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Published Aug. 20, 2021

Staying dry in the outdoors is more than a matter of comfort. Although soggy pants are no small annoyance, that discomfort pales when compared to the real danger of hypothermia. Wet clothing speeds heat loss through conduction and evaporation, even in temperatures that may not seem life-threatening, so it’s important to choose outdoor apparel that will keep you dry. You don’t even have to be caught in the rain to get your legs wet. Walking in dewy or frosty brush can leave you soaked and chilled from the waist down. Whether you will be hunting, hiking or kayak fishing, you need to choose the best waterproof pants as part of your outdoor gear.

Features of the Best Waterproof Pants

Waterproof pants form a key component of any outdoor clothing system. On their own, they can help you stay dry when hiking, hunting or fishing. Layered over a warm base layer, they become an important piece of cold weather gear, comparable to some snow pants.

Bear in mind that a lot of clothing advertised as rainwear is water-resistant—not water repellent or waterproof. There’s an important difference between the two. Water resistant material is woven tightly enough to keep water out for a while. It’s good enough to keep you dry if you’re caught out in a shower, or for walking through a bit of long, dew-soaked grass. 

On the other hand, waterproof fabrics, also known as water-repellent fabrics, provide a complete barrier against water. Some garments, like PVC rain pants, are completely impervious to water. Others might have a water resistant outer layer backed by a waterproof membrane that breathes to let heat and perspiration vent while keeping water out.

A fabric backed by a membrane can still hold water, so while water won’t get through the membrane, the garment might feel wet and won’t wick moisture as well.

With that distinction in mind, consider which pants are best suited to which activities. If you’re going to be very active you might prefer waterproof hiking pants that are lightweight and breathable. Waterproof hunting pants need to be breathable, layerable and quiet so you don’t spook game. Let’s dig in to find the best waterproof pants for your needs.

Will you be hiking?

Hikers encounter a variety of conditions on the trail, and the best waterproof hiking pants work either as a standalone garment or worn over base layers, or even over other clothing. They should be lightweight, comfortable, easy to move in, and breathable to wick perspiration away if your hike turns strenuous. 

A useful feature on hiking pants is a full length zipper so you can take them off without having to remove your boots. Lightweight material also means the pants can pack down and store in a pocket or daypack when you don’t need them.

Best Waterproof Hiking Pants: Marmot Men’s Precip Pants

Light and Breathable

Light pants made from waterproof NanoPro material pack down small and are easy to put on over other pants. MARMOT

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These men’s waterproof hiking pants have full length zippers on both legs for easy on-off, and the material stretches slightly for ease of movement. Three zippered pockets keep valuables secured, and the mesh pocket linings let you vent heat, too. They have an elastic waist to let them layer easily over other hiking pants if you wish to wear them that way.

Do you need waterproof hunting pants?

Successful hunters hit the field before and after storm fronts pass because they know animals will be active. Waterproof hunting pants will keep you dry and comfortable while you’re waiting for game to show.

Your pants won’t give you away if you choose waterproof material that doesn’t rustle. Camo patterns help you remain hidden. The pants should be easy to move in, and should fit over other layers to keep you warm later in the season.

Best Waterproof Hunting Pants: Sitka Downpour Pants

Silently Dry

Quiet, brushed camo material plus Gore-Tex lining equals stealthy comfort. SITKA Gear

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Optifade Elevated II camo hides you on stand, and the articulated cut keeps you mobile for climbing into your stand and making the shot. Full side zippers let you put them on and take them off without removing your boots, and can be opened as vents to keep you cool.

Are you looking for women’s waterproof pants?

