They're not sexy, and they're usually black, but when the rain really buckets down, waterproof overtrousers are your best friend. The rest of the time though, they're more of a necessary evil, kind of a unwelcome hanger-on lurking in the depths of your pack. The trick is to get the balance between weight and usability just right and to help you do that, we've picked out a selection of the best packable, all-round hill and mountain walking overtrousers for our latest kit round-up.
We're not concerned with full-on all-day technical mountaineering shell trousers, more the sort of waterproof stand-by you carry in your pack, pull on when the heavens open, and take off again once it dries out. Considerations to look at include how light and packable they are, how easy they are to take on and off, whether they have venting options for when things get hot and steamy and how comfortable and unrestrictive they are in use.
Just use the thumbnails and arrows to navigate through the overtrousers or if you're interested in a particular product, click on the link below for instant transport to your destination. Finally, if you really hate overtrousers with a cold and fiery passion, we've put together a selection of Alternative Winter Walking Trousers, which give high levels of protection from a single layer, all-day pant.
To check out all the trousers either scroll down the page or jump straight to your favoured brands via the links below.
Bergans of Norway Breheimen 3-Layer Pant - £200 / 390g
The Breheimen's are the weightiest pant here, but it's not just that which makes them stand out. In effect they're a classic walking trouser, but made from a tough, three-layer, waterproof fabric with some built-in stretch. They have belt-loops, four zipped-pockets - two hand, one thigh one seat - and mesh-backed vents on the inside of the thigh.
What they don't have is any sort of side-zip and we found the medium-narrow leg and anke cut meant we couldn't fit them over our walking boots, so they're more of an all-day choice unless you're prepared to hop around on one-leg mid-walk. Once they are on, they're a decent all-day option thanks to the zip-fly, stretch and easy movement.
The unconventional vents work well too, helping you to keep your cool when things get hot. In really heavy rain, we're a little wary of the zip-fly even though it has a double storm-flap, but if your jacket covers it, you should be fine.
The difficulty in taking these on and off over boots will be a deal breaker for some, but once they are on, the Breihemen 3-layer Pants are a reassuring and comfortable weatherproof companion and the unconventional vents work well.
For more information visit www.bergans.eu.
Berghaus Light Hike HydroDry Overtrousers - £90 / 220g
Using a lightweight, 2.5-layer version of Berghaus's own-brand HydroDry fabric, which has a appearance and feel similar to Gore-Tex Paclite with smooth, grey inner coating, the Light Hike Overtrousers are decently light and packable making them easy to carry.
When push comes to shower, the 3/4-length zips make it easy enough to slide them on over a pair of average size 9 hiking boots before zipping up. The waist is a seriously elasticated, idiot-proof configuration with enough bite that we didn't need to use the additional cord adjuster, which is pretty much superfluous.
Fit is neat enough that we didn't need the simple ankle adjuster either. Despite the lack of obvious knee articulation and a neat-ish fit, we had no issues with mobility and high steps in particular and the fabric slid easily over a pair of walking trousers.
The fabric, like most of those tested, has middling rather than outstanding breathability, but we found it okay and, as a bonus, on showery days you can use the zips to vent your thighs and knees rather than either getting hot and sweaty or faffing about taking the trousers off again.
One thing, worn over the wrong trousers - jeans for example - we found them slightly restrictive, probably because of friction between the two fabrics, over stretch walking trousers though, they were fine.
Light and protective overtrouser with handy venting options. We don't expect them to be super durable, but the ventilation makes them a good option on showery days and the light weight and small pack size means you don't begrudge them space in your pack.
For more information visit www.berghaus.com/mens-light-hike-hydroshell-overtrouser.
Craghoppers Travelite Overtrouser - £40 / 260g
Loosely cut and without any particular pretensions, the Travelite represent good value if you're on a budget. Knee-length zips make it easy to slip them on over even bulky walking boots and a wide, elasticated waist-band holds things in place nicely. You even get ankle adjustment using simple Velcro-fastened flaps and twin zipped hand-pockets.
For all-day use, the fabric lacks breathability and there are no venting options, so under duress things can get a little hot and steamy, but so far they've kept us dry even if there's an element of flappiness to the looser-fitting cut.
Good value, reasonably light and packable, and so far waterproof in use, but loose cut and limited breathability are the downside of the affordable price-tag.
For more information visit www.craghoppers.com/womens-travelite-overtrousers-0-9.html.
Montane Atomic Pants - £80 / 193g
Made from lightweight Pertex Shield 2.5-layer fabric, the Atomic Pants have a close, neat fit that can be sleeked down even further with hook and loop calf tabs that reduce lower leg flappage when running. Despite that, generous ankle-zips mean you can still don them over walking boots, though the flap-backed zip isn't the smoothest-running one we've ever used and can feel snaggy and they can be a little awkward to remove with bigger boots.
Light weight and small pack size make them ideal for shoving into a lid pocket or bum-bag just in case, but the neat cut manages to be unrestrictive thanks to artfully-shaped knees and while the standard Shield fabric isn't the most breathable out there and there are no venting options, it's fine for short sharp use and even for running.
Light and packable with a neat fit and reasonably easy to take on and off though they can be awkward with bulkier boots, the Atomic Pants make effective, lightweight rain protection with the neat calf-zips reducing flapping when running in particular.
For more information visit www.montane.co.uk/en/men/clothing/waterproof/atomic-pants.
