How Do Waterproof Pants Work to Keep Rain Out & Are They Breathable?

Waterproof pants are essential if you are forced to be outdoors in inclement weather. Waterproof pants are designed in a special way that prevents water and rain from entering the pants while also still allowing sweat and vapor to escape. Below are some of the most important things to understand about how waterproof pants work:

Waterproof membraneWaterproof pants use a membrane to prevent water from passing through, while allowing water vapor to escape
BreathabilityMost waterproof pants are also breathable, which allows vapor to escape and keeps the wearer comfortable
VentilationSome waterproof pants have ventilation features, like zippers or mesh panels, to help regulate body temperature and prevent overheating
LayeringMost waterproof pants are not designed to be worn over other clothes, but they do make waterproof “Over” pants that can be slipped on over other clothes out in the elements
Ease of useWaterproof pants should be designed for ease of use and quick on/off, with features like side leg zippers or adjustable waistbands
Rubber gearRubber waterproof gear is highly effective but not breathable, and is commonly used in industrial settings or for activities like commercial fishing
Cold weather useRubber waterproof gear is often used as an outer layer in cold weather clothing systems, where breathability is less of a concern. Some waterproof work pants come with insulation.

In this article let’s take a closer look at how waterproof pants work and discuss how breathable they are so you can get a better idea whether or not they make sense for you.

How Do Waterproof Pants Work?

Waterproof pants are designed to keep water from penetrating through the fabric and reaching the wearer’s skin. They work by using a combination of specialized materials and construction techniques that prevent water from seeping through the fabric.

The most common materials used in waterproof pants are laminated or coated fabrics, which consist of multiple layers that are bonded or coated together to create a barrier against water. The outer layer is usually made of a durable material like nylon or polyester that repels water and protects the inner layers.


The middle layer is the most important layer because it is the waterproof membrane (made of materials like polyurethane or Gore-Tex). It prevents water from passing through while also allowing heat and vapor to escape.

The inner-most layer is often a soft, breathable material like mesh or fleece that wicks moisture away from the skin. Moisture wicking is not the same thing as waterproof.

Waterproof Pant Design

The construction of waterproof pants is also important in preventing water from entering. Seams are often taped or sealed with a waterproof material to prevent water from seeping in through the tiny holes created by stitching. Additionally, zippers and pockets are often designed with waterproof or water-resistant features to keep water out.

Overall, waterproof pants work by combining specialized materials and construction techniques to create a barrier against water, keeping the wearer dry and comfortable in wet conditions.

How Breathable are Waterproof Pants?

Most types of waterproof pants are also designed to be breathable.

Waterproof pants are designed to be both waterproof and breathable, which means that they can keep water out while allowing air to circulate through the fabric. This is achieved through the use of a waterproof membrane that is sandwiched between the outer and inner layers of the pants.


The waterproof membrane is made of a material that is small enough to prevent water droplets from passing through, but large enough to allow water vapor (i.e. sweat) to escape. This is important because if water vapor is trapped inside the pants, it can cause the wearer to feel damp and uncomfortable.

In addition to the waterproof membrane, many waterproof pants also incorporate ventilation features like zippered vents or mesh panels. These features allow air to circulate through the pants, helping to regulate body temperature and prevent overheating.

The combination of a waterproof membrane and ventilation features allows waterproof pants to be both waterproof and breathable, providing the wearer with protection from the elements without sacrificing comfort.

What Type of Waterproof Pants are Not Breathable?

Rubber waterproof gear is one of the most effective types of waterproof clothing available. It is made from materials like natural or synthetic rubber, PVC, or neoprene, which are completely impermeable to water and provide a reliable barrier against the elements.

However, rubber waterproof gear is typically not breathable, which means that it can trap moisture and sweat inside, causing the wearer to feel damp and uncomfortable. This can be particularly problematic in situations where the wearer is engaged in physical activity or the weather is warm, as it can lead to overheating and discomfort.

Despite its lack of breathability, rubber waterproof gear is still highly effective for certain uses. For example, it is commonly used in industrial settings where workers are exposed to harsh weather conditions or hazardous materials. It is also commonly used for activities like fishing (think professional fishing boats), where the wearer is likely to be exposed to water and needs reliable protection against the elements.

Additionally, rubber waterproof gear is often used as an outer layer in cold weather clothing systems, where breathability is less of a concern. In these situations, the wearer may have multiple layers of clothing underneath the rubber gear, providing insulation and warmth while the rubber layer protects against moisture and wind.

