Selecting The Best Rain Pants – The Pants You Need To Stay Dry In The Wet
If there’s one thing that’s sure to ruin a trip into the great outdoors, it’s a downpour of rain. You can’t move anywhere, all you can do is sit and wait it out – and if you don’t have shelter when you get caught in the rain, you get soaked and then potentially, you get sick.
It’s possible to mitigate the adverse effects of rain somewhat if you have the right equipment – and when it’s raining, you can’t do without a good pair of rain pants. Here’s my guide to choosing the best rain pants to keep you dry in the wet.
The first thing to understand when buying a pair of rain pants is that no breathable fabric is 100% waterproof. The material the pants are made from and the number of layers affect the extent to which a pair of rain pants prevent water from passing.
This means there will always be a trade-off between performance, weight and price and you need to think carefully about what kind of situations you need the rain pants for as this will affect your final choice.
Breathable waterproof fabrics come in 2-layered, 2.5-layered and 3-layered versions and they all have different properties. You need to decide which kind is the most appropriate for your outdoor activities.
2-layer waterproof fabrics feature an outer layer with a second waterproof layer inside, either in the form of a coating or a membrane. 2-layer fabrics are the heaviest and are probably not the best choice when you need to keep weight down.
2.5-layer fabrics feature an external layer treated with a Durable Water Repellent, DWR. Below the outer layer is a breathable membrane which helps transfer moisture away from the body. Below this is a thin coating to protect the membrane. 2.5-layer fabrics are the lightest and easiest to pack.
3-layer fabrics have the same DWR external layer and the internal membrane but also feature an internal liner. This makes them tougher and more durable but also heavier. The choice between heavy and durable 3-layer pants and light but less tough 2.5-layer pants depends on the activities you enjoy.
Many different materials are now used in waterproof fabrics and these materials affect how waterproof your pants are as well as how breathable they will be. One of the most trusted names is GoreTex but there are many others that also perform well.
Although the primary function of rain pants is keeping you dry, they also need to offer protection from the wind. If the wind is able to penetrate your clothes, it will remove the naturally warm air that insulates your body, leaving you uncomfortably – and maybe dangerously – cold.
An important and convenient feature to look for in any rain pants is the zipper at the bottom that allows you to widen them and so slip them on without removing your boots. When it starts raining, you don’t want to be taking your boots off so this is an important feature.
However good the material your rain pants are made from, if the water can find its way in at the seams, they won’t keep you dry in extreme weather conditions. You need to make sure you buy a pair of rain pants with seams that do the job properly.
Weight And Compressibility
Designs of rain pants made of different materials and using different technologies can vary in weight. As mentioned before, you should consider the kind of activities you most often take part in before assessing which style is right for you.
For many hikers, especially casual hikers, rain pants are carried as a backup and as such, are not worn as often and probably spend more time rolled up in your bag “just in case”. If this sounds like you, you will need the lightest, pants that pack down as small as possible.
On the other hand, if you need rain pants that you will wear often and that need to stand up to some fairly rough treatment, you might choose heavier 3-layer pants as they won’t fall apart after you put them through their paces for the first couple of times.
Most people wear rain pants over their regular clothes so you need to make sure you buy pants that are big enough to fit over whatever you are wearing beneath. However, you also don’t want a huge pair of baggy rain pants that will hinder your movements and even might let in the rain.
You should take note of how you should care for your pants. Can they be machine-washed? How about machine-dried?
This inexpensive pair of waterproof rain pants from Portwest is not actually made of breathable material, hence the price. They are 100% PVC coated, weigh 13.8oz and feature sealed seams and an elasticated waistband to allow you to slip then on easily over your regular pants.
The main reason you would buy a pair of these rain pants is because you don’t want to shell out for a pair of breathable rain pants that cost a lot more. These pants are also large and easy to slip on when it starts to rain.
At this price, you won’t be getting the performance you would expect from a pair of proper breathable rain pants and if it’s raining but hot, you will keep the rain out but you’ll also be keeping the sweat in.
At this price, you can’t expect the quality to be the highest and they also don’t pack down too well either.
