Rain can really put a damper on outdoor recreation. Suffering through inclement weather without proper rain gear can ruin clothes, soak through backpacks, and make you sick. When the forecast for your next hike indicates rain, it’s time to get the best rain pants.
A good pair of rain pants do several things to help you get through storms. Some can easily be pulled over other layers by featuring full-length ankle-to-thigh zippers. Others emphasize the comfort and stretchiness of hiking pants with a waterproof element. In this guide, I’ll walk you through all of the options so you can find the best fit.
My Review Process
I’ve been hiking for more than 25 years. When I first started, my rain gear solution was wearing jeans. You can imagine how miserable I ended up being after my first wet, severe weather hike. The jeans stuck to my legs, limited motion, and became so water-logged it brought on a cold. I spent the next years finding and testing the best rain pants to avoid repeating that experience.
I’ve compiled the best and most versatile rain pants for hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering. Each rain gear option is waterproof, relatively lightweight, and won’t limit your range of motion the way a pair of jeans would. With this information, you’ll be able to zero in on a pair of pants that keeps moisture out and keeps up the demands of your outdoor adventures.
The Marmot PreCip Eco Pants are my pick for the best overall rain pants. These 100% recycled nylon waterproof rain pants are eco-friendly and machine washable for easy maintenance. The PreCip is meant to be pulled over existing layers, so the fit is a bit bigger, which is perfect for a wide range of sizes and body types.
The Marmot PreCips are fully waterproof pants and therefore offer very limited ventilation. This could lead to an increase in sweating, which will leave your legs feeling wet anyway. Also, the larger sizing means the pants could potentially get caught on branches or rocks.
These pants are the best overall because they keep all moisture out in all inclement weather. They’re also very easy to pull on and take off, which is where they shine the brightest. While I wouldn’t wear these for multiple hours in a row, I love how you can get them on quickly in a torrential downpour.
The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic is my pick for the most comfortable rain pants. These breathable rain pants feature 4-way stretchy fabric (including a stretchy waist), and won’t limit your freedom of movement. They can also easily double as a pair of normal hiking pants.
On the downside, the fit is a bit tight. While each sizing range is accurate, the pants are designed to hug your body and may feel restricting if you’re used to baggier options.
But, in addition to the stretch, these functional rain pants come loaded with key features. My personal favorites are the flat belt buckle, which will tighten without catching on your other layers, and the full-length zippers. The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic pants also come with generous leg cuffs that cover the top of your boots for continuous rain protection. The soft-stretch fabric will keep you happy and dry, sealing the deal for the Stretch Ozonic being the most comfortable waterproof pair of rain pants.
The Arcteryx Beta AR is my choice for the best rain pants for backpacking. Typical of most Arcteryx products, these are durably made, high-quality pants perfect for the multi-day rigors of backpacking. While 100% waterproof, the rain pants also come with handy venting zippers for more specific temperature control.
One of the noticeable downsides is the weight of the pants. At over a pound, they weigh more than most options on my shortlist. Also, they are one of the most expensive rain pants I tried, which will be a turnoff for some.
Despite the price and heft of the outer fabric, this is a durable, thicker pair of pants loaded with features. Between the integrated belt, generous cuff, durable construction, and stylish design, the Beta AR more than makes up for its small downsides. Heavy rain doesn't stand a chance.
Weighing only 6.5 ounces, the O.R. Helium Pants are my choice for the best ultralight rain pants. They’re packable, comfortable, and won’t limit your range of motion. If you’re looking to save weight and space, these pants are fantastic options.
As with most ultralight pants, the features wear down a little faster than burlier models. If you’re backpacking through consecutive days of wet weather, there’s a chance moisture will start to seep in. I also wish the pants utilized stretchy fabric a bit more. It’s difficult to slip the pants over additional hiking gear without taking off boots to do so.
For space and weight savers, the Outdoor Research Helium pants are nearly perfect. These ultralight pants will repel water during most rain showers and supply all-day hiking comfort.
