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Sierra Designs Elite Rain Chaps

If you’re going to buy Sierra Design’s Elite Rain Chaps, you’re going to want to use them with a rain poncho that completely covers your crotch. Chaps are leggings without a crotch or seat that horseback riders wear to protect themselves when riding through dense brush. When the same open crotch and seat concept is applied to rain leggings, they significantly help reduce sweating and condensation in the crotch and lap area, where you build up a lot of heat when hiking.

Cowboy Chaps are leggings without a seat or crotch, designed to be worn over pants when riding in thick brush
Cowboy Chaps are leggings without a seat or crotch, designed to be worn over pants when riding in thick brush


Crotchless Rain Pants

The age-old problem with hiking in rain pants is that you get wet if you wear them and wet if you don’t! The reason you get wet is from sweat and/or condensation. It doesn’t matter if you buy rain pants with so-called breathable fabric, because the fabric can’t breathe fast enough to vent to moisture that accumulates.

Sierra Designs Elite Rain Chaps
Sierra Designs Elite Rain Chaps

Elite Rain Chaps

Unlike cowboy chaps, Sierra Designs Rain Chaps are two independent tubes of fabric, or leggings, that you pull up over your legs. Each legging has a piece of webbing on the outside that hooks on to your belt or pants waist to hold it up and a quarter-length slit from the knee down to make it easy to pull over your boots or shoes. The slits don’t have zippers but close using velcro patches since zippers fail so frequently.

The rain chaps have a slit that runs the length of the calf, enabling you to pull them on or take them off without removing your boots or shoes. The slit closes with velcro patches rather than zippers, which eventually break.
The rain chaps have a slit that runs the length of the calf, enabling you to pull them on or take them off without removing your boots or shoes. The slit closes with velcro patches rather than zippers for better durability

Made using nylon and polyester, the seams of the leggings are all taped and a DWR coating has been applied to the outside to bead rain. They come in one size and the pair weights 3.6 ounces.

The rain chaps clip to your belt or pant's waist, which helps keep them up
The rain chaps clip to your belt or pant’s waist, which helps keep them up

When worn above with a technical rain shell,  there is a gap in coverage between the bottom of my rain coat and the tops of the rain legging, which becomes wet when rain collects on my rain shell and drips down onto my pants. What is needed is a longer rain shell, like the Sierra Designs Cagoule to cover the front of my pants and the seat to protect them from drips.

A simple overhead knot will prevent the webbing from slipping
A simple overhead knot will prevent the webbing from slipping

In testing the rain chaps, I did notice that the webbing straps consistently slip when worn, inching lower and lower down my leg. This is easily fixed by knotting them, as shown, but a better attachment system would be nice to begin with. Sierra Designs may have since fixed this webbing issue.

Mechanical Venting

While I’ve had somewhat mixed success with the Sierra Designs Elite Rain Chaps I am sold on the notion that adding pit zips and vents to rainwear is a far better approach to keeping hikers dry than sipping the breathable fabric Kool-aid. Waterproof breathable laminates don’t work nearly as well as mechanical venting, where you use the body’s motion to help force air through a garment to carry off sweat and condensation.

This entire approach to clothing ventilation isn’t new, but Sierra Designs has taken it a lot farther than companies like Outdoor Research that include pit zips and torso zips into their shells today. While selling it to hikers is going to take a lot of reprogramming and consumer education about the overblown claims of breathable fabrics, I actually think Sierra Designs has a shot at succeeding at reinventing this area of hiking gear. Time will tell.

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  1. The big problem for breathable fabrics is that they have to work with air and in many environments, at the very time we need a rainproof, the air is likely to have a high humidity. If I hike up the side of a mountain shirtless, my torso will become soaked with sweat because the air will not accept evaporation as quickly as I can leak it. Adding a layer of any type of clothing is likely to make things worse as it will add an insulating layer to my skin.

    Pit zips (in a Patagonia jacket) have been a failure for me. They help with the second problem I mentioned but at the expense of letting driving rain in when the zips were as closed as I could get them. The rain is nearly always driven by strong winds round here.

    Velcro isn’t a favourite of mine either. It has at least as many failure modes as zips. On one occasion in my tent, an ankle gaiter was stuck to waterproof trousers which were stuck to my rucksack!

    The good thing about breathable fabrics is that I can dry out simply by slowing down. I don’t have to take off or remove anything when the wind is howling by.

    • I have been using a Showers Pass Elite 2.1 rain jacket. Showers Pass is a highly regarded bike clothing company. It uses eVent fabric that is as good, if not better, than Goretex as a breathable waterproof fabric. BUT in addition it has a cape back for ventilation, pit zips, and a detachable hood. My large with hood weighs 12.2 oz . Since it’s genesis is from biking, the backside is long enough, but the front would be too short for using with chaps. Although it wouldn’t be long enough for using with chaps it works with rain pants, rain shorts, or a rain kilt. I have come to regard it as having the best of both worlds, B&W fabric with ample mechanical ventilation.

