Backpacking 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.
- 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.
- Rain pants without zippers tend to be be lighter weight than ones with zippers. They’re also less likely to fail when a zipper breaks or jams.
- 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.
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.
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