Waterproof Overtrousers Buyer's Guide

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Buyer's Guides

Waterproof Overtrousers | Buyer’s Guide

Check out our roundup of the most important features to look for if you're buying waterproof overtrousers for hill and mountain walking use.

A fully waterproof fabric with sealed seams is a prerequisite for proper wet weather use.

No-one loves waterproof walking overtrousers or shell pants, until it starts raining of course, at which point they become your best friend. So what should you look for when buying a pair and why are they almost always black? Here are some of the most important points to be aware of when you’re shopping for overtrousers.

If you’re looking for individual reviews, check out our Best Waterproof Overtrousers 2016 Reviewed round-up.


Legs seem less affected by breathability than the upper body plus legwear has a tendency to get more of a kicking, which means you can compromise a little more on fabric choice even if you run hot. For lighter weight trousers for occasional use, look for a 2.5-layer fabric, for more durability, a tougher, three-layer fabric is the way to go preferably with reinforcement in high-wear areas like the insides of the ankles, seat and knees. All seams should be taped.

Leg-zips are another vital feature without, at least, an ankle zip, getting overtrousers on an off is a trial.

Fit, Fit, Fit…

You’re looking for an overtrouser that’ll fit in a neat, non-flappy way over your normal walking legwear, but without restricting your movement. You should be able to step up just as freely with your overtrousers in place as without. Equally, you should be able to squat down and even bridge if you plan to use them on scrambles.

Articulated knees can help here, but it’s a very personal thing and we’d advise you to try carefully before buying to avoid the horror of being stuck at, say, a high step-up move on the North Ridge of Tryfan…

Make sure zips slide cleanly without snagging. The best option we’ve found is the YKK Vislon with moulded teeth.

Getting Them On – Zips

The last thing you want to be doing when the heavens open is messing about trying desperately to fit your overtrousers over walking boots – standing on one leg in a soaking wet sock is not a good look. Look for trousers which have decent ankle zips, preferably up to a minimum of knee level or beyond to make pulling them on as easy as possible.

Full-length zips make things even easier, particularly if you’re wearing crampons or skis. In all cases, make sure zips slide easily – YKK Vislon are the best we’ve used – and have storm-flap protection inside or out.

Longer zips can double as useful vents. Make sure they’re back up with a storm flap.

Waist Adjustment

Ideally we’ve found a combination of some elastication along with an integrated, adjustable belt gives the most secure fit, press-stud waist fasteners – two rather than one – work well as do humble button fastenings. Some trousers have conventional belt-loops or even loops to allow you to use braces.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s secure, or odds on, the trousers will make beeline towards your knees during use.

Ankle Adjustment

Flappy ankles are bad news. A simple Velcro strap arrangement or multiple press-studs will allow you to cinch things down neatly around your boots or ankles. Some models have additional elastication to help here as well. Any adjusters should sit on the outside of the leg to stop them snagging on your other foot when you move.

Simple press-studs or a Velcro tab both work for ankle adjustment. Montane uses both here to cinch down the calf for running use.


If you’re out on a day of intermittent showers or habitually wear your shell pants all day, some sort of venting option is a really good call. A few overtrousers have stand-alone vents, but more common are full or 3/4-length side-zips that also double as thigh vents.

These can work really well when the rain stops and the climbing starts, but obviously they will leak when it’s actually raining. There’s no real answer to that dilemma we’re afraid.

Flies and Pockets

A zip-fly can be handy – particularly if you’re an all-day overtrouser type of user, but they do add a little weight and complexity along with a potential leak point. Similarly pockets can be handy, but again are potential leak points particularly worn with a shorter-style jacket. Ultimately though, it’s your call.

If you’re planning on cycling, a reinforced seat is a great addition, this is from VauDe.

And Why Are Most Overtrousers Black?

Basically it’s supply and demand. For general use overtrousers, other colours have tended not to sell in big numbers, so brands tend to play it safe and stick to sombre black.

The one exception is when it comes to more technical shell-pants aimed at mountaineering use where colours, as with jackets, have become brighter and more varied. Of the trousers we reviewed in our 2016 Round-Up, two models, the Mountain Equipment Odyssey Pant and Patagonia’s Alpine Houdini are both available in blue as well as black.

Small and light is great for occasional use, but you may lose out a little on durability and toughness.

How Light And Packable Should You Go?

As ever it’s personal choice: generally the lighter and smaller packing the trousers, the less durable they’re likely to be with continuous, hard use. That said, for occasional emergency use, small and tiny is arguably the way to go, but you should be able to find a pair of reasonably durable all-rounders at around 400g or so.

And If You Hate Overtrousers?

Finally, if you really loathe 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.


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