THE 7 BEST RAIN PANTS FOR HIKING & BACKPACKING
Marmot Minimalist’s Pants are one of the toughest and easiest to pack in the rain pants business. Made out of a durable 2.5 layer Gore-Tex membrane, the Marmot Minimalist is surprisingly compressible and only weighs about 11 ounces.
As the name implies, these “minimalist” pants don’t have many fancy features, which is a major reason the Marmot Minimalist has such an impressive lightweight construction. You will, however, enjoy two zippered pockets and one-quarter length side zippers while wearing these pants.
These little features certainly help add comfort to the Marmot Minimalist, but you should keep in mind that these rain pants were primarily designed for serious campers looking for extreme durability.
If you’re in the market for a heavy-duty pair of men's rain pants that’s also easy to pack, then the Marmot Minimalist Pants might be what you’re after. What these pants lack in frills they more than make up for in durability, breathability, and portability.
Looking for the Best Hiking & Backpacking Rain Pants?
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The Outdoor Research Helium Pants are best suited for campers looking for one of the lightest pair of mens waterproof shell pants in the industry. You’ll only add about 6.5 ounces to your backpack carrying around these easily compressible rain pants.
While Outdoor Research’s Helium Pants’ major selling point is their lightweight construction, manufacturers didn’t shirk in the durability department. Made out of 30D nylon ripstop material, these Helium Pants have a 2.5-layer Pertex Shield to both protect against water and to increase breathability.
Anyone who’s trying to cut back on the amount of weight they carry on their backpack can’t neglect the Outdoor Research Helium Pants.
Columbia’s Rebel Roamer is ideal for occasional campers who want a reliable pair of cheap rain pants that are easy to pack and pull out in a jiffy. With a 70D nylon fabric as well as Omni-Tech waterproof protection, the Rebel Roamer offers surprising longevity and durability considering its affordability.
Since the Columbia Rebel Roamer is a value play, you should expect a few minor inconveniences. For example, there aren’t any side zippers or pockets on the Rebel Roamer. However, if you’re looking for a good pair of rain pants best suited for occasional hiking expeditions, then the Rebel Roamer might be for you.
No matter how well you plan your hiking adventure, you can never predict when Mother Nature will throw a downpour your way. When choosing what to wear to hiking, a good pair of waterproof hiking pants in many cases should find their way into your pack.
Acting as a your shell layer (see our article on hiking layers), not only will rain proof pants help you retain your body heat and wick off moisture, but they will also prevent wind from hitting your legs. In addition to added comfort, rain pants can reduce your risk of catching hypothermia.
In this article, we’ll go into more detail how waterproof pants for hiking work and what you should look for when shopping around. We’ll also share a few of the top brands in the outdoors industry to help you on your quest for the perfect pair of rain pants.
Outdoor Research Foray Pants
50D Polyester with Gore-Tex
Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic Pants
40D Nylon with Dry Q Active
Marmot Minimalist Pants
50D Polyester with Gore-Tex PacLite
Outdoor Research Helium Pants
30D Ripstop Nylon with Pertex Shield
Patagonia Torrentshell Pants
100% Recycled Nylon with H2No
Columbia Rebel Roamer
70D Nylon with Omni-Tech
The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip
The key feature every camper needs to look for in a pair of rain pants for men is waterproofing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a casual or serious hiker; high-quality waterproofing technology is the highlight of rain pants and should be the first thing you look into.
After you’ve ensured that your rain pants have a good waterproofing technology, other major considerations include breathability, durability, affordability, and weight. These secondary features will, of course, change in order of importance depending on your the needs for your hiking or backpacking rain gear.
Many people use the terms waterproof and water-resistant interchangeably. It’s important, however, to draw a distinction between these products because they offer customers different degrees of weather protection.
Simply put, water-resistant pants are not as strong as waterproof pants. Only invest in water-resistant pants if you plan to go to areas where there isn’t a great deal of heavy or moderate rainfall.
Over the years manufacturers have devised a standardized ranking system measured in millimeters that lets consumers know how well waterproof products wick off moisture. A product can’t be considered water-resistant until it reaches 1,500mm.
As mentioned above, any product that measures 1,500mm or slightly below is merely considered water-resistant. You’ll only get good weather protection from water-resistant pants in areas with a light drizzle.
The first official waterproof ranking is between 1,500mm and 5,000mm. This low-end range is best for protection against light rainfall. Even casual campers should strive to get a pair of rain pants that falls between these ranges for decent protection.
Mid-range waterproof rain pants measure between 5,000mm and 10,000mm. These pants are good for hikers expecting moderately heavy rainfall on their trek. These pants might not be able to keep out moisture from torrential downpours, but they offer the best mix of lightweight construction and weather protection.
