The Best Rain Jacket for Men Review
What is the best all-around rain jacket? We put 10 of the most highly regarded jackets through months of testing, in an enormous range of conditions. The contenders range from state of the art ultralight rain protection to burly Gore-Tex pieces; we also compared our favorite, more budget-friendly general use options. The best of these jackets lock out the rain or snow, allowing your sweat to escape, moving with you whether you're scrambling to a mountain top or strolling through a rainy morning at the farmers' market.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
The do-everything Arc'teryx Beta SL narrowly claimed our Editors' Choice Award, while amongst stiff competition. The Beta SL scored the best, or nearly the best, in almost every category. In the end, if we could only own one rain jacket, this would be it. Our testing team loved its best-in-review mobility, exceptionally versatility, fantastic hood design, and excellent storm worthiness - all at a below average weight. While some jackets offer specific advantages for certain applications, if we could only have one jacket for a wide range of activities, this do-everything rain jacket would be it.
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Analysis and Test Results
A rain jacket that keeps you dry when the skies let loose, may be the first piece of performance outdoor clothing you ever purchase; as a result, a waterproof shell is among the most important pieces of gear for comfort and safety when a storm rolls in. The models we reviewed here span affordable rain protection for short day hikes and general around town use, to ultralight rain protection for climbing and trail running. Whether you are searching for your first jacket, a modern replacement for an old favorite, or an ultralight model to add to your quiver, you're in the right place.
Below you'll find descriptions of our evaluation metrics, as well as information about the top performers in each metric and how they compare to other models. In our individual reviews, we detail each product's features, explain our scoring in each metric, and compare and contrast each jacket to its closest competitors. If you want to know how the details of how each hood cinches down, or exactly where the adjustments for the hem are, you'll find those details in each product's review.
Waterproof Breathable Fabrics 101
First some basics: there is a lot of fancy jargon regarding waterproof and breathable fabrics and it can be hard to figure out what construction methods are best for you. The following are some important basics that can be critical to understand in order to make the best possible purchase regarding rain jackets. We offer a far more in-depth explanation in our Buying Advice article.
Construction 101: 2, 2.5, and 3-layer Fabrics
Nearly every manufacturer boasts about how many layers their jacket features, but what does that even mean and how should this affect what products you consider?
Most rain shell fabrics use a 2, 2.5, and 3-layer designs, even if they might only look like a single layer when you hold them at the store; that's because these layers are tightly sandwiched together. Whether 2, 2.5, or 3-layer fabrics, these designs actually share most of their construction qualities; there is generally only a small difference on the inside facing-side of the garment. All three construction styles feature an outer shell fabric, commonly referred to as a face fabric which is coated with a chemical Durable Water Repellent (AKA: DWR, more on this below) finish to help keep the outer layer from absorbing water. The second, or middle layer is the actual waterproof layer, whether that be eVent, Gore-Tex, another membrane, or coated fabric. Universally, these nearly get placed beneath the outer most face fabric layer; so yes, you can't actually see the waterproof layer from the outside. The third and inner most layer is where all of the differences lie.
As we mentioned above, 3-layer fabrics feature an external DWR treated face-fabric - a waterproof breathable membrane in the middle and a polyurethane (PU) film or other similar backing. This third layer's goal is to keep sweat and oils from clogging the microscopic holes in waterproof-breathable layer, which would reduce breathability and make the user feel wet from sweat that they might think is coming from the outside.
The advantage of three layer fabrics is they are typically more durable overall because of the inner-most piece of fabric, which protects the pores in the waterproof membrane from clogging (longer), thus maintaining better breathability between washings. That said, 3 layer pieces are not always as breathable and are often heavier than many of their 2.5 layer counterparts.
2.5 Layer Fabrics
Outer garments that feature a 2.5 layer construction look extremely similar to those that feature a 3 layer design (with the exception that they may feel slightly lighter and more subtle). Jackets that feature a 2.5 layer construction have the same outermost layer that has been treated with DWR, protecting the waterproof layer. Then, an exceptionally thin polyurethane laminate or other coating is placed on the inside to help protect this layer from sweat, grime, or other oils that could clog the pores. This layer is often "painted on", which is why its considered a half layer, even if it covers all of the inside surface area.
