Best Rain Jackets for Men of 2021
|Price||$299.00 at Backcountry|
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|$173.93 at REI||$171.96 at Backcountry|
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|$194.32 at Backcountry|
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|$188.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Top-tier storm-worthiness, mobility and range of motion, hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pockets||Most breathable material in our review, lightweight and compressible, stretchy fabric, top-tier hood design, extremely stormworthy||Stormworthy, versatile, durable, comfortable, high level of ventilation||Stretchy, excellent mobility, breathable, light and packable, versatile, good storm protection||Stormworthy, cost, durable, versatile, good breathability and ventilation, waterproof pockets|
|Cons||No ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harness||Cut is slightly on the boxy side, not as durable as other models||On the heavier side||Hood is a bit shallow with a helmet on, hand pockets, can feel cold if standing around in the rain for extended periods||Heavy for a "minimalist" design|
|Bottom Line||Excelling across the board, this jacket is versatile enough for outdoor activities and is lightweight and stormworthy||Offers top-tier weather resistance and breathability, coupled with low weight and minimal packed volume||With awesome ventilation capabilities, top-tier stormworthiness, and above average durability, this model is a great all-rounder||Best for activities where its stretchy fabric, solid mobility, and top-tier breathability are key||This is an awesome do-anything piece and one of our favorites|
|Rating Categories||Arc'teryx Zeta SL||REI Co-op Drypoint GTX||Outdoor Research Foray||Outdoor Research Interstellar||Marmot Minimalist|
|Water Resistance (30%)|
|Breathability & Venting (25%)|
|Comfort & Mobility (18%)|
|Packed Size (7%)|
|Specs||Arc'teryx Zeta SL||REI Co-op Drypoint...||Outdoor Research...||Outdoor Research...||Marmot Minimalist|
|Measured Weight (Medium)||10.9 oz||10.5 oz||16 oz||10.5 oz||16 oz|
|Waterproof Fabric Material||2-layer GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus waterproof breathable laminate||3L Gore-tex Active||2.5 layer Gore-tex with PacLite Technology||Ascentshell 3L||GORE-TEX Paclite|
|Face Fabric and Layer Construction||40-denier ripstop (N40r) GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus||20-denier ripstop nylon||50D w/ Gore-tex PacLite waterproof breathable membrane||20D mechanical stretch ripstop face with 100% polyester 12D backer||100% Recycled Polyester|
|Pockets||2 hand pockets||2 zippered hand pockets||1 chest pocket, 2 hand pockets||1 chest pocket, 2 hand||2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest|
|Are lower pockets hipbelt friendly||Yes||Yes||Almost||Almost||No|
|Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight)||No||Yes||Yes||Almost||Yes|
|Stows Into Pocket?||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
Best Overall Rain Jacket
Arc'teryx Zeta SL
If we could only choose one rain jacket for a wide range of activities from backpacking and mountaineering to visiting the farmers market on a rainy Sunday, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL would be it. Simply put, no other model can match the Zeta's performance. While others might stand out for a specific niche or design feature, no model could match the Zeta's across-the-board performance. Our testers love the hood design, fantastic mobility, lightweight construction, and most importantly, its ability to ward off weather even during the stormiest of circumstances. The slightly higher-than-average pockets are utilitarian and strategically placed, which makes them easy to use while wearing a pack. The breathable construction and ventilation features will keep you on the move, without heating up when it is pouring outside.
While it's one of the more breathable models in our fleet, it doesn't feature any pit-zips and only has a main front zipper to dump heat. While other contenders have mobile, stretchy fabrics, this one is rigid and offers no stretch. That said, the Zeta makes up for this by offering exceptional articulation and scores well in all of our mobility tests. It's also one of the few models that do not compress into one of its pockets. This is one of our favorite jackets for its overall versatility, despite a couple of minor caveats.
