I had the opportunity to test the Sierra Designs Elite Rain Chaps this summer, first on a drizzly day hike in California and then for four solid days of rain on the Tour of Mont Blanc. Paired with a Sierra Designs Ultralight Trench rain jacket it was a winning combination. The Ultralight Trench is longer than many other rain jackets and was designed to work with the chaps.
The chaps are an interesting alternative to rain pants in that they are two separate legs that attach to pants or shorts using a plastic hook on a single side strap (one strap per leg). The top of the chaps are elasticized which helps them stay up. The chaps are made of water repellent nylon treated with a polyurethane coating (2 layers for pants and 3 layers for the knees).
The benefit of these chaps over rain pants is that they are extremely lightweight at just 5 oz (only 4 5/8 oz on my scale). I don’t like to carry rain pants (which weigh 8 oz) if they are going to be dead weight if it doesn’t rain but I’m more likely to take chaps because they are light and don’t take up much space. Another benefit is that overheating is minimized because the chaps only come up to the crotch. Since they do not have a waistband venting is much greater than with the traditional combination of rain pants and jacket, which seals in heat. Because they don’t cover the buttocks they are meant to be used with long jackets that cover the rear end. I paired them with a Sierra Designs UL Trench that is long enough to work with the chaps.
The chaps worked very well in light rain. During prolonged rains it worked fairly well after I figured a few things out. The wide legs were easy to put on even with hiking boots on. If more room is needed the chaps open from the bottom to the knee with Velcro closures and have one snap at the bottom. The elasticized top is adequate to hold the pants in place.
A plastic hook on a side strap slides over the top of hiking pants, shorts or leggings and can also simply hook onto a pocket. This one strap plus the elastic is the only thing that holds the chaps up. Everything was in order as I began walking in the rain but as I hiked the strap loosened gradually without my noticing it until I realized that the bottom of my shorts were soaked. I tightened the strap repeatedly but it kept happening until tied a knot in the strap to keep it cinched up. After I did that the chaps were more successful at keeping my legs dry. I noticed a significant improvement over rain pants with increased ventilation and hiked for seven hours (12.5 miles with an elevation gain of 2700 feet). The benefit of not overheating for this amount of time is well worth a little inconvenience getting the strap cinched up. With regular rain pants there is often an uncomfortable bunching up that occurs around the waist with two waistbands and the bulk of the jacket. With the chaps it was much more comfortable and when we ducked into a mountainside hut I left the chaps on, finding them comfortable to sit in. At another hut it was easy to slip them off to dry out while we had hot chocolate. On the fourth day of rain I was thrilled to see a chair lift that whisked me down to the bottom of a big hill. Not surprisingly, while sitting on the wet chairlift left my bottom got soaked once again, this being an unusual hiking circumstance when the full coverage of rain pants would have been beneficial.
The Ultralight Trench rain jacket was designed with backpackers in mind. When the hip belt is cinched you can still use the pockets, which are a little higher than most. When the pockets are unzipped they allow extra ventilation. They have a small armpit vent that works surprisingly well. The real genius, however, is the slit on the sides. This allows the front of the jacket to be placed over the hip belt in front. There are several Velcro closures along the slit to keep it secured.
Overall, I liked the Elite Rain Chaps a lot and will be inclined to take them when the weather report is marginal during times when I might have chosen to take a chance and leave the rain pants at home. I think a design change could improve the function of the strap that holds the chaps up. However, they hardly take up any room and are light enough that I barely noticed the weight. That combined with the phenomenal ventilation makes them worthwhile.
Sierra Designs Elite Rain Chaps $80, available in Black, Blue, Yellow and Lilac, weighs 5 oz. Fabric: 3-layer, 30D nylon face, soft knit backer, waterproof breathable membrane, DWR finish.
Sierra Designs Ultralight Trench $200, available in Black, Blue and Yellow, weighs 11 oz. Fabric: 3-Layer, 30D 100% Nylon, 100% Polyester backer, WR, PU laminate.
A version of this review was also published in Trail Space.
Disclosure: I received a sample of this product for purposes of this review, but the opinions expressed are my own.