Here in the Pacific Northwest, we know a thing or two about rain. From months of daily drizzle to heavy downpour in the mountains, we’re acutely aware of the benefits of a quality waterproof and breathable jacket. The 2017 rain jackets for men and women below range in price from $60 to over $400, but all have what it takes to perform well in a rainstorm: good seam sealing, a DWR coating, and a secure hood. Entry-level rain jackets won’t last as long but are considerably cheaper. The pricier options fall into two categories: sturdy shells that can withstand driving rains and snowfall, and ultralight minimalist pieces for backpacking, climbing, and trail running. For more information, see our rain jacket comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Weight: 15.13 oz.
Waterproofing: 2.5-layer Gore-Tex Paclite
Category: Hiking/daily use
What we like: High quality feel, great design.
What we don’t: No stuff sack/pocket, heavy.
Women's: Marmot Minimalist
Built in a very anti-minimalist fashion, the Marmot Minimalist rain jacket has a beautiful design that wears well just about anywhere. The difference in quality when compared with entry-level rain jackets is immediately apparent. From the super burly and confidence-inspiring zipper to the thicker diameter cinch cord and easy to use toggles at the hem and hood, everything has a premium and trustworthy feel.
The lining of the shell also is less plasticky than the more budget-friendly options, and doesn’t feel as clammy if you start to get warm while hiking. The hood has a nice, thick feel, and comes with a substantial bill that can withstand heavy rain and wind. Fit is similar to the Marmot PreCip; a great mix of being roomy enough for a mid layer underneath, but not so bulky that we were swimming in it. Gore-Tex’s PacLite waterproof laminate is a proven winner for jackets in this category, and performs as expected in the Minimalist. The jacket is just built to last.
True, the Minimalist isn’t perfect as an all-around piece. The thicker fabrics and lack of a stuff pocket make it less desirable to bring when a rainstorm isn’t a guarantee, such as a summer backpacking trip. For those, we’d rather bring a lighter option like the PreCip or one of the ultralight options below. And we would prefer a water resistant main zipper at this price, like what you get with the Outdoor Research Foray, but these are pretty minor complaints. What you get with the Minimalist is a tough, outdoors ready jacket that wears super well everyday of the week. It’s just as ready for a Seattle commute as it is for a trek through Patagonia or Norway.
See the Marmot Minimalist
Weight: 10.9 oz.
Waterproofing: 3-layer AscentShell
Category: Performance shell/hiking
What we like: A bomber shell at under 11 ounces.
What we don’t: Not much. We had trouble cleaning heavy mud off the lemongrass color, but that hasn’t affected performance.
Outdoor Research does very well in rain jackets—it’s arguably the Seattle-based company’s most successful category—but nothing has been as impressive to date as the Realm. With a weight of just 10.9 ounces, we absolutely battered this piece on a recent backcountry trip in southeast Alaska through just about every possible weather condition. Time after time, we came away unscathed and reasonably dry. We think the new AscentShell fabric is a legitimate Gore-Tex competitor with the added benefit of built-in stretch.
What type of activities is the Realm best for? Technically it’s a lightweight hardshell and can be used for winter activities like backcountry skiing and ice climbing. And given its relatively low weight, it’s certainly a contender as a rain jacket for backpacking and hiking (the Realm weighs less than the Arc’teryx Zeta LT and REI Ryholite, for example). We even used it for bike commuting and the long torso and sleeves performed admirably for that purpose. You certainly can go lighter with an emergency shell, but you won’t find more wet weather protection per ounce than the Realm... Read in-depth review
See the Outdoor Research Realm
Weight: 10.52 oz.
Waterproofing: 2.5-layer NanoPro
Category: Hiking/daily use
What we like: Great value, breathes well, quality materials.
What we don’t: Limited hood adjustments.
Women's: Marmot PreCip
In the world of rain jackets, Marmot just seems to get it, delivering good fit and performance at reasonable price points. The PreCip is their leading entry-level offering and is all the jacket the daily wearer and occasional backpacker needs. In fact, it's the jacket we recommend to friends and family the most. A big contributor to the PreCip’s popularity is its light feel and excellent breathability. Pit zips and Marmot’s proprietary waterproof coating are effective tools in keeping you cool.