Overall, while rubber waterproof gear may not be breathable, it is still highly effective for certain uses where reliable protection against the elements is critical. It’s just not something you will want to consider for most types of outdoor activities (like work or hiking).

Winter Waterproof Pants

Winter waterproof pants often have added insulation to provide warmth in cold weather conditions. This insulation is typically made from materials like down, synthetic fibers, or fleece, which trap heat close to the body and help to regulate body temperature.


One common type of insulation used in waterproof pants is synthetic fiber insulation, which is often made from materials like polyester or nylon. This type of insulation is lightweight, quick-drying, and provides good warmth even when wet. It is also typically less expensive than other types of insulation, making it a popular choice for winter waterproof pants.

Another type of insulation commonly used in winter waterproof pants is down insulation, which is made from the soft, fluffy undercoating of birds like geese or ducks. Down insulation is highly effective at trapping body heat, and is also lightweight and compressible, making it easy to pack and transport. However, down insulation is not as effective when wet, and can be more expensive than synthetic fiber insulation.

Some winter waterproof pants may also have additional features to enhance warmth, such as fleece linings or thermal layers. These features help to keep the wearer warm and comfortable even in extremely cold weather conditions.

Overall, adding insulation to winter waterproof pants can help to provide warmth and protection in cold weather environments. By choosing the right type of insulation for the intended use and environment, wearers can ensure that they stay warm and comfortable even in harsh winter conditions.

How to Wear Waterproof Pants

Most types of waterproof pants are designed to be worn like normal pants (meaning you don’t need to layer underneath). However, sometimes this isn’t a great option.

For example, if you want to bring waterproof pants along just in case a storm pops up, and it does, most people don’t want (or can’t) change their pants while hiking or working, etc. This is when waterproof “over” pants come in useful, and can simply be slipped on over your normal pants or shorts.

Some waterproof pants will have a versatile design that can be worn on its own, but also have leg zippers and a loose fit so you could also slip the pants on over other pants if needed.

When worn over regular pants, waterproof pants are often designed to be roomy enough to accommodate multiple layers of clothing. They may also have features like adjustable waistbands and cuffs to ensure a snug and comfortable fit over bulkier clothing.

On the other hand, when worn on their own, waterproof pants are often designed to be more form-fitting and streamlined. They may have features like articulated knees and stretchy fabrics to allow for ease of movement and a more comfortable fit.

Some waterproof pants are also designed to be versatile, with removable insulation or liners that allow them to be worn in a range of temperatures and weather conditions.

Waterproof Over Pants

As we discussed above, there are situations where wearers may need to slip on waterproof pants while outdoors, either due to changing weather conditions or unexpected situations that require additional protection from the elements.

In these situations, it is important to choose waterproof pants that are designed for ease of use and quick on/off. For example, some waterproof pants feature side zippers or full-length zippers that allow the wearer to quickly slip them on over their regular pants or base layers. Other waterproof pants may have adjustable waistbands and cuffs that can be quickly cinched for a secure and comfortable fit.

What to Consider When Buying Waterproof Pants

Here are some things to consider when buying waterproof pants:

  • Waterproofness: The waterproof rating can change in some pants. For worse conditions, look for a higher rating, such as 10,000mm or more, for reliable protection in heavy precipitation.
  • Breathability: Look for waterproof pants that are breathable to prevent sweat and moisture buildup inside the pants. This is particularly important if you plan to wear the pants during physical activity or in warmer weather.
  • Insulation: If you plan to wear the waterproof pants in cold weather, consider the type and amount of insulation included in the pants. Down or synthetic insulation can provide warmth and protection from the cold.
  • Fit and comfort: Choose waterproof pants that fit well and are comfortable to wear. Look for features like adjustable waistbands, stretchy materials, and articulated knees for ease of movement and comfort.
  • Durability: Consider the durability of the waterproof pants, particularly if you plan to use them for outdoor activities like hiking or working. Look for materials that are tough and resistant to abrasions and tears, and check for features like reinforced seams and zippers for added durability.

To read more, visit my article that discusses the best waterproof work pants.

Paul Johnson

Paul is a lead content creator for Workwear Command. He has had several blue-collar jobs which have provided him a wide range of experience with tools and gear. He also has a business degree and has spent time in business casual office settings.

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