Cycling pants are essential for cycling comfort. But most are not cheap and you will have them for a long time, so it is essential to do your research and make sure you get the best cycling pants for your needs. This post includes a chart comparing 7 of the best waterproof cycling pants; reviews of the 7 best pants; videos; and an explanation of the technology that produces pants that are both waterproof and breathable. If you only cycle 4 times a year, then you can probably get away with a cheap $30 pair of cycling pants. But if you cycle regularly, in fair weather or foul, you won’t regret investing in a great pair of cycling pants. They will keep you dry for years of cycling.
Chart Comparing 7 of the Best Waterproof Cycling Pants
|Waterproof and Breathable: 2.5 layers; 100% Polyester; Gore-Tex membrane; Very light Active Shell (Gore-Tex Active Technology); fully seam sealed for wind and waterproofness.||High freedom of movement to cycle, due to pre-shaped knees.||Comfort fit; wear-resistant seat reinforcement for comfort; adjustable elastic waistband; high visibility reflective inserts; available with and without yellow detail on back of legs.||Velcro straps to adjust leg width so as to avoid chain; easy to get pants on and off due to lower-leg zippers.|
|Waterproof and Breathable: 100% Nylon; 3 layers; Artex Hard-shell rip stop fabric; fully seam sealed for wind and waterproofness.||Articulated knees for mobility to cycle.||Lightweight and easy to pack in included mesh stuff sack; reflective trims; optional suspenders available.||Ankle zips for easy on-off over shoes; Velcro cinch straps to keep pant legs away from chain.|
|Waterproof and Breathable: 2.5 layers WxB Laminate with woven polyester face, activated charcoal backer; fully seam sealed for wind and waterproofness.||Bike specific fit for freedom of movement on the bike.||Relaxed fit works over most pants. Light and thin for packing and easy athletic movement; flexible! Matte finish; stretch waistband with Velcro adjusters; no pockets.||Lower leg zippers for easy on/off; Velcro cinch straps to keep pant legs away from chain.|
|Waterproof and Breathable: 3 layers of Artex fabric; fully seam sealed for wind and waterproofness. Waterproof Rating: 10,000 mm (top of the range for Light rain, average snow); Breathability Rating: 10,000 g/m2||Articulated knees and gusseted crotch for mobility on the bike.||3M Scotchlite reflective material provides 360-degree visibility; large pockets with water resistant zippers; optional suspenders available.||Velcro cinch straps to keep pant legs away from chain|
|Waterproof and Breathable: 100% Nylon; 3 layers of Elite waterproof-breathable hardshell fabric; YKK Aqua guard Vislon water-resistant zippers; Fully seam sealed for wind and waterproofness. Waterproof Rating: 15,000 mm (top of the range for Moderate rain, average snow); Breathability Rating: 15,000 g/m2||Articulated knees for easy riding.||Waterproof and Breathable: 100% Nylon hardshell fabric; YKK Aqua guard Vislon water-resistant zippers; optional suspenders available; reflective trim; reinforced seat; zippered vents for extra ventilation.||Thigh vents for extra ventilation.|
|Nylon/spandex blend with a woven water-repellent coating.||Designed to be comfortable for both cycling and walking, so they are baggy with articulated knees.||Designed for pit mechanics and cyclocross racers; comfort fit for walking as well as cycling; 6 pockets; center front opening and closure; zip fly and press stud opening; elastic waist band.||Narrow cut ankles and lower legs.|
|Information not available||Designed for comfort||Highly visible, comfortable to cycle in||Cinch velcro straps to keep them out of your chain|
7 of the Best Waterproof Cycling Pants
These pants rate no. 1 on our list of best waterproof cycling pants because they have it all: the quality of the materials and the construction, and the superb waterproofness and breathability put these pants firmly at no. 1. These are simply outstanding pants – well worth the price for those who can afford it. No wonder they are a top choice with everyone from bike commuters to pro cycling teams to kayakers to skiers.
These pants are made from premium materials: they have 2.5 layers; they are 100% Polyester; and they include the famous Gore-Tex membrane. Gore invented the waterproof and breathable fabric category many years ago. These pants are Gore’s lightweight Active Shell. All Gore-Tex® fabrics are nylon and polyester face fabric, laminated with a Gore-Tex® membrane. They come in a range of grades, including Gore-Tex® Pro, Gore-Tex® Active, and regular Gore-Tex®. Active Shell is a newer Gore-Tex membrane, designed to be very breathable, waterproof, windproof, and lightweight. So the fact that these pants are Gore-Tex Active Shell means they are stellar performers in the waterproof but breathable category – which is what you need for comfy, dry, non-sweaty cycling.
