The Best Rain Jacket for Women Review

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Beachcombing is an example of an ideal activity for The North Face Resolve.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti
In the rapidly evolving world of waterproof/breathable rainwear, we set out to find the best rain shell for the avid outdoorswoman. We selected eight of the top selling rain jackets and put them head-to-head, or perhaps that's hood-to-hood, in myriad field tests. Marketing and hype will only get the jacket off the shelf and into your closet--by field testing, our hope is to make sure you find the right rain shell to get you to your next summit, your favorite beach, or your next meeting, and keep you dry from the inside-out.

We chose a range of jackets from cheap to spendy, sexy to boxy, fully featured to minimalist. Then we put them on and ran, biked, gardened, bar-hopped, shopped, and even rode a motor scooter--all in the rain. Below you will find a detailed discussion of our findings, complete with a few surprises from this year's product lineup.

Our winner, the Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's took the top rank with its thoughtful combination of function, durability, and features, introducing the intriguing new TorsoFlo venting system. The Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's blew our minds with its light weight and simplicity. And the Marmot Precip - Women's and the Sierra Designs Stretch Rain Jacket - Women's provided the most intrigue in our tests with some interesting new material technology.

To learn more about what defines the perfect rain shell, and when you might want a different type of shell, reference our Women's Rain Jacket Buying Advice article. Also check out our men's review and the The Best Softshell Jacket for Women Review to learn about other protective shells.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Rain Jackets - Women's Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's
Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's
Read the Review
Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's
Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's
Read the Review
Marmot PreCip - Women's
Marmot PreCip - Women's
Read the Review
Patagonia Torrentshell - Women's
Patagonia Torrentshell - Women's
Read the Review
The North Face Resolve - Women's
The North Face Resolve - Women's
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price Varies $150 - $215
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $120 - $150
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $60 - $100
Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $70 - $129
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $90 - $107
Compare at 4 sellers
Overall Score 
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79
Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Durable, comfortable, sleek, amazing ventilation system, great for backcountry or town useLightest rain jacket tested, very packableAffordable, breathable, highly functional, packable, simpleGood waterproof/breathable standard, affordable, packable, climber-specific and function-drivenComfortable, durable, relatively stylish, practical
Cons Expensive, a little heavier and bulkierVery few extra features, light material feels fragileA little less durable, not as stylishNot the most tailored fit, not comfort-drivenNot as breathable, heavy
Best Uses Climbing, hiking, backpacking, ski touring, winter activities, bike commutingHiking, backpacking, ultralight backpacking, climbingHiking, backpacking, everyday useClimbing, mountaineering, backpacking, hiking, and every day/around town rain jacketGeneral outdoor use, everyday wear, not optimized for high aerobic levels
Date Reviewed Oct 18, 2014Oct 19, 2014Oct 18, 2014Oct 20, 2014Oct 20, 2014
Weighted Scores Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's Marmot PreCip - Women's Patagonia Torrentshell - Women's The North Face Resolve - Women's
Water Resistance - 30%
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9
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9
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9
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9
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9
Breathability - 15%
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9
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9
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9
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8
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7
Comfort - 20%
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9
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8
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8
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7
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9
Weight - 15%
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7
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8
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8
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6
Durability - 15%
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9
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6
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7
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9
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7
Packed Size - 5%
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8
Product Specs Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's Marmot PreCip - Women's Patagonia Torrentshell - Women's The North Face Resolve - Women's
Measured Weight (oz) 13.7 oz 5.5 oz 11.4 oz 11.3 oz 16.6 oz
# of fabric layers 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2
Material GORE-TEX 2.5L, 100% polyester 50D with PacliteTechnology Pertex Shield+ 2.5L, 100% nylon 30D ripstop NanoPro 100% Nylon Ripstop 2.2 oz/ yd 100% nylon ripstop with a waterproof/breathable barrier with Deluge DWR finish nylon ripstop HyVent 2L
Pockets 3 2 2 2 2
Color Options 4 5 19 8 12
Pit Zips Yes: TorsoFlo No Yes Yes No
Hood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Helmet compatible Hood Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Stows into pocket Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Carabiner loop in stow pocket No Yes Yes Yes No

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Choosing the right rain jacket is a task marred by the impeccable photography skills of outdoor photographers. That $500 jacket looks so sexy on that climber sending that WI7,M8+ mixed rock and ice climb in the wintry islands of Norway. This discussion will help you understand the different types of shell jackets, wade through the pros and cons, and find the best one for your needs.

