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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 preventing cold precipitation, rain, or wind from stripping it away. While it’d be great if they also kept you dry in the 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. But staying warm in cold rain or snow is the main reason to choose full-length rain pants over other options like rain skirts, kilts, or rain chaps.

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.

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 the best rain pants, available today whether they have zippers or not, and their weight (size medium) to help you make a selection.

ModelVentingWeight
Outdoor Research Helium Rain PantsAnkle-Zip6.7 oz
Outdoor Research Foray PantsHip-Zip (3/4)10.7 oz
REI Trailmade Rain PantsAnkle-Zip7.7 oz
REI XeroDry GTX PantsAnkle-Zip10.5 oz
Rab Downpour Eco 2.0Full-Zip12.0 oz
Black Diamond Stormline StretchAnkle-Zip8.3 oz
Columbia Rebel RoamersNone11 oz
Marmot Precip Full Zip PantsFull-Length12 oz
Marmot Precip Eco Boot Zip PantsAnkle-Zip8.1 oz
Marmot MinimalistAnkle-Zip10.5 oz
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L PantsMid-Thigh11.8 oz
Frogg Toggs Ultralite PantsNone5 oz
Montbell Versalite PantsNone3.2 oz
Montbell Rain Trekker PantsKnee-length6.1 oz
Lightheart Gear Rain PantsAnkle-Zip3.7 oz

When deciding 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 can’t be said of hiking boots. In general full-length zippers are best for winter when you want lots of ventilation and you don’t want to have to take off big bulky insulated winter hiking boots (and stand on freezing ground) to take off your rain pants. Rain pants with ankle-length zippers are usually much lighter weight and better for warmer weather.

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16 comments

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

    • Let them make their own chart then. I prefer ounces

    • Just multiply the number of ounces by 30 and you’ll get the number of grams. It’s really 28.3 but close enough. The vast majority of my readers are in the US. I try to add ounces when I can but have space constraints for mobile readers.

  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.

  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.

  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. 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.

  6. To your knowledge, does anyone make a rain cagoule anymore?

  7. The Stormline Stretch from BD also comes in a full-zip. It’s what I use. Lets you put them on and take off without removing your footwear. Essential criteria if you ask me.

    • Nice! I find I can get most ankle zip pants on and off with trail runners and some mids, but if you wear biger hiking boots, especially in winter, a full length zip is the way to go. Test to be sure!

  8. I find the weight to be a difficult question also from durability POV. As you said, if rain pants are mostly in your pack, lighter are better. But if you’re wearing them a lot, they are the outermost layer, and prone to take all the abrasion available. Thus I’m vary of too light rain pants.

    I use nowadays a rain skirt (60g) for warmer part of the year and if I don’t expect to use it a lot, and somewhat heavy rain pants for autumn off trail hikes (220g). My current pair are full zip paclite pants from Montane, pretty decent.

  9. Thanks for this compilation. I’ve just ordered a pair of the Lightheart Gear pants and I’ll be very interested to see how they work out. For me, the definitive feature is the pass-through pockets giving me access to my shorts or pants pockets I’ll be wearing underneath. For a long time I was using REI rain pants with this feature, but they finally disintegrated. I’ve been using Frogg Toggs pants which are perfectly fine – although they tear VERY easily – and I can’t stand the lack of pocket access.

  10. I bought just last week a Rab Kinetic 2.0 Alpine pair of pants. It have me very well when walking with all that rain in the Netherlands.

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