Read review: Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Best for Packable Breathability
REI Co-op Drypoint GTX
The REI Drypoint GTX is a superb all-around model that is notable for its breathability and mobility, making it a perfect option for higher output activities. For those looking for a piece of storm protection for more aerobic activities, this model's fabric proved exceptionally breathable and was among the best overall. Not only is the Drypoint breathable, but it also features one of the more stormworthy designs, keeping you dry even when you break a sweat and the deluge begins. All of our testers commented on its stretchy fabric, which provides excellent freedom of movement to its wearer and helps it adapt well to a wide range activity, adding to its extraordinary versatility.
The Drypoint is a very function-focused jacket that incorporates the needs of outdoor enthusiasts into nearly all of its features and design; thus, we were surprised with its boxier than average cut. While this might seem great for layering, REI could still have gotten away with downsizing by half a size, offering significantly less bulk while still being able to layer underneath. It is also thin, and extra care must be taken to ensure it isn't torn when worn on overgrown trails or while ducking under downed trees. We accept its slight fragility as it's lighter and more packable than the majority of the competition, which makes it perfect for those who might end up carrying their jacket for more than they wear it.
Read review: REI Drypoint GTX
Best Bang For The Buck
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L
Despite a small price bump from the older 2.5-layer version, the newest, now 3-layer Patagonia Torrentshell offers a significant performance boost for not much more money. It performs well across a wide range of activities, with a performance that matches expensive options. It beats out other budget-minded rain jackets with its abrasion resistance, durability, hood design, and above-average weather protection and maintains a respectable weight and packed volume. While you can buy a lighter option, few can match it for as wide a range of activities for the price. We even recommend it for activities that can be hard on your gear.
Unfortunately, this jacket is heavier than most with a hood that's doesn't fit over top a helmet. While it has a little stretch in the fabric, its mobility and freedom of movement are average, and some may find some issues with more gymnastic activities. However, for the price and level of storm protection, its value is hard to beat.
Read review: Patagonia Torrentshell
Best Just in Case Layer
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
The new insanely light and compact Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket practically disappears in your pack like no other model can. While we can't necessarily call it an all-around jacket, it's more versatile than we originally gave it credit for. It's an excellent option for those folks who are likely to carry their rain jacket in their pack far more often than they wear it while adventuring. As the lightest and most compact model in our review, it still provides adequate storm protection while conveniently stowing away into its reversible chest pocket and packing down to roughly the size of your fist.
While minimal weight and respectable storm protection are why you buy this model, durability, breathability, and true all-around versatility aren't. For a similar price, most other shells we tested offered superior breathability. Not surprisingly, this is the least durable model in our review, and it uses the thinnest fabrics and the tiniest zippers, meaning you need to exercise a little more care with it depending on the terrain you are traveling in. If you know you're going to have a week of bad weather on a backcountry trip and are likely to wear your rain jacket on large portions of most days, you'll want to consider something different. However, for people who will likely stow their shell in the bottom of their pack most of the time and only break it out for a few hours every other trip, it's hard to beat.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium Rain
Excellent Air-Permeable Option
Outdoor Research Interstellar
A whole new wave of stretchy air-permeable models has flooded the market with so many options it can be hard to keep track of. However, even in a newly crowded sector of the rain jacket market, the Outdoor Research Interstellar still manages to stand out. No model could match its blend of durability and storm worthiness while maintaining a low weight, top-tier breathability, and freedom-of-movement. The advantage of Ascentshell (and other air-permeable materials) is the high and steady level of breathability, regardless of user temperature or external environmental factors. Even when compared to several other similar air-permeable options, it stands out as one of the most stretchy and breathable options while also providing top-tier weather protection (something many of the new air-permeable models can't even come close to matching).
While more than adequate for most rainy day outings or soggy multi-day adventures, you can still get a more storm-resistant model — it just won't be an air-permeable one. Since it's so breathable, this product isn't as great for hanging out during a soggy day in camp, as it keeps breathing even when you aren't moving, which results in a net heat loss. It isn't that the Interstellar doesn't offer adequate weather resistance; there are just a handful of burlier models that perform better for straight-up hanging out in the rain. This model is better suited for more aerobic activities, where a stretchy, mobility-focused design and top-tier breathability are more important than absolute storm protection.