The best waterproof pants have ratings of over 10,000mm. Serious hikers who often travel into hazardous weather conditions should look into these pants first.
To test any rainproof product, manufacturers take a piece of fabric and put it underneath a cylindrical container of water. Scientists then record the amount of water in milliliters they can pour into the container before water starts leaking through.
The minimum amount of water required to leak through a piece of waterproof fabric is known as the hydrostatic head (sometimes abbreviated as HH). Hence, manufacturers call this standard waterproof screening the Hydrostatic Head Test.
There are two major distinctions in the world of waterproof vs water resistant design: membrane inserts and waterproof coatings. While membrane pants are stronger than pants with water-resistant coatings, there are advantages and disadvantages to investing in either of these constructions.
In addition to keeping rain out, membrane pants are designed to effectively vent for sweat and body oils. Manufacturers do this by tightly bonding a thin waterproof membrane to the pants’ face fabric. The internal membrane usually has billions of tiny pores that are too small for rain to penetrate, yet large enough to let internal condensation out.
The greater breathability and durability membrane products offer make them the preferred choices for serious hikers. Name-brand membrane products like Gore-Tex hiking pants, however, tend to cost and weigh more than less advanced waterproof coated pants.
While Gore-Tex is a prominent name in the industry, many people mistakenly refer to all membrane constructions as “Gore-Tex.” There are, however, many other big names in the membrane manufacturing industry such as eVent and MemBrain Strata.
Waterproof microporous coatings are only designed to keep water from penetrating the fabric; they aren’t designed to let sweat out. For this reason, you can often get an accumulation of sweat inside your waterproof-coated pants. On the plus side, pants with waterproof coatings are easier to pack and more affordable than membrane products.
The coating often used on these pants is called Durable Water Repellent (aka DWR). DWR fabrics are essentially a thin chemical layer that use fluorocarbons or fluoropolymers to effectively wick off moisture on the pants’ outer layer. Whether it’s on a raincoat or rain pants, DWR’s main purpose is to stop water from clumping on your fabric (DWR products require occasional reapplication with a DWR detergent).
Even if your pants have the highest-quality waterproof membrane, you won’t get the full benefits of rain-protection unless it’s made with taped seams. These heat-sealed seams are an essential design feature because they help keep water from trickling through your pants’ stitching. Ensuring your pants have a seam construction is critical if you’re a serious hiker going to areas with a lot of rain.
Most rain pants are made with one of these three fabric layers: 2, 2.5, and 3. Although most rain pants will appear to only have one layer when you hold them in your hands, manufacturers bind these fabrics so tightly inside the pants that you won’t be able to notice them. Usually these inner fabrics have a special construction that’s able to capture sweat, oils, and moisture, thus increasing breathability without sacrificing warmth retention.
2 and 2.5-layer rain pants are made with a waterproof exterior fabric and an internal membrane. Usually the inner lining of 2-layer pants is made with some combination of polyester and mesh fabric. In the case of 2.5-layer pants, manufacturers use a thin layer of polyurethane laminate to provide extra breathability and moisture-protection. 2-layer pants are ideal for casual campers who expect to face moderate rainfall on their hikes.
On the other hand, 3-layer rain pants usually have a stronger polyurethane film inside them. Although 3-layer rain pants are made with an outer waterproof fabric, an internal membrane, and another internal bonded lining, these three fabrics are woven so tightly together that they can feel like one layer. Three-layer pants are best suited for serious hikers who expect to face torrential downpours.
Obviously, 3-layer pants are more durable and long-lasting, but they are also heavier than 2.5 and 2-layer pants. Casual hikers who expect to experience light to moderate rainfall will prefer 2.5 and 2-layer fabrics because they are lightweight and easier to pack.
After considering how well your rain pants prevent rain from getting in, it’s time to look at how well your pants let internal moisture out. If there’s no way for sweat and body oils to escape from your pants, then expect to deal with soggy legs on your hike.
However, breathability isn’t just about comfort. Besides being uncomfortable, sweaty legs can sap your energy and significantly reduce the quality of your hike. This is a serious concern if you’re someone who often goes on arduous hikes.
Rain pants with a breathable fabric usually offer the most comfort for campers seeking to avoid the sticky feeling of sweat-drenched legs. There are, however, many weatherproof coated rain pants that have long side zippers you can use to manually vent your pants (and a few full zip rain pants).
For most hikers, durability shouldn’t be as big a concern as water-resistance and breathability in rain pants. Durable pants obviously have the benefits of increased longevity and strength, but they tend to be heavier and more difficult to pack. Only prioritize durability if you’re a serious hiker who expects to use rain pants often on challenging hikes.
