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Backpacking Rain Pants: How to Choose

Backpacking Rain Pants - How to Choose
Backpacking Rain Pants – How to Choose

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.

  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 IIAnkle5.4119
Columbia Rebel RoamersNone1150
Precip Full ZipFull12100
Precip RegularAnkle8.980
Mountain Hardwear Stretch OzonicFull10150
Kuhl JetstreamAnkle8.8175
The North Face VentureHalf8.180
REI TalusphereFull15109
Arc'teryx Beta SLAnkle9.2199
Patagonia TorrentshellHalf1099
Marmot MinimalistAnkle10.3165
Outdoor Research ForayThree Quarter10.7175
Montane MinimalistAnkle5.3165
Frogg Toggs Ultralite PantsNone525
Red Ledge ThunderlightNone8.939
Red Ledge Thunderlight Full ZipFull Zip12.555
Red Ledge Free Rein Full ZipFull Zip13.380
La Sportiva HailNone5.9179
Arc'teryx Alpha SLFul Zip12.9269
Helly Hansen VossNone1435
Montbell Stretch Full ZipFull Zip10.8149
Montbell Rain TrekkerHalf8.689
Montbell Peak ShellNone4.6119
Montbell Convertible Rain PantsNone6.1119
Mountain Laurel Designs Rain Chaps (Silnylon)NA2.245

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:

Updated 2017.
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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.

  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

  8. No rain kilts?

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