Read review: Outdoor Research Interstellar
Why You Should Trust Us
Author Ian Nicholson is a professional internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide who has spent over 2,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Andes, European Alps, and beyond. Ian estimates he has worn a rain jacket over 800 days over the last two decades because he guides AND lives in the rainy and wet Pacific Northwest. He has guided nearly 1,000 clients and helped them select gear for climbing, backpacking, and ski trips.
In addition to staying up to date on the latest and greatest innovations in weather protection, Ian looked at over 80 contenders for nearly 10 hours before selecting products for this review. OutdoorGearLab bought these products at retail prices and sent them to Ian's house, where he immediately got to work. This review results from over 300 field hours tromping around in wet conditions in the Pacific Northwest. We handed over these jackets to our friends to get more opinions on less objective tests like comfort and fit; however, Ian personally tested each jacket in our review for months in the temperate rainforests of Western Washington and milling around Seattle, with a coffee in hand. When the rain wasn't pouring from the sky, it was pouring from our garden hoses, where we had timed spray tests with each product to figure out the limits of each jacket in a side-by-side setting. As you can see, we take testing seriously, and it happens both in the field and in our home labs.
Related: How We Tested Rain Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
Our selection involves a wide range of products from the most weather-resistant to budget-friendly to models geared to be the most lightweight and packable. Each is evaluated across several important metrics to determine which models are the best overall and which are best at specific applications or for specific user types.
Related: Buying Advice for Rain Jackets
You've likely asked yourself something along the lines of "is the most expensive gear really worth the price? Well, the answer to this question is rarely crystal clear as it depends on the user and how they intend to use the product. Balancing if you need the best of the best or might be happy settling for something that'll "just do" is what we aim to help you do.
There is an enormous price range of rain jacket options on the market today. The most expensive options represent those built with the best materials and have years of engineering behind them. Nine times out of ten, these jackets will keep you dry (or at least drier) all day, even in a hard downpour. More price pointed models use proprietary fabrics that'll do the trick but won't perform as well as a higher-end option.
Of the highest value options on the market today, the Marmot PreCip and Patagonia Torrentshell 3L are two of the best. Both offer great functionality and will indeed keep you dry in most rainy conditions. Neither are as high quality as our top-scoring models, but both are less than half the price of higher-end products without a huge drop in performance. If a lightweight, high-value option is what you seek, the Marmot Minimalist stands out from the rest. This is the best-priced GoreTex Paclite jacket we've ever seen, but other than a few so-so design aspects, it remains a high-quality option at a reasonable price.
On the less expensive end of those are various types of coated membrane fabrics, which generally aren't as long-lasting nor as breathable than laminated membranes. These higher-end laminates are more expensive to produce, and when looking at Name Brand materials, you are not only paying for the "name" but also the years of engineering that went into it. It isn't that more basic coated materials don't have any engineering but are certainly far easier to produce.After extensive testing, we found that there is usually a reason that a majority of companies will sacrifice some of their profit and use materials like Gore-Tex made by a third party, rather than just use proprietary fabrics. While it might be a slight downer to hear that these more expensive fabrics tend to work better and last longer, a specific material makes a world of difference from a waterproof/breathability perspective. When it comes to rain jackets, there is almost a direct relationship between price and performance, which is not the case with all outdoor products.
A rain jacket's most important job is to keep its wearer dry, whether hiking, backpacking, ski-touring, alpine climbing, or out walking the dog on a rainy day. You can have all the best features in the world, but if your rain jacket doesn't do an adequate job of keeping you dry, not much else matters. We extensively tested each model in the real world; we also conducted a series of side-by-side tests to help us quantify performance and better understand how models directly compared to each other. Some of the testings included a four-minute shower and a spray down with the garden hose. We did this to help find weak or potentially problematic spots.
All of the models tested feature a waterproof fabric that is subsequently seam-taped after sewing, creating a completely sealed envelope. What differentiates each model's performance is how well each one keeps the water out. This generally refers to several design aspects of the jacket, such as the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket(s) front/primary-zipper, and pit zips or other vents, and how well they keep water out. A jacket's ability to keep its wearer dry also has a lot to do with the longevity of DWR and the subsequent ability to resist wetting out after extended periods — that can be hours or weeks of use.
