To find the best rain jackets for hiking, backpacking, and general outdoor use, our experts researched over 70 models. We then bought 17 of the best contenders for specific attributes or value, putting each one to the ultimate test. Our review team sought out downpours in the Pacific Northwest, analyzing via soggy backpacking, mountaineering, trail running and ski touring adventures. We performed side-by-side weather resistance tests in a lab environment and in extensive real-world applications in the pouring rain. While we declare an overall winner, we also identify the best jacket for many utilizations such as commuting, climbing, and travel. Whether you want a top-of-the-line, tricked-out model, or something under $100, we have a recommendation for you. See our windbreaker review for light rain conditions and our rain pant fleet, where we found highest rated jackets don't always correspond with the best bottoms.
The Best Rain Jackets for Men of 2018
|Price||$299.00 at Backcountry|
Compare at 3 sellers
|$249.00 at REI||$299.00 at Amazon|
Compare at 3 sellers
|$161.25 at Backcountry|
Compare at 4 sellers
|$249.00 at REI|
Compare at 3 sellers
|Pros||Top-tier storm worthiness, mobility and range of motion, awesome hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pockets||The most breathable material in our review, lightweight and compressible, stretchy fabric, top-tier hood design, extremely stormworthy||Ultra-stretchy fabric, breathes better than most 2.5 layer models without having to build up a lot of heat, function-focused pocket design, versatile||Stormworthy, versatile, durable, comfortable, high level of ventilation, great price for a Gore-Tex jacket||Lightest weight, incredible packed size, excellent freedom of movement and range of motion, breathable, comfortable, hood maintains good peripheral vision|
|Cons||No ventilation options, expensive, only slightly below average in weight, no easy way to clip to a harness||Cut is slightly on the boxy side, not as durable as other models||Average weight, slightly clammier feeling interior fabric than average||On the heavier side, slightly on the more expensive side||Not super durable, DWR average in longevity, hood doesn't fit over a bike or climbing helmet, stuff sack pocket is big|
|Bottom Line||This storm-worthy and function focused model is incredibly versatile, offering some of the best across-the-board performance of any model in our review.||One of the best jackets for backpacking and hiking, it's and packable, yet still provides top-tier storm worthiness.||Super stretchy fabric with an overall solid, function-focused design made this model one of our overall favorites.||A fantastic all-around shell with some of the best ventilation features out there, in a fairly light, durable, and stormworthy package.||The lightest and most compressible model in our review turned out to be far more versatile than we expected, albeit a little on the expensive side compared to most of its direct competition.|
|Rating Categories||Arc'teryx Beta SL||Drypoint GTX||Quasar Lite II||Foray||Storm Racer|
|Water Resistance (30%)|
|Breathability & Venting (20%)|
|Comfort And Mobility (15%)|
|Packed Size (10%)|
|Specs||Arc'teryx Beta SL||Drypoint GTX||Quasar Lite II||Foray||Storm Racer|
|Measured Weight (ounces) (medium)||11 oz||10.5 oz||12 oz||16 oz||6 oz|
|Waterproof Fabric Material||2.5 layer Gore-tex with PacLite technology||3-layer Gore-Tex Active||Dry. Elite technology||2.5 layer Gore-tex with PacLite Technology||3-layer H2No|
|Face Fabric and Layer Construction||N40r w/ Gore-tex PacLite waterproof breathable membrane||20D ripstop nylon||30 denier fabric nlyon extior, polyester inside||50D w/ Gore-tex PackLite waterproof breathable membrane||12-denier 100% nylon ripstop with a 7-denier tricot backer, a waterproof/breathable barrier and a DWR finish|
After considering dozens of new products for our latest Winter 2018-19 review, our staff carefully selected three of the top new models, each offering a notable benefit or excellent all-around performance. We've also put the updated Arc'teryx Beta SL, our Editors' Choice award winner, to the test. As always, we've put new contenders up against products from our previous testing to see how each one fared. We brought these jackets on soggy trips to the Washington Coast and the West Coast of Vancouver Island and tested them while ice climbing in Banff National Park; we also ski toured and trekked hundreds of miles of trail in the Sierra and Cascades. We've now included 17 of the industry's top models within a range of budgets, which you'll find below.