  2. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I grew up using rain chaps, and they were awesome! They are easy on/off. They weigh almost nothing. They breath really well. And, there’re super cheap and easy to make. In your front-on picture you’re wearing them way too low. No wonder you needed a longer rain coat. Pull’em up to your crotch where they belong, assuming they were made long enough. Finally, chaps compliment a poncho, beautifully even if worn like you’re picture shows. I have never figured out, given how easy and functional they are, why chaps never caught on as the primary choice for outdoor leg protection in rain and wet brush. Wearing them to low and/or short rain coats may be the answer. Thanks.

  3. I believe the buckle and strap design leaves a lot to be desired as well as the sturdiness of the Material which will be attacked by low hanging brush etc. etc.

    When I hiked about the Southern California – Arizona to New Mexico Deserts and on the PCT, I often wore a pair of Cabela’s Snake Proof Chaps which are also water proof, especially when hiking cross Country through the Chapparral. Just about ever plant out there has something to grab onto you with.

    The Cabela Chaps have a very wide piece of Material that loops up over your belt and snaps back onto itself. They also have the side leg zipper and have a lot more material so it does not feel like your losing your pants or your pants are sagging…and from the Pictures Philip, those chaps just do not fit you at all, as in there should be more material to the width of the leg and to the top of the Chaps….

    My Cabela Chaps are going on over 25 years old now and nary a problem nor tear…

  4. It’s interesting to note that the video shows the mannequin (as well as the live models) wearing Sierra Designs backpacks…a line of gear they have recently stopped producing and no longer feature any info about on their website. There’s not even any legacy info about discontinued backpacks.

    Is it possible they are planning on manufacturing backpacks again in the near future?

  5. I’ve also used rain chaps in the past. I have a set from Moonbowgear. Sometimes, I found them a little tricky to get on but still easier than rain pants. And, of course, chaps help keep you more comfortable then rainpants do. However, I agree you do need a longer raincoat to really make chaps worthwhile. Though I suppose you could use a short raincoat, arraign skirt, and chaps. I agree chaps with a poncho do work quite well as long as it isn’t too windy. But I’ve found a poncho when worn by hiking pole wielding hikers can often result in wet arms. The SD cajole looks intriguing though the hood looks a bit wimpy.

  6. Since I live in California rain gear does not get much use. I have some sil-nylon Equinox chaps (3 oz) that I got on eBay and a tyvek type disposable procedure gown that I got from work (5 oz). I wear it like a bathrobe and just tuck it behind me it the rain lets up. It would tear if there was much undergrowth but on the open trails I use it is fine. It has not torn yet and could be patched with tape if needed.
    You used to be able to buy them on at a time on Amazon for about $6 but now I only see them in 10/pk. At that price point, it is not worth it (unless you have nine friends). Kimberly Clark Healthcare 69025 Procedure Gown N/S Universal 10/Pk

  7. I got some MLD Chaps last year. Great kit- I was amazed that even on humid days there was very little condensation.

    I think Chaps haven’t caught on because a) most jackets are too short, and b) they don’t exactly look high fashion!

  8. I live in the PNW where rain is a more or less constant concern. We do not only deal with showers or hours of rain but with entire days of near constant precipitation.

    My search for a trouble free, non steamy system finally led me to SD gagoule and rain chaps of another make but essentially identical design.
    This is the most effective and comfortable set up I have used yet and I am sticking with it. I tried the rain skirt but feel that chaps are more effective than a rain skirt.

    The gagoule and chaps is everything you need and nothing you don’t.

  9. Hi Phil, I prefer the Mountain Laurel chaps–at less than 2oz they are lighter, and they are less expensive, than those of SD, but they are for non-winter use only, as they will not slip on over winter boots. I combine them with the SD Cagoule and have found the combo to work well for mountain hiking in rain. The set weights only 9oz (not including about another 2oz for a pack cover), and packs down to less than 1L. Having said this, I actually prefer a poncho over the Cagoule (where high wind won’t be an issue) for better breathability; and the weight of a lightweight, pack-covering poncho (8.5oz) is about the same as that of Cagoule plus pack cover.

  10. Chaps are a great idea and make much sense for hiking in the rain. One problem that remains unsolved is the water that flows down the chaps leg and from the the bottom of poncho into and on top of the boots. No matter how water resistant the fabric or leather boots are, your feet will get wet. Why not a short gaiter that covers the laces.

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