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Cars & travel.

How to buy the best waterproof trousers

A comfortable pair of waterproof trousers is essential if you're caught hiking in bad weather. Find out what features to look for when buying the best waterproof trousers.
Which?Editorial team
How to buy the best outdoor clothingwaterproof trousers 441012

Waterproof trousers are designed to be worn over a base layer of leggings or trousers for protection in wet conditions.

Many are made using microporous fabrics, such as Gore-Tex or eVent. These fabrics contain a membrane made with billions of microscopic holes that are too small for water to get through. Instead, the water forms beads on the outer surface, where it eventually dries up or runs off. The microporous membrane is often sandwiched between a protective outer layer (usually coated with a durable water repellent) and a fabric inner layer that provides additional comfort.

Paramo waterproof trousers are made using Nikwax Analogy fabric, which works in a different way. This doesn’t have a microporous membrane: instead the fabric is 'directional' and works a bit like an animal’s fur to direct water away from the body.

What waterproofing features should I look out for?

Modern waterproofing techniques are so effective that water doesn’t usually get through the main body of fabric - it’s more likely to seep in through the zips, seams and pockets. Features such as taped seams, storm flaps to cover the pockets and zips, and Velcro ankle tabs should reduce the chance of leaks.

You’ll need some protection on your top half, too, so if you’re choosing a waterproof jacket at the same time, one with a drop tail at the back will give added protection to your bottom. 

What about ventilation?

If you’re out on a challenging walk, it won’t be long before you start to sweat, and this can lead to condensation and dampness building up inside your waterproofs. Some waterproof overtrousers include three-quarter-length zips that run up the side of the leg that can be opened to allow some air to circulate.

Are they easy to get on and off?

Waterproof trousers are designed to be put on and taken off as the weather dictates. If you’re caught out in a sudden storm you won’t want to be fiddling around with uncooperative zips and tight ankle openings. Most brands come with leg zips and elasticated waistbands, which should help you get them on and off without having to take your walking boots off first.

Once they’re on, Velcro ankle tabs can help to provide a tight seal around your boots or shoes to protect you from wet vegetation or the occasional puddle splash. A drawstring inside the waistband is a good idea too, as it means you can tighten it up for snug fit and to keep the rain out.

What about comfort?

Make sure you try the trousers on over your normal walking gear to ensure there’s plenty of room to bend your legs when walking or climbing. Shaped or articulated knee sections can help your knees bend more freely for unrestricted movement.

Our latest survey shows that some of you wear your waterproof trousers on their own in the summer and over a base layer in the winter. This was particularly true of Paramo branded trousers. Owners of Paramo waterproof trousers commented that you can wear them on their own because the fabric is soft and doesn’t rustle as much as traditional waterproofs.

How should I care for my waterproof trousers?

You might think that washing waterproof trousers will remove the water-repellent coating, but washing can actually prolong the life of your waterproofs. This is because dirt and oils (such as those from sweat and sunscreen) reduce the water-repellent coating’s effectiveness.

Wash your trousers with liquid soap or a gentle detergent to remove dirt and oil, then tumble dry or iron them on a cool setting. Don’t use fabric conditioner as this may contain oils or fragrances that stay on the fabric.

If you still find they’re not as waterproof as they used to be, you could try topping up the water repellent effect using a wash-in re-proofing product, available from outdoor retailers.

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