In our search for the best women's rain pants in 2019, we researched over 30 models before purchasing the top 8. For over three months, we traveled and adventured with these pants. We pushed the limits, from the standard terrain of the Pacific Northwet (not a typo!) to the cold, harsh winters of Montana. We experimented with these pants and pushed the limits of movement as well—from walking and hiking to climbing and skiing. After years of experience with some of the best and worst rainwear in the industry, we were excited to spend time with some of the best garments out there.
The Best Women's Rain Pants of 2019
|Price||$225.00 at REI|
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|$121.73 at REI|
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|$82.73 at REI|
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|$275.00 at REI|
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|$99.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Durable, lightweight, versatile, full zip||Lightweight, versatile, comfortable||Ultralight, athletic fit, affordable||Durable, light, comfortable, excellent range of motion||Versatile, affordable|
|Cons||Heaviest in review, expensive||Not full length side zippers||Less durable, clammy feeling||Expensive, can’t fit over boots||Interior feels plasticky interior feel|
|Bottom Line||A remarkably versatile shell pant for use on long treks and lightweight expeditions.||The OR Aspire are highly versatile and lightweight.||These are the ultimate lightweight model.||The Beta push the boundaries of our expectations.||As a versatile and affordable model, they are excellent for a first rain pant, or for more experienced backpackers.|
|Rating Categories||Alpha SL Pant||Aspire Pant||Helium Pant||Beta SL Pant||PreCip Full-Zip Pant|
|Water Resistance (25%)|
|Comfort And Mobility (20%)|
|Breathability & Venting (20%)|
|Packed Size (10%)|
|Specs||Alpha SL Pant||Aspire Pant||Helium Pant||Beta SL Pant||PreCip Full-Zip Pant|
|Measured Weight||12 oz||6.5 oz||3.5 oz||6 oz||6.5 oz|
|Waterproof fabric Material||GORE-TEX with Paclite technology||GORE-TEX with Paclite technology||Pertex Shield membrane||N40r Gore-Tex with Paclite technology||NanoPro|
|Face fabric and Layer Construction||40D nylon ripstop 2 layer||100% polyester 50D plain weave, 2 layer||30D nylon ripstop, 2.5 layer||150D nylon plain weave, 2 layer||100% Nylon Ripstop, 2.5 layer|
|Pockets||None||1 rear stow||1 rear stow||None||2 zippered hand|
|Side zips length?||Full-length||2/3 length, unzips to upper thigh||Ankle||1/3 length, unzips to below knee||Full-length|
|Put on Over Hiking or Mountaineering Boots||Anything! Even skis or crampons!||Mountaineering||Hiking||Mountaineering||Anything! Even skis or crampons!|
|Inseam Length, Size Small||32||30||30||32||30|
|Stows Into Pocket?||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Waist band Style||Adjustable belt||Elastic waist + internal drawcord||Elastic waist + internal drawcord||Elastic waist + internal drawcord||Elastic|
Best Overall Women's Model
Arc'teryx Alpha SL Pant - Women's
Arc'teryx granted our shell pant wishes with the Alpha SL pants. For our reviewers, these pants are a dream come true. Finally, one pant we can take everywhere (okay, except for a Denali expedition). These pants are light and breathable enough for milder climates, and they feature full side zips and a subtle crampon patch, making them durable and useful for alpine climbing, winter hiking, and mountaineering. We're thrilled at the performance to price ratio, should you need a "do anything" pair.
These pants had a small learning curve with the lack of a front fly zipper; to save weight and simplify, these two side zippers are how you put the pants on or take them off, even if you're not donning them fully unzipped to get them over your skis or crampons. But there was even an up-side to that learning curve; they make a drop-seat for, well, emergencies that require one, which is not a bad idea for pants you're wearing in otherwise challenging conditions.