The first step in buying a rain jacket is to be totally honest with yourself: just what are your priorities? Is this a jacket that will live in your closet or the trunk of your car 364 days a year? Or do you work outside in the elements most of the year? Are you sending sick mixed routes in Scotland? Or will the jacket ride around in the bottom of your backpack on long mountain adventures, suddenly to become the most important item on your back when the skies crack open?

Types of Shell Jackets
First, there are two major types of rain-proof jackets: a hardshell and a rain shell. This is a review of rain shells; for an in depth discussion of hardshells, check out The Best Hardshell Jacket Review. Both types of jackets serve roughly the same purpose, but there are some key differences. Explore these differences in depth in our How to Choose the Best Rain Jacket for Women article. Essentially, the primary differences you will find between a hardshell and a rain shell are in price and durability. A hardshell can run up to $500 while a rain shell is yours for around $200 at most, and for as little as $60. Within that price bracket you can find a broad range of quality, functionality, and comfort. Sometimes savings comes at a cost: what you gain in your bank account you might lose in breathability, features, durability, or comfort.

The Hardshell
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This skier is wearing a hardshell, but on a bluebird spring day like this, she would be even better served by a rain shell. With warm temps and a melting snowpack, it's time to get the rain shell out of the closet.
Credit: Thomas Greene
Hardshells, the more expensive form of weather protection, use a heavier and more durable waterproof/breathable material, and are typically comprised of three layers (like some form of Gore-Tex). A rain shell, however, is comprised of two to 2.5 layers. Hardshells are most appropriate for alpine and expedition use.

The Rain Shell
A two-layer rain shell will have an outer layer with a waterproof coating and a mesh liner to keep the wet-plastic feeling off your skin and promote breathability. Two layer rain shells are the original waterproof/breathable rain shell, where the mesh inner layer aids in breathability and adds a significant level of comfort.

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Amanda Fenn wearing the affordable Marmot PreCip in place of a hard shell on the Fox Glacier, New Zealand.
Credit: Jessica Fenn
For most consumers, the 2.5 layer jacket is the gold standard in rain shell technology. Here you will find a balance of wind and water protection in some seriously lightweight garments. The prices in this category can vary a lot depending on the technology used, but this is typically the category where you will find relatively rugged garments with an emphasis on light weight and breathability. The price difference usually reflects how well the garment performs its dual functions of waterproof protection/breathability. The 2.5-layer rain shell will provide the same waterproof protection, but they will be much more lightweight and packable, and will often feel more breathable than the two-layer versions.

The Softshell
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McKenzie Long leading ice in June Lake, California while testing the Patagonia Knifeblade. A stretchy softshell that is both breathable and provides some weather protection can be the most comfortable shell layer for athletes who move a lot during their sport.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
Realistically, most people will be happy with a simple and affordable rain shell over a hardshell--and this is the first important decision to make. These jackets are waterproof and wind resistant, and relatively lightweight since they are comprised of fewer layers. A third alternative, though not reviewed here, is a soft shell. These jackets are easily the most popular mountain layer. These jackets are highly breathable and wind resistant, and when the durable water repellent (DWR) coating is new, they can be surprisingly water repellant. These garments are designed for high octane activities. Prices for soft shells usually fall in between hard shells and rain shells. To learn about these jackets, and even some hybrid options that combine features of both, check out The Best Softshell Jacket for Women Review.

Criteria For Evaluation
To evaluate the best rain shells on the market this season, we took seven of the industry leaders out into the field and subjected them to various testing metrics. We assessed each jacket for water resistance (a must-have in a rain shell), breathability (the Holy Grail of rainwear), comfort, weight, durability, and packed size. While personal experience is a big factor in rating any garment, our mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive scoring metrics take much of that bias out of the equation.

We tested a broad cross-section of rain jackets. The Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's is minimalism by definition. The North Face Resolve - Women's and the Columbia Arcadia Rain II - Women's are cost-effective and comfortable. The Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's is a great all-arounder. The rest of the models fall somewhere in the middle: they are decently lightweight and packable, but balance performance with a few extra comfort features.