A design feature unique to the PreCip is its hood, the base of which attaches directly to the shoulders rather than the collar. If you want the hood up but don’t want to zip the entire jacket, this design means you don’t have to deal with an annoying open and loose collar. It’s also a cinch to roll up and store the hood when you don’t need it. We would prefer if the hood itself had a better fit around the head: the cinch cord doesn’t reach the top of the bill, only pulling in at the sides, so you don’t get as good of a seal across the forehead.
The rest is all good news. The PreCip has a fit and feel that struck us as more expensive than its $100 price tag would indicate. It also wears well around town and comes in a ton of color choices. And for the backcountry enthusiast, it stuffs down small into a hand pocket. Breathable, lightweight, and a solid value, the PreCip delivers the goods.
See the Marmot PreCip
Weight: 11.85 oz.
Waterproofing: 3-layer Gore-Tex C-Knit
Category: Performance shell/hiking
What we like: Hardshell-like performance in a lightweight package.
What we don’t: Hardshell-like pricing.
Women's: Arc'teryx Zeta LT
If you’re a hiker and backpacker and price is no concern, the Arc’teryx Zeta LT stands alone as the highest performing jacket in our review. With the design of a backcountry hardshell, combined with the weight and packability of a rain jacket, the Zeta LT is in a class of its own.
As with all Arc’teryx products, the construction is intended for serious use: a hipbelt-friendly hand pocket design, storm hood with excellent adjustability, and tough but light outer shell. Despite the burly construction, overall weight is very competitive, undercutting the mid-range shells on this list (Marmot Minimalist and OR Foray) by over 3 ounces. In fact, its weight is more in line with the much thinner and more tear prone entry-level jackets—an impressive accomplishment indeed.
Arc’teryx is one of the early adopoters of the soft and moisture wicking Gore-Tex C-Knit interior fabric. This makes it extremely comfortable for a rain shell with a soft touch unique to this crowd. Rain jackets, especially lightweight ones, are known for feeling clammy or slippery on the inside while hiking in the wet, but not here. And the design pulls moisture off the skin far better than the rest of the group. All in all, it’s a premium performer made by a company that understands what a backcountry enthusiast needs... Read in-depth review
See the Arc'teryx Zeta LT
Weight: 15.13 oz.
Waterproofing: 2.5-layer Gore-Tex Paclite
Category: Hiking/daily use
What we like: Multi-sport functionality, nice fit and feel.
What we don’t: Annoying toggles.
Women's: Outdoor Research Aspire
We love what Outdoor Research has done with the Foray: a do-it-all rain jacket that can even work as a lightweight shell for spring skiing. The OR Foray is a direct competitor to the popular Marmot Minimalist, sharing the same Gore-Tex waterproof laminate and soft touch interior.
Ditching the flap over the main zipper is an appreciated upgrade, but the truly unique feature on the Foray is its full-length side zips, which extend the standard pit zips all the way to the bottom hem. When fully unzipped, this creates a poncho-like opening for awesome venting on the trail—a great way to dump excess heat while still retaining a mostly waterproof coverage. We like the large hood and how well it cinches down, but aren’t crazy about the single drawcord toggle on the back of the hood. It’s difficult to pinch, making loosening the hood a pain.
Our overall impressions of the Foray were very positive. Its venting system makes it desirable in a number of outdoor activities, and while weighing exactly the same as the Marmot Minimalist, it feels a bit more nimble and multi-sport ready. All things considered it’s an excellent quiver of one rain jacket for the backpacker, skier, and daily wearer... Read in-depth review
See the Outdoor Research Foray
Weight: 8.1 oz.
Waterproofing: 3-layer H2No Performance Standard
Category: Performance shell/hiking
What we like: The lightest hardshell on the market.
What we don’t: More expensive than the OR Realm.
Women's: Patagonia M10
On paper, the Patagonia M10 stacks up nicely as one of the premier lightweight jackets on the market. At just over 8 ounces, you get the performance of a 3-layer hardshell with much better wind protection and water resistance than a regular rain jacket. What we like most, however, is the streamlined design that offers everything you need and nothing you don’t. Among the features are a helmet-compatible hood and single chest pocket, but little else to add weight or bulk. If you really put your gear through the paces and need serious wet weather protection in a simple package, the M10 may be the jacket for you.