Of course, these cycling pants are also fully seam sealed for wind and waterproofness. (See below if you want to read about what seam sealed means.) These pants also have high visibility thanks to reflective inserts. The Gore Bike Wear Men’s Element Gore-Tex Active Pants also offer ample storage with a zipped stow pocket on the back of the pants. This is very useful if you don’t want to be standing in the pouring rain, digging under your cycling pants to try and retrieve your keys from your regular pants underneath.
This video provides a graphic overview of these cycling pants:
In terms of design, there is an adjustable elastic waistband with a flat cord. Also, the pants have been optimized for cycling. One of the things I don’t like with cheap plastic cycling pants is that feeling that you cannot move properly. These pants offer a high level of freedom of movement with pre-shaped knees. They are also comfort fit and comfortable to wear. The wear-resistant seat reinforcement increases comfort. The pants come with washing instructions that explain how to reactivate the Gore-Tex with each washing.
Finally, they have adjustable leg width (essential in cycling pants to avoid contact with your drive chain). You adjust the leg width with Velcro fastenings. And it is easy to get the pants on and off over your shoes, thanks to zippers on the lower legs. All in all, these are great, practical, well-made cycling pants that should be excellent for bike commuters who cycle in the rain.
|Buy it now! Find the best price for Gore Bike Wear Element Gore-Tex Active Pants|
Note that there is also an excellent women’s version of these premium cycling pants.
Also note that there are two versions of Gore Bike Wear Element Pants – one has a bright yellow strip, one does not, as shown in the photo below (the photo shows two views of the pants with the yellow strip – from the front and from the back). You can choose either. Personally, I prefer the pants with the bright yellow strip, as I like to be as visible as possible in the dark and the rain. Clicking on the photo below will take you to the product details and price for the version with the yellow strip.
These Showers Pass Transit Cycling Pants are completely waterproof and breathable, made from 3 layers of premium materials: 100% Nylon, and Artex Hard-shell rip-stop fabric. They are fully seam sealed for wind and waterproofness. Reflective trims increase visibility. Optional suspenders are available. Some cyclists find these handy to help keep their rain pants up, so they don’t cinch down.
Articulated knees make for easy cycling with these Showers Pass Transit Pants. As these pants are lightweight, they can easily be packed into the mesh stuff sack that comes with them. Ankle zips are provided for easy on-off over cycling shoes, while Velcro cinch straps keep your pant legs away from your chain. The photo shows several different views of the pants. On the far right you can see the lower leg zip that enables you to easily pull the pants over your shoes. I also really like the white strip down the side, which increases visibility.
|Buy it now! Find the best price for Showers Pass Transit Cycling Pants|
The Pearl Izumi cycling pants are completely waterproof and breathable, made from 2.5 layers of premium materials. It’s two and a half layers because the WxB membrane is laminated to a polyester twill shell fabric and a lighter mesh liner layer to reduce the weight and size. The pants are fully seam sealed for wind and waterproofness. Note however that these pants have NO pockets. Some people find the stretch waistband with Velcro adjusters scratchy, but usually you would be wearing these on top of other pants, not against the skin. These pants have a bike-specific fit for freedom of movement while cycling. The relaxed fit works over most cycling or regular pants.
A fun fact is that these Pearl Izumi cycling pants are quiet when you are wearing them – no swishy plastic noises! They are also light and thin, making them great for packing into your pannier and forgetting about. The thinner material allows for easy athletic movement; in fact, they are flexible enough to play soccer in them! The pants are good looking with a matte finish, not a shiny, plastic look.
|Buy it now! Find the best price for Pearl Izumi - Ride Men's Select Barrier WxB Pants|
These waterproof and breathable cycling pants have three layers of Artex fabric and are fully seam sealed. Note that Showers Pass is unusual in that they often provide the Waterproof and Breathability Ratings for their products. Unfortunately, most other manufacturers don’t supply this information, which makes it hard (impossible?) to compare across brands. But it speaks very well of the company that they provide this information. Also, Showers Pass is situated in the rainy north-west, so they know about rain! These pants have a Waterproof Rating of 10,000 mm (which is top of the range for light rain, average snow); and a Breathability Rating of 10,000 g/m2. The Breathability Rating refers to how many grams of water vapor can pass through a square meter of the fabric in 24 hours. Obviously, the higher the number, the better.
These pants stand out from all the other pants in this lineup in that they are not black! (That’s why I have rated them as no. 4, ahead of the Showers Pass Refuge at no. 5, even though the latter has a higher rating for waterproofness and breathability.) Instead, these pants are bright yellow and reflective! They use 3M Scotchlite reflective material so that you are highly visible from all angles, including from space! I think there should be a lot more pants that offer these brighter colors. This video demonstrates the pants:
For convenience, these pants have large pockets with water resistant zippers. You can also buy optional suspenders, to help keep them up so they don’t cinch down. Some cyclists experience this as a problem with rain pants. Personally I have never had this problem (probably because I cleverly use excess chub to keep my pants up), but I can see how it would be really unpleasant as it would allow water to get in.
