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Montbell Versalite Pants Review – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

Montbell’s Versalite Pants are 2-layer ultralight waterproof/breathable pants that weigh just 3.7 oz (in a men’s XL.) They can be used as rain pants or wind pants or when you want light layer to keep your legs warmer in camp. Montbell’s Versalite Pants have been available for many years, but the company recently switched from an in-house waterproof/breathable membrane to Gore Windstopper, resulting in a big improvement in their water resistance and breathability (more below). That, coupled with their extremely light weight and minimal features, make the Versalite Pants an attractive option for anyone wanting to reduce their gear weight.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Men’s and Women’s models available
  • Weight: 3.7 oz (men’s XL)
  • Sizing: 4 sizes available
  • Water Pressure Resistance: 30,000 mm
  • Breathability: 43,000 g/m²/ 24 hrs
  • 2 layer Gore Windstopper with DWR
  • 10 denier ballistic rip-stop nylon
  • Price: $139

Fabric upgrade

The previous generation of Versalite pants was a 15d rip-stop nylon, 2.5 layer pant that used Montbell’s proprietary waterproof layer called Super Hydro Breeze (Water resistance : 20,000 mm / Breathability : 15,000 g/m²/ 24 hrs). The new Versalite Pants, reviewed here, is a 10d ripstop nylon, 2-layer pant made with a Gore Windstopper waterproof layer (Water resistance : 30,000 mm / Breathability : 43,000 g/m²/ 24 hrs). The waterproofing and breathability performance of the new pants is considerably better.

Design and construction

The Versailte Pants are black and with a grey coating on the inside to protect the waterproof/breathable membrane from oils, suntan lotion, and dirt. The interior of the pants does not feel clammy, even when worn over shorts and directly against the skin. However, the grey coating is easily scratched off, particularly near the ankles if you put the pants on while wearing shoes or boots. Gravel stuck in the shoe sole scrapes against the grey coating and scratches it off.

The pants are cut from a single piece of fabric, which reduces the number of seams that have to be taped in their manufacture. This reduces the chance of water leakage and helps reduce gear weight. The pants do have one taped seam down the centerline, running down the crotch and up the backside.

I added a cord lock to make it easier to close the pants
I added a cord lock to make it easier to close the pants

The fit is relaxed but not baggy in the legs. The rain pants do run a bit long though, maybe an inch. They come in one length: 31.9″. The pants don’t have any pockets and there are no zippers, including ankle zippers.

There is an elastic waistband, augmented by a drawstring. The drawstring does not run all the way through the waistband and is sewn in near the front, which limits your ability to tighten the waist. The drawstring itself doesn’t come with a cordlock to hold any tension, so I added one to keep them snugged tight.

Sewn-in drawstrings are also a common point of failure in pants because they tear out easily and it is quite difficult to sew them back in unless you’re skilled in sewing repairs.  While the sewn-in drawstring on the Versalite Pants has resisted my tugs, and endured field use, I’ve had such bad experiences with pants (from other brands, too numerous to list) that use this type of drawstring anchor that I avoid it whenever possible.

I mainly wear rain pants to keep my legs warm in cool weather.
I mainly wear rain pants to keep my legs warm in cool weather.

Field performance

Montbell’s Versalite Pants are a dream to use in wind, rain, and cool weather to retain warmth in camp. The factory DWR sheds rain very well and they breath well when worn over shorts and lightweight long pants. The legs are also wide enough that I can put them on and take them off easily without removing my shoes (size 10.5 men’s trail runners), with some room to spare.

Elastic cords at the base of the legs help seal the bottom of the leg and prvent it from dragging on the ground
Elastic cords at the base of the legs help seal the bottom of the leg and prevent it from dragging on the ground. I never wear gaiters, so I appreciate this feature.

While the legs are a little bit longer than I prefer, the elastic cords at the bottom of each leg can be used to hold them at ankle height, preventing the hems from dragging on the ground, while sealing out drafts and splash-back. You simply pull on the exposed portion of the cord, twist it once, and pull it over your shoe so it rests around your ankle. The elastic cord doesn’t restrict blood flow and is hardly noticeable. Montbell calls it the Samue Leg Closure System and it harkens back to the technique used by the Zen monks of Japan to adjust traditional work clothing using ties sewn inside clothing instead of elastic cord.

However, the Versalite Pants are easy to tear and my pair already sport tenacious tape patches on the lower legs. I wouldn’t recommend them off-trail or wearing them on trail if you had to walk through waist high vegetation. The 10 denier fabric is simply too thin to rebuff contact with the point objects you find in forests.

Fit is relaxed but not baggy in the legs
Fit is relaxed but not baggy in the legs

Comparable Rain Pants

Recommendation

Montbell’s Versalite Pants are ultralight waterproof/breathable rain pants that weight less than 4 0z and are made with a thin 10 denier ripstop nylon. They’re very basic with a drawstring waist, but no pockets or ankle zippers in keeping with their minimalist vibe. While pants like this are great to wear in rain or as a lightweight warmth layer, they are fragile and easily torn. If the cost of occasional replacement isn’t a barrier, the weight alone is the main reason I’d buy them. The fact that they have superb water resistance and breathability rating is just icing on the cake.