The Zpacks Vertice pants are my choice for the best packable rain pants. Well-known amongst ultralight circles, Zpacks did an excellent job creating these lightweight, minimalist pants. With an incredibly lightweight profile at only 3.2 ounces, these are the lightest options I tested.
However, the thinner material of this pair of rain pants is easy to break, so they should only be used for trail hiking. It’s the fragile lightweight material that convinced me to push the O.R. Helium Pants to the top of the ultralight category. Both are minimalist options that weigh next to nothing but I wouldn't recommend using the Vertice Pants for off-trail travel or bushwacking.
Despite the fragile build, these lightweight rain pants are a delight on trails. It’s easy to recommend them for long adventures like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. The Zpacks Vertice Pants also make effective use of a breathable liner and ripstop Nylon.
If you want a no-frills ultralight pair of rain pants that packs down smaller than a Nalgene water bottle, the Vertice is a wonderful choice. They are also available for women.
The Rab Kangri is my pick for the best rain pants for mountaineering. These high-quality pants are a durable option that features full-length zippers. You can tackle the toughest mountaineering objectives in severe weather, and rest assured that they’ll be up to the task.
Because of its versatility and burly design, the price is higher for these heavy-duty rain pants. However, you get what you pay for, and the RAB Kangris are ready for serious outdoor adventures.
In addition to its waterproof and durable build, these mountaineering pants also come with a nifty boot loop. This strap wraps around your boot, which pulls the pants down to your shoes for a nice waterproof seal. With thoughtful key features like that, it's no wonder these solid rain pants made the list. The Rab Kangri are available for women and for more alpine options, check out our mountaineering pants reviews.
A staple for years, Patagonia Torrentshell pants continue to deliver great performance at an attractive price. Patagonia is an eco-first outdoor company, and the pants are made without harmful PFC chemicals. They’re also built using recycled material, making them an excellent eco-sensitive article of outdoor rain gear.
The biggest downside to the Patagonia Torrentshell is that they don’t have full-length zippers. If you wear trail runners, low-rise hiking shoes, or approach shoes, this isn’t an issue. However, boots, hikers, and ski boots may need to be taken off when pulling the Torrentshell on and off.
Despite the small inconvenience of the half-zip, there’s not much else wrong with these rain pants. On top of their eco focus, the pants are durable and available at a great price. Plus, the DWR coating (durable water repellent) lasts for multiple seasons. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, it’s the Patagonia Torrentshell. They’re also available for women.
Rain Pants Buying Guide
Finding the perfect pair of pants can be a chore, especially if you want them to be comfortable and keep the rain out. Luckily, there are some easy ways to narrow down the choices for you. I’ve laid out the most important factors below to help you find your next favorite rain pants.
A good pair of affordable rain pants can cost anywhere from $70-300. You can find basic rain pants below this range but anything under $50 won’t last long. The most expensive pairs of rain pants hover near $500.
In general, rain pants don’t weigh much. However, for bigger outings, every ounce counts. The lightest rain pants I tested weigh between 5 and 10 ounces, which is exceptional. However, heavier models like the Arcteryx Beta AR, which is more than a pound, offer solid durability.
Packability refers to how small you can squeeze the rain pants down when not in use. The smaller it is, the easier it is to stuff it into your pack. All the models in this review pack down to the size of a pineapple or less.
Comfort and functionality don’t always have to be at war with one another. The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic Pants are a great example. Like the best models, they feature an elastic waistband and stretchy fabric to maximize your range of motion. An elasticated waist also makes it a lot easier to slip the pants over existing layers.
Comfort does come with a bit of compromise in the weather resistance department. In that regard, the Marmot Precip Rain Pants are the most reliable. They also feature an elasticated waist like the Stretch Ozonic’s, but the limited ventilation traps body heat, which can increase sweating.
Unless you’re hit by a multi-hour deluge, you can choose comfort and walk away with dry legs.
Fabrics And Layers
Rain pants are usually made using multiple layers. The exception is ultralight rain pants, which can still repel water effectively but are much easier to break or rip because they're made using thinner materials.