Where we hesitate on the M10 is price and how it compares to the Outdoor Research Realm above. Nearly $400 is a hefty chunk of change (the Realm is listed at $279 and can often be found on sale), and you only save a couple of ounces in the process. If weight is at an absolute premium—think alpine climbers or ultralight backpackers—the M10 is the lightest waterproof and breathable 3-layer hardshell on the market. If not, we give the nod to the Realm.
See the Patagonia M10
Weight: 12 oz.
Waterproofing: 3-layer eVent
Category: Hiking/daily use
What we like: eVent offers excellent breathability at a value price.
What we don’t: Fit could be better.
Women’s: REI Rhyolite
The REI Rhyolite is a relatively new jacket featuring the high-end DValpine eVent, and makes a convincing case for the best value in a performance jacket on this list. At less than half the price of the Zeta LT above, it shares these impressive traits: 3-layer construction, water-resistant zippers all around, and hipbelt-friendly pockets. True, it can’t match the premium hand feel of the Zeta’s C-Knit backer, but it’s close behind.
When eVent waterproof and breathable membranes first hit the market 15+ years ago, they were quickly lauded as a breakthrough that could finally rival Gore-Tex. And while they haven’t been able to overcome the Gore giant in terms of diverse product offerings, eVent continues to win over outdoorsy folks with their excellent breathability. The Rhyolite employs eVent's most popular technology, and it's a great match for the backpacking and hiking focus of this shell.
Why the 7th place ranking? As with virtually all REI shell jackets we’ve worn, we find that the fit can’t match premium brands. For example, in a small this jacket has proper arm length but fits tightly in the chest and is a little short. In a medium, it runs long in the arms and is bulky. For some, this may work just fine, but the brands above consistently fit us better. More, the venting system works well when you open up the hand pocket zippers, but we would still prefer pit zips. And the unprotected eVent membrane does require consistent washing to keep it breathing properly. Keep it clean, and the Rhyolite is a top performer at a hard-to-beat price.
See the REI Rhyolite
Weight: 11.32 oz.
Waterproofing: 2.5-layer H2No
Category: Hiking/daily use
What we like: Small packed size, great hood, weather-ready construction.
What we don’t: Has a heavier feel when worn, price premium.
Women's: Patagonia Torrentshell
Sharing a lot in common with the Marmot PreCip, the Patagonia Torrentshell is differentiated by a few extra features and a higher price tag. To start, you get an even fit around the hem thanks to a drawcord at each side, and a streamlined flap that doesn’t require any Velcro covers the center zipper (make sure it's covering the zipper or else water will seep through). Striking us as clean and functional, the whole look plays well for daily wear.
The extra money also brings a bit more of a substantial fabric feel that is apparent in use, despite weighing less than an ounce more. We weren’t completely sold that a lightweight jacket such as the Torrenshell should feel so heavy, but its more substantial construction does come in handy if the weather turns particularly nasty. And if it does, the Torrentshell has the best hood design of our entry-level options. A single cinch at the back of the hood adjusts around the sides and back of the head as well as the bill, creating a good fit and seal. It’s a simple and effective system that we wish was universally adopted.
The fit is very similar to the Marmot PreCip, if a tiny bit smaller due to the shorter back length. We found it pretty true to size, and a good balance of big enough to layer underneath without being excessively bulky. The full retail price is still a little high, in our opinion, for having a similar feature set as cheaper options. What you do get, however, is typical high quality Patagonia construction and design that is built to last.
See the Patagonia Torrentshell
Weight: 6.4 oz.
Waterproofing: 2.5-layer Pertex Shield+
What we like: Superlight and packable.
What we don’t: Doesn’t breathe as well, clammy-prone interior.
Women's: Outdoor Research Helium II
The veteran of the ultralight group, the Outdoor Research Helium II is a super light and packable shell at an excellent price. Coming in at a solid $40 less than its closest competition, it’s a steal as a fully waterproof jacket to bring on an ultralight trek or climb.
Features are about what you’d expect from an ultralight piece. You get a Napoleon chest pocket that is nicely sized and protected by a water-resistant zipper, an interior pocket that sits low by the hem, and single drawcord adjustments for the hood and hem. Basic to a fault in the city, its real performance comes out in the backcountry. The Helium II stuffs quite easily into the small interior pocket, and is small enough that you have absolutely no excuse for bringing it along.
