Depending on where you live and the seasons in which you hike, a pair of completely waterproof pants are either going to be vital or unnecessary. I never dreamed of owning a pair when I lived in California, and I lived in the PNW for years before getting some, because I was a classic fair-weather hiker for a long time and simply didn’t hike if it involved rain or snow. Eventually I grew tired of my self-imposed limits and decided to get a good nylon Gore-Tex waterproof jacket that I could wear in the woods, not just my cute around-town raincoat. Not long afterward, same season actually, I embraced the whole precip thing altogether and got rain pants. And such began the year-round hiking life that I now can’t imagine living without.
So if you either live in a rainy or snowy climate or plan to travel to places of rain or snow to hike, you won’t regret splurging for a pair; they were a complete gamechanger and totally worth it. If you plan to climb any glaciated peaks you’ll definitely need some. And once you and your knees discover the magic of glissading (sliding down a snow-covered mountain on your butt) you’ll love not just how dry they keep your pants but how fast you’ll go!
Fit: Get them oversized enough that you can pull them on over your pants, like a raincoat for your legs. A full-leg zipper is ideal, as you can pull them on and off not just over shoes, but over mountaineering boots with crampons attached. When it’s weathery enough to warrant putting these pants on, you aren’t going to want to take your boots off, and you’re going to want wardrobe changes to be as efficient as possible.
Fabric: For hiking, you’re basically looking at just covering your existing pants with one thin layer of fabric. Unless you’re going to be on a mountaineering trip somewhere very very cold like Denali you don’t want the bulky heaviness of insulated or padded ski pants. Most are nylon, all have a waterproof membrane such as Gore-Tex or eVent.
A Few Recommendations
- REI Rainier Full Zip
- Columbia Storm Surge GTX
- Marmot Pre-Cip Full Zip
- The North Face Venture 2 Half Zip
- Black Diamond StormLine Full Zip
Wendy Harrington is a California native who has lived in a small town at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state since 2001. Her love of trail running and peakbagging has led her to summit all five Washington volcanoes, climb to the high points of three states, and put nearly a thousand miles a year on her boots. Her loves include ridgelines, saddles, granite, one-day pushes on big mountains, anything volcanic, long solo days, and objectives that push limits and test endurance.