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Marmot Minimalist, and REI Drypoint GTX offer the most robust weather resistance of our group. These models all do an excellent job of sealing out precipitation in all of its forms and have well-designed wrist cuffs and hoods that can be cinched down to help seal out the elements, keeping us dry as a bone.
Another essential component of a jacket's water resistance is its Durable Water Repellent or DWR treatment. This treatment is factory applied to the fabric's exterior and makes the water bead when it lands on the surface of the jacket, allowing it to shed the precipitation. Even though both nylon and polyester are hydrophobic, if they aren't treated with a DWR (or after the treatment wears off), they will "wet out", or become covered with a thin but continuous film of water.
This result of a jacket "wetting out" is significantly reduced breathability in that area. This water may or may not be making it all the way through the fabric, but in nearly all cases, the continuous film eliminates all breathability, and the wet-looking area will feel cold and wet from the inside and might "appear" to look as if its getting through. A jacket that is "wetting out" will also be heavier (due to water weight) and feel wet or clammy (which no one likes).
Breathability & Ventilation
Our water resistance metric measures how well each contender keeps its wearer dry by not letting water in from the outside. In contrast, our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each model keeps its wearer dry from the inside by allowing sweat and heat to escape. We considered two main factors when awarding scores for this metric. First and foremost, we researched and tested each fabric's breathability to the best of our ability, and this is undoubtedly where waterproof-breathable fabric technologies distinguish themselves the greatest from one another, even more so than weather protection.
These multi-layered fabrics are breathable (to varying extents), meaning they all allow water vapor to be wicked through the material from the inside to the outside, where it can subsequently evaporate. We also examined and studied how well each model's ventilation features performed. More importantly, we evaluated how much the vents could be open if it was actually raining while hiking, trail running, and backpacking. A vent might be well-designed, but if it lets more rain in than moisture out, it isn't doing its user much good.
We prioritized real-world venting functionality, and this is where we noticed some of the more significant differences between models and ventilation designs. Some models offered ventilation designs that proved far better than others at allowing sweat to escape or keeping rain from getting in.
A Note on Breathability
All of the contenders reviewed here allow moisture to pass through them; however, none allow an infinite amount of moisture to pass, and they all have their limitations. Remember that you can even drench a lightweight t-shirt if you're working hard enough, and even the most basic lightweight synthetic t-shirt is unquestionably more breathable than any jacket we tested. Set yourself up for success and wear the minimum layers you can get away with while using the vents to maximize the air exchange, dump heat, and allow moisture to escape.
People are often more worried about being too cold, but in our experience, we see far more people wear WAY too much clothing and end up too hot. We recommend to be bold and start cold or at least cool to the point where it takes you 5-10 minutes to get comfortable, though this changes if a downpour is on its way. If you're warm before you start, and you're taking part in aerobic activity, you'll likely produce far more sweat than your jacket can handle.
Air-permeable is a new buzzword (and a technical term) that is a design aspect of many of the new wave of stretchy, mostly proprietary waterproof-breathable jackets that have recently surged onto the market. We feature a number of the models that are air-permeable in our review, such as the Rab Kinetic Plus and Outdoor Research Interstellar.
What is an air-permeable fabric or jacket? Nearly exactly what it sounds like — a fabric where air can pass through the material at all times, not just when there is a large disparity in heat and/or pressure. This means that on a micro-level, these models aren't technically windproof. With that said, all these models feel windproof but do feel cooler than most folks are used to once they have stopped exercising or are just hanging out in the rain.
One common misconception is that because a given model might be air-permeable, people assume it must be more breathable than a non-air permeable jacket (such as Gore-Tex or eVent), but the truth is that this isn't always the case. Air-permeable fabrics offer a much more static level of breathability, meaning they are always letting the same amount of moisture pass through the material, regardless of user excursion or external temperature.
