Nobody I know likes (to buy) rain trousers. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Most of the time they are pretty much dead weight in your pack and, unlike hardshell jackets, they only become useful in the most persistent or heavy showers out there.
On the other hand, hiking or trekking in the rain can be quite a nice experience, but only if you are properly prepared and protected. And even in changeable weather you obviously need proper protection if you’re staying out longer – especially if you are camping out.
To be honest, I’ve put off investing in a pair of proper rain pants for a very long time. They were always on the list, but with limited cash flow (or, you know, more ‘important’ pieces of gear to buy…) they were never on the top. However, as I am planning more and more alpine activities in the near future, the need for proper full body weather protection grew, so I decided to finally cross this one off the list.
During the decision making process I had a number of demands. As I want to wear them only when they are necessary, long zippers, preferably full length ones, were top of the list. Pre-shaped knees, assisting in comfort while ascending and descending, were a close second. Third, weight. As it will likely spend most of its time in my pack, I want my rain gear to be light and packable. However, fourth, it needs to be able to handle a reasonable amount of abuse as well. Life in the mountains can be rough, as you probably know. Last, but certainly not least, was price. I am willing to shell out cash for quality gear, but as I planned to use these pants as little as possible, there were limits.
After some deliberation, trying, and shortlisting, I settled on the Rab Firewall Pants. I’ll tell you why.
Rab is quite well known for its down jackets. Its insulation layers and sleeping bags have seen use in various mountainous regions throughout the company’s 36-year existence. These are known to be excellently designed and produced pieces, and that quality carries over to a lot of Rab’s other gear as well. As one can expect in a 3-Layer shell product, all seams have been taped to ensure no water can seep through stitches. The three-quarter-length zippers are YKK Aquaguard, meaning they are waterproof and durable without the need for an outside storm cover (which means less bulk).
The main material is Pertex Shield+, a 3-Layer shell material that is slightly stretchy, allowing for a very good range of motion. It has a rip-stop face and, as usual, a protective inner layer to shield the membrane from the most corrosive influences of salt and acid coming out of the human body in the form of sweat. The inside also is slightly brushed so it feels somewhat comfortably next-to-skin, which is a nice bonus considering a lot of rain gear, especially the more affordable trousers, are not a pleasure to wear without layers underneath.
I particularly like the careful way the functional details (more on those later) are married to the main material. For example, rivets are popped through the places where draw cords are coming out of their sleeves, ensuring durability. The same amount of attention has gone to some of the other small details, in various ways.
Rain pants come in all shapes, sizes and weights – just like rain jackets. They can be over- or under-featured, or simply too heavy for your intended use. An example: Fjällräven, one of my favorite outdoor brands, has their full-featured hardshell Keb Eco-Shell Trousers. It’s a pretty awesome shell pant as long as you are wearing it – at 660 grams, it is quite a heavy one to put in your pack and carry around just in case. Some other pants are super lightweight, such as Salomon’s Gore-Tex Active Shell Pant. But that one lacks zippers on the side, making it impossible to don and doff without taking your shoes off – a big no-no when you’re in the mountains and the weather changes suddenly.
The trick, then, is to find a pair of rain trousers with just the features you need, no more, no less. The Rab Firewall Pant pulls this off (at least for me). It has a simple, adjustable draw cord waist adjuster on the inside of the elasticated gripper waistband. The side zips have three pullers, so you can create a custom length vent port on any particular height, or access pockets on the pants you are wearing underneath.
The leg endings are adjustable, and have metal buttons so they stay closed at all times. Having just the necessities keeps weight down: these trousers weigh around 330 grams (exact weight dependent on size obviously) and pack down to absolutely nothing. Considering all the features and the quality of the material, that’s great – especially considering they’re not too steep in price.
For a pair of pants designed to be worn over other garments, these are quite tight. I wear size 29-30 waist jeans so I was expecting to fit either size small or medium for this. I got the mediums in the end, due to the fact that the smalls were quite tight around my thighs when worn with a pair of hiking trousers underneath. Now, I do have large upper legs for my waist size so if you’re somewhat more in proportion, your mileage may vary… Length is pretty much spot on, maybe a tad too long. But I think that’s due to me sizing up from a Small to a Medium when lengthwise I’m not the biggest guy around.
There’s three I haven’t mentioned yet, all of which are nice but not strictly necessary, although they barely add weight so what the hell. All logos and letterings reflect light, which is nice considering the pants are black almost throughout. I make a point of wearing at least one brightly colored item of clothing at all times when I am in the mountains to remain visible no matter what happens so the reflective lettering is a nice touch but nothing more. Second, all the adjustment cords are bright red. This makes them stand out from the otherwise black look of the trousers so they are really noticeable, easy when the weather is bad. Last, each leg ending has two small loops on the inside to pull some cord under your boots. Neat, but kind of a hassle.
I bought the Rab Firewall Pants before summer, making sure I had them before going on a climbing trip to the German Alps in Bavaria. I took them with me, but the weather was simply too good. Then again, due to their minimal weight and packing volume, they were not in the way either.
Last week, we had fifteen hours of continuous rain in Amsterdam, my hometown. Now, most people don’t see this as an inviting strolling opportunity, but to me it was the first time I got to try these trousers our for real. They performed as expected, keeping me dry from the outside while breathing reasonably well. To be honest, in any waterproof item, no matter how breathable, you are going to build up a sweat – it is imperative to wear quick drying performance base or mid layers at all times. That’s no different with these ones.
Could they have been better? Sure. There are two things I am missing. Full-length zippers would have been nice, but the three-quarter ones do the job almost as well. And a boot hook to replace the cumbersome loops currently sewn into the leg endings would make life easier if you want to prevent them to ride up (which, with high-top footwear, they don’t really do anyway). Otherwise, for EUR 169,95, these are pretty great lightweight rain pants.
Long, waterproof zippers with three pullers
Simple draw cord adjusters at waist and leg endings
3-Layer Stretch main material
Zippers are not full-length
No proper boot hook
For the price, the Rab Firewall Pants are really great rain trousers. They do their job as well as can be expected, and most functional details are well thought out and executed. Due to their low weight and small pack size, they are not in the way when they are unnecessary (which, to be honest, is most of the time).
The only few things that Rab could improve upon are the zippers (which would have been better if they were full-length) and the boot hook system, which would be better if it were an actual hook, as in the Fjällräven Keb or Vidda Pro Trousers. This would barely increase weight, but it would greatly improve usability. Nevertheless, I would advise to buy these if you’re looking for packable and comfortable rain trousers at not too high a price.