You’ll often see denier (abbreviated “D”) used when describing rain pants’ fabric type and durability. A denier refers to the density of fabric per length and weight of the pants’ fibers. One denier is measured as a single strand of fabric, so higher denier numbers mean each strand of fabric has a greater diameter.
Whenever you see “additional features” on rain pants you should instantly think “additional weight.” The only extra features worth your time on rain pants are side pockets and side-zippers. Beyond these two considerations, any other additional features will only add unnecessary weight to your backpack.
Side pockets on rain pants are a handy feature for keeping your hands warm on cool nights and storing a few handy items for quick access. Often rain pants have either a pair of side pockets or a back pocket in their design. Sometimes these pockets double as a stuff sack, which makes packing up your rain pants in the wild a great deal easier.
When examining pockets, be sure to look into whether they are made out of a breathable material. It’s also important to consider if these pockets have a zippered construction and whether that zipper is waterproof.
Rain pants with waterproof zippers on the sides are easier to pull over your boots while on the go. In addition to the ease of pulling zippered pants on and off, pants with side zippers allow you to quickly vent off if your legs feel stuffy.
One thing to look out for when examining zippered pants is how far the zipper goes up. The shortest length a side zipper will go is usually a quarter length of the pants. There are a few zippered rain pants that go up to the knee and some run the whole length of the pants.
No matter what camping item you’re researching, weight will always be a concern. Even if you’re an ultra light camper, however, you need to prioritize the quality of waterproof protection over a rain pants’ weight.
Don’t just go hunting for the lightest waterproof breathable pants. The main point of buying these pants, after all, is to protect you from the rain.
For reference, the median weight for rain pants tends to be between ten and eleven ounces.
Next up, we'll review the best waterproof hiking pants...
Made out of 50D polyester with a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane, the Outdoor Research Foray Pants is ideal for hikers and occasional mountaineers looking for extreme protection against the elements. The Foray Pants’ hydrostatic head measures >28,000 mm.
Outdoor Research manufacturers used their patented PacLite Technology to make the Foray Pants easier to compress and lightweight. The average weight of these pants hovers around 12 ounces and they are available in five sizes ranging from small to xx-large. Considering these are Gore-Tex rain pants, the Outdoor Research rain pants can pack down quite nicely in your backpack.
These pants have an elastic waistband with a drawcord. If you’re into wearing suspenders, you’ll be happy to know there are loop attachments on these pants. You can put the pants on over your boots and vent off thanks to the three-quarter length water-resistant zippers that run from the ankles upwards.
Overall, the Foray Pants have a looser fit, so feel free to wear heavy pants underneath if you’re traveling in colder weather. To help with flexibility, the knees on this product are articulated and the crotch area is gusseted.
One slight negative with the Outdoor Research Foray Pants is that it only has one pocket in the back of the right hip. A nice feature of this back pocket, however, is that it doubles as a stuff sack. If you’re not satisfied with these pants for whatever reason, you should know that Outdoor Research products have a lifetime warranty.
Hikers who want a pair of pants that have been engineered to offer the durability and breathability of a Gore-Tex product with decent weight and compressibility should look into the Outdoor Research Foray Pants.
The main feature of Mountain Hardwear’s Ozonic Pants is that they are the most flexible on the market. As the name suggests, Mountain Hardwear designed these pants to stretch four ways. This makes these pants ideal for people who will be doing a great deal of arduous hiking or climbing on their outdoor adventures. There are also slight grooves in the knees to help increase flexibility.
Another nice feature of Mountain Hardwear’s Stretch Ozonic Pants is that they have side zippers that run up the full length of the pants. Anyone with bulkier boots won’t have any issues getting these pants on.
For a comfy fit around your waist, Mountain Hardwear decided to use an elastic waistband with a clipped belt. There are Velcro tabs on the sides you can place over the side zippers for added protection. You can choose from five sizes of Ozonic Pants going from small to xx-large.
As for the material in these pants’ construction, the Stretch Ozonic Pants are made out of 40D nylon 2.5 layer with a treatment of the company’s patented Dry Q Active waterproof technology. These pants are easy to compress and only weigh approximately 10 ounces.
The Stretch Ozonic Pants are best for hikers or mountaineers who want a lightweight pair of pants that offer extreme flexibility. You won’t get the same degree of durability as with heavily padded products, but the Stretch Ozonic Pants are great for hikers who want a quick pair of stretchy rain pants that offer good enough protection.