Best Overall Model
Arc'teryx Beta SL
If we could only own one jacket for everything from week-long backpacking trips to walking the dog, this would be it. Several models excelled in specific niches, but no one model offered an outstanding performance like that of the Arc'teryx Beta SL, though the REI Drypoint GTX came close. However, the do-everything Arc'teryx Beta SL won our award as it scored the best, or nearly the best, in almost every category.
Our testing team loved the Beta SL's fantastic hood design, top-tier storm worthiness, and outstanding breathability and mobility - all while maintaining a below average weight. While some jackets offer advantages for specific applications, this is the do-everything model that performs fantastically for a broad range of activities.
Read review: Arc'teryx Beta SL
Best Bang for the Buck
The Marmot PreCip remains our Best Buy award winner. Just over a decade ago, it basically invented the high-performance $100 waterproof breathable jacket category. While it lagged for a bit, its most recent update with Marmot's NanoPro 2.5-layer coated technology, as well as some slight overhauls, takes back its claim for the best model under $100. The PreCip offers solid storm worthiness with a number of pleasantly designed featured including hand pockets, pit zips for ventilation, and a rollaway hood.
It breathed the best of any of the sub-$100 models and was a review team's favorite for high-energy hiking and backpacking. A few other models we tested are similar when it comes to the price point, but our testing team determined that the PreCip delivers the most functionality and versatility for your money. The demanding budget-conscious buyer won't find a better deal than this jacket, ringing it at an even $100.
Read review: Marmot PreCip
Top Pick for Hiking and Backpacking
REI Co-op Drypoint GTX
The REI Drypoint GTX is a superb all-around model that was in the running for our Editors' Choice winner. While it barely missed our award, it remains one of our review team's go-to favorites for backpacking and hiking and is a staff Top Pick for these types of applications. It earned this award for a variety of reasons; most notably is for its exceptionally breathable fabric, which ranked the best overall in our review.
Not only is the Drypoint incredibly breathable, but it features one of the most stormworthy designs. It's also lighter and more packable than the majority of the competition, make this model perfect for backpackers, mountaineers, and hikers. Its stretchy fabric allows excellent freedom of movement, which helps this model adapt to a wide range of users, adding to its extraordinary versatility.
Read review: REI Drypoint GTX
Top Pick for Mountaineering and Alpine Climbing
Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite II
The Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite II is another strong contender for our Editors' Choice Award, and it remains among our favorite overall models. Most impressively is that it's incredibly stretchy, which results in mobility and freedom of movement. Out of all of the stretchy, waterproof models we reviewed, it easily resisted wetting out over the longest period of time and provided some of the better storm protection among all the models in our fleet. Thus, the Quasar earns the award of Top Pick for Mountaineering and Alpine Climbing.
Like many of the new wave of stretchy rain jackets, the Quasar is ultra-breathable and is air permeable in its design. This means that not only does it breathe well but it continues to breathe well even after you cool off (but might still be wet from sweat). We liked the balance Mountain Hardwear found with its fit which offered just enough room for layering underneath without being too baggy. All of these attributes made it one of the more versatile models in our review where the outdoor activities that these models don't excel at are few and far between.
Read review: Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite
Top Pick for Range of Motion
Rab Kinetic Plus
The Rab Kinetic Plus is a frontrunner among the new wave of stretchy, air permeable waterproof breathable fabrics. The double-layered hood and impressively stretchy material set the Kinetic Plus apart from others in our fleet, as the material is one of the stretchiest we have ever seen in a waterproof rain jacket. In fact, the material looks and feels more like a softshell than a hardshell; rest assured, it is not a softshell and is plenty stormworthy and entirely waterproof.
