Rain pants are one of those purchases you won’t need until you really, really do. When it starts pouring rain and the temperatures drop, you’ll be glad to have a pair of waterproof, breathable pants stashed in your pack.
For this guide, we looked for comfortable, waterproof rain pants offered in a variety of sizes. We first spoke with an outdoor gear expert and experienced thru-hiker to get a sense for what features matter most in a pair of rain pants. Then, we read through hundreds of REI customer reviews on dozens of rain pants sold by REI, eventually narrowing down our list to the most positively reviewed rain pants for hiking and cycling.
Next, we ordered nine pairs of rain pants each, for two testers. One tester was a 5’3” woman with a petite build. The other was a 6’3” man with a fairly thin profile. We took those rain pants on several rainy day hikes in the Pacific Northwest. We also spritzed the pants with water to see how the moisture beaded off or soaked in, washed the pants (according to their specific directions) at our local laundromat to see how durable and quick drying they were, weighed them and wore them on several bike commutes through sopping-wet Seattle streets. After all of this testing, we chose the following two options as the best rain pants of 2018 and 2019 currently in-stock and available on REI.com.
The Best Rain Pants for Hiking
Available Sizes: Women’s XS–XL, Men’s S–XXL
Waterproofing Type: 2.5-layer REI Elements waterproof breathable laminate
The REI Co-op Talusphere pants offer a solid mix of everything you need for basic hiking: They’re waterproof, lightweight, easy to put on, warm and breathable, plus they come in extended sizing options. If you struggle to find gear that fits well, these pants are a good place to turn: They come in a variety of sizes to accommodate many different body types. (If you’re looking for pants offered in additional sizes, we recommend looking at the REI Co-op XeroDry GTX pants, which come in both women’s and men’s sizes in short, regular and plus.)
The Talusphere pants unzip to mid-calf (unlike some that unzip all the way up the thigh), and you can get the pants on and off over bulky hiking shoes or boots fairly easily. The Taluspheres snap at the bottom of the ankle, fit true to size and cinch at the waist with a drawcord that’s basic but works well. When we encountered an epic downpour, the Taluspheres kept our legs completely dry and warm while still wicking away sweat. They’re also windproof in up to 60-mile-per-hour winds, according to REI, and they stuff into their own pockets for easily storability. All of the pockets on these pants seal tightly to help keep any vulnerable gear, like cellphones or a wallet, secure and dry.
“I work in forest restoration and needed a pair of rain pants that would be able to withstand heavy usage tromping through the forest underbrush and all types of inclement weather and found these in the store,” said one customer. “They are definitely very well worth the purchase because they've kept me not only dry, but warm as well. I can put them on and take them off easily while wearing my rain boots which is a big plus. Not only that, but I have hosed mud off of them and have stayed dry even after that.”
The Best Rain Pants for Biking
Available Sizes: Women’s S–XL, Men’s S–XXL
Waterproofing Type: 3-layer Artex bonded fabric
The Showers Pass Transit Pants were our favorite rain pants for cycling, especially for bike commuting in the city. The pants come in a variety of sizes for women and men, and while they fit true to size in length, the width is a bit narrow; if you’re taller or between sizes, you may want to size up.
These are the most waterproof cycling pants we tested for this guide, with 3-layer breathable, waterproof fabric. (Most of the other pants we tested for this guide were 2- or 2.5-layer.) Water beads off them easily and they breathe surprisingly well for their heft. We found that the Transit pants fit easily over our professional attire and cycling shoes, with hook-and-loop tabs on the calf to keep the pants tight around the lower leg, making them a great option for work commuters. The Transit pants also have ankle zippers that come up mid-calf for easy on-off, and their reflective trim will help keep you safe in low light, too. Unfortunately, they don’t have pockets.
“I commute in Portland, Oregon. In the winter, it is wet and dark,” said one customer. “The waterproofness of these pants is fantastic (water just beads up and rolls right off), and the reflective detailing is good for peace of mind. Beyond that, the articulation in the knee allows you to actually ride your bike and have the pants stay put down around your ankles. The ability to adjust the lower legs with the velcro tabs is nice, too. Showers Pass definitely put some actual cyclist-minded thought into these!”
What gear do I need for hiking in the rain?