Having been around for a few years, the Helium II does show its age a bit when compared with the new options from Marmot and Montane. While solidly waterproof, the interior fabric has a slippery feel and the jacket has no pitzips or pocket venting options, making it not breathe as well. If price is no object, we’d lean towards recommending the Montane Minimus 777, but considering the cost savings and comparable performance, the Helium II should be on your ultralight short list.
See the Outdoor Research Helium II
Weight: 9.1 oz.
Waterproofing: 3-layer Dry-Tec
Category: Hiking/daily use
What we like: A good value for a 3-layer rain jacket.
What we don’t: Crinkly shell material.
Women's: Montbell Peak Shell
Serious climbers love Montbell and for good reason: the company offers well-thought-out technical pieces that come in cheaper than brands like Arc’teryx or Patagonia. At just over 9 ounces, the Montbell Peak Shell is a nice lightweight rain jacket for hiking. It features a 3-layer Dry-Tec construction, underarm pit zips for dumping heat, and adjustable cuffs that so many emergency shells seem to cut out. We also like the fit, which is not too tight or too baggy and therefore works well both for performance and casual use.
In its price range, the Peak Shell is a very viable contender to a rain jacket like the REI Rhyolite (that jacket has a more breathable membrane but no underarm zips, is heavier, and more expensive). Our only real concern with the Peak Shell is the level of crinkliness: it has that feel and loudness of an ultralight sleeping pad more than other rain jackets we’ve tested. This may limit its attractiveness for everyday use, although that’s up to the person wearing it.
See the Montbell Peak Shell
Weight: 4.2 oz.
Waterproofing: 2-layer Gore-Tex with Permanent Beading Surface
Category: Trail running
What we like: The premier rain jacket for trail running.
What we don’t: Limited durability—the fabric is too thin for any kind of abuse.
Women's: Arc'teryx Norvan SL
Last year, Arc’teryx released the Norvan SL, which is billed as the lightest and most breathable waterproof shell available. This minimalist piece weighs around 4 ounces depending on the size, packs down to almost nothing, and is designed with trail running squarely in mind. Upon testing it in the wet conditions of British Columbia, we were surprised at just how waterproof this tiny jacket is (we literally stood under a waterfall and can confirm that the jacket truly is waterproof). In addition, it does not absorb water and therefore will not get heavier when wet, a rarity in the rain jacket world.
The shortcomings of the Norvan are its price and fragility. $299 is a lot to spend for a rain jacket, particularly if the materials are so light that wearing a backpack may shorten its lifespan. We were even concerned about wearing a hydra-pack for lengthy runs for fear of it rubbing off the Permanent Beading Surface, but that may be the price to pay for such a phenomenal ultralight piece. Given its feature set, the Norvan SL isn’t for the mainstream, but is best in class for serious trail running... Read in-depth review
See the Arc'teryx Norvan SL
Weight: 13 oz.
Waterproofing: 2-layer Omni-Tech
Category: Hiking/Daily Use
What we like: Great value, lots of color options.
What we don’t: Cheaper 2-layer waterproof construction; doesn’t vent well.
Women's: Columbia Arcadia II
Priced at $59, and often available on discount, our most budget-friendly jacket to make the cut is the Columbia Watertight II. And while it doesn’t stack up as well in performance testing, good seam taping and a reliable build makes the Watertight II a solid option for daily use or as a just-in-case jacket you bring along when bad weather isn’t in the forecast. To start, it’s the only jacket constructed with a cheaper 2-layer waterproofing fabric, meaning it’s the only one with a hanging mesh interior. This adds bulk, and while the mesh has a softer touch, some do not like the feel against their skin.
The fit comes in pretty average, with a nice and long back length, but the jacket does have more of a trim cut, so those that consistently throw on a thicker mid layer may need to size up. Large hand pockets are mesh lined, and because the jacket lacks pit zips, unzipping the pockets is the only form of ventilation. The warmer feeling interior thus does not make the Watertight II a great option for high output activities, such as a quick peak summit. Overall, the look is very clean, and Columbia offers the jacket in a number of color options. For the casual user, it’s all the jacket you need.
See the Columbia Watertight II
Weight: 11.11 oz.
Waterproofing: 2.5-layer Dryvent
Category: Hiking/Daily Use
What we like: Hood adjustment, price.
What we don’t: Cheaper feel to Velcro and zippers.
Women's: The North Face Venture
The $100 price range is crowded for rain jackets, including the Marmot PreCip, Patagonia Torrentshell and The North Face Venture. For us, the Venture is the odd one out. Although it undercuts the Torrentshell in price and is spot on with the PreCip, it falls short in just about every other measureable way.