Mountain Equipment Odyssey Pant - £140 / 310g
New this spring, the Odyssey Pant is made from a three-layer version of ME's own-brand Drilite fabric, that means they weight approximately 100g more than many of the other pants tested, but the pay-off is a sturdier, more durable feel.
It's also the only option here to have full-length side-zips which has two big pluses: you can put them on easily over even the bulkiest boots or even while wearing skis or crampons plus you can use the two-way zip to give almost unlimited venting to the thigh when things get warm and sticky.
Another plus is that those zips are moulded tooth YKK Vislon which are super strong, but also flow really smoothly making them very easy to use.
The rest is good too. The cut is close, but articulated knees and a gusseted crotch means that they're still unrestrictive despite minimal flapping. The ankle cinches down with a Velcro tab for a close fit over boots.
Not the cheapest or the lightest, but the combination of fabric, cut and the excellent full-length zips make these a cracking all-rounder that still represent excellent value for the spec. Recommended unless you're committed to gramme shaving.
Patagonia Alpine Houdini Pants - £120 / 138g
Not to be confused with the windproof Houdini Pants, the Alpine Houdini is a lightweight 'emergency' waterproof overtrouser aimed at walkers and climbers who want a super-packable package that still gives full protection when needed.
Our medium-sized pair weighs in at just 138g and there's lots to like about them. For a start, Patagonia has used a lightweight, 2.5-layer version of its proven H2No fabric for the bulk of the pant, but the seat and inner cuff areas are reinforced with a slightly heavier grade of the fabric to give added durability without pushing the weight up.
Similarly simple elasticated - 'elasticized' - cuffs and waistband help to reduce weight and bulk and everything packs neatly into a small thigh pocket to create neat package around the size of a medium potato complete with clip-loop. Very neat, very stowable.
We like the cut too. It's close enough to be non-flappy, but we didn't find it restrictive at all, high-steps were easy for example.
Once on they're great, but - and it's a fairly big but - the lack of any sort of leg or even a modest ankle zip makes them somewhat fiddly to get on, not ideal when that sudden cloud burst hits. We found they fitted easily over rock boots or compact running shoes and could be manipulated carefully over approach shoes.
They also, just squeeze over a pair of traditional Alt Berg walking boots, but it's a real boots, for us, would be a no go, and if you have larger than our size 43 feet, you may find things tougher still.
A short ankle zip would make things considerably easier and ironically the windproof Houdini Pant - aimed at trail runners in particular - have just such a zip. We don't get it...
We love the fit, fabric, light weight and compact pack size of the Alpine Houdini Pants, they're an ideal stand-by on days when you need an emergency back-up, but pack space is limited. The one proviso is that you'll also need Houdini-like guile to get them on and off - add some sort of lower leg zip and these would be perfect.
VauDe Yaras Rain Zip Pants - £100 / 270g
The Yaras is a lightweight waterproof overtrouser with a bonus; a reinforced seat insert plus calf and ankle Velcro adjustment tabs at ankle and calf mean they also work on a bike.
Getting them on and off is straightforward thanks to a full-length zip protected by a full storm-flap with Velcro tabs and while we don't love the metal clip fasteners up top, it also means you can vent the thigh area without full-on gaping zip syndrome.
The main fabric is a 2.5-layer lightweight material with a Nylon face, but there's also that bike-friendly seat insert made from a tougher fabric. Cinch the calf and ankle area up with the Velcro tabs provided and you're you're good to go for cycle touring or commuting. You could also wear them on a mountain bike, but we suspect the lightish fabric would suffer in any sort of abrasive crash scenario... They might also be a little warm for full-on anaerobic efforts when you get hot and sweaty.
For more general use they work well. A handy zip-fly makes toilet stops easier. mobility is fine and the venting option is welcome when things get sweaty. And while they're not as light and compact as the Alpine Houdini, they still pack down decently small and weight less than 300g.
Versatile, fully featured all-rounders with secret cycling powers, the cut isn't as neat as some, but they're easy to take on and off, have venting options and do an all-round competent job.
Verdict - Our Best Buys
It's hard to get super excited about waterproof overtrousers, but when the heavens open, you'll be glad you packed them. All the trousers we tested kept us dry, but these were our top picks.
For all-round use rather than just emergency deployment, we found it hard to see past the Mountain Equipment Odyssey Pant. The fit is excellent, full-length, smooth-running YKK Vislon zips make them super easy to get on and off, and while they're not ultra-lightweight, they're not ridiculously heavy either and feel decently durable too. Just a really good all-round mountain pant.
If you want a lighter option, we like the Berghaus Light Hike HydroDry Overtrousers with their ability to vent the thigh area scoring extra points.
Best Lightweight Option
The obvious choice here is the Patagonia Alpine Houdini Pant which is nicely cut and specced and packs down into its own thigh pocket. The one proviso is that you may find getting them on and off a bit of a faff over bulkier footwear.
If you simply can't be bothered with that, we'd suggest gritting your teeth and opting for the Montane Atomic Pantsinstead. Yes they're 50g heavier, but they're easier to get on and off and 40 quid cheaper too.
If You Cycle Too
Finally if you're after a versatile lightweight overtrouser that you can also use on the bike, the VauDe Yara Rain Zip Pants is a good choice thanks to the reinforced seat and cinchable calf area.
Don't Want Overtrousers
Finally if you hate the bulk and restriction of conventional waterproof trousers, check out our selection of Alternative Winter Walking Trousers which give high levels of protection from a single layer, all-day pant.