Waterproof Trousers Buying Guide
Waterproof trousers come in a huge array of different styles, each one best suited to different activities in the outdoors; from super lightweight adventure race kit that you carry for emergencies, to hard-wearing and durable mountaineering pants that are designed to withstand long winter days.
This guide has been written to help you recognise how different features make waterproof pants more suitable for different activities.
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The fabric used in waterproof trousers is often a great indicator as to what kind of use the product is intended for. Although considered waterproof, the level of performance and durability will vary greatly, our guide to waterproof fabrics offers more in-depth information. Generally speaking, super lightweight fabrics are often used for waterproof trousers that are designed for use in emergencies. These don't have a particularly durable face fabric and may never even leave a pack to be worn, but can often be a kit requirement in adventure/ultra races and they must be able to offer a degree of protection should the participant come into difficulty.
On the other side of the spectrum, heavyweight fabrics have a higher denier face fabric and thus offer more durability and protection from the elements. They're usually designed to be worn all day in wintry conditions.
The seams on all waterproof garments should be sealed. Also known as taped seams, these ensure that water doesn't work it's way through the stitch holes in the fabric.
Think about what you want them for, if it is for general hillwalking through late spring to early autumn then you are likely to need to get them out on more than a few occasions, so buying something that offers a good balance of durability and protection is perhaps for the best. Brands like GORE-TEX offer a range of different performance fabrics to suit various activities. Their technology in particular utilises a membrane which allows them to customise the protective face fabric as well as the lining to get the best balance of performance and durability for different outdoor pursuits.
Waterproof trousers come with many different waistband options, and they usually reflect the activity they are intended for. Most of them come with an elasticated waistband that can be pulled on over the top of other trousers easily. However, more technical garments often come with a bibbed front and braces to keep them up. This allows them to have less bulk around the waist, making them more comfortable for wearing with harnesses and hip belts and also ensures better coverage when reaching high on a climb.
Having a strategically-placed zip on the side of waterproof trousers can make it easier to get them on and off on the hill without having to take footwear off. These zips can vary between just a simple ankle zip, to almost full length 2-way zips that can be opened from the top for ventilation when you need it. Although waterproof trousers are generally breathable, the body generates excess heat when working hard, thus it is handy to have a little extra ventilation without sacrificing protection.
More technical waterproof trousers will often have a more robust section of fabric at the instep. This ensures better durability in such a high-wear area, while waterproof mountaineering trousers have an inner gaiter to prevent rain and snow from riding up inside the trouser leg.
Some waterproof trousers will pack away into a stuff sack no bigger than an apple, while others aren't designed to be packed down at all. It's worth bearing in mind what you need them for; if you only want them as a backup just in case you get caught out with the weather then it's quite important that they compress, don't take up too much space, or add a huge amount of weight to your pack. When you are planning to wear them all day, you don't need to worry about whether they pack down or not because durability and outright protection take priority.
When buying waterproof trousers it's important to get a good fit. Some have a tendency to be sized slightly bigger so that they fit comfortably over a pair of existing trousers. This is helpful, but you don't want them so big that your legs become sails on a windy day as this can be particularly irritating or even dangerous. As with any other trousers, you should have enough space to move comfortably without having too much excess that could cause issues.