Backpacking Rain Pants: How to Choose

Rain Pants How to ChooseBackpacking rain pants are designed to keep you warm when you’re hiking in rain, snow, or a cold breeze. They do this by trapping your body heat and by preventing cold precipitation, rain, or wind from stripping it away. While it’d be great if they also kept you dry in rain, your pants, base layer or legs will inevitably get damp from the build up of perspiration or internal condensation if you’re hiking actively while wearing them. While you can mitigate internal moisture buildup by buying waterproof/breathable pants, you’re bound to overwhelm their ability to keep up with moisture vapor transfer if you hike in them for any length of time.

Types of Rain Pants

There are three main types of rain pants: rain pants with zippers, rain pants without zippers, and rain chaps.

  1. Rain pant zippers are like the pit zips on rain jackets because they let you vent moisture when opened. They can also make it easier to put on or take off rain pants without having to take off your hiking shoes or boots.
  2. Rain pants without zippers tend to be lighter weight than ones with zippers. They’re also less likely to fail when a zipper breaks or jams.
  3. Rain chaps are leggings that cover your legs and attach to your pant belt, but don’t cover your butt or crotch. While this makes them much more breathable, you need to wear a trench-style rain coat, cagoule, or poncho, to prevent your crotch area from getting soaked.

Rain Pant Weight

When choosing rain pants, you should ask yourself how frequently you expect to use them. If the occurrence of rain where you plan to hike is low or if you only plan to use them at night for extra insulation or bug protection in camp, you’d probably benefit by buying a very lightweight pair of rain pants. There’s no benefit in carrying around the extra weight of a heavy pair of rain pants if they’re used infrequently. Here’s a list of rain pants and rain chaps, whether they have zippers or not, and their weight (size medium) to help you make a selection. You’d think that most rain chaps would be lighter weight than rain pants, but that’s not always the case. The main rationale for them isn’t weight so much, but ventilation.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain PantsAnkle-Zip6.7 oz$119
Columbia Rebel RoamersNone11 oz$50
Marmot Precip Full Zip PantsFull-Length12 oz$70
Marmot Precip Eco Boot Zip PantsAnkle-Zip8.1 oz$80
Patagonia Cloud Ridge PantsAnkle-Zip10.9 oz$179
Kuhl JetstreamAnkle-Zip8.8 oz$175
Arc'teryx Beta SLFull-Length13.2 oz$275
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L PantsMid-Thigh11.8 oz$119
Montane Atomic PantsMid-Thigh10.7 oz$175
Montane MinimalistAnkle-Zip5.3 oz$140
Frogg Toggs Ultralite PantsNone5 oz$15
Montbell Stretch Full ZipFull-Length10.8 oz$149
Montbell Versalite PantsNone3.2 oz$139
Montbell Convertible Rain PantsKnee-length6.1 oz$119
Enlightened Equipment Visp PantsAnkle-Zip4 oz$160

When trying to decided between full length zippers and ankle height zippers, consider the type of shoes you’ll be wearing on your hike. You can put on or take off most rain pants with ankle height zippers without taking off low trail shoes or trail runners, but that came can’t be said of hiking boots.

See also:

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  1. Grams instead of this odd ounces would make the table so more useful for the other 95% of the world :-)

  2. Have you tried Light Heart Gear’s rain pants? I was so pleased with its jacket, I’m thinking of getting the pants, too. Pilot is considering LHG’s rain skirt.

    • I haven’t. They looked a bit baggy for me. But I can understand why you’d want a pant that was actually waterproof.

      • They are baggy, but my hiking doesn’t involve intentional bushwhacking like yours does. I can see that they could be ripped to shreds with a lot of off-trail hiking in the rain. But what rain pants would be sturdy enough for that?

      • Precips hold up pretty well offtrail, but bushwhacking in the rain sucks and is best avoided.

  3. The Frogg Toggs pants, though not very durable on the trail, have worked out very well for me around camp to both block the wind and insulate.

    • Saying Frogg Toggs pants “aren’t very durable” is a paragon of understatement, kind of like saying that Trump is not very consistent. They’re light as heck, but will snag and tear at the slightest provocation. Unless you’re very careful and/or lucky, i consider them one-to-maybe-a-few-time use.

      • Not sure about the pants but the Frog Toggs top I purchased, about $40, was awesome. Wore it for a 5 days backpacking in Iceland and stayed very dry in rain, sleet, snow and 40 mph wind. Also wear it riding motorcycle and it keeps me dry and has weathered 70mph speeds just fine!

  4. This type of info is an amazing resource.
    It really puts traditional sources like magazines to shame.
    Thanks for all your hard work

  5. Philip, I love your web site and reviews and I really appreciate the time and effort you put in this. On my prior hikes in the rain (West Coast Trail, North Coast Trail, etc.) I never used rain pants…..My Arc’teryx Zeta AR covers my shorts and I used knee high gaiters so all that got wet was about 18″ of bare legs between the top of my gaiters and the bottom of my shorts. Hiking and moving around it was no big deal and there was never a lot of “at camp” time to worry about getting cold. I’m doing the PCT this year (2017). Do I really need rain pants on the PCT? Do people actually hike in them? At camp it would be a quick set up, eat under tent nd off to bed. The only time I see using them is to slide down snowy slopes on my butt. Would love to hear if they are really needed on the PCT.



