We hear about rain gear all the time, but more often than not, people are referring to rain jackets. What about waterproof pants? Do we really need them? Personally, I debated this for years before finally settling on a resounding yes….in certain situations. I once spent a week packrafting and backpacking through Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park in the pouring rain. I had debated bringing waterproof pants but eventually opted to throw them in my backpack. Turns out, it was the best decision I made on the trip, as I wore them the entire time. Waterproof pants can be lifesavers in specific circumstances. And, while you may not always need to bring them with you, there are certain environments and challenges that will always benefit from their inclusion. Below are six instances you may want to consider bringing waterproof pants:
1. You’re hiking in the Pacific Northwest
There are particular areas of the world where rainy, damp weather is simply part of the experience. The Pacific Northwest in the USA is one such area. In the lower 48 states, western Washington and northern Oregon receive the most rain, amounting to more than 100 inches of precipitation annually. Because of this, rainy hikes are the norm there, and due to the regularity of the rainfall, waterproof pants are a great idea. Backpackers and hikers know that they will likely be hiking through rain all day and as such, always bring waterproof pants with them.
2. You’re adventuring in a cold-weather environment
Here is the controversial thing about waterproof pants: do they really keep you dry? In warmer weather, that is debatable, and many people opt against waterproof pants since they tend to trap body heat inside the pant leg, leaving a hiker feeling muggy and damp. For example, the wettest area in the United States is on Kauai, Hawaii, where it rained an average of 460 inches per year between 1931 and 1960. Other parts of Hawaii top 200 inches of rain annually. However, most people don’t pack waterproof pants when they go trekking here because it is so warm, and it is likely that their shorts or hiking pants will dry faster than they would if they were trapped inside waterproof pants. This changes when you go hiking in cold weather, since an added benefit to waterproof pants is their insulating abilities. For example, in parts of southeast Alaska, they average more than 235 inches of precipitation annually. You better believe it is not as warm as Hawaii! In these chillier temperatures, the insulating factor of waterproof pants is super helpful. Not only do the pants keep your legs dry, but they also help keep you warm while on the move. One final note: in both of these situations, more advanced waterproof pants make all the difference. Waterproof pants with GORE-TEX product technology are waterproof and breathable, meaning they avoid the sweat box effect referenced above. If you are hiking in a rainy environment where the temps are bit warmer than you’d prefer, but you still want to wear rain gear, GORE-TEX pants are a great option.
3. Heavy rainstorms are in the forecast
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it needs to be said. If it is heavily storming, waterproof pants are necessary. Some storms bring along brutal wind gusts, and these can throw rain sideways and backwards and in every direction you can imagine. If you’re hiking through this weather with regular, non-waterproof hiking pants, you’ll regret it almost immediately.
4. You plan to be above tree line
In many areas of the western USA, popular hikes will take you above tree line. Tree line is the upper edge of a habitat where trees are capable of growing. This means that once you hike above tree line, you don’t have any tree or large shrub protection to block you from the elements. It also means that it can be windier, which causes rain to blow in circles. As a result, it’s a good idea to bring a set of waterproof pants with you on these hikes. After all, you won’t find any trees to duck under should the sky open up!
5. You’re heading out on a multisports trip
As I mentioned before, there are many multisport trips where the nature of the activity lends itself to waterproof pants. Take packrafting, for example. This activity includes both hiking and paddling in a small, individual-sized inflatable boat. Not only are you constantly in and out of the water, alternating between wet and dry land, but you are also paddling with your legs extended in front of you in the raft. This means that when it rains, it’s open season on your legs and your quads can get soaked. Waterproof pants are exceptionally helpful in this situation.
6. The trail you’re hiking may require bushwhacking
We’ve all been there: you’re trekking along and you encounter a meadow full of dense, thickly growing shrubs that require Herculean efforts to power through. Bushwhacking can be exhausting in great weather with all the scratchy branches and added navigational challenges, but rainy environments add an additional element. When the shrubbery is damp from rainy weather, your entire body ends up sopping wet due to contact. Because of this, waterproof pants are invaluable. Not only will they keep your legs dry, but they will add an extra layer of protection to keep your skin unscathed and unscratched. In the end, you may not use waterproof pants for every adventure. However, if you take adventures that reflect any of the above scenarios, you could greatly benefit from having the added protection included in your pack. Investing in a quality waterproof pant can ensure long-lasting protection on future adventures.