To start, we don’t like the fit—it’s the bulkiest and least comfortable of the group. Second, the Venture has the most entry-level feel, much more in-line with the truly budget Columbia Watertight II above (that is $40 less, we might add). The Velcro in particular strikes us as cheaply sourced, but it hasn’t resulted in any performance issues thus far. The same can be said for the main zipper, which doesn’t have the smooth action of the Patagonia and Marmot, or even the more cost-friendly Columbia.
The Venture remains, however, a solid and reliable rain jacket with hundreds of positive reviews to its name. The features are just what you need for daily use and the occasional hike: two hand pockets, an adjustable and nice fitting hood, and pit zips. DWR sheds rain well, and it performed admirably during our wet weather testing. But it sits at the bottom of our list for a reason, and unless you can find it on a good sale, we recommend looking elsewhere. We also tested its ultralight variant, the Venture Fastpack (check out the in-depth review), and prefer it over the standard Venture for fast and light adventures.
See The North Face Venture
Weight: 4.7 oz.
Waterproofing: 3-layer Pertex Shield
Category: Trail running
What we like: More durable than the Arc’teryx Norvan SL, plus a pocket.
What we don’t: Very pricey for a rain jacket with limited uses.
The Montane Minimus 777 is the ultralight sibling of the Arc’teryx Norvan SL above. Both are minimalist pieces designed for trail running and other high-output activities. Both have 3-layer constructions, sub-5 ounce weights, and are highly breathable. And the jackets are pretty close in price—we are recommending the cheaper pullover version of the Minimus 777, but the full zip is the exact same price as the Norvan at $299.
Where the jackets differ is their feature set. The Minimus 777 has a single chest pocket, which we find handy, and the jacket can be packed down to about half the size of a Nalgene bottle (the Norvan SL has a separate stuff sack that we are almost certain to lose). And although the Minimus 777 is slightly more likely to wet out, it’s also been much more durable than the Norvan with the ability to wear a pack and treat it much more like a normal rain jacket. It’s a close call between these two featherweights and you can’t go wrong with either. Perhaps the choice will come down to availability—both are popular among trail runners and in limited supply... Read in-depth review
See the Montane Minimus 777 Pull-On
|Marmot Minimalist||$200||15.13 oz.||2.5L Gore-Tex||Hiking/daily use||Yes||No|
|Outdoor Research Realm||$279||10.9 oz.||3L AscentShell||Performance/hiking||No||Yes|
|Marmot PreCip||$100||10.52 oz.||2.5L NanoPro||Hiking/daily use||Yes||Yes|
|Arc’teryx Zeta LT||$425||11.85 oz.||3L Gore-Tex||Performance/hiking||No||No|
|Outdoor Research Foray||$215||15.13 oz.||2.5L Gore-Tex||Hiking/daily use||Yes||Yes|
|Patagonia M10||$399||8.1 oz.||3L H2No||Performance/hiking||No||Yes|
|REI Rhyolite||$189||12 oz.||3L eVent||Hiking/daily use||No||No|
|Patagonia Torrentshell||$129||11.32 oz.||2.5L H2No||Hiking/daily use||Yes||Yes|
|Outdoor Research Helium II||$159||6.4 oz.||2.5L Pertex||Ultralight||No||Yes|
|Montbell Peak Shell||$175||9.1 oz.||2.5L Dry-Tec||Hiking/daily use||Yes||Yes|
|Arc'teryx Norvan SL||$299||4.2 oz.||2L Gore-Tex||Trail running||No||Yes|
|Columbia Watertight II||$59||13 oz.||2L Omni-Tech||Hiking/daily use||No||Yes|
|The North Face Venture||$99||11.11 oz.||2.5L Dryvent||Hiking/daily use||Yes||Yes|
|Montane Minimus 777||$289||4.7 oz.||3L Pertex||Trail running||No||Yes|
Editor's Note: "Packable" indicates the jacket has a stuff pocket.