Read review: Arc'teryx Alpha SL - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Outdoor Research Aspire Pant - Women's
Outdoor Research knows rain. Born in the Pacific Northwest, the Aspire Pants are an impeccable blend of waterproof/breathable fabric and are ideal for venting for those humid days. As a bonus, they're also lightweight and comfort. We don't always like to carry shell pants, but OR makes it easy to do. They are versatile enough to take on a wide variety of mountain adventures and durable enough to withstand the use.
They have enough features to make them suitable for mountaineering if that's what you're after - like side zips that allow you to get the pants on over your mountaineering boots and grippy waist and ankle cuffs that keep them in place when moving fast. They also have attachment points for cord if you want to hold the bottom of the pants down by looping cord under your boots (great for deep snow). These pants are durable, but still light enough that we didn't mind bringing them along for security—even when we were 99% sure the weather was going to be sunny.
Read review: Outdoor Research Aspire Pant - Women's
Top Pick for Ultralight Rain Pants
Outdoor Research Helium Pant - Women's
Outdoor Research knows rain so well they have two award-winning pants out of the eight in this review. The Helium pants are much more of a niche rain pant; they are extremely light, very breathable, and incredibly easy to move in. We also felt comfortable running in these pants. As such, we think these are an excellent choice for ambitious mountain runners who want to go far but be sure they have adequate layers for a safe adventure in the mountains.
These pants are so light that you won't hesitate to take them with you; even if you don't think you'll use them on your trip, they're an excellent emergency storm shell. They are challenging to get on over boots, however, so they are less optimized for mountaineering and winter sports, but realistically, they are a bit too light for higher mountain sports anyway. These are a very affordable emergency storm pant that you will hardly notice in your backpack.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium Pant - Women's
Top Pick for Mobility & Versatility
Arc'teryx Beta SL Pant - Women's
Arc'teryx seemingly won't release a product until they know it is the best it can be. The Beta SL is no exception. These were by far the most comfortable rain pants for climbing—which might sound odd, because who wants to climb in the rain? Well, we used them for ice climbing. Yes, they are that tough and that nimble. They held up to our sharp objects and drop-knees, and the inner ankle even features a smooth panel that makes it much harder to snag your crampons—even though these don't have a stiffer material there to resist a crampon's grazing motion.
They are an excellent blend of durability by design, without adding any extra weight. If you love the Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Alpha SL, but you don't need full side zips, and you want something a little more like regular pants, you'll love the Beta SL. They are light enough to be an emergency storm pant for hiking and compact enough to earn a spot in your pack for any adventure. For our uses, we loved watching freezing drops of water roll right off when we had to climb through a section of drippy ice. Outstanding, Arc'teryx.
Read review: Arc'teryx Beta SL Pant - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Rain pants can be a luxury item on a rainy walk in the woods, or one of pivotal importance if you need to stay dry on an ice route. To test this gear category, we enlisted the help of Rock Guide and Pacific Northwest Resident Lyra Pierotti, who knows the ins and outs of both daily life in wet climates and high-stakes climbing situations like the backs of her hands. Lyra is an AIARE certified avalanche instructor, and AMGA Rock Guide. Her expertise makes this review a valuable selection tool whether your uses are casual or otherwise.
This comparison started with online research, examining over 30 models that were on offer before deciding to purchase and test the strongest 8 among them. We identified the key performance areas and tailored our test protocol to suit each. For example, to test comfort and mobility, we used a progressive structure, taking the models on ever more demanding types of outings, starting with walking, then running, and finally moving to ice climbing for those that afforded the best mobility. Field testing took place in the Pacific Northwest, which afforded an ideal range of conditions and environments for our purposes. We think you'll find what we learned to be a valuable tool while selecting a pair for yourself.
Related: How We Tested Rain Pants for Women
Analysis and Test Results
Rain pants can turn a soggy weekend into a memorable adventure - or they can leave you feeling damp, clammy, and miserable. We took a selection of some of the best contenders we could find and ran them through the wringer in the wet Pacific Northwest winter months. We took them all across the western states to see how they performed in colder climates as well.