Jackets that feature a 2.5 layer construction offer similar breathability to 3 layer jackets, though they sometimes feel marginally clammier. Why? Because the inner most layer doesn't do quite as good of a job at "absorbing" and transferring sweat that has been created by the wearer. 2.5 layer jackets are typically slightly lighter and more subtle, but often not quite as durable (and must be cleaned more frequently to maintain breathability).
2 Layer Fabrics
These fabrics have the same DWR face fabric bonded to a waterproof-breathable layer with a loose liner hanging on the inside that is typically mesh; this works to help protect the membrane or coated fabric. These jackets are typically less expensive and more moderately priced. They do breathe very well, but are heavier, bulkier, and not ideal for active outdoor users.
Criteria For Evaluation
A rain jacket should keep you dry in a rain storm, whether hiking, backpacking, or just out walking the dog. Period. In our scoring metrics, this was the most heavily weighted category at 30 percent. Manufacturers used many different types of waterproof fabrics and treatments in the jackets we tested. Lots of laboratory testing has been done to quantify how waterproof each of these coated or laminated fabrics are. The important bit to understand is that all of the products we tested are extremely water-resistant to use as a rain shell. In all the models we tested, the seams in the shell fabric are seam-taped after sewing, making a completely sealed envelope. What differentiates performance when the rain pours down is the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket closures, and pit zips; to a lesser extent, the longevity of its DWR will also differentiate performance.
Material makes a pretty incredible difference regarding breathability (which can make you feel wet from the inside), longevity, and durability. The fact that one fabric is waterproof to 30 PSI and one to 40 PSI does not make a functional difference to the wearer.
Rain is not going to penetrate any of these fabrics; however, in a downpour, running water will seek a way in through a pocket zipper, down your wrist when you reach overhead, or where the hood meets your neck. We stood in the shower for a four minutes in each jacket, and also got a spray down with the garden hose to help us seek out any weak spots. We found the Arc'teryx Beta SL and the Marmot Minimalist were the most bombproof of the bunch. The REI Rhyolite, Outdoor Research Foray, and The North Face Dryzzle all performed well, doing an excellent job of sealing out rain. All contenders have wrist cuffs that can be cinched down tightly on the wrist with Velcro closures. We found that all hoods will seal well around the face and chin.
All the products we tested will keep you dry in a storm. The primary differences in our water resistance metric come from the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket closures, and pit zips.
The other important component of a jacket's water resistance is its durable water repellent (DWR) treatment. This treatment is factory applied to the fabric's exterior and allows it to bead and shed water. Even though nylon and polyester are both hydrophobic, if they aren't treated with a DWR (or after the treatment wears off), they will wet out, or become covered with a continuous film of water. This results in a heavier jacket and reduced breathability. The DWR used on the Marmot PreCip, Minimalist and Beta SL really stands out, as does the The North Face Dryzzle. All the jackets we tested beaded water well to start, and DWR treatment can be reapplied to your jacket if needed. Check out DWR maintenance in our Care & Cleaning section.
Breathability & Ventilation
To a large degree, a garment's breathability is affected by the fabrics it's bonded too. However, in our review, the difference in face fabrics (because they didn't vary greatly in thickness and materials) didn't affect breathability as much as construction type and the type of waterproof membrane used.
A Note on Breathability
Remember you can get hot and sweaty walking up a steep hill while wearing only a tee shirt. We've overheard far too many people saying that their jacket didn't breathe at all or quite enough for their specific needs. All of these jackets allow moisture to pass through them; however, none of them allow all the moisture you'd want to escape if you're working hard while wearing too many layers, or just plain working hard at a high exertion rate (at warmer temperatures). If there is a point when your lightweight t-shirt can't breathe and pass moisture quick enough, know the same is true for your rain jacket. Set yourself up for success and do your best to wear the minimum layers you can get away with, while using the vents to maximize the air exchange and allow moisture and heat to escape.
Our water resistance metric measured how well each rain jacket will keep you dry from the outside, while our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each keeps you dry from the inside by allowing sweat to escape. We took two main factors into consideration when awarding scores for this metric (which is weighted at 25% of our overall ratings). First, we thought about the ability of the jacket's fabric to breathe; this is where waterproof technologies really distinguish themselves. These multi-layered fabrics allow water vapor to be wicked through the fabric to the outside, where it can evaporate. And second, we studied how well the features of a given jacket allow for ventilation.
