ski adventures, and backpacking adventures in the Pacific Northwest. When the weather warranted it, we took a stroll to our local farmers' market to test out their around-the-town usability. While our field testing is thorough, we also evaluate each pair objectively, wearing it in the shower and evaluating relative construction and durability. If you're looking for a solid recommendation, you've come to the right place.
Product Update Note — November 2022
Arc'teryx replaced the Beta SL pant with the Beta Pant. The updated pant has a 3L Gore-Tex shell and a Gore C-Knit backing for comfort and improved breathability. We're linking to the updated pant.
Arc'teryx granted our shell pant wishes with the Beta SL pants. For our reviewers, this pant is a dream come true. Finally, one we can take everywhere (okay, except for a Denali expedition). This pair is light and breathable enough for milder climates. It features full side zips complete with a subtle crampon patch, making them durable enough for alpine climbing, winter hiking, and mountaineering. We are thrilled at the performance to price ratio, should you need a "do anything" pair.
This pant has a small learning curve with the lack of a front fly zipper. Instead, it uses two side zippers to slide them off and on. While this takes a moment to figure out, there is an amusing upside to this learning curve; they make a drop-seat for 'emergencies' in the backcountry. With unique features and excellent performance, we can't help but wholeheartedly recommend this fantastic pair of rain pants.
The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip offer an excellent value with a superior level of performance and great price. Using a lightweight material, they are easy to pack and comfortable. If you seek a pant that'll keep you dry for most adventures and will pack into a smaller package, this thinner, high-value pant is a great option to consider.
The Venture pants are very simple and streamlined to be lightweight, meaning that there are no extra features. The waist cinches tighter with a short string, reminiscent of a small shoelace, and the cuffs close tightly around the ankles with Velcro. This is our recommendation for any lightweight adventure where a package and high-value solution is needed.
Pockets: 1 rear stow | Side zips: 2/3 length, unzips to upper thigh
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Not full side zips
Outdoor Research knows rain. Born in the Pacific Northwest, the Aspire Pant is an impeccable blend of waterproof/breathable fabric and is ideal for venting on humid days. As a bonus, it is lightweight and comfortable for all-day wear and carry. It is versatile enough to take on a wide variety of adventures and durable enough to withstand use. In the Northwest, there is a saying: If you don't like the weather, wait 20 minutes. Here, the weather changes on a whim, and this pant is designed to keep you comfortable when it's hot or cold and windy. Designed with zips, it vents well and can be taken off in a breeze. You can even take it off without pulling your boots off.
While we can't help but gush about this pant, there are just a couple of downsides. First is the higher relative price. The second is the partial zips on the sides that don't allow you to completely unzip the pant leg for full ventilation. If you're willing to shell out a few more bucks to get a versatile and high-quality pant, you'll be pleased with this one, and we recommend it for changing weather.
Over the years, the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L has received some updates. With an upgrade to the materials, this pant is comfortable and durable. The face fabric feels soft on the skin, unlike other pants made of 2.5 layers. With enhanced durability, this pant is incredibly versatile. It has a great sticker price and impeccable value. Indeed, this shell can be used for any adventure, including up high mountains with its thicker and more water "proof" design.
With fewer features and a heavier material, this is not a fast and light pant. However, it performs well as a standard shell for any adventure. We'd recommend it to any lady seeking a high-quality but simple shell that doesn't come with a high relative price or a myriad of features.
Pockets: None | Side zips: 1/3 length, unzips to below the knee
REASONS TO BUY
Velcro strips to secure lower leg material
Reflective strips for cycling
REASONS TO AVOID
Only 1/3 length side zippers
Showers Pass is a cycling clothing company based in Portland, Oregon—in the heart of the Pacific Northwet. As such, the Transit pant is impeccably optimized for bike commuting in cool, wet climates. It features 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 pant, complete with reflective trim, is designed for cycling and has some features that may not be useful for other wet weather activities. It does not have any pockets or vents, which could be a pro or a con; however, the sturdy 3-layer waterproof fabric and simple design ensure it will be useful if cycling is your primary outdoor pursuit, and it'll still be quite handy if you try another wet weather activity.
This review began with thorough online research, as we scoured the Internet for the best models we could find. We then purchased 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.
Our women's rain pants testing is divided across five different metrics:
Water Resistance (25% of overall score weighting)
Comfort and Mobility (20% weighting)
Breathability and Venting (20% weighting)
Weight (15% weighting)
Packed Size (10% weighting)
Features (5% weighting)
Durability (5% weighting)
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.
Analysis and Test Results
We love to get out and explore throughout the year. When you live in a place where rain loves to trundle from the skies in heaping downpours, a solid rain pant (among other things) is what'll keep you outside, even when the weather deteriorates. To assess each, we look at key metrics to evaluate and compare each product. Here, we outline key differences and similarities to help you find the best rain pant for your needs.
Though we don't include it in our scoring, we understand that value is significant. 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, Marmot Precip Eco, and REI Talusphere. All are in similar price ranges but have different features and best uses.
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 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 differently: 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 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 three-layer fabrics. These distinctions have to do with how the waterproof material is layered with other fabric technologies, which affect the feel, durability, weight, and breathability. For all practical purposes (and most normal rainstorms), 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, three-layer shell pants are considered "hardshells" for the burl factor and durability. In this review, we 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 each pair of pants' range of motion 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. 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, but they are well worth the short learning curve in how to use them best.
We also considered the range of activities the pants would allow you to do. On the one hand, ease of movement is excellent. 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.
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 move to a lower concentration area. 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, making 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 two-layer Gore-Tex.
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 leader, Arc'teryx.
Similar to the OR Aspire, we loved the clever, dual-purpose 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, have been surpassed by our far more durable (and affordable) best value 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. Again, this has to do 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 hardshell jacket, but when we start to think about pants, many 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 shell jackets.
Some rain pants pack into their 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. However, changing pants while on a multi-pitch rock climb is challenging, 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 pocket, the OR Helium pants stuffed easily into their back pocket. They made for a small and neat package that we could easily throw into any bag. 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 is 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 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. 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 resulted from the full set of features featured in the pants. Our favorite, 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 choice 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, many rain pants go for a ride in our backpacks more often than we 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 primary 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 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.
While there are many different models to sift through, we hope that our intensive analysis of the best options out there has helped you narrow down, or even choose a pair for yourself. Whether you're a professional guiding in the rainy Northwest or a sun-seeking desert wanderer that wants a pair on-hand for the once-a-week downpour, there's a model that's perfect for your needs out there.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.