This model is an excellent option for anyone that needs a waterproof jacket where mobility is key. This advantage is amplified by its athletic fit, which was the slimmest fitting model we tested. These qualities make it perfect for everyone from Nordic skiers to ice climbers; it's worth noting that folks planning to layer a fair amount underneath will want to consider sizing up.
Read review: Rab Kinetic Plus
Notable for Light Weight
Patagonia Storm Racer
The Patagonia Storm Racer is notable for weight-conscience hikers, backpackers, and climbers and is an excellent just in case style layer. Weighing in at a scant six ounces, this is the lightest and most compact shell we tested and is roughly half the weight of the majority of jackets we tested. It isn't feature-rich, lacking the several common designs such as lower hand pockets and Velcro closure wrist cuffs; however, despite this minimal design, our review team discovered solid performance in keeping the wearer dry, which is the primary purpose.
Carrying around a few extra ounces might not seem significant, and feature-rich jackets might seem more appealing in the store, but it is important to remember that all those additional features increase weight. Then think that most hikers, climbers, and backpackers will likely end up carrying their waterproof layer 90% of the time. While extra features might seem sweet, they won't do much living at the bottom of your pack. Each year, more and more super light rain shells come out on the market, and this model is currently our favorite for the weight weanies out there.
Read review: Patagonia Storm Racer
Notable for Ventilation
Outdoor Research Foray
The Gore-Tex Paclite Outdoor Research Foray is a bomber rain jacket that seals out rain, snow, wind and proved to be one of the most durable products we tested. It provides excellent ventilation and excels at dumping heat during highly aerobic activities or for folks who simply run on the warm side. It goes far beyond pit zips and venting pockets and includes "torso flow pit-zips" that fully separate the sides of the jacket more attuned to a poncho, unzipping from the hem to your triceps down the sides of the jacket.
Not only that but the Foray was one of the most durable and stormworthy models we have seen. If you are going to be subjected to the elements for lengthy periods of time, you'd be much happier in this model than several of the lighter ones in our review. If you seek a product that could cross over into the durable hardshell category and highly value ventilation features, the Foray might be for you.
Read review: Outdoor Research Foray
Notable for Technical Endeavors
Black Diamond Fineline
The Black Diamond Fineline offers better overall functionality than a majority of superlight rain shells and sports outstanding freedom of movement; in this regard, it's an excellent rain jacket for climbers. It is one of the lightest and most compressible models in our fleet and has been constructed with a stretchy fabric, which is cut to be climbing focuses in that it is harness friendly. It's a favorite for our testers that are climbers, trail runners, or those that participate in other outdoor activities where solid mobility and a small, packed volume are appreciated.
The Fineline offers more weather resistance and breathability than most super light or similarly priced models, though we found the Patagonia Storm Racer offered better breathability and similar mobility at a marginally lighter weight.
Read review: Black Diamond Fineline
Analysis and Test Results
We researched over 70 potential models before narrowing it down to the 17 finalists that you see in our review. We purchased each model and put each of them through an intensive testing process, which you can learn more about below and in our How We Test article.
Our review team took each model into the field for real-world performance testing, as well as specific side-by-side comparisons in a more controlled environment (AKA a shower, a stationary bike, and pulling hoods over lots of different types of headwear). Our ratings are based on the most critical factors you should you consider when trying to decide which model is best for your needs.
Below you'll find descriptions of each of our evaluation metrics, as well as information about the top performers and how they compare to one another. For more specific comparisons, such as each model's hood cinch performance or exact hem adjustments, see each product's review.
One of the most common concerns we hear from our friends and readers is: "Is that expensive piece of outdoor gear really worth the price?". There's no denying that it's easy to drop of a lot of money on outdoor apparel and few product categories offer as wide of a price range as waterproof jackets. Below we clarify what the discrepancies between some of the budget picks and the higher-end options actually are and how they may, or may not, be a factor for you. We also do our best to specifically answer the question in our individual reviews on what you are specifically getting by spending more money on a higher-end option versus a lower end model, and what we found to be marketing and hype.