These pants also have articulated knees and a gusseted crotch to ensure you can be fully mobile on your bike. And Velcro cinch straps to enable you to keep your pant legs away from your drive chain.
The photo below illustrates two of the things I love about these Showers Pass Visible Pants: no. 1, they are highly visible; no. 2, they have a zip on the lower leg to make it easy to get the pants on and off over. The pants in the photo are the women’s version, which have a women-specific cut.
These waterproof and breathable cycling pants have three layers of Elite material, which is a 100% Nylon hardshell fabric. They also feature YKK Aqua guard Vislon water-resistant zippers. And of course, they are fully seam sealed. These pants have a Waterproof Rating of 15,000 mm (which is top of the range for Moderate rain, average snow); and a Breathability Rating of 15,000 g/m2.
There are optional suspenders available, to help keep them up so they don’t cinch down and expose your waist to rain. For cycling ease, these pants have articulated knees.
Other features I like about these pants: plenty of reflective trim helps to keep you visible from all angles; a reinforced seat helps to ensure the pants are durable; and there are zippered vents for additional ventilation. In all, these are well designed to be high performance rain pants.
These Castelli Meccanico Rain Pants were designed to keep pit mechanics and cyclocross racers warm and dry, so they are somewhat different from the other pants in this post. Pit mechanics spend most of their time NOT on bikes, and cyclocross riders spend time both on and off the bike. Therefore, these pants have a baggier cut that is designed for walking, with narrow cut lower legs and ankles, plus articulated knees, so that you can suddenly hop on a bike. They are also not quite as waterproof as all the others, made from a nylon/spandex blend with a woven water-repellent coating. Water will bead on it.
On the plus side, lots of pockets! The Castelli Meccanico Rain Pants have six pockets to carry tools (two in the front, two in the rear, and two on the thigh).
Unusually, these pants have a center front opening and closure, with a zip fly and press stud opening, and a gathered jacquard elastic waistband.
No. 7: Proviz Nightrider Waterproof Trousers, Safety Yellow
These pants make it onto the list because you can SEE them! What a concept – pants that make it easier to see cyclists in the dark! Plus, these pants are highly rated and many people love them.
They also are comfortable to cycle in, and have cinch velcro straps at the bottom to keep them out of your chain. Both legs have an assortment of plastic snap buttons that allow you to make them shorter or longer so they stay over your shoes while you are cycling.
And … oh yes … they’re pretty cheap!
How to Choose the Best Waterproof Cycling Pants
What Kind of Fabric is the Best for Waterproof Cycling Pants?
The fabric is the most important aspect to think about when it comes to waterproof garments. Bear in mind that it is easy to make a waterproof fabric – for example, a cheap trash bag is totally waterproof. However, you would not want to wear a trash bag! Quite apart from the fact that it would not look good and would not have sleeves – it also does not BREATHE. So what you need is a clever combination of waterproofness and breathability, plus comfort and mobility in wearing the pants.
Good Cycling Pants should be Breathable AND Waterproof
Waterproof cycling pants are usually worn over top of other pants, such as tights or even regular pants. This means that there is a high potential for your legs to get really sweaty. In fact, if the fabric in your cycling pants does not breathe at all, your legs are guaranteed to get extremely sweaty. The clever trick that great waterproof cycling pants get right is this: they stop the rain from coming IN, while letting the water vapor produced by your sweat OUT. So they are breathable AND waterproof. This is pretty sophisticated, if you think about it, because rain and sweat are almost the same thing – variations of water (H2O). Manufacturers achieve this apparent contradiction by putting tiny pores in the fabric. Water vapor can pass out of them, because water vapor molecules are not bound together, so individual tiny molecules can pass through the tiny pores. However, water molecules are bound together and therefore bigger, and cannot get in through the fabric.
Gore-Tex Technology for Waterproof Cycling Pants
The W. L. Gore Corporation pioneered this breathable AND waterproof technology for outdoor clothing way back in 1978, with their popular laminate technology. They called their new fabric Gore-Tex. Since then, a lot of other name brands have arrived on the market, such as eVent, Polartec and many generics. But Gore-Tex is like Hoover – they are so associated with the brand that many people refer to the entire breathable AND waterproof category as Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex still make great products (and are my personal favorites), but Gore-Tex certainly are NOT the only company that makes great breathable AND waterproof clothing.
Fun fact: Gore-Tex fabrics have over 1.4 billion micro-pores per square centimeter!
Types of Waterproof Fabrics
There is a range of waterproof fabrics, with a range of levels of waterproofness. Most of them have two or three layers, with some having 2.5 layers.