According to Laura Evenson, a sales lead in the camp and climb departments at the REI store in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, you need to think smart about your gear if you plan to hike in the rain. Evenson thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and experienced 27 straight days of rain, so she’s a pro when it comes to staying dry while living outdoors. She says rule number one is to avoid cotton, opting for wool, nylon or polyester layers instead. You should also pick waterproof boots or shoes, and you’ll want to take a rain hat with a wide brim or long bill to keep your face dry.
You’ll also need a rain jacket to keep your upper body dry, and you can choose from gaiters or rain pants to prevent your legs from getting wet. Gaiters are best for people who want extra breathability during lighter rain; they typically only keep your lower legs dry, though, so you’ll need to bring an extra pair of dry pants if you’re backpacking. Rain pants are best if you need full coverage or plan to be in a place where downpours are common. You can wear both gaiters and rain pants at the same time if you’re dealing with lots of water: REI sales associate Cameron Preston says to put your rain pants over the top of your gaiters in this case. This acts like a roofline, says Preston, allowing the water to fall off your pants, then gaiters, then boots.
What makes a good pair of rain pants?
A good pair of rain pants should be waterproof above all else, says Evenson. You also want your rain pants to be breathable so you’re not sweating beneath the fabric. “You generate a lot of heat from your legs,” Evenson says. No one wants to hike in a wearable sauna.
Breathability and waterproofing can seem like opposing forces: Breathable materials allow sweat vapor to escape from the fabric while waterproof materials seal out moisture from the outside. While it’s tough to create fabrics that release moisture but also keep it out, good rain pants do both. (For more on the technical requirements needed to make pants both breathable and waterproof, check out How to Choose Rainwear.)
Evenson also recommends looking for pants with a full, or at least half, zipper down the side of the leg. This makes the pants easier to get on over your hiking boots. “Especially when it’s cold, I don’t want to take off my shoes to put on my rain pants,” she says. Sealed, zippered pockets are also a must for helping to keep any vulnerable gear, like a cellphone, fairly dry and safe.
What material should my rain pants be made from?
Most rainwear is made with a laminate or coating that blocks rain while allowing sweat vapor to escape. There are many versions of proprietary waterproofing materials made by different brands, so the name is not as important as the functionality, Evenson says. (For more on the technical aspects of waterproof coatings, check out How to Choose Rainwear.) Most rain pants also contain a durable water repellent finish, or DWR, which is an added coating that causes water to bead up and roll off fabric.
GORE-TEX® is at the top end of the rainwear market and tends to be the most breathable and waterproof option available—although not always, as other technology is starting to catch up. It’s also the most expensive, though, so you should only look into buying GORE-TEX pants if you plan to be in the rain constantly, such as during a mountaineering trip. We haven’t recommended any GORE-TEX pants in this guide; rather, the pants we chose offered effective coverage and breathability in the rain without the high price.
Are water-resistant pants a good option?
You can buy pants that are water resistant, not waterproof, which means they will likely keep you dry for a short period of time, but will probably soak through after 30 minutes of driving rain.
When do you need water resistance versus waterproofing? It depends on when you’ll wear your pants, Evenson says. “If you’re going to be out in driving rain, you bet you’ll want waterproof pants. But if it’s light rain or even snow that you can dust off, water-resistant pants might be okay."
None of the pants we tested in this guide contain insulation; if you plan to wear waterproof pants for snow-related activities, you’ll want to look specifically at much-warmer snow pants.
How do I take care of my rain pants?
You’ll need to re-up the durable water repellent (DWR) coating on your rain pants every few months, according to Evenson. “I describe DWR to people as blades of grass sticking straight up on a jacket,” she says. “Water droplets can’t get through at first but as you use the jacket, you’re smashing down the grass. Something like Nikwax, which is made for DWR, brings the blades back up.”
You should also be careful to clean your pants if they get muddy and dirty, says Evenson. This is especially true if your rain pants get sweaty on the inside (like when they're worn over shorts), because the oils on your skin can cause the materials to slowly break down if they’re not washed away. When you go to wash your pants, you should read the label of each garment regarding washing and drying instructions. In general, most rain pants can be put through the washing machine on cold and then dried on a short, hot cycle. Use a front-load washer only.