This is where it gets complicated. Several high-end materials like Gore-tex Paclite, Active, and eVent all have a fluctuating maximum level of breathability. These breathe best when there is a big temperature difference (which creates a pressure difference) between the user and the outside environment; for example, if you are hiking uphill and it's cold and rainy outside, these types of materials stand a chance to breathe better. They don't breathe as well once the user has stopped and cooled down, or the environment the user is in is hot and humid.
The most breathable materials in our review were the Gore-Tex Active, Gore Paclite Plus, and eVent. These three fabrics were a cut above the rest when we were out on a rainy winter hike, where they were able to pass an impressive amount of moisture at an astounding rate. While these three fabrics scored the best overall, there were a number of the proprietary air-permeable models and fabrics, like the Rab Kinetic Plus using Proflex, and Outdoor Research Interstellar using Ascentshell, which allows for exceptional breathability.
These air-permeable fabrics scored nearly as well as models using Gore-Tex Paclite and Paclite Plus, which was used in the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Marmot Minimalist, and Outdoor Research Foray. These air-permeable models were more breathable than the rest of the none-air permeable products we tested. Lastly, we say there isn't a huge breathability gap between any of the products mentioned above.
Breathability Versus Ventilation
When considering and comparing different ventilation options, as well as a model's overall breathability, it is essential to remember that these two design aspects, while related, are not equal. Between the two, a fabric's breathability is far more important than its ventilation. If it's pouring rain or you're out after a storm, we like to batten down the hatches by closing the pit zips and cinching up the hood, even if it means trapping some of your body-made moisture in. The bottom line is when working or recreating in stormy weather, the more active your endeavors, the more significant the importance of breathability becomes.
Ventilation Features and Comparison
In lighter drizzle or in the time between cloudbursts when you want to continue wearing your jacket for wind protection or as part of your layering system, ventilation can be a valuable way to move moisture and dump a lot of heat quickly. Pit zips, along with various other zippered ventilation designs, including mesh-lined pockets, all have their place. Besides a given model's primary zipper, pit zips are the next most effective ventilation tool in dumping heat and moving moisture.
An advantage in opening the pit zips over the front zipper is that the pit zip stays moderately protected in light rain, minimizing how much external moisture may find its way inside. In the end, ventilation, while undoubtedly important, takes the backseat to breathability for practical, real-world use, as you may be unable to open ventilation points when it's pouring rain.
Side-by-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of these jackets while hiking, backpacking, climbing, and ski touring. We looked at the actual volume of water each fabric can pass through (though there is no standardized method of testing among manufactures) and performed a series of side-by-side stationary bike and 10-minute stair master tests (thanks, Vertical World Seattle) to better compare and analyze breathability. We conducted our tests several times, comparing models with lots of ventilation options and keeping vents completely closed, partially open, and completely open to best get a sense of how each model performed.
The REI Drypoint GTX, which is constructed with Gore-Tex Active, breathes the best, but for those interested, offers little in the way of ventilation. The Drypoint is slightly less steamy inside than other high-end performers during high-energy activities and is way more breathable than models that feature coated waterproof-breathable fabrics.
We even noticed ourselves becoming colder during breaks when wearing the REI Drypoint GTX. With that said, the Outdoor Research Interstellar, Rab Kinetic Plus, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Outdoor Research Foray, and Marmot Minimalist are close competitors when testing for our breathability metric.
Comfort & Mobility
For whatever activities you have planned, you'll want a jacket that moves comfortably with you and doesn't inhibit your movement. In the mobility portion of this metric, our review team compares how each model moves with its user and how restrictive it may be. We tested each model's overall freedom of movement for general applications, as well as a handful of specific activities like climbing and ski touring.
We also explicitly compare how well a model's hood maintained the peripheral vision and how it moved with our heads. We compared each jacket with our arms facing straight forward, straight up, and straight out to the sides. We also examined how easily each model let us accomplish these tasks. We measured how much each one pulled back from our wrists and if the hem of the jacket pulled up around our waists.
In the comfort portion of this metric, we take into account the small features that made a given product more comfortable to wear (and how easy specific features were to use), as well as the interior feeling; was it more or less clammy feeling on our bare skin? Lastly, we evaluate the basic but essential bit about how each model felt as a whole.