Due to its' construction, eVent is the most breathable waterproof fabric we tested. Gore-Tex PacLite and some PU laminates like Marmot's NanoPro 2.5 layer laminate are close, but can't quite pass as much moisture. We didn't think eVent was FAR more breathable, but after extensive side-by-side testing and real world use, we think it narrowly won our review team over. As a note, in this review we didn't test any jackets that used Gore-Tex Active Shell which WL Gore claims is the most breathable of their current three types of Gore-Tex.
A fabric's breathability is most important when it is actually raining hard, and you want to batten down the hatches by closing pit-zips and cinching up the hood. The more active your endeavors, the greater importance you should assign to breathability. In the time between cloud bursts when you want to continue wearing your jacket for wind protection or as part of your warmth layering system, ventilation becomes nearly as important as breathability. Pit zips and mesh-lined pockets that allow air flow when open can be valuable features depending on your activiey. To a lesser extent, cuffs that can adjust to allow for air circulation from the wrist give you some, though much more limited ventilation options.
Side-by-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of all of these jackets in both real world use while hiking and backpacking, but also in a series of systematic side-by-side hiking in the rain tests (which the normal pacific Northwest Fall served up plenty of rainy days to help us out). We also performed a 10-minute stair master test.
The REI Rhyolite, which is constructed with eVent, breathes marginally better than other jackets, but offers only a little ventilation (so we are comparing all-zipped-up to all-zipped-up). This jacket was less steamy inside during high energy activities than any other and we could notice ourselves getting colder quicker at breaks when wearing the Rhyolite. Comparing all-zipped-up jackets, we thought the Arc'teryx Beta SL and the Marmot Minimalist breathability was among the best in the review; while they were comparable to the Rhyolite, they did not stand out as much.
The Outdoor Research Foray also earned our highest score. We found its' Paclite fabric had excellent breathability; what sets the Foray apart is its "TorsoFlo" design which is basically two lengthy zippers. The zippers extend from the hem of the jacket to the wearer's tricep and allow the jacket to be opened up like a poncho. Among coated jackets, the Marmot PreCip and the The North Face Venture received respectable scores for breathability. While their fabrics weren't quite as breathable, the featured slightly larger than average pit zips and lower hand pockets (lined with mesh) that dumped a noticeable amount of heat when open.
Comfort & Mobility
We tested these jackets in drizzles and downpours while hiking, climbing, playing disc golf, backcountry skiing, ice climbing and backpacking in the mountains. We also used them for everyday chores like carrying groceries and firewood to the house. Whatever activities you have planned, you want to find a jacket that moves comfortably with you. How well does the hood move with your head as you look around? Does the jacket ride up – leaving your waist exposed – when you raise your arms above your head? We answer these questions in each jacket's individual review.
Within this metric, we also noted small features like a micro fleece patch at the chin or soft fabric where the hood rests on your brow – both nice touches. We also considered ease of use. Are the cinch cords for the hood easy to access and adjust? Some jackets add small string or fabric pull tabs to the zipper pulls for ease of use with cold fingers or gloves.
The Arc'teryx Beta SL featured the best range of motion and mobility of any jacket in our review. The Beta SL featured well-designed and articulated shoulders and sleeves, with an arm length that was just above average, but not too long. There were other jackets that were decent, but when it came to climbing or other mobility demanding activities, this was our absolute favorite option. The Marmot Minimalist, Outdoor Research Foray, and Outdoor Research Helium II also had very good mobility and received the next highest rating in this metric.
The effectiveness varied wildly among the hoods. While all while waterproof, their ability to stay on our heads and not blind our peripheral vision ranged greatly among models tested. Our favorite hoods were the Arc'teryx Beta SL and the REI Rhyolite; the Outdoor Research Foray scored right behind them. All three of these jackets featured hoods that cinched down over a wide range of headwear, from beanies to baseball caps, and minimized the amount of peripheral vision that was lost. We like the Marmot Minimalist, Patagonia Torrentshell and North Face Drizzles hoods, but they didn't fit over a helmet as nicely.
For some users, light is right. When you are reading reviews here at OutdoorGearLab, this is emphasized over and over. We highly value lightweight clothing and equipment, but not at the expense of function. If you are thru-hiking 2,000 miles, climbing technical terrain, or riding your bicycle from coast to coast, weight will be your primary concern. When we head out for a huge day in the mountains, weight is of primary importance as well.
Many jacket users will have several priorities above weight, including breathability, comfort, and the right combination of features. Let weight be the final deciding factor if you are torn between two products that will meet your needs.
