Growing up in northern climates, the battle between the elements and my motivation to go ride has been raging for decades. Of course, as a little kid it’s fun to stomp in puddles, getting soaking wet and cold, but as an (alleged) grownup, the consequences of one’s actions start to unfold into the bitterness of reality. Do I really want to put on wet riding shoes again? Do I really feel like doing laundry for the fourth day in a row? Do I really want to spray my undercarriage with a cold, muddy pressure washer while sitting in a gritty coating of goo for hours? I’ll be honest, sometimes the answer is a resounding “duh dun,” followed by the soft, warm glow of the Netflix logo.
I’ve tried various types of protection over the years; from the classic Sombrio Wildcard pants to NRS whitewater kayaking pullovers to “Waterproof Motorcycle Trousers.” Some options have been better than others. Over the last couple years I basically gave up and just wore regular riding pants all year, resigned to the cold, wet soggy lifestyle with the small boon of not having to deal with the muddy shin after-care.
Then I discovered waterproof socks, and my world changed. The hope of a dry, warm future still smoldered and by gosh I was going to figure out how to make it a reality. I checked back into the crap-weather pant offerings and there are some radical new pants out there.
The following is a collection of lower-body weather protection ranging from the fully waterproof shells to the insulated comfy cozies. Some, you might only wear in the absolute worst riding conditions, while others stretch into the shoulder-season realm. It’s not everyday you need full-on, hardshell, elemental-HazMat trousers—sometimes you only need splash protection or even just insulation to keep the bite of the wind out. These four pants cover a broad range of use cases, so whether you need pants for full apocalyptic rainstorm protection or sub-zero thermal insulation, there’s something for you.
Endura MT500 Freezing Point Trousers | $200
- Insulated, cold weather pant
- Primaloft insulation
- Trim fit, room for kneepads but not a base layer
I was a bit confused when the new Freezing Point kit showed up on my doorstep. Essentially, Endura made a Primaloft version of their excellent MT500 fully waterproof attire, which is great, except that the Freezing Point pants and jacket aren’t waterproof. I was scratching my head thinking, “but when it’s cold it’s always wet, right?” Then I remembered that even though the PNW never likes to dry scoop its pre-work, the rest of the world has plenty of places where the freezing cold comes with humidity in single digits. That’s where the Freezing Point line-up comes in clutch.
The Freezing Point uses Primaloft Gold synthetic insulation where the wind hits, and wind-blocking, microfiber-lined, breathable fabric elsewhere. The Primaloft insulation is commonly used throughout the outdoor world, in part because of its great, well, insulation properties but also because it doesn’t lose much of its loft when saturated, compared to something like down. In use, the Freezing Point pants are warm well into the 20s (Fahrenheit), even the high teens if you’re working hard, and stay warm even in the pouring rain. It’s not intended as a rain pant, but you won’t be shivering your bits off if you get caught out with these pants on.
Ideally though, the Freezing Point is designed for cold, dry climates where heat convection is your worst enemy. Think cold smoke days where it might be below freezing but there isn’t moisture on the ground or in the sky. In these conditions, breathability and wind-proofing are key. The Freezing Point only puts that insulation in the front, the area that gets the most icy blasts, while dumping excess heat out the back and sides. On the trail, the pants are exceptionally warm, even to the point where I can’t ride in them unless it’s hovering around or below freezing.
I pretty much haven’t taken the Freezing Point trousers off since October. From e-bike commuting to slapping icy puddles to winter shop nights in an unheated garage, the Freezing Point is beyond useful on or off the trail. They breathe very, very well for an insulated pant and have generous thigh vents to dump heat when you need to do so. With the hatches are battened down, those icy fingers of winter don’t have a chance of breaking in.
The fit of the Freezing Point is fairly trim and long; I have a 36” inseam and the pants sit about two inches above my ankle bone wearing kneepads. For the average inseam, they’d probably be perfect and sit just on the top of most mid-cut riding shoes. There are two zippered pockets large enough for a phone, and the ankle cuffs zip open to accommodate higher winter riding boots.
The downside to the Freezing Point is that they can be too warm, as I mentioned. Really, you can’t ride in these above 40 degrees Fahrenheit without sweating up a storm. On a cosmetic note, the dye used in the thigh panels fades over time, leaving you with black and purple pants. Not a big deal, but for a $200 pant, I’d like to choose my color and keep it too.
If you like dark purple though, or just are sick and tired of being cold, you can check out the MT500 Freezing Point here.
POC Ardour All-weather Pant | $250
- Waterproof only in the seat and lower legs
- Meant for wet trails or light rain
- Very breathable and comfortable
- Fitted, like DH pants
I don’t always get along with gear from POC, but the Ardour pants blew me away this winter. Don’t let the “all-weather” part of the name fool you into thinking the Ardour is just another soft-shell pant lathered in DWR, it’s actually a mix of 3-layer, fully-waterproof panels and DWR-lathered soft shell. And dang, does it make so much sense once you wear them.