Rather than wishing that the rain, rain would go away, we have tested some of the industry's leading rain- and hardshell pants so you can still venture out in the cold, harsh winter months—weather be darned. To keep you moving through the dark and dreary months of the year, we think a good pair of rain pants has not only to be weatherproof but also comfortable and breathable. And to be a good value, we want to see decent durability. With these things in mind, our team sifted through the shelves and found the best rain pants we could find. When we were satisfied, we compiled our notes to shake out several award winners—some for versatility, others for performance in a particular niche, like ultralight apparel.
Shopping for the best pair money can buy? We've included all tested models, with the Marmot PreCip Full-Zip Pant - Women's and Outdoor Research Aspire winning our Best Buy award.
Water resistance is, for obvious reasons, the first metric we test in rain pants, and by far the most important. Really, this should mean that all rain pants get a perfect score for water resistance, but this is surprisingly not the case. The main way pants can fail in this category is through design flaws—when you introduce holes, like pockets, vents, and side zippers, this is an opportunity for water to find its way through the pants.
Different manufacturers tackle this challenge in different ways: either with waterproof zippers or with flaps over the zippers. Waterproof zippers are great, but sometimes feel a bit sticky or stiff when you zip and unzip them.
Other manufacturers use flaps to cover the zippers. This is not our favorite design because they can fold or flap open, and little droplets or streams of water coursing down your jacket can wend their way into the zipper and leak. This may not be a lot of water, but it could be enough to damage your phone that's hiding inside.
In this review, we fell in love with the Arc'teryx Alpha SL pants. These had full-length waterproof zippers and are made of excellent Gore-Tex Paclite, reliably waterproof and impressively light and breathable. These pants excelled in the weatherproof metric because they are easy to get on in a hurry with the full side zips, no matter if you have shoes, boots, crampons, or skis on your feet. The weather doesn't care what footwear you're wearing when it comes crashing down on you.
The most clever use of a zipper flap was in the OR Helium. Outdoor Research used zipper flaps only on the back pocket; that way gravity matters. Water falling down will just run right over it, rather than potentially running into the zipper flap (as it could on side hand zipper pockets which are aligned more vertically).
There is some difference between the waterproofness of different fabrics. In this review, we tested two-layer Gore-Tex technology as well as 2.5 layer rain pants. This has to do with the way the waterproof material is layered with other fabric technologies, which affect the feel, durability, weight, and breathability. For all practical purposes (and most normal rain storms) we did not notice a remarkable difference in the abilities of the different materials to keep water out - rather, that difference emerged in other metrics below.
Comfort & Mobility
Our second most important metric is comfort and mobility. In this category, we assess the range of motion of each pair of pants, and how easy it is to move around in them. Are they comfortable to walk in? All of the models could handle walking and easy hiking, at least. But what about more complex movements, like climbing? We took the pants out and moved over scrambling terrain and even went ice climbing in them.
We discovered that some pants are designed for walking, while others have been optimized for complex movement patterns. Our favorite model for mobility was the Arc'teryx Beta SL. They are shaped so well we loved to take them ice climbing or on a strenuous hike. They're light and compact enough to barely notice them in our backpack, and easy to slip on.
Fortunately, Arc'teryx also makes a full zip pant that avoids ever having to take your footwear off. For the more technically inclined, check out the spectacular Arc'teryx Alpha SL. They don't feel as much like regular pants, like the Beta SL, but they are well worth the short learning curve in how to best use them.
We also considered the range of activities that the pants would allow you to do. On one hand, ease of movement is great. As such, the Outdoor Research Helium pants were terrific, even when we picked up the pace and started running. However, they were limited in the terrain they could handle (too light for all mountain use), so they didn't score top marks.
Pants that could only handle hiking and walking got the lowest scores in this category; however, many have other redeeming attributes. The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip pants are not award-winning, but they have a very nice, soft feel; they're also comfortable and flattering, easy to slip on and off over hiking shoes, and have an athletic cut. These pants are thicker and less breathable than some in our fleet, but will certainly hold up to hiking.
