The Best Rain Jacket for Women Review
What is the best rain jacket for women? We selected eleven of the top selling rain jackets and put them head-to-head, or perhaps that's hood-to-hood, in myriad field tests. After months of extensive field testing in the notoriously wet Pacific Northwest, we rated each jacket on six different performance metrics, from water-resistance and breathability to packed size. 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.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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. Mountain Hardwear passed a milestone with the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic - Women's, and speeds ahead of the competition with its truly, really, actually, in reality stretchy rain jacket material. 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.
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Analysis and Test Results
The rain jacket industry has mostly mastered the art of keeping the rain out. With the rare exception, such as the Sierra Designs Stretch - Women's, which wets out like an old soft shell, rain jackets are fairly equally matched in the water resistance category — especially when the DWR (durable water repellent) coating is still fresh.
It is in the breathability category that things really get interesting. This category is the Holy Grail of rainwear. And this is where our reviewers found dramatic differences. The Achilles heel in this year's lineup was in features (some wacky and silly ones!) and ruggedness (or durability). As companies strive to make rain jackets more and more breathable while retaining the same standard of water resistance, something has to give.
To compare the competition, 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.
Choosing the right waterproof 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 choosing the right one 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 Rain Jackets
Two Layer Shells
2.5 Layer Shells
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.
Three-Layer Shells (Hardshell)
Hardshells, the more expensive form of weather protection, use a heavier and more durable waterproof/breathable material, and are comprised of three layers (like some form of Gore-Tex). A rain shell, however, is usually comprised of two to 2.5 layers. Hardshells are most appropriate for alpine and expedition use and have features tailored to this use. To learn more about hard-shells see our Women's Hardshell Review.
Criteria For Evaluation
To evaluate the best rain shells on the market this season, we took eleven 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 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. And the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic - Women's is a spendy but stretchy new product. 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:
Most rain shells, when new, will be waterproof. To judge the jackets on this metric, we compared the manufacturer's technical waterproofness rating of the material with our reviewers' reports. 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. We love the asymmetrical sleeve cuffs of the Marmot Crystalline which keep the back of the hands and the cuff of the layer worn underneath dry.
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.
The Sierra Designs Stretch - Women's is the lowest scorer in this category, and we are pleased to introduce another stretchy rain jacket on the market this year: the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic - Women's.
As referenced in our Buying Advice Article, the limit to breathability is reached when the fabric wets out (i.e. after the DWR coating wears out). When this happens, the pores of the breathable fabric get clogged and you might as well be wearing an old Helly Hansen rubber fishing jacket.
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), and is rated using the Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR), as discussed earlier. 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. Notably, the Outdoor Research Aspire takes ventilation to an entirely new level, unzipping all the way up the sides for a poncho-like fit that releases any built up heat quickly and effectively.
On the opposite end of the ventilation spectrum is the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic with very tiny and almost useless pit-zips.
In the end, two of our breathability winners, the Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's and the Marmot Crystalline, with no vents whatsoever, felt the most breathable. Their light weight and thin fabric make them feel highly breathable, and allow for high functionality in even the most aerobic pursuits.
The new NanoPro™ material used in the Marmot PreCip - Women's is one more point of discussion in the breathability category. The innovative microporous structure of this material is dynamically air permeable, and uses a proprietary blend of moisture wicking technologies to keep you dry.
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 biggest potential in this category is in stretch. The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic - Women's takes over this year from the less than exciting Sierra Designs Stretch, and mostly excels. The trouble with this jacket, ironically, is also in the comfort department: The pit zips are an atrocity. They are half-sized, worthless as vents, and chafed our armpits.
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.
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.
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 - Women's is the lightest shell we tested by far. At literally half the weight of the average contender, 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. A close second place, weighing 0.7 ounces more, is the Marmot Crystalline, a similarly minimalist rain shell.
A rain jacket is often dead weight in your pack. The prudent outdoors person will always carry a rain jacket in rainy climes. But the modern fast-and-light traveler inherently questions these age old wisdoms. What can I leave behind? How can I shave ounces so I can carry all my gadgets and electronics and this flashy new solar charger? (See our Solar Charger review for the best in lightweight solar chargers). As a reviewer of gear, it is not in the best interest of our job security to tell you to just take less stuff, so let's consider another strategy: buy the latest and greatest in lightweight gear!
We tease, but it is true that technology has come a long way since the waxed canvas and canned beans of the 1970s. In our younger days, our female reviewers prided themselves on toughness and grit, and the ability to carry heavy things and still keep up with the boys. Today, we see how myopic it was of us to measure exertion strictly by the raw weight of our backpacks. Now we consider percentage of body weight to be a more accurate way to organize and distribute weight among members of a group traveling on foot, ski, snowboard, crampon, showshoe, etc. (Fun fact: 25-30% of body weight is purported to be the most efficient travel load). Our critical reviewers still resist the hype of ultralight gear for reasons ranging from observed durability issues, high cost, and general cynicism. But increasingly, we find ourselves drawn to cutting edge outdoor products. Overall, we greatly appreciate the modern lightweight innovations in outdoor gear — less bulk and weight means we can save our toughness and grit for technical crux pitches and sub 24-hour summit sprints.
But light weight can never trump safety and quality, especially in a rain jacket. This is why we write gear reviews. Where is the line drawn between light weight and durability? We think the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic - Women's is on the right track to finding this happy balance, once they work out the comfort glitches.
Similar to low-weight considerations is the small size consideration. For many backcountry enthusiasts, the rain shell is the one item we carry religiously and rarely use. This metric 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 easy stowing, and there are only minor differences in the bulk.
The Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's tops the charts in packed size, both for the tiny size and for the neat and tidy and shapely package it stuffs into. The Marmot Crystalline fell far behind in this category. But surprisingly, the stretchy supple fabric of the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic - Women's stuffed nicely into its pocket and made an impressively small package that we found easy to tote with us anywhere and everywhere.
Is the jacket adequate to survive the rain, wind, sun, abrasions and snags of the mountains, beaches, trees, trails, and cities in our lives? 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 highest scorer in this category is the burly and well-buh;t OR Aspire. This all around jacket offers excellent water resistance and outstanding comfort, but will last a long time too. 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.
Patagonia also introduces another take on durability. If you're looking for a jacket that won't wear out because you're a consumer conscious of the waste generated by poorly designed, "disposable" outdoor clothing, Patagonia offers several ways to extend the life of your garment: they offer repair guidelines on their website and promise no repair will void their Ironclad Guarantee; they offer a trade-in program at their store in Portland; and if all else fails, they will still recycle 100% of their handiwork — just drop it off or send it in.
It is important to find a jacket in this category that matches your needs. Hinging on the climate you live in, the activities you plan to be doing, and the amount of use you hope to get out of your rain shell, there are various factors to consider. While water resistance is a must, durability, breathability, weight, and price are other important factors to take into account. We hope that our efforts will help you to choose the jacket that best suits your needs. To learn more about what defines the perfect rain shell, and when you might want a different type of shell, reference our Buying Advice Article.
— Lyra Pierotti
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