    • You’re going to be hiking through multiple climates on the pct. carrying black rain pants in the dessert is silly. Figure out what you need on the different sections of your hike and mail it to yourself. Big snow year, so maybe you’ll want them. Kind of hard to say. If it was obvious it wouldn’t be hard.

    • I used lightweight nylon long pants for the whole PCT and didn’t carry rain pants. If I were to do it again I would definitely have rain pants in Oregon and Washington. It isn’t strictly necessary (I am still alive) but it would have substantially improved my margin for error and comfort when hiking in 40F rain/wind for many days straight. Without rain pants I only had about 15 minutes between stopping hiking and shivering uncontrollably since my pants/legs were always soaked. It was probably exacerbated by the fact that by that point on the trail I lacked much body fat. I would also note that my long nylon pants served as sun and bug protection — and if you are using shorts you should carefully consider how to deal with those things.

  6. Tom aka SGT York

    If you learn to hike comando your clothes stay dry but you stay warm. This works in warmer weather. Try it you’ll like it.

    • Its really all about hydrostatic head or water resistance measured in mm
      Montbell lists its versalite at 30,000 mm, the other manuf. Don’t list this and I don’t know why other than keeping sales up.
      I have used outdoor research helium that quickly wet out so I’m guessing they are down about 10,000 mm.

      • Wet out refers to your DWR wearing off and becoming ineffective. When your pants wet out, the MVTR of the pants fails. That’s the rate that they can move moisture *out* in a vaporous form (breathability).

        Hydrostatic head refers to the waterproofness of the membrane, which prevents water from entering *into* your pants. Apples and oranges. I suspect that your rain pants are still perfectly waterproof and that you’re just wet from perspiration or condensation, not because they’re leaking.

  7. My Red Ledge Thunderlight full zip pants came in handy today along with my Marmot Precip jacket. The grandkids gave Grandpa 5 minutes to get ready for a water balloon fight so I tossed those on and felt like I was wearing water body armor. The waves (pun has plausible deniability) of battle splashed through the front yard and back and ended with hose to hose combat once the ammunition (and Grandpa) was exhausted. Although Grandpa’s hit ratio lagged behind that of a much younger, more agile foe, he was much drier when the smoke cleared… from his son in law’s BBQ. The burgers and brats were good, too!

    • Greetings, I am looking for rain pants that come in large waist but short leg. Not all manufacturers make a shorter version. Has any one come up with a solution for this problem.
      Rick F

      • I bought a pair of Frogg Togg pants. I cut them short and my wife sowed the ends of the legs. I wear leg gaiters to keep me feet and lower pants dry. The rain pants sown up high above my ankle worked very well on the Linville Gorge Trail. We have a lot of rain in a 4-day hike. My pants survived tearing due to how I modified the legs. It also lightened some weight by cutting 12″ of each leg. 4-5 ounces. Not much. But ounces make pounds and I am getting to old not to count ounces.

  8. No rain kilts?

  9. I don’t know if you have come across the paramo clothing your side of the pond, but I find they can be a good choice in cooler wet weather when you are going to wear them all day. *Technically* they are not waterproof, b being more of a non-membrane softshell, but have kept me dry in heavy rain all day (and the pair I use, I bought in 1992, although they are beginning to show their age now.

    They are heavy, and warm, but very breathable.

  10. I have using the FrogToggs for a number of years. I use the super light, and cheap ones for backpacking and the mid weight ones when I photographing field sports. They hold up well, do a great job, keep me dry and warm.

  11. Phillip, just reading your list on rain pants in the newsletter. The Montbell convertibles do indeed have an ankle zipper, one that goes up almost to the convertible zipper. My favorite as I often wear them as shorts in cool wet weather.

  12. Everyone should look at mytrailco there rain gear is tops with great features and lightweight.

    • mytrailco has a lot of great products. They acquired the venerable GoLite line after all. But, they are out of stock on many items, including many sizes of their storm ul pants. The listed weight is 7.5oz, but it’s not clear if that is for a Medium. Price is certainly right, even if not in the 5ish oz category.

  13. Look at mytrailco. Great products great price and light compared to other much more expensive companies.

  14. Nice. I try not to wear them while hiking and will put them on when I plan on being stationary for some time, meaning, not at rest stops… I have my Precips and my Troggs and alternate them as I feel like it… Both have passed the tests of time and use……

  15. I seldom carry my rain pants with my WPB parka but when I do I take my REI eVent pants because they breath better than my Cabela’s GTX PacLite pants.

    Wen you need rain pants they are irreplaceable. It’s just that you usually DON’T need them, upping the chance you will leave them at home and get caught out, sadly needing them rather a lot.

  16. This is a great list. The sorting capability is extremely useful. Hope it is updated as time allows.

    I have been looking for a much lighter alternative to my old 9.5 oz Sierra Design Genesis pants (1/4 zip). I’d also like to have at least 1/2 zip as 1/4 (ankle) zip still presents some difficulty inserting a size 11 cleanly and rapidly. In reading through the experiences of folks that tried Froggs, Montane and OR Helium I was left unimpressed. In particular, the Froggs would be expected to be flimsy for that price, but I would have expected more from a company like OR. Especially for that type of price.

    This is one piece of gear that, while it sits in the pack much or all of the time, is critical when needed. It is not something that should rip easily. Maybe there will eventually be a quality, 1/2-full zip alternative in the 5oz area.

  17. Love your reviews!

    An observation: It looks like when you sort by the “weight” field, it sorts alphabetically rather than numerically, (e.g., 13.2 comes before 3.2).

    Warm (and dry) regards

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