Breathability & Venting
With water resistance hitting the upper limit of quality and performance among most modern shell fabrics, it is the peripheral qualities of the materials that help to set some brands and models apart from the rest. In particular, breathability is a critical and valuable assessment —and one that has proven much harder to master than water resistance.
It's relatively easy to keep water molecules out, but if a fabric doesn't breathe, you're liable to get wet from within; this is a terrible irony. And it means that the moment you pick up the pace, especially if you're exercising in a warm, humid climate, you're going to sweat. At that point, you might want to take the jacket off and rinse the sweat off by standing in the rain! It's a terrible irony for a waterproof material to make you get wet from the inside.
But that's not the full extent of the problems we encounter in this assessment metric. Breathability depends upon pressure differentials. It's an osmosis thing. That means that for water vapor (sweat) to get pushed out of the jacket, it must be moving to an area of lower concentration. In humid, mild climates, this can give even the least sweaty lady issues while hiking in the rain.
The Pacific Northwest is a great place to test the breathability of rainwear because the temperatures are relatively mild and the air is moderately humid. When it is raining, it's even more humid, which makes it easy to find the limit of a garment's breathability. This is when venting becomes infinitely valuable. Our testers in the Sierra Nevada won't encounter this problem, and we didn't have any issues in the cold, dry winters in Montana. The dry air helps suck the moisture through the membrane of the pants.
This phenomenon is displayed perfectly by our award winners. Born and bred in the Pacific Northwest, the Outdoor Research Aspire pants have well-placed vents and use highly breathable Gore-Tex with Paclite. Our Top Pick, the Arc'teryx Beta SL, a Canadian company, has no vents, but a very nice fabric that integrates Gore-Tex Paclite and breathes very well (especially in colder climates). This could have been purely coincidence, but we thought it was at least funny—to us, all of Canada iscold.
The full-length side zippers of the Arc'teryx Alpha SL are designed to make them easier to put on and take off when you're wearing big boots or crampons; you don't have to step into them to get them on over what you're wearing, but they also serve as vents. They can be unzipped from the top, leaving a very secure hook-and-loop closure system in place to hold the pants up around your waist. These pants feature an excellent, versatile design from the outdoor industry's get-what-you-pay-for (and-it's-a-lot) leader, Arc'teryx.
Now we're getting serious in our metrics. With our weight assessments, this is where we start to get nitpicky. The first three metrics are minimum requirements: water resistance, comfort, and breathability. But now we are getting into the details that can set one pair of rain pants apart from the rest, should weight be a concern to you. The main question we sought to answer in this metric is, Would we want to carry these pants in our backpack if we didn't think we would need them? That, in our experience, is the hardest call to make.
This category does not tell a full picture but contributes to the big picture very efficiently. An ultralight pair of rain pants might have to make some compromises to its feature set, or it might be less comfortable. All of these things will shake out in our complete assessment. So, for this metric, we stuck strictly to the measured weight of each pair of pants and ordered size smalls. There is often no standard for reporting weights in the garment industry, so sometimes you can't be sure whether or not the reported weight is for a size small or medium. In this review, you can rest assured that we're comparing apples to apples.
For the lightest pants in this review, check out the irresistible OR Helium pants. But if you want a fully featured shell pant, don't be dissuaded by the seemingly higher weight of the Arc'teryx Alpha SL. You get a whole lot more pants with a few extra ounces, and they're the lightest we've found for the versatility that they offer.
The amount of room rain pants take up in your pack is another important consideration when answering the same question as in the weight category above. This has to do with, again, how willing we are to take up valuable space in our backpack for an item we're 75% sure we won't use given the forecast for the upcoming weekend. Do we need those rain pants? They were dead weight last time…
Weight and packed size combine similar assessment characteristics to account for 25% of our scores when added together. Given that space in a backpacking or climbing pack is a hot commodity, this is not surprising. Furthermore, it is much easier to justify carrying a rain shell or hard shell jacket—but when we start to think about pants, a lot of hikers and climbers rely on the fast drying properties of their hiking and softshell pants. That makes weight and packed size even more critical for rain pants than for shell jackets.