We note small features, like a microfleece patch at the chin or soft fabric where the hood rests on your brow, which are appreciated touches that feel nicer. We also considered the ease of use of each feature, comparing cinch cords for the hood, and how easy to access and adjust they were. Some jackets add larger fabric pull tabs to the zipper rather than small pieces of cord to ease operating with cold fingers or gloves.
The model with the best range of motion was the ultra-stretchy Rab Kinetic Plus. It is just one of many new models that are part of the fresh new wave of stretchier, waterproof shells. While the number of stretch models continues to grow, the Kinetic is truly the stretchiest shell we have ever seen and offers nearly restriction-free movement. The only thing worth noting on this model is that it has an ultra-slim fit aimed towards more technical pursuits. For those who might want to add more than one thin layer underneath should consider sizing up.
Next in line for the best freedom of movement and mobility are the Outdoor Research Interstellar, REI Drypoint GTX, and the not-stretchy but still high performing Arc'teryx Zeta SL. All of these models feature mobility-oriented-designs and offer functional range-of-motion that is just a small notch below the Rab Kinetic Plus. All provide comparable levels of performance.
If you're wearing your jacket around town, having room in the pockets for a pair of gloves and a warm hat or a phone and keys can be nice. Some folks like to use a rain hat; a hood that rolls away and stows can be appreciated.
It is tough to argue the utility of pockets, as everyone uses them to some extent. They are unquestionably useful to help keep track of small items, keeping certain things close at hand, and are a convenient place to keep your hands warm. Not all pockets are created equal, and their size and location can have a huge impact on their overall usefulness, depending on the user.
For example, having lower handwarmer pockets is great for around town but can be a nuisance and render them near unusable while wearing a harness or heavy pack. For several of our testers that log a lot of time in the backcountry on multi-day trips, low-handwarmer or "lower" hand pockets that are located too close to our hips can be a dealbreaker.
While on adventures that require wearing a pack, a majority of the jacket's pocket is under a weighted hip-belt strap. This is the case whether out for a day or an extended trip, and the pocket's primary zipper can dig into your hips, making your rainy day outing even more miserable. The zipper pinched induced pain only compounds itself the longer the trip, so if you're planning on using your rain jacket for activities like day hiking, backpacking, or mountaineering, steer clear of models with low front handwarmer pockets. Besides discomfort, lower hand pockets are far less accessible with a pack on, and at times can be inaccessible.
Nearly all of our reviewers love pockets that are slightly higher and 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. For less technical applications, low pockets are slightly more comfortable for keeping your hands warm while cruising the farmer's market on a drizzly day.
The effectiveness of each model's hood (of keeping our heads dry while not chaffing our chins or cutting off our peripheral vision) varied wildly. Our favorites were the Arc'teryx Zeta SL and the REI Drypoint GPX, while the Outdoor Research Foray and Patagonia Torrentshell scored not too far behind.
Also in this group of jackets with higher-performing hoods, the Rab Kinetic Plus, is of special note because it features an internal elastic band that is designed to ride directly on top of the wearer's forehead, acting as an internal gasket to the main hood. As crazy as this sounds, and trust us, most of our review team was skeptical, it turned out to be comfortable and effective, maintaining top-notch peripheral vision. From beanies to baseball caps, each one of these jackets featured hoods that cinched down over a range of headwear, maximizing the hood's ability to turn with its user's head instead of turning into it.
For many, light is right, and weight is a crucial factor for any piece of gear used on human-powered adventures. All of our testers value lightweight clothing and gear, but not at the expense of basic functionality. If you're thru-hiking 2,650 miles, climbing technical terrain, or riding your bicycle from coast to coast, weight may (and should) be one of your primary concerns. For burlier adventures, soggy backpacking trips, expedition-type mountaineering trips, or even for daily use, you'll want to consider durability along with storm worthiness just as much as weight.