This is a pair of rain pants for someone who needs them for occasional trips and who doesn’t want to pay for anything fancy. They are also fine for someone who doesn’t need to reduce weight – but if you are looking for something for serious hiking, you may wish to consider something else.
These rain pants from Helly Hansen are at the lower end of the price range but still offer a degree of breathability. They are 100% polyurethane and are made to go over the top of your regular pants. They wouldn’t be comfortable to wear alone.
For a well-known brand, these rain pants are quite cheap. The material they are made from is stretchy but when they are on, they aren’t baggy which gives you a good degree of mobility. Once you’ve got them on, they’re comfortable and they do a good job of keeping water out.
The problem with these rain pants is that they’re not particularly breathable. This means in any kind of warm weather, even if the rain doesn’t get in, you are likely to be soaked with sweat. Another point is that they don’t have a zipper on the ankles making them a pain to get on and off.
These Helly Hansen pants would be a good choice for someone looking for an inexpensive pair of pants made by a reputable brand but perhaps not the right choice for someone who needs a high degree of breathability for warmer climates.
Columbia’s Glennaker Lake rain pants are 100% nylon, machine washable and made from waterproof fabric. They have an elastic waist that closes with a draw string and are designed to pull easily over you regular pants when the rain starts to fall.
These pants are not expensive but they will keep you dry in medium rain. They are easy to put on and take off, they pack down small and they weigh very little which would make them suitable for packing into a bag as a pair of emergency rain pants.
The biggest problem with these pants is that they are not particularly breathable. That’s not so surprising at this price point but if you need them for anything other than cold conditions, you are going to end up sweating. They also have mesh pockets which is something of a design flaw as they let water in!
These pants are similar to the Helly Hansen ones in that they will keep you dry but don’t breathe enough which means you end up getting wet anyway. They are acceptable for the price but if you need something that performs better, you might want to spend a bit more money.
The second pair of rain pants from Columbia I’ve included in my list are slightly more expensive than the first. They are 100% nylon, omni-tech, machine washable pants with an elastic waistband and no pockets. They are baggy in style.
These rain pants, being a bit pricier than the previous ones in my list and offer more breathability. They will also keep you well protected from the rain. One thing I liked was that even though they are a baggy style, they don’t make too much noise when you walk about in them.
My main problem with these pants is that, even though they are more breathable than the other options, they still aren’t breathable enough for hotter weather and you will still end up wet from sweat. They also have no zipper at the ankle making them awkward to get on.
I think these are a better option for someone who can spend a bit more money but still doesn’t want to pay for a top-of-the range pair of pants. They are not suitable for someone who needs high-performance pants with high breathability.
These rain pants from Marmot are highly waterproof and highly breathable. They come at a higher price than the others in my review but they are of much higher quality. They are made of 100% nylon Marmot® NanoPro™ material and feature zip pockets and ankle zippers.
These have everything you’d want from a pair of rain pants. They fit nicely, they are waterproof and breathable, they help keep you warm in the cold and they are clearly made of high-quality materials with a high standard of workmanship.
I really like the way a lot of thought has gone into their design. The pockets have zippers to keep the water out and the ankles also unzip for ease of getting on and off. They are light and pack down small making them ideal for an emergency pair of rain pants for you backpack.
If there is one criticism I would make, it is that they are perhaps not quite sturdy enough. I would be worried about snagging them on a branch on a hike and tearing them
In sum, a more expensive option but a much higher quality option. If you want performance and you don’t mind paying extra – and they’re not even that much extra – these would be a good choice. The only reason you wouldn’t want these is because they are too expensive.
I’ve looked at several different types of rain pants: the inexpensive Portwest ones, suitable only if you really need to save money; the mid-range, including the two Columbia options and the Helly Hansen, all good if you don’t value breathability too highly; and the top-end Marmots.
When I invest in new gear, I require a certain level of performance, even if I expect to pay a bit more for it. For this reason, the clear winner for me is the Marmot rain pants and these are the ones I recommend from this shortlist of five.
Do you have a pair of rain pants? Which ones do you like? Or maybe you prefer to go without and brave the elements. Let me know what you think – and if you enjoyed my article, please don’t forget to share!