Among the jackets we tested, prices range between $60 and $300! That's a pretty significant jump. A large part of that has to do with the materials that some of the higher end models use. There is loads of engineering going into Gore-Tex, eVent, and even some proprietary fabrics, and this drives up the overall cost. However, as a baseline, fabric makes a world of difference from a waterproof/breathability perspective. When it comes to rain jackets, there is almost a direct correlation between price and performance, which is not the case with all products.
If you are specifically looking for a budget pick that also performs well, the best options are the Patagonia Torrentshell ($129) and the Marmot Precip ($100), which is our Best Buy winner. While not as high-performing as a number of the more expensive models, they performed pretty darn well overall and are no doubt incredibly functional while costing a fraction of the price. If you've got the funds, the Arc'teryx Beta SL is the highest performing jacket we tested, but will set you back $300.
A rain jacket's most important job is to keep its wearer dry; whether hiking, backpacking, ski-touring, alpine climbing, or just plain out walking the dog, this is obviously this piece of equipment's primary job. As a result in our scoring metrics, this was the most heavily weighted category, at 30 percent.
There are many types of waterproof fabrics and treatments that manufacturers use in the jackets we tested, and heaps of laboratory testing has been done to quantify precisely how waterproof each of these specific coated or laminated materials are. However, the critical bit to understand is that all of the products tested are water-resistant enough to use as a rain shell.
All of the models tested feature a waterproof fabric (more on what makes a material impervious in our buying advice), that is a shell fabric that is seam-taped after sewing, creating a completely sealed envelope. What differentiates each model's performance is the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket and front-zip closures, and pit zips, or other vents, as well as the longevity of DWR and subsequent ability to resist wetting out after extended periods of hours or weeks of use.
All the models we tested sport a technically waterproof fabric but many are constructed with different materials and characteristics. It's these characteristics that make the significant differences when it comes to breathability (which can make you feel wet from the inside from your own sweat) as well as longevity, durability, and ability to resist wetting out after extended use. However what doesn't have much of a functional difference is weatherproofness strictly from a fabric point of view; that is, if one fabric is waterproof to 30 PSI versus one to 60 PSI, it doesn't make a functional difference to any tester.
Rain is not going to penetrate any of these fabrics directly; however, in a downpour, running water can seek its way in through a pocket, down your wrist if you happen to reach overhead, or where the hood meets your neck. Besides the real-world use of all of these models, we also stood in a shower for four minutes in each jacket and got a spray down with the garden hose to help find potentially problematic spots. The Arc'teryx Beta SL, Outdoor Research Foray, and the Marmot Minimalist were the sturdiest of the bunch. The REI Drypoint GTX, Patagonia Cloud Ridge, and The North Face Dryzzle also performed very well, doing an excellent job of sealing out the rain. All contenders have wrist cuffs that can be cinched down on the wrist with Velcro closures, and all hoods sealed well around the face and chin.
Another 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 hydrophobic, if they aren't treated with a DWR (or after the treatment wears off), they "wet out", or become covered with a continuous film of water. This result is greatly reduced breathability, a feeling of damp or clamminess, and a slight increase in weighing.
The DWR used on the Marmot PreCip, Marmot Phoenix, Marmot Minimalist, and Arc'teryx Beta SL stands out, as does the The North Face Dryzzle, REI Drypoint GTX, and The North Face Venture 2. Conversely and generally speaking, we found that the stretchier models needed to be re-treated much more frequently than the ones with minimal or no stretch. All that said, it's worth noting that all the jackets we tested beaded water quite 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
Our water resistance metric measured how well each contender keeps its wearer dry from the outside, while our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each one keeps you dry from the inside by allowing sweat to escape.
We considered two main factors when awarding scores for this metric; the totals are weighted at 25% of our overall ratings as staying dry from the outside doesn't do much if you get soaked from the inside. First and foremost we researched and tested each fabric's breathability to the best of our ability, and this is undoubtedly where waterproof technologies distinguish themselves from each other.
All of these multi-layered fabrics are breathable, meaning they allow water vapor to be wicked through the material to the outside, where it can evaporate. Secondly, we also tested and studied how well the ventilation features performed in general, and more importantly, how open we could have the vents while hiking, trail running, and backpacking in the rain.