Marmot’s Minimalist Pants are made of 50D polyester with a 2.5 layer Gore-Tex waterproof Paclite membrane. Despite the durability of the Gore-Tex membrane, these pants pack up quite well and only weigh 11.2 ounces.
To further protect you from the elements, Marmot coated these pants with a DWR treatment. Marmot’s pants have a waterproof rating of 10,000mm HH. You’ll also enjoy two welded zippered pockets on the sides of the hips.
The waist belt on these pants is elastic with a draw closure. There are only three sizes available: small, medium, and large.
By the ankles there are snap closures as well as zippers that open one-forth of the way up the boot cuffs. Marmot Minimalist can be a bit difficult to get over bulky boots due to these small zippers.
Marmot’s Minimalist rain pants are best for intermediate or advanced hikers looking for a good balance between durability and packability. While wearing these pants, you’ll experience some of the best Gore-Tex weather protection in the industry without sacrificing ease of packing.
If your main priority is lightweight construction, then you need to check out the Outdoor Research Helium Pants. These ultralight rain pants clock in at only 6.5 ounces a pair - there’s no denying the Helium Pants are one of the lightest available on the market.
Although these lightweight rain pants weight is their main selling point, they are also durable enough to handle heavy downpours. These pants are made out of 30D nylon ripstop with a 2.5-layer Pertex Shield and a waterproof, breathable insert. The Helium Pants have a waterproof score of 13,000mm HH.
The Helium Pants come in six sizes ranging x-small to xx-large. All of these pants have elasticated waistbands with a cinch cord to help tighten them around your hips.
While Outdoor Research’s Helium Pants have water-resistant zippers on the sides, they are only one-fourth length. There is one pocket in the back of these pants that also serves as a stow sack.
Bottom line, if you’re someone who’s looking for one of the lightest and most compressible rain pants in the industry and don’t mind sacrificing conveniences like full-length zippers and side pockets, Outdoor Research’s Helium Pants may be for you.
Environmentalists are sure to admire the Torrentshell Pants’ design, which uses 100 percent recycled BlueSign-approved nylon. Patagonia also included its unique 2.5-layer H2No Performance Standard waterproof technology in this design to help protect against moisture. For even more water-resistance, the Torrentshell Pants manufactures put a DWR treatment on the outside.
These patagonia rain pants have side zippers that run from the ankle to the knee, so it’s easy to pull these pants on over your hiking shoes and open them for ventilation. There are also two zippered pockets on the sides with mesh interiors for additional comfort. You can use the left pocket as a stuff sack.
Patagonia’s Torrentshell Pants weigh 11 ounces on average and are available in three sizes: large, x-large, and xx-large. The waistband is elasticated and has a drawcord to help wearers feel as comfortable as possible. Patagonia manufactures also articulated the Torrentshell Pants’ knees to help with flexibility.
Eco-conscious hikers who place a high valuation on the comfort of their rain pants should give the Torrentshell Pants a try. With convenient features like two front pockets, long side-zippers, H2No Performance Standard technology, and a lightweight construction, the Torrentshell Pants were designed to make hiking in the rain as comfortable as humanly possible.
Made out of 70D nylon fabric, the Columbia Rebel Roamer also has a layer of Omni-Tech waterproof technology. One interesting feature about the Rebel Roamer’s construction is that there are smooth taffeta inner linings that are sure to keep your legs nice and warm.
The average weight of Columbia’s Rebel Roamer is 12.5 ounces. Columbia offers six sizes of the Rebel Roamer from x-small to xx-large. Rebel Roamer’s waistband is made of elastic and there is a drawcord you can use to tighten these pants.
A major negative for the Rebel Roamer is that it has few bonus features. In particular, the Rebel Roamer has no pockets or side zippers. Also, since these pants don’t have an internal membrane, don’t expect strong windproof protection in the event of a major downpour.
If you’re a beginning hiker looking for an affordable and easy-to-pack pair of rain pants without side zippers or pockets, the Rebel Roamer might be for you.
North Face’s Venture 2 rain pants are made up of a 40D combination of 62 percent nylon and 38 percent polyester. The lining of these pants, however, is 100 percent polyester. For stronger weather-protection, North Face included a 2.5 layer DryVent polyurethane insert.
The North Face Venture 2 has Velcro straps on the ankle tabs as well as side zippers that go as high as the knees. There are two zippered hand pockets by the thighs, one of which serves as a handy stow sack.
North Face’s Venture 2 comes in four sizes available from small to xx-large. The waist is elasticated. Expect to add about 12 ounces to your backpack with these pants.
Hikers who can spare a few extra ounces in their backpack and want an easily compressible pair of rain pants with half-length side zippers and polyurethane insert might enjoy the Venture 2.