Women don’t always fit into small men’s clothing. Women’s pants need to be cut differently, and that’s especially important for activities like hiking where comfort and mobility matter. Women’s pants have more room in the hips, and that can make a difference both in comfort and in ease of layering them over pants, shorts or base layers

Best Women’s Waterproof Pants: Columbia Women’s Storm Surge Pant

Available in 17 Sizes

Sizes in short, medium and long, plus small to 2x, mean there’s a pair of Storm Surge pants to fit any woman. Columbia

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Storm Surge pants use Columbia’s proprietary, breathable Omni-Tech waterproofing to keep you dry. The lightweight nylon pants have sealed seams and two zippered front pockets and a mesh lining for comfort. An elastic waist lets them fit over layers and a velcro closure lets you snug them over boots. They pack into their own pocket so you can stow them after the storm passes.

Will you be fishing?

If you’re targeting the spring or fall bites, you want clothing that keeps you dry, especially when fishing from a boat or kayak fishing. It’s not all about keeping dry in rain—spray and splashes can get you wet as well as the boat, and sitting down in a puddle will make you miserable quickly. Waterproof pants that also block wind help on a rough day, too.

Best Waterproof Fishing Pants: Huk Gunwale Pant

Double Protection

These comfortable nylon pants have both a waterproof membrane and a water-resistant treatment to give you layers of protection. HUK

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Stored in their own pocket, the Gunwale pants are easy to take along so you’ll always have them when storms threaten or the water gets rough. A drawstring closure lets them fit over a variety of layers. Three zippered pockets keep your valuables from falling overboard. They have a zippered fly, and lower leg zippers allow you to quickly put them on over boots.

Low cost waterproof pants

You can stay dry and comfortable without spending too much money if you’re willing to make trade-offs. Budget waterproof pants can keep you completely dry, but at the expense of the niceties that add to the price tag. The trick to being happy with budget pants is determining what you can give up. Cheap vinyl rain pants, for instance, keep you dry in any downpour, but they’re stiff and don’t breathe. Or, you might have to sacrifice pockets or some other feature.

Best Cheap Waterproof Pants: Frogg Toggs Bull Frogg Pants

Dry on a Budget

The papery material of Bull Frogg pants is waterproof and much more durable than it looks. FROGG TOGGS

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Made to be worn over other clothes, Bull Frogg pants dispense with comforts like a mesh lining and pockets to deliver performance at a low price. Pass-through zippers let you reach the pockets of your pants underneath, and leg zippers open to let you pull these on over most shoes. A drawcord waist keeps the Bull Froggs up.

FAQs

Helping you pick your best rain pants.

Q: Is water repellent better than water resistant?

Not if the idea is to stay dry. Water-resistant garments are made of tightly woven material that will keep water out for a while. They’re fine if you’re caught out on a drizzly day or in a brief shower. Water-repellent garments don’t let water penetrate at all. They are truly waterproof. Note that many water-repellent garments feature an inner waterproof membrane, so the outside can get wet even though moisture doesn’t pass through to your skin.

Q: Are rain pants necessary for backpacking?

Unless you are hiking in extremely dry climates, rain pants should always be a part of your outdoor clothing collection. Not only are you comfortable staying dry, you are less likely to succumb to hypothermia. Rain pants also provide a barrier against the wind. Rain pants can be quite light and packable, so you can take them with you and hardly know they are there until you need them.

Q: When should I put on rain pants?

Putting on rain pants just before a rain, or before hiking into long, wet grass, is obviously ideal, but not always possible. Putting them on too soon may cause you to overheat and sweat. If you put them on after rain starts, you’re already a little bit wet, but the pants will keep you from getting any wetter, and will help you stay warm by adding another layer to trap body heat. It’s a judgment call based on the conditions, but it’s best to always keep rain pants easily accessible so you can put them on quickly.

A Final Tip About Waterproof Pants

Finding the best waterproof pants is easy today. Technology makes it possible for us to wear garments that are much lighter, more supple, and more comfortable than our grandfather’s slickers and waxed cotton. But even the best waterproof pants in the world will do you no good if they’re home or in your vehicle when you’re outdoors and the rain starts. Make sure the waterproof pants you get are easily packable, so you’ll never consider leaving them behind.

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