The thing about fully-waterproof gear is that most of it isn’t very stretchy. 7mesh’s Thunderpant and its GORE-TEX Pro construction are a great example of this; it might work wonders in keeping you dry, but it hinders bike yoga. Here’s the other thing, a lot of time, you don’t actually need fully waterproof gear. Say the trails are just puddle-ridden and there’s a light drizzle, but not a downpour—think most days in the PNW. Your backside and shins are going to fire-hosed the whole way down, but your thighs might not have a drop of water on them. Say it’s in the mid-40s with high humidity too; do you wear fully waterproof gear and hot box, or do you wear regular riding pants and get a wet butt? What about neither? It’s almost like POC decided to make a pant for the conditions we (or at least I) ride in 75% of the time during fall, winter and spring, where most brands go for the gnarly 25% that demands the most burly of waterproof fabrics.
On the trail, the Ardour really just feels like a normal pair of riding pants, albeit a tad bit more crinkly. The fit is tapered and fitted, closing with nicely elastic ankles that stay out of the way. There are three zippered pockets, one each leg and one card pocket at the small of the back. The elastic waist is comfortable and the pants have about as much stretch as a normal DH/trail pant would.
Pedaling hard, it’s rare to really overheat wearing the Ardours and as they have permeable panels on the thighs, moist air quickly evacuates to dry things out when the speed picks up. I’ve worn these on a few rides where I was the only one in waterproof gear, and I never felt like I was the weird one pedaling in a personal sauna; seriously, the Ardours are Comfy with a capital “C.”
As for the waterproof aspects, POC protected all the right places. Your seat, calves and knees are fully waterproof, in addition to extra Cordura layers over the seat and knees for longevity. Spray from damp trails is handled in stride, keeping your tushy warm and dry. They might be pricey, but they’re dang versatile on the trail. If I were to only have one pant on this list, the Ardour might be the pick. Check them out here.
7mesh Thunderpant | $300
- Fully waterproof, no-nonsense weather protection
- Articulated fit for riding position
- GORE-TEX Pro material
- Trim fit, but with room for a base layer and kneepads
I waited years for the Thunderpant. Years. Ever since I got my hands on 7mesh’s Revelation jacket, I was a believer in the way the Squamish brand approached bike wear. It’s a no-nonsense, quality-trumps-all mindset that really shows in the final product. Spoilers, the Thunderpant is no exception—well, mostly.
The Thunderpant is like a thunder jacket for humans who ride mountain bikes. If you don’t know what a thunder jacket is, it’s a tight-fitting jacket for animals who are stressed out; it’s like a comforting hug to them. In comparison, the Thunderpant is like a suit of foul-weather armor for riders who have the audacity to live in places where the saying, “if you don’t ride in the rain, you don’t ride at all,” holds true. If you want full-spectrum protection, the Thunderpant is the pant for you.
The GORE-TEX Pro fabric 7mesh uses is top-tier when it comes to cold-weather waterproofing—you’re going to stay dry, period. As just a hardshell pant, you might find yourself wanting a thermal layer underneath in really cold temps, and the trim but not fitted cut of the Thunderpant will let you rock those toasty wool tights you got yourself for Christmas. The pant, with its full-length side zips, goes on and off over shoes and pads easily, making egress into the heated front seat of the car post-ride a quick and easy feat.
While GORE-TEX Pro isn’t the most breathable waterproof fabric out there, it’s pretty dang good and for pants, close has been good enough during testing. I pedaled my heart out on 50-degree day in the pouring rain, riding a 170-mm bike with DH casing tire on XC trails, and only managed to outpace the Thunderpants ability to dump heat and moisture on the longest, slowest climbs. As soon as things pointed downhill again, the slight thigh sauna disappeared in the wind. Staying dry comes down to keeping water out as well as getting sweat out. The Thunderpant delivers on both counts, assuming you’re not riding in a tropical rainstorm (which I couldn’t test this year, sorry).
The Thunderpant isnt’ perfect though; let’s talk more about fabric. GORE-TEX Pro isn’t a stretchy fabric, in fact it doesn’t really stretch at all. Even with 7mesh giving the pants pre-articulation and bike-specific cut, I’ve found that even with normal pedal stroke, my legs want to move past where the fabric is capable of going. This results in the pants pulling slightly and shifting with each stroke, which gets annoying. The waistband is also very low compared to other pants, both befuddling me and compounding the lack of mobility problem—I can’t actually stand up straight or walk normally without the pants binding. Then again, these are riding pants, not hiking pants.
That all being said, the cut and fit of the Thunderpant come together when I get up out of the saddle and attack the downs. The low waist band tucks into place in the attack position and the secret weapon the Thunderpant comes into its own—uncut hems. In short, the hems of the Thunderpant are neoprene, shipping extra-long (like 38”-inseam-long, if I had to guess) and are designed to be trimmed by the user to their preference. No other company does this, and its why I was chomping at the bit to get a pair of these since I first heard about them. With my 36” inseam, the uncut Thunderpant reached all the way to my shoes and completely stopped water intrusion over the top of my Five Ten Trailcross GTX. As in, my socks stayed completely dry—that’s literally never happened before on a wet ride. You want to stay completely dry? Get the Thunderpant, it’s just that simple.