A Note on Breathability
Anyone can drench themselves in sweat while wearing too many layers underneath a shell and while working hard or charging uphill. We've overheard too many people saying that their jacket doesn't breathe enough for their needs, but in many of these cases, these folks are simply wearing too many layers. As a result, they are sweating more than necessary and might be needlessly sweating more than the given jacket can handle.
All of the contenders reviewed here allow moisture to pass through them; however, none of them allow an infinite amount of moisture to pass through them, and all have a limit. Remember that you can even drench a lightweight t-shirt if you're working hard enough. 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.
To the highest degree, a garment's breathability is a direct result of the waterproof fabric itself, as well as the material it has been constructed with or bonded to (all of the jackets in this review are constructed with multiple layers). In our review, the difference in face fabrics (the outer fabric that you can actually see, and no, that isn't the waterproof part) or the interior-most layer of material didn't vary significantly in thickness and thus, didn't affect breathability as much as construction style and the waterproof membrane itself.
Air Permeable Fabrics
Air permeable is a new buzzword (and a technical term) that is a feature of many of the new wave of stretchy proprietary waterproof jackets that have recently surged onto the market. We feature a number of the models that are air permeable in our reviews such as the Rab Kinetic Plus, Outdoor Research Interstellar, and Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite.
Air permeable is exactly that; air can pass through the fabric itself. This means that on a micro-level, these models aren't technically windproof. Some people are concerned about this, but for the most part, they feel windproof, and it takes a pretty darn strong breeze to become chilled. However, the common misconception is that because a given model might be air permeable, people assume it must be more breathable than a non-air permeable jakcet (such as Gore-Tex or eVent), but the truth is that this isn't always the case. In fact, several air permeable models aren't able to pass as moisture as high-end non-air permeable fabrics like Gore-Tex or eVent.
The notable advantages of air permeable fabrics are they do tend to be cooler feeling because there is some air always creeping its way in and out. The other, and we feel the most significant difference, between air permeable and more traditional materials, are they don't require a big difference in temperature to breathe well. Most waterproof breathable fabrics require a large temperature difference to work; they need to be warmer on the inside and cooler on the outside, which creates the pressure differential that drives the moisture to move. This isn't a problem most of the time, unless you are sweating and you stop moving for a chunk of time and cool off, or are in a hot, humid climate where there is no temperature differential at all.
Overall, the most breathable materials in our review were the Gore-Tex Active and eVent, with a handful of the proprietary air permeable fabrics like the Rab Kinetic Plus's Proflex and Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite's Dry.Q Elite being extremely close feeling. Gore-Tex with PacLite technology as used in the Outdoor Research Foray and Arc'teryx Beta SL was the next most breathable, closely followed by some PU laminates like Marmot's Membrane, Patagonia's H2No used on the Storm Racer and Cloud Ridge, and Black Diamond's BDry.
We didn't find those top tier of fabrics far more breathable, but after side-by-side testing and real-world use, there was enough of a difference that our review team could feel easily recognize the distinction. While those previously listed fabrics weren't radically different from each other, we found a more noticeable difference in breathability than all of the coated membranes featured on the more price-pointed models.
When considering and comparing different ventilation options, as well as a model's overall breathability, it is important to remember that these two design aspects, while related, are not equal. Between the two, a fabric's breathability is more important than ventilation. The reason is that when it's pissing rain or even post rain on brushy trails, you'll want to batten down the hatches by closing pit-zips and cinching up the hood to keep the water out, even if it means trapping some of your body-made-moisture in. The bottom line is when working or recreating in stormier weather, the more active your endeavors, the more significant the importance of breathability becomes.
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 heat. Pit zips, various other zippered ventilation designs and mesh-lined pockets all have their place. The bottom line remains that ventilation, while undoubtedly important, takes a backseat to breathability for practical, real-world use because it is rare that you can open vents all-the-way-up when it's raining hard enough to need to put your rain jacket on.