Some rain pants advertise that they pack into their own pocket, such as The North Face Venture 2. Typically we like jackets to stuff into a pocket so we can clip it to something, like a harness to take on a climb. It is difficult, however, to change pants while on a multi-pitch rock climb, so we are not as excited about pants packing into their own pocket. While it is handy for compressible items like down jackets to stuff into a pocket to keep them compressed, rain pants are not particularly compressible. The Venture 2 pants, for example, were quite difficult to stuff into their own pocket, and we decided it wasn't worth the hassle.
The OR Helium pants, on the other hand, packed much more easily into their back pocket and were such a small and neat package that we found it easy to throw into just about any bag we were taking on our next (potentially) soggy adventure.
This category is a catch-all for any special features the previous categories may have missed. The most popular "extra" feature this year seemed to be the ability to stuff the pants into a pocket and reveal a loop that you can clip to something. This is a feature we love in jackets; it means if we get slammed by a thunder or snow storm while several pitches up, we can throw on this jacket for warmth or protection and start our descent.
Pants, however, are another matter. We're not going to throw on a pair of rain pants over our harness while dangling from a hanging belay; we're just going to motor ourselves down and put them on in a sheltered or flat area for the hike out. When we're caught out in a storm, our shoulders and upper body tend to take the brunt of the moisture first. It's when we're hiking through thick, rain dampened brush, or post-holing through deep snow that we find we need waterproof pants.
However, we do understand that rain pants suffer significantly from dirt, grime, sweat, oils, etc., so being able to stow the pants in a way that helps keep them clean can be a great idea. And if you're out for a week and your pants get soaked from hiking through the rain, then it stops, and you take them off, you can bundle them up and prevent them from getting everything else in your backpack wet. So that's cool. You could even clip the pants to the outside of your pack to make sure they're not dripping on anything; this also makes them accessible in the event that the storm kicks back up again.
The highest score in features often was a result of the full set of features featured in the pants. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Alpha SL, earned top scores, as the feature set ensured a highly versatile pair of shell pants, making them an excellent value. We carefully considered what story each pair of pants was trying to tell: is it a fast and light machine? A rugged movement artist? This category mixed things up a bit, with one of our Best Buys, the OR Aspire, earning the second highest score. The Marmot PreCip Full-Zip pants are also incredibly versatile; they have a broad range of features, that when we added their feature set to their light weight, came out as a winner.
Realistically, a lot of rain pants just go for a ride in our backpacks more often than we actually wear them. This makes us care a little more about weight and packed size rather than durability; that is, unless you plan to regularly hike in a torrential downpour. But for most of us, since rain pants are less frequently used, we list durability as our last metric. And our main concern for this metric is for safety; are these pants durable enough to do their job when you need them to? Normal wear and tear should show up more gradually, so we scanned each pair of pants for any red flag catastrophic durability issues. We found none.
After safety, we wanted to know we were getting our money's worth. If the pants are mountain-ready, are they really ready? Will they hold up against a brief encounter with a rock? Or worse, a crampon point? Or are they paper-thin fast-and-light pants that tear when you so much as think about snagging them with your crampons? Alternatively, are these pants that could hold up to some serious wet-weather gardening?
All of the pants got above average marks, with the perfectionists at Arc'teryx stealing the show with the Arc'teryx Beta SL and the Arc'teryx Alpha SL. Runners-up included the Outdoor Research Aspire and the Patagonia Torrentshell. The North Face Venture 2 half zip pants are another durable option with style and comfort points as well.
We hope this review has helped you find an inspiring pair of rain pants to keep you trucking through the cold, dark, wet months of winter, whether your favorite activities include running, hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, or…? We put these pants through tests in all of these activities to shake out the pros and cons of each pair. As outdoor professionals ourselves, we know how important it is to have the right equipment for the right job. Here's to staying dry and stoked all year round!
— Lyra Pierotti