Below you will find a description of each category we used to rate each of the jackets:

Water Resistance
Most rain shells, when new, will be waterproof. To judge the jackets on this metric, we started first with the technical waterproofness rating of the material used. Not all waterproof technology is created equal in the companies' labs. However, in the field, how much of a difference does that number rating make? That difference shook out in our other metrics of weight and durability. After all, this is the OutdoorGearLab, not the IndoorGearLab.

As consumers, we are concerned about how well the jacket keeps us dry in the rain. For this metric we also considered the cut and fit of the jacket, and checked for any anomalies or flaws in the design that might not give adequate coverage in the varied uses of the outdoor enthusiast.

Overall, the jackets kept the rain out, and we were pleased. The Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's consistently inspired the most confidence in our reviewers--it felt the sturdiest and burliest of all the jackets we tested, and it is the one we would want in a truly torrential downpour.

Check out our review of the Sierra Designs Stretch Rain Jacket - Women's for the only jacket that scored lower in this category. It is a very interesting and innovative jacket which might still fit your needs, and the testers at OGL are intrigued to see how this technology will evolve.

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The Sierra Designs Stretch jacket got saturated with water quickly, especially on the arms, compared to the other jackets we tested in our hose test, which simulated moderate rainfall.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Breathability
This category is the Holy Grail of rainwear. Really, all of these jackets shed water. That's the point. And they do so very well off the shelf. But what really justifies the cost of a high end rain shell is the breathability.

As referenced in our Buying Advice article, the limits to breathability are when the fabric wets out (i.e. after the DWR coating wears out), the pores of the breathable fabric get clogged and you might as well be wearing an old Helly Hansen rubber fishing jacket. Okay maybe not, but you get the idea.

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Testing the OR Helium II on soggy running trails in the Pacific Northwet (no that is not a typo).
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Realistically, no jacket (yet) hits the mark of perfect 10 here, which would be a jacket that keeps you totally dry in a downpour and perfectly wicks away any sweat while running a marathon. Maybe we, as consumers, are asking too much. But demand drives ingenuity, so maybe, some day…

By definition as a rain shell, each of the jackets reviewed has a waterproof/breathable technology of some kind. The original waterproof breathable rain shell was constructed with a two-layer material, such as a ripstop nylon coated with polyurethane and a hanging mesh lining to reduce the clamminess on the inside. This technology is still pertinent, and is what you will find in jackets like The North Face Resolve and the Columbia Arcadia II. This technology is noticeably more breathable than old-fashioned rubber slickers, but not quite as breathable as the more modern (and rapidly evolving) 2.5-layer jackets we reviewed.

Breathability is technically defined as the ability of a material to expel excess moisture vapor (sweat). However, in the field when we say we want a breathable jacket, we mean we want it to wick our sweat and dump heat ASAP. As such, ventilation is an important component, so we considered the other ways the jackets were designed to breathe, such as pit-zips and mesh-lined pockets that act as vents. But in the end, the Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's, with no vents whatsoever, felt the most breathable. Its light weight and thin fabric made it feel highly breathable, and allowed for high functionality in even the most aerobic pursuits.

The new NanoPro™ material used in Marmot's PreCip is one more point of discussion in the breathability category. The innovative microporous structure of this material is dynamically air permeable, which helps shed excess moisture vapor. Find a detailed discussion of how this Best Buy winner tested out in Marmot PreCip - Women's.

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The TorsoFlo vents fully opened to show extent of the zippers on the OR Aspire.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Comfort
Mobility is a large component of comfort, given that these are jackets designed for people active in the outdoors, in everything from hiking and biking to climbing and skiing. This category didn't factor into our ratings as highly as water resistance and breathability because different people will desire different things in the comfort department. In each review, we detail comfort from an around-town perspective, but more importantly, we climbed, stretched, carried oddly shaped items, and moved in every way to assess the mobility of each rain shell.

The design of the hood can turn a great jacket into a total nightmare when you put on your helmet to ride to the store or climb up a snowy couloir. If it is too tight, it will restrict all of your movement, from your arms to your neck and head, and can greatly affect your sphere of vision.

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Checking out hood mobility of the climbing-optimized Patagonia Torrentshell.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Our last priority in regards to comfort was to look at all the little touches and niceties integrated into the jacket. A little fleece here, some extra room there; all of these little things could add up and turn a simple jacket into a favorite. The North Face Resolve - Women's assembled all the right pieces to be our favorite in the comfort department.