- Best Uses
- Waterproof vs. Water Resistant
- Fabric Layers
- Hardshells and Softshells
- Rain Jacket Care
- Back to Our Top Picks
Performance-oriented rain jackets are your focused outdoor pieces. One step down from a true hardshell jacket, they're made to withstand extreme conditions: the shell fabrics are tougher, the waterproof membranes are better breathers, and the hoods are more substantial. As a result, the interior fabrics are also much less prone to clamming up, and often have a premium, soft feel. Price does increase with these upgrades, although daily usability is nearly on par with the hiking/daily use category below. The primary compromise is pocket placement as some hand pockets sit high to accomodate a climbing harness. Jackets in this category include the Outdoor Research Realm, which absolutely blew us away with its performance in brutal conditions in southeast Alaska.
Pared down, thin, and very focused, ultralight rain jackets are not for everyone. Their performance is often similar to or a little below the weekend hiker category below. On the surface, that may not seem impressive, but given the substantial drop in weight, there’s a whole lot of technology packed into these 6-ounce (or less) wonders. The designs do require a few sacrifices, most notably the thinner fabrics being more prone to tearing and sagging and pressing against your skin under heavy rain. You also miss out on a number of features like hand pockets and as many adjustment options for the waist, hood and wrists. All those sacrifices are well worth it for the ultralight backpacker or climber who needs an emergency shell. The rest may be better suited to look elsewhere.
This is the most common type of lightweight rain jacket, and includes big sellers like the entry-level Patagonia Torrentshell and Marmot PreCip all the way up to the $189 Marmot Minimalist. You get enough features and a substantial enough fabric to use to and from work, but they’re plenty light and packable to bring along on a hiking trip. And their performance in heavy rain and wind is admirable, particularly the more substantial Gore-Tex Paclite models (including the Minimalist and Foray). Breathability does suffer compared with the performance shells above and the cheaper jackets won't last as long, but they are a nice middle ground of price and performance.
Thanks to advances in fabric and membrane technologies, there is a growing market of trail-running jackets that push weights even lower than the ultralight category above. Through some extensive testing, we've found these shells to be completely waterproof with seam taping and 3-layer membranes, and breathability performance exceeds their 2.5-layer counterparts (including the OR Helium II). Clearly, there are compromises in such a feathery structure and the most significant is durability. The class-leading Arc’teryx Norvan SL may weigh 4 ounces but its construction is so delicate that you can’t wear a pack without potentially damaging the waterproof system. Cost is another consideration as these jackets run about $300. For the trail runner that heads out in any and all conditions, however, the performance for the weight is simply unmatched.
No piece of outdoor gear offers total protection from outside moisture, but most of today’s rain jackets are listed as being either “water resistant” or “waterproof.” Many light rain jackets, windbreakers, and soft shells are water resistant, meaning that they shed water in light to modest precipitation but aren’t completely waterproof under extended exposure. Waterproof jackets have a built-in laminate layer like Gore-Tex or a coating that essentially blocks outside moisture from entering under most conditions. Additionally, they have waterproof taping along the seams on the interior of the jacket.
You may notice a waterproof rating listed on some outdoor gear websites, represented by a number from 0 to 20,000mm. This is the amount of water in a 1-inch-diameter vertical tube that the material can withstand without leaking. The test is a strange one: it doesn’t mimic real-world conditions and many manufacturers choose not to list it at all. Other factors like seam taping play a major role in waterproofness, so the number doesn’t truly determine how dry you will stay in a downpour. We at Switchback Travel don’t feel the waterproof ratings are very helpful in the buying process and have chosen not to list them with our specs. You can take note of the number when it’s available, as it will often correlate with other characteristics like fabric thickness and durability, but don’t base your buying decision on that alone.
To create a waterproof rain jacket that resists moisture from entering yet also lets sweat and hot air vent out requires a combination of fabric layers. You’ll see this referenced in every performance-oriented rain jacket on the market, typically seen as: 2L, 2.5L or 3L. We break down the pros and cons of each below:
These jackets are the most basic, and typically require a mesh liner to protect the jacket’s inner coating (hence the 2-layer name). They’re not very breathable and the mesh adds bulk, making 2-layer jackets best for casual use. You’ll often find them in entry-level styles or in jackets intended for around town use, and as such, only one 2-layer budget Columbia jacket made our “best of” list.
A 2.5-layer jacket attaches a very thin interior fabric to the waterproof/breathable laminate or coating. The benefit of this interior finish is that the mesh found in 2-layer jackets is no longer necessary. Breathability as well as compressibility increases and weight decreases with the design, making this the most popular option for hikers, backpackers, and climbers. One downside is that the interior fabric isn't as soft to the touch as a true 3-layer (some consider it slippery or plasticky), but we've seen improvements with recent models.