Disclosure: Montbell provided the author with pair of pants for this review.

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REI Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants Review

REI’s Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants are a surprisingly good value compared to name brand rain pants which cost two to four times as much.

I’m a big fan of REI’s clothing because it’s affordable, good quality, and virtually indistinguishable from the other name brand products they sell. This includes their Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants (the latest update has been renamed “Essential Rain Pants”) which are a steal at $60/pair (often available for less), and are available for both men and women. A comparable pair of Arc’teryx Rain Pants costs $199 or four times as much and provides very little added value, other than the fact that they use branded “Gore-Tex” and not REI’s knock-off waterproof/breathable membrane.

Some people don’t like rain pants or don’t need them and I get that. Personally, I wear them as much for wind protection as rain protection and view them as an important thermal layer, even if I sweat under them in warmer weather. I’d rather be warm and damp, than shivering on the brink of hyperthermia and soaking wet. I also frequently wear my rain pants for winter hiking and prefer having a pair that I can use year-round.

When choosing rain pants, there are a few things I always look for:

  • Price
  • Features
    • Does the draw string wrap around the entire waist or is it sewn in?
    • Can I pull on the rain pants and take them off without removing my shoes?
    • Are the ankle cuff openings adjustable?
    • Are they available in shorter and longer lengths?
    • Are the legs reasonably slim and not overly baggy?
    • Are they quiet when worn?
    • Do they have any external pockets?
    • How good is the breathable membrane/factory DWR?
  • Weight

Price

REI’s Rain Pants are almost half the price of other value-oriented rain pants like Marmot’s Precip Rain Pants ($100), Patagonia’s Torrentshell Rain Pants ($99), or Outdoor Research’s Helium Rain Pants ($119). I destroy 2-3 pairs of rain pants per year, so I always look for less expensive ones that won’t break the bank if I happen to rip them up.

Large zippered ankle openings let you put on and take off the rain pants without taking off boots or shoes
Large zippered ankle openings let you put on and take off the rain pants without taking off boots or shoes

Features

REI’s Rain Pants have a draw string waist band that wraps around your entire waist, so it won’t pull out like draw cords that are sewn in and impossible to replace without sewing when they come out. God I hate when that happens!

They have ankle zippers with a large enough opening that you can pull them over your hiking boots or hiking shoes without having to take them off. The pants have an adjustable velcro cuff so you can snug them around your ankles, with a protective flap to prevent the zippers from leaking, and a heavy-duty YKK snag-resistant zipper. I not a big fan rain pants with full zippers down the sides, because they tend to be very baggy, and the zipper takes a lot of fiddling to stay closed if it runs all the way up through the waist band.

The size range is great with 6 sizes in men’s (XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL) and 6 sizes in the women’s pants (XXS, XS, S, M, L, and XL). Equally important is length, since I prefer shorter rain pants over longer ones, so I don’t trip over them In addition to the regular 31-32″ length, REI’s Rain Pants are available in SHORT (2.5 inches shorter) and TALL lengths (2.5 inches longer), so you can dial in the type of fit your prefer.

The pant legs of REI’s Rain Pants are reasonably slim, but flair a bit below the knees and ankles for better range of motion. I think they run a bit long and that you’d be better getting them in a shorter length.  They also have one zippered side pocket lined with mesh that’s super convenient for carrying car keys and can serve as a stuff pocket for the pants. The exterior fabric is surprisingly quiet when worn, while the interior is lined with a while colored nylon backer. The interior seams are all taped for waterproofness, while the factory DWR and breathability is perfectly adequate for occasional use.

Weight

At 12.4 oz in a men’s size large, REI’s Rain Pains are on the heavy side, weighing about twice as much as ultralight waterproof/breathable rain pants…that cost 2-3 times as much. That’s often the tradeoff, with opting for a less expensive pair of rain pants. If your intended use is for day hiking or wearing these on a commute on rainy days, the weight of the pants is far less important than if you plan to backpack 2000 miles with them. Even then, the durability of a heavier pant can trump a lighter weight one. It just depends on what your priorities are.

Waist drawstring runs all the way around the pants for better durability
Waist drawstring runs all the way around the pants for better durability

Wrap Up

REI makes a few pairs of pants that I think are excellent values if you’re looking for less expensive technical wear. In addition to these Rain Pants, I’d recommend checking out their Soft Shell Cycling Pants for cold weather riding and their Activator Soft-Shell winter hiking pants. They’re often on sale during the off-season and you can pick up great bargains on them.

See Also

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Last updated: 2018-07-17 14:40:09

REI provided rain pants for this review.

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