So, yes, fitting that bill perfectly is something like the Marmot PreCip Pant, just $90 for the full-zip model, $70 for pull-on (www.marmot.com). Those prices are hard to beat. And the pants themselves perform pretty well. They won't breathe quite as well as Gore-Tex, but they work fine. Sierra Designs' Peak Bagger Pants ($119; www.sierradesigns.com) are very similar.
Going with Gore-Tex pants doesn't necessarily mean a big jump price-wise, and the better performance of that material may make the extra bucks worthwhile. L.L. Bean makes a decent pair of GT pants called the Stowaway pant, just $125 (www.llbean.com). But prices do jump pretty steeply after that. Get into a high-performance pant such as the Mountain Hardwear FTX Ultra and you're talking $295 (www.mountainhardwear.com). For that, you get pants made with the newest Gore-Tex XCR fabric, powder cuffs, abrasion-resistant patches, and a better fit (inexpensive pants tend to fit a little like stove pipes). The Arc'Teryx Beta AR's are similar, and go for about $300 (www.arcteryx.com).
It's certainly true that the higher-priced pants will outlast cheaper ones, all things being equal. But, I'd say that one pair of Beta AR's will last about as long as three pairs of PreCips, at which point you're still money ahead. For backpacking and occasional use, I'd go with the PreCips. For a lot of hard use in more extreme conditions, spend the bucks up front.
A: I'm inclined to say the best rain pant is an inexpensive rain pant, because pants inevitably get beaten around more than a jacketknees scuffed on rocks, pants snagged by thorns, seat ground into the dirt.
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