A true 3-layer construction incorporates three separate pieces of fabric, with the actual waterproof and breathable membrane in the middle and a more substantial fabric on the interior. This adds a bit of bulk than a comparable 2.5 layer, but increases durability and further improves breathability and next-to-skin feel. Jumping to a 3-layer jacket also involves a significant increase in price, and most often these are big name designs, like Gore-Tex or eVent. It's worth noting that all premium performance jackets to make our list have a 3-layer construction.
Hiking, backpacking, climbing, and other backcountry pursuits require a jacket that is lightweight but also can handle a sustained downpour. The differences in weight are significant: an ultra-lightweight minimalist shell like the Outdoor Research Helium II, for example, weighs only 6.4 ounces, while cheaper jackets or those with more features can weigh closer to a pound. Those extra ounces in a pack can really add up, making an ulralight shell a compelling option. Weights are continuing to drop as fabric and membrane technologies advance, and at the extreme end are sub-5 ounce trail-running jackets like the Arc'teryx Norvan SL or Montane Minimus 777.
One of the most sought after features in a waterproof rain jacket is breathability: the ability for perspiration and other moisture to exit the jacket without outside water coming in. Some cheaper rain jackets are barely breathable at all, but almost all of the fabrics used in today’s models are at least somewhat breathable and promoted as such. The market leader has long been Gore-Tex, particularly in their high-end offerings, but a number of fabrics are now challenging the paradigm including eVent, NeoShell by Polartec, MemBrain by Marmot, and HyVent Alpha by The North Face. Generally speaking, the more you spend the more breathable the jacket will be. One exception is ultralight jackets, which cost more than cheap lightweight models but ventilate approximately the same. A jacket’s breathability is greatly enhanced with the inclusion of pit zips, which we discuss further below.
A jacket’s packability can be looked at and measured in a couple ways. First, there are the jackets that can stuff into their own pockets. Just turn the pocket inside out, smoosh the jacket in, and zip it shut. While this is great, it’s doesn’t necessarily mean the jacket is that packable. The packed sizes can vary widely for these “packable” shells, with the ultralights resembling a small envelope and others, like the cheaper Columbia Watertight, measuring about 3x the size. The other way of looking at packable rain shells is how compressible they truly are. In that respect, the lightweight Arc'teryx Zeta LT would still be considered quite “packable”, despite lacking a stuff pocket. You can just roll it up into its own hood to protect the thinner fabric in your pack. Look to weight as a great indicator of how packable a jacket truly is.
Rain jackets don’t offer as much variation in features as some other types of outdoor gear, but there are notable differences between models. Many ultralight and trail-running jackets forego pockets to cut down on weight, while other models sport them in abundance. Some rain jackets offer pit zips and/or full side vents, while basic models do not (as well as taped seams on more expensive rain jackets for extra protection from the elements). Almost all rain jackets have hoods included, but some are cut big enough to fit over a helmet and the style of the cinch varies significantly. Keep a close eye on features and try to match them to your intended use and budget.
Casual users appreciate a couple of hand pockets, and that’s one of the most notable omissions in using an ultralight shell for daily use. Most ultralight shells go without hand pockets, instead opting for a chest pocket for storage. On the otherhand, more feature rich shells, such as our hiking/daily use options, hit a better sweet spot for the everyday user. You often get two hand pockets and a chest pocket (either on the inside or outside of the shell), all the better for the little things you need to carry around on a daily basis like a phone or wallet.
Pocket placement is another consideration. Serious shells, such as those offered by Arc’teryx, often place the hand pockets higher up on the torso to avoid interfering with your pack’s hipbelts. What you gain in convenience with the hipbelt (or climbing harness), you then lose in daily usability. It’s just not as natural a landing spot for your hands.
Hood size can be a big consideration when rain jacket shopping. If you plan to climb in your rain jacket, look for one with a helmet compatible hood. These can reach over the top of most climbing helmets for added weather protection. For example, the Patagonia M10 is a great choice for climbers due to its large hood as well as its tiny packed size that can be easily clipped to a carabiner. For normal hiking and backpacking, it’s often prudent to avoid this feature as the large hood will require a lot of cinching down, causing the fabrics to bunch up.