Weight
When you're putting all of your life in a backpack and carrying it on your back for a week, weight and bulk quickly trump most other considerations of whether or not to bring something. Our reviewers love light gear, but not at the expense of function. The Outdoor Research Helium II is the lightest shell we tested by far. At literally half the weight of the closest competitor, it's a jacket that you won't notice in your pack or on your back--except when you stop to realize that you've been hiking for an hour in wind and rain and you're still dry and psyched. One of our testers carried this jacket on her thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail because she found it met her requirements for high function and low weight.

Durability
If a jacket isn't rugged enough to withstand the abuse of your favorite outdoor activity, nothing else matters. A waterproof jacket made of tissue paper that rips when you even think about rock climbing in it won't keep you dry with a gaping hole in it. The Patagonia Torrentshell - Women's boasts a high level of durability, making it both a rugged piece for any activity, but also one that will last as long as that color scheme is in style. And most of the time, well beyond…

Packed Size
For many backcountry enthusiasts, the rain shell is the one item we carry religiously and rarely use. Our last category considers the importance of bulk in a layer that is often just along for the ride in the bottom of our pack. All of these jackets pack down into a pocket for east stowing, and there are only minor differences in the bulk.

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The rain jackets packed up into their stowable pockets. From left to right, top to bottom: Sierra Designs Stretch (didn't pack into a pocket), Columbia Arcadia II, OR Helium II, Marmot PreCip, The North Face Resolve, OR Aspire, Patagonia Torrentshell.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Award Winners
After considering all of these metrics, we selected three winners out of the jackets we tested. There were a couple of close seconds, but below you will find why our Editors' Choice, Top Pick, and Best Buy edged out the competition, if only by a hair.

Editors' Choice Award: Outdoor Research Aspire
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Outdoor Research Aspire
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Our Editors' Choice award for women's rain jackets goes to the Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's. With rain shells, it is unfortunate but true that you get what you pay for. The up side is that maybe you don't need the most expensive one out there, but that is for you to decide. The Aspire was the full package. It inspired the most confidence in our reviewers when the skies were black, provided a high level of versatility, and it had a very thoughtful combination of features while still remaining relatively lightweight and packable. After careful review of our tests and scoring metrics, our reviewers decided to award the Aspire with the Editors' Choice award. The Aspire is more versatile and durable than the Outdoor Research Helium II, which is just a little too specific as a lightweight rain shell to win our best all-around award. For that reason, the Helium II gets our Top Pick award.

Top Pick for Ultralight Rain Shell: Outdoor Research Helium II
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Outdoor Research Helium II
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Our Top Pick award goes to the Outdoor Research Helium 2 - Women's. Our reviewers found this jacket's light weight and packable design to be one of the most practical and useful jackets we tested. The jacket provides lightweight protection from wind and rain while maintaining a high-level of comfort and breathability. It is so light it functions just like a wind shell but provides the added protection of a waterproof shell. At only 5.5 ounces, it is an inconsequential addition to your pack, and offers outstanding weather protection. This jacket ran away with a high score our rating system, but our reviewers felt it was just a little too specific to be the overall winner. It is one of the thinnest jackets we tested, so it will not be quite as durable or long-lasting as our Editors' Choice, the Outdoor Research Aspire.

Best Buy Award: Marmot PreCip
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Marmot PreCip
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

The Marmot PreCip - Women's has been a well-respected industry standard for years. It has always been a top notch performer at a reasonable price. It is a comfortable, long-lasting, versatile jacket that will serve in just about any wet weather application. The Angle-Wing construction gives it high mobility, and it is light and packable to take on almost any backcountry adventure. The NanoPro material is as breathable as fabled, though this does mildly compromise wind protection. Overall, this is the most bang for your buck.

The Close Calls
As a shout out to our runners-up and close calls, our testers would like to direct you to a couple more options that might be just what you're looking for. Patagonia Torrentshell - Women's is of superb quality and is better optimized for mountain use than our Best Buy winner, the Marmot PreCip, plus it comes with Patagonia's Ironclad Guarantee and the thoughtful business practices of Yvon Chouinard. The North Face Resolve - Women's was another one our testers really appreciated as a solid performer and a great daily go-to jacket.

Lyra Pierotti
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