Outer layer: This layer is called the “face fabric” – and is usually nylon or polyester. This outer layer is not waterproof, but it is usually treated with a durable water repellant (DWR) to bead water. This is a great thing to see on your pants as you are riding – rain falls on you, but then it beads together into big lumps, which do not penetrate the fabric. You can even brush the lumps off. Note that over time DWR layers start to wear off, but can be rejuvenated by simply running them through your washing machine. If it wears off completely, you can even spray on a fresh layer of DWR. For example, Nikwax TX Direct Waterproofing.
Middle layer: A coated or laminated membrane – which is usually Teflon or Polyurethane. This is where the magic happens: this membrane can breathe, but at the same time is waterproof, thanks to microscopic holes. So it keeps the rain in and lets your sweat out!
Inner layer: Some fabrics also have a tri-coat mesh bonded to the inner surface. This mesh helps to remove the moisture, so that the jacket is much less likely to cling to your arms.
These are the layers.
Most good cycling pants use a variety of combinations of the above layers. From all this, you can start to appreciate why good waterproof cycling pants are not cheap!
Degrees of Waterproofness in Waterproof Cycling Pants
Read the product description carefully when buying waterproof cycling pants. The manufacturer should tell you how waterproof they are. Basically, there are three levels:
Waterproof: made from a waterproof fabric and has taped seams
Water resistant: suitable only for light, short showers, as it is not made from a waterproof fabric and does not have taped seams
Water repellent: has been given a hydrophobic treatment to reduce the amount of water the fabric will absorb
Note: All of our top-rated best waterproof cycling pants in this post are waterproof (and windproof).
Extra Ventilation for Waterproof Cycling Pants
There is one thing that is certain on a bike – you will be warmer 10 minutes after you start cycling than when you start! So you might start off feeling very comfortable, and then feel unbearably hot once you have been riding for a while. Some pants offer additional ventilation options to let more heat escape. Most common are zippered vents that you can open.
Related Content: How to Dress for Winter Cycling
Sizing and Fit of Cycling Pants
Because you are likely to have at least one and possibly two layers underneath your waterproof cycling pants, it is a good idea to go for a more relaxed fit. Of course, most cycling clothes tend to be quite form fitting, but cycling pants often come with a more relaxed fit, as they are designed to to be worn over top of other pants. The product description usually gives a good idea of what to expect.
Cycling Pants Should be Seam Sealed
When clothing is sewn, the needles create tiny holes. Seam sealing (aka seam taping) is a process in which these tiny holes are covered with a heat application of thin, waterproof tape. Cycling pants may be fully taped or critically taped. With fully taped pants, every seam is taped. With a critically taped item, the tape is only applied high exposure areas, such as the front of the thighs. Ideally cycling pants should be fully seam taped, as the rain and wind can come at you from many directions, and with a lot of force. For example, water will come at you from the ground when you cycle through puddles.
Getting Your Cycling Pants On and Off
This can be an issue, but well designed cycling pants will be easy to get on and off, even if you are wearing shoes. This could happen if, for example, you are out riding and it starts raining, so you need to stop to pull your cycling pants over your tights or trousers. Also, I know a lot of people leave their wet cycling pants draped over their bikes in a bike cage during the day, to dry off while they are at work. For them, being able to just pull the pants on over their cycling shoes is important. On the other hand, the pants cannot be too wide, otherwise you could have an issue with your chain. For this reason, the best cycling pants have zips in the lower half of the leg, often combined with a Velcro cinch system to get the bottom half as narrow as possible.
Cycling with Cycling Pants
Of course, you want your cycling pants to be comfy to cycle in. Again, the best cycling pants will be designed for this. They should be roomy enough, yet have Velcro at the ankles to cinch them up so they don’t get caught in your chain. The best manufacturers include features such as articulated knees so that they are easier to cycle in.
Pockets in Cycling Pants
Remember, this is your outer layer. You don’t want to get home and be stuck outside in the rain, digging under your cycling pants to try to get to your keys in your regular pockets! So, pockets are really handy. Almost all of the cycling pants in this post have pockets – with the exception of the Pearl Izumi cycling pants. Of course, if your cycling jacket has good pockets, you can do without pockets in your pants.
Related Content: How to Dress for Winter Cycling
Color and Reflective Elements in Waterproof Cycling Pants
These pants will always be your outermost layer, so it is a good safety feature if they are a bright color, and even better when they have some reflective elements. However, most cycling pants come in dark colors (black or grey!), so the most you can hope for are some decent reflective elements.
There you have it – everything you need to know about how to buy really great waterproof cycling pants. Make your choice based on your cycling needs. All of these pants will keep you dry, not make you too sweaty, last for years, and help you to enjoy your cycling!
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