Adjustability of the hood also is key. When the wind is blowing, you want a hood that conforms to your head, while retaining enough structure around the sides and the bill that you can still see out. Some manufacturers succeed better than others at this concept. One standout is Arc’teryx’s StormHood: with a single pull at the back of the hood, you adjust evenly around the sides and back of the head. Of the more budget-friendly options, we like the hood design of the Patagonia Torrentshell, which has toggles at the back and front for quick and easy adjustments. We prefer the toggle style for adjusting the back of the hood over a rip-and-stick Velcro tab for its improved performance (both styles are pictured below). The cord wraps around the sides of your head and pins the fabric down in a uniform way when cinched, which keeps the hood on your head even in really windy conditions. The benefits of the Velcro style are simplicity and weight: they don’t require a cord or toggle, both of which add a bit of bulk.
Pit and Side Zips
In creating a waterproof jacket specifically designed to keep moisture out, there are natural restrictions on the air being held inside. And when you’re working hard, it can quickly become a necessity to dump some of that hot air rather quickly. Enter the pit zip. By opening up the jacket under the arms, you can release a lot of air without sacrificing the jacket’s waterproof design. The ultimate expression of how effective a pit zip can be is the Outdoor Research Foray. The underarm zippers extend all the way down to the hems on either side. Full unzipped, the jacket becomes a poncho.
To give the best seal possible, every rain jacket that we recommend here has some sort of cinch system at the hem. Typically done with a cord and toggle, they’re very user-friendly. You’ll see one side cinch on ultralights when the manufacturer is trying to cut some weight. The single cinch does mean if you really have to tighten the jacket, it will pull a bit to one side, but it’s often negligible and worth the weight savings. Heavier rain jackets have cinches on each side for a more even fit.
Traditional softshell jackets are not fully waterproof. While the outer fabric typically has a DWR coating, letting light showers bead up and roll off, the seams aren’t taped and the fabric will eventually let water seep through. Also, a softshell is a bit thicker than a rain jacket, and offers a negligible amount of warmth as a result. Even as technologies have advanced and full waterproof softshells have become available, they still can’t compete with the waterproofing performance of a traditional rain jacket. Instead, softshells remain a better choice for those looking for a breathable and water resistant outer layer. Popular applications include backcountry skiing and trekking in mild weather. For a list of our top picks, you can check out our in-depth softshell review here.
Hardshell jackets, in contrast to the hiking rain jackets we’ve listed above, are made for truly extreme conditions. Built to withstand heavy driving rain and wind, the jackets are heavier and bulkier. Their fabrics are also much less prone to being soaked through under sustained rainfall. As a result of the tough builds, you’ll see these hardshells being used for anything from mountaineering to backcountry skiing. And you’ll also see prices skyrocket for these performance pieces thanks to their high-end detailing. A few rain jackets on this list cross into the lighter end of the hardshell category, including the Outdoor Research Realm, Patagonia M10, and Arc'teryx Zeta LT.
More hybrid hardshell/softshell options are being released each year. It's increasingly easy to find softshell jackets offering ever-improving wet-weather performance and hardshell jackets incorporating softshell panels for better range of motion, comfort, and breathability. For more reading on this somewhat confusing topic, we've found this article by Outdoor Research to be a nice summary of the current state of the market.
A rain jacket’s waterproofing relies on a combination of factors: Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating that beads up water, and clean fabric layers on either side of the waterproof and breathable membrane to allow air vapor to pass through. Some membrane designs are more vulnerable to getting clogged up and require consistent cleaning (this will vary based on use, but we aim for every few weeks with our eVent direct venting gear).
For washing, it’s always best to start by checking the label on your jacket as the specific instructions will vary. As a general recommendation, the following works well for us: wash the jacket in warm water with liquid detergent, and run it through a second rinse cycle to clear out any detergent residue. Line drying typically is best, although we’ve had some eVent and Gore-Tex jackets that instruct you to put it in the dryer on warm heat to replenish the DWR finish.
If you’re noticing that the jacket isn’t beading up water anymore and putting it in the dryer for a short stretch doesn’t fix the problem, you may need to reapply some DWR (this is common as the coating diminishes over time). A waterproof jacket without DWR won’t breathe as well in heavy rain because the water will pool up and soak into the exterior fabric layer. Reapplying the DWR is done through a fairly simple process, and we’ve found that the Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On works well.
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