The Outdoor Research Helium II is the absolute lightest model we tested, weighing in at 6.5. That's half the weight (or even less) of most of the jackets in this review. If weight is your primary concern, this jacket is truly hard to beat, and is one of the lightest waterproof breathable models current available. We were impressed that while the Helium isn't feature rich, we feel like it has most of the things you'd want, such as above-average mobility, a well designed hood, and a tiny stuff pocket with a clip-in loop. The next lightest jackets we tested were the Arc'teryx Beta SL (11 ounces), which was the lightest of Gore-tex or eVent contenders, as well as the Patagonia Torrentshell.
Weather can change quickly. At some point, we've all been caught out in a storm, having gotten soaked when we left our jacket at the then-sunny trailhead. These just-in-case packing scenarios are when having a super light and compact rain shell that easily fits in your pack is super useful. Grab it from the car, throw it in, and forget it until you need it. Seven of these jackets stuff into one of their own pockets and others can be rolled and stuffed into their hoods for quick stowing. Our rating for packed size considers not only the actual compressed size, but the ease of using the integrated stuff pocket. Some of these jackets compress quite small, but it requires wrestling to get them stowed; others easily fit into their stuff pocket. A clip-in loop after the jacket is stuffed is a nice feature; check the individual reviews for this detail, as well as a photo of each beside a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle. As for weight, the Outdoor Research Helium II was by far the most compact jacket, with the Marmot PreCip and The North Face Venture Jacket coming in as the next most compressible.
As we've just described above, the products we tested range from bare bones ultralight designs to more fully featured standard models. For some adventures, super light is right, but more often a few pockets and pit zips contribute enough utility for the handful of extra 2-4 ounces not to matter. If you are wearing your jacket around town, room in the pockets for a pair of gloves and a warm hat, plus phone and keys is always nice. Some folks like to use a rain hat; a hood that rolls away and stows can be appreciated.
In each individual review, after detailing the jacket's performance in each metric, we provide an additional rundown of the jacket's features, from the hood all the way down to the waist hem. If you want to know exactly where the hem cord locks are, we'll let you know!
Having a few pockets on your jacket is incredibly useful. Besides the use of storing small items and having a convenient place to keep your hands warm, their location can have a great deal of effect on the comfort of the jacket. Having low hand warmer pockets are great for around town but can be a nuisance while wearing a hip-belt and a heavily-weighted pack.
When a majority of the pocket is under a weighted hip-belt, whether out for the day or on an extended trip, the zipper can dig into your hips, quickly making your rainy-day adventure even more miserable. We love pockets that are slightly higher, out of the way of a pack's hip-belt or a climbing harness, so we can still access items and more importantly, so the zipper doesn't cause us pain under heavy loads.
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands you place on it. The face fabric of most of these jackets is nylon or polyester. For the most part, the lighter the face fabric is, the easier it is to tear. Most of the jackets we tested use between a 30-50 Denier face fabric with the 50D shells being tougher than the 30Ds. All but the Columbia Watertight II feature ripstop material. The ripstop weave doubles up on thread at intervals, providing a grid of strong fibers to stop tears from growing.
Other models use a polyester exterior which is known to be stretchier and slightly more durable than nylon. If you plan to use your jacket off trail or bushwhacking through the wilderness, choose a model with ripstop face fabric or opt for polyester. Lastly, jackets with less seams in the shoulders will certainly hold up better over time if you plan to carry a pack on a regular basis.
The Marmot Minimalist and Outdoor Research Foray both pair 50D polyester ripstop face fabrics and with Gore-Tex Paclite, enabling them to earn the two highest durability scores. Other jackets, such as the Marmot Essence, Patagonia Torrentshell, and REI Crestrail pulled in a 7 out of 10. We focused mostly on each jacket's face fabric and construction when judging durability longevity and tear-resistance. While some DWR treatments are longer lasting than others, all will need maintenance and perhaps reapplication to match the lifespan of the jacket. We did reflect each jackets DWR longevity in their durability and water resistance scores.
Figuring out which rain jacket is right for you is more complicated than it might seem at first glance. While keeping you dry is the goal, features like ventilation can make a big difference in day to day use. Our hope is that our review and test results have helped you narrow down to one or two jackets that fit your situation. If you are still not sure, consider taking a look at our buying advice article.
— Ian Nicholson
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