Most of the models in our review are already on the lighter end of the weight spectrum, particularly when compared to beefier 3-layer models. Many of the contenders in our review weigh less than a pound, which is the unofficial benchmark for what is considered a lighter weight jacket. While one pound might be a benchmark, the average weight in our review is closer to 11-13 ounces, with some models dipping down to an impressive 6-7 ounces — an unfathomable weight even just five years ago.
The Outdoor Research Helium Rain weighs in at 6.3 ounces and can be stuffed into a built-in reversible chest pocket with a clip-in loop, which is a nice feature for climbers carrying it on their harness. It could also be useful for anyone who might want to clip their jacket to something, like their backpack.
We've all been caught in a storm, getting soaked when we left our jacket in the car at the then-sunny trailhead. As the weather can change quickly and at times unexpectedly, it's these just-in-case packing scenarios when having a light, compact rain shell is useful, and there is less of a personal debate on whether to throw it in your running vest or the bottom of your pack. It's just easier to forget about until you need it. Even on multi-day trips with perfect or less than perfect forecasts, packed size should be high on most outdoor enthusiast's priority list. In reality, most folks carry their rain shell nine times out of ten, so the smaller it packs, the more room you have for other items.
Approximately half of these models stuff into one of their own pockets, and others can be rolled and stuffed into their hoods. Our rating for packed size considers not only the compressed size but the ease of using the integrated stuff pocket. Some compress quite small but require wrestling to get them stowed; others fit comfortably into their stuff pocket. A clip-in loop (for use after the jacket has been stuffed) is a nice feature that many climbers or hikers will appreciate and use at some point. As for packed volume, the Outdoor Research Helium Rain is the most compact. This model is significantly smaller and half the compressed volume of the average packed size in our review.
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands its user places on it. While we know everyone would like their rain jacket to last an eternity, in reality, many people might be better off going with a lighter weight model that they will use infrequently and carry around a good chunk of the time. Unfortunately, as jackets get lighter, they also generally become less durable. This is in both abrasion and cut resistance but also in overall longevity. This is particularly true among the lightest models, which are exponentially less durable than products weighing 3-5 ounces more.
The exterior material (also known as the face fabric) is either nylon or polyester, and this material plays a huge role in the overall durability. For the most part, the lighter the face fabric is, the easier it tears, or the faster it is to abrade. Most of the jackets tested use between 30-50 Denier face fabric, with the 50D shells being notably more robust than the 30Ds. All but the Columbia Watertight II feature ripstop material. A ripstop weave doubles up on the thread at intervals, providing a grid of strong fibers to stop tears from growing once a rip has occurred. We find this is a significant advantage and a reason that the majority of outdoor products utilize it.
Nylon is known to be stretchier and, most times, more durable than a similarly thick nylon material. While polyester is generally more durable, thickness matters more, and a 50D nylon jacket is likely to be more robust than a 30D polyester one. If you plan to use your jacket off-trail or while bushwhacking, choose a model with a higher denier and ripstop face fabric, and at least consider a polyester model. Lastly, after years of experience, we have come to find that jackets with fewer seams in the shoulders hold up better, especially if you plan to carry a pack regularly.
The most durable models in our review are the Marmot Minimalist, The North Face Apex, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, and Outdoor Research Foray. All three, except for the Apex, pair 50D polyester ripstop face fabrics with a much longer-lasting Gore-Tex Paclite membrane. Each proves to be able to handle anything we could hope a backpacking oriented rain jacket could take. With its 50D ripstop polyester shell, the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L is one of the more robust budget-friendly models.
Our team focuses on each product's face-fabric when assessing its overall durability, as this is the layer that has the most impact on a given product's tear and abrasion resistance, as well as how well its DWR might hold up. As discussed in the weather resistance section, models with laminated membranes, whether name brand ones like Gore-Tex or proprietary ones, far outlasted products with coated membranes.
At first glance, determining which rain jacket is ideal right for you is more complicated than it might seem. While keeping you dry is the goal, features like ventilation can make a big difference in daily use. Our metrics are in place to help you decide which model is best suited for your needs. Once you've taken into account which metrics are most important for your adventures, our review can help you narrow your decision down.
— Ian Nicholson