But to be honest, I’m a bit torn though. The fit isn’t perfect for me, especially in the low-cut waist. On the flip side, I know that I can trust GORE-TEX Pro to perform in the absolute worst conditions and after wearing the Thunderpant, they’re the ones I’m going to be reaching for when the weather really turns to shit. If going out regardless of conditions is your jam, you won’t go wrong with the Thunderpant. Check them out here.
Patagonia Dirt Roamer Storm Pant | $269
- Fully waterproof, foul-weather oriented
- Patagonia’s H2No fabric
- Stretchy and comfortable, for a hardshell rain pant
- Fits looser, but fitted enough to avoid snagging
A name nearly synonymous with the outdoor industry, Patagonia has ante-upped in the past few years to expand their mountain bike lineup. The Storm pant is a fully waterproof, hardshell pant that occupies the “I really don’t want to go on a ride today” kind of foul-weather niche.
The fabric that makes up the Storm pant is the H2No material. It’s fully waterproof, the whole three-layers deep kind, but with the stretch and softness that you’d usually find in windbreakers or soft shells. Really, that’s the allure of the Storm pant—it’s incredibly comfortable and moves with you as you go through the various poses of on-bike yoga. I’ll caveat that and note that the POC Ardour out-comforts the Storm pant, but only by a hair’s breadth and the Storm pant is fully-waterproof from ankle to waist.
Despite the new-age comfort, the Storm pant lives up to its hardy name with a single finger solute to foul winter weather. I actually found myself laughing manically to myself like some deranged, oversized six year-old while I careened down a puddle-ridden river of a trail—all without getting wet. Like the 7mesh Thunderpant, it’s nearly a surreal experience to get caught out, or go out, in nature’s special brown soup and not become a waterlogged sock of a human. That giddy joy of the inner child comes out with a vengeance, especially in multi-hour rides when lowly DWR “water resistant” pants would have soaked through. Even treating the Storm pant as harshly as I can, which basically involves not washing it between numerous rides, the seat of the pant has never leaked or soaked through, despite looking like the swamp monster gave it a good lick or two. If it even does start to come apart, Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee will fix your woes.
The fit of the Storm pant is similar to the 7mesh Thunderpant, which is to say loosely fitted so that you can get a thermal layer underneath for really awful conditions. I got along much better with the waist of the Storm pant than the Thunderpant though; the Storm pant sits higher and stays put better. The overall length of the Storm isn’t as long as the uncut hems on the Thunderpant, but notably longer than the POC Ardour and even the Endura MT500. This helps extend coverage all the way to the shoes, so if you’re wearing high-top waterproof boots, you should be able to stay totally dry in the ankle area. I say “should,” because with my XL inseam of 36”, with a fully flexed knee the cuff of the Storm pant exposed about a half-inch of vulnerable sock to front-tire spray. However, most riders would not have this problem.
The one quirk I found with the Storm pant is the waist adjuster system. Instead of Velcro or cinch buckles, the Storm pant has an internal pulley cinch system that tightens with the pull of a single pull-tab. It works quite well at offering a wide range of adjustment for the pant, but I found that I would sometimes bump the release clip by accident and release all tension from the system. I never did this while riding, but it happened enough getting in and out of the car or adjusting my hip pack that it might be an annoyance for some users.
Other than the waist-band quirk, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Dirt Roamer Storm pant. If you think you might be a match, check out this pair of trousers here.
In the Real World:
I never thought I would need insulated pants, I’m usually “that guy” still in shorts, but this winter I’ve rarely taken off the Endura MT500 Freezing Point Trousers. Seriously, when it’s cold but dry, the Freezing Point is the best set of riding pants I’ve tried. They are super warm, fit perfectly on the bike and are insulated only in the areas that need it to promote thermoregulation. If you live somewhere that sees consistent below-freezing conditions, the Freezing Point might be your new best friend.
Along with the Freezing Point, the POC Ardour All-weather pant was an unlikely but well-deserved favorite on test. It’s often that my local trails are wet, but it’s not raining, and the Ardour is built with waterproof fabric only in the places that see tire spray and splash. The rest of the pant is stretchy and super breathable, which lets me stay dry and safe from puddles and such, yet comfortable and mobile when compared to a full hardshell pant. If it’s actually raining, you will get wet, but for those between days, the Ardour is a perfect blend of protection and comfort.
Some days, however, the skies are fully dumping and you might as well be riding underwater. Those are the days where the Patagonia Dirt Roamer Storm pant really shines. It’s slightly stretchy to move with your sick whips, and waterproof enough to keep you dry all day. The legs are plenty long for most riders, and fit has enough room if you need to layer for colder temps. The one-handed waist adjustment is clever and quick to use, but prone to getting released by accident if you aren’t used to it.
For those that ride no matter what the weather is doing, or want the ultimate protection from the elements, the 7mesh Thunderpant is like a suit of armor against the elements. The Gore-Tex Pro fabric isn’t very stretchy, and fit might be tricky for some, but if you want to stay dry no matter what, there isn’t a better option than the Thunderpant. Its customizable inseam length is perfect for dialing in fit, and plenty long for tall riders that need extra length.