Goretex is used often to effectively keep rain out, but it can make pants feel stiff. Nylon is gentler on your skin but uses a polyurethane lining in the innermost layer to keep moisture out. This combination creates a lot of noise when you walk, which can irritate some folks.
Polyester is also used fairly often and treated with a polyurethane lining as well. Polyester is a good moisture-wicking layer but is less comfy than nylon.
Rain gear companies have also come up with proprietary fabrics as well. Examples include Dry.Q soft-stretch fabric found in the Stretch Ozonic Pants. A lot of these technologies do a great job of keeping comfort and moisture repellence high. However, with any new lightweight fabrics, be prepared to find qualities you like and ones you may not.
Zippers can be used for venting or to make it easier to pull the pants on over your other hiking pants.
Look for options with full-length cuff-to-thigh zippers, which are the easiest to pull on without removing your footwear. Water-resistant zippers have a fabric flap that runs over the track to keep moisture out. Ankle zippers are also handy for ankle cuff adjustments. The wider the cuff, the easier it is to slip the pants over your hiking shoes.
Half-length and quarter-length zippers aren’t bad, but you’ll have to take most hiking boots off to slip the pants on. Additionally, some minimalist options don't have zippers. This ultimately saves weight but reduces versatility.
Pockets & Features
Most rain pants have convenient pockets, but they differ in type and style. Zipper pockets or metal snaps make for a more secure carry. If rain pants don’t have closure devices, make sure the pockets are deep enough that small items don’t fall out.
Waterproof rain pants can also come with some key features that set them apart from others. Some include articulated knees for ease of movement and a built-in belt or hip-belt compatibility for easy adjustments. And while full-length zippers are great for slipping pants on and off, additional zippered closures for venting are attractive in warm weather.
Heavy-duty rain pants may not win any packability awards, but their extra durability makes them last longer than their ultralight counterparts. If you’re using rain pants for intensive activities like mountaineering, I recommend choosing a durable option, even if it weighs more.
Durable rain pants often use thicker fabric, a DWR-coated outer shell (or polyurethane laminate), and ripstop nylon to increase their toughness. They may also utilize multiple fabric layers. A 3-layer rain pant, for example, will provide solid durability.
The Rest Of The System
Rain pants are only a part of your rain gear system. For wetter adventures, where you’ll be dealing with heavy rains and dewy mornings, it’s important to complete your rain gear collection. Rain pants should go with a rain jacket, waterproof gloves, a waterproof pack cover, and a set of gaiters.
For extended trips in heavy rain, I love the durable material of the Arcteryx Beta AR Rain Pants. However, if budget and value are front-of-mind, the Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Pants continue to hold up well.
Some rain pants are better than others for hiking. The ultra-reliable and eco-friendly Marmot Precip Pants will stop all moisture from getting in. However, they don’t breathe, so if it’s warm enough, you’ll be sweating in them quickly. Rain gear that supplies all-day comfort relies on soft-stretch fabric and zippers for ventilation but may get a little wet over time.
Quality rain pants can be pulled or zipped over thin, warm-weather hiking pants. I prefer to wear lightweight synthetic hiking pants as a base layer. Check out our article on the best hiking pants for hot weather for more information.
Rain pants go over your boots. The leg cuffs are designed this way to allow for continuous rain protection down to your shoes. If your shoes aren’t waterproof, you can add a gaiter to the mix to increase rain protection. If rain pants went into the top of your boots, the rain would simply run down the side of the pants and get your feet wet.
If you opt for a pair that pulls over underlying layers, yes. You want it to be wide enough to fit over other pant layers. However, a tighter fit prevents it from getting caught on roots, branches, and rocks.
Rain pants can be good for winter, but only if you layer underneath. Since winter is cold, warmth is the central issue and rain pants are really non-insulated ski pants. They’ll keep snow out but you’ll need to add an insulated mid-layer and a base layer to make the setup effective.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.