Side-by-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of these jackets in real-world use while hiking, backpacking, climbing, and ski touring. We researched the actual volume of water each fabric can pass and performed a series of side-by-side stationary bike and 10-minute stair master test (thanks, Vertical World Seattle) to better compare and analyze breathability. We conducted the tests several times, comparing models with lots of ventilation options, keeping vents completely closed, partially open, and completely open.
After all of our testing, we determined the REI Drypoint GTX, which is constructed with Gore-Tex Active, breathes incredibly well but 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 basic models, as to be expected. We even noticed ourselves becoming colder during breaks when wearing the REI Drypoint GTX. With that said, it's worth noting that the Outdoor Research Interstellar, Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite, and Rab Kinetic Plus were all close during testing of our all-zipped-up breathability comparison. Other stand out performers include the Arc'teryx Beta SL, Outdoor Research Foray, and the Marmot Minimalist, which were just indeed a touch better than the Black Diamond Fineline, Patagonia Storm Racer, and Patagonia Cloud Ridge.
The Outdoor Research Foray earned an extremely good score in this metric; it has above average breathability but also possesses what is likely the best ventilation options of any model we tested. This TorsoFlo design (as OR calls it) sets the Foray apart from others. TorsoFlo is basically two long zippers (one on each side) that extend from the hem of the jacket to the wearer's triceps (mid-upper arm); this allows the jacket to be opened to a variety of degrees and to share a similar feeling to that of a poncho. Among coated jackets, the Marmot PreCip and The North Face Venture 2 received respectable scores for breathability and offered decent venting options. While their fabrics weren't as breathable as the previously mentioned models, they feature larger than average pit zips and lower hand pockets, which when left over, dumped more heat than you'd think.
Comfort & Mobility
No matter what activities you have planned, you want a jacket that moves comfortably with you and doesn't get in the way of whatever you may be trying to accomplish. In the mobility portion of this metric, our review team compares how well each model moved with its user and how restrictive it may have been both in general and for specific applications. We explicitly compared things such as how well a model's hood maintained peripheral vision and how well it moved with our heads. We also compared each model with our arms facing straight forward, straight up, and straight out to the sides. We also measured how much each jacket pulled back from our wrists and if the hem of the jacket pulled up.
In the comfort portion of this metric, we took into account the small features that made the jacket more comfortable to wear (and how easy they were to use), as well as a given model's entire feeling. We noted small features, like a microfleece patch at the chin or soft fabric where the hood rests on your brow - both nice touches. 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 models with the best range of motion were the ultra-stretchy Rab Kinetic Plus and the Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite. While there are lots of rain jackets that are part of the new wave of stretchier and stretchier waterproof shells, these two were the stretchiest we have seen. Both offered the best mobility in our review by far, though it is worth mentioning here, they're geared a little differently. The Kinetic has an ultra slim fit aimed towards more technical persists, and the Quasar has room to layer and is a little more of an all-arounder.
Next in line and quite close for the best freedom-of-movement and overall mobility were the still-stretchy Black Diamond Fineline, Patagonia Storm Racer, Outdoor Research Interstellar, REI Drypoint GTX, and the not-stretchy but still high performing Arc'teryx Beta SL. All of these models featured mobility-oriented-designs and offered good range-of-motion that was just a small cut below the two models mentioned in the previous paragraph.
The Marmot Minimalist, Outdoor Research Foray, and Outdoor Research Helium II also provided decent mobility and received the next highest rating in this metric. The Marmot Phoenix sported above average movement and The North Face Venture 2, while baggy, didn't limit our mobility much at all.
The effectiveness of each model's hood at keeping our heads dry while not chaffing our chins or cutting off our peripheral vision varied wildly among models. Our favorite hoods were the Arc'teryx Beta SL and the REI Drypoint GPX, while the Outdoor Research Foray, Black Diamond Fineline scored right behind them.
Also in this group and of note was the Rab Kinetic Plus which featured an internal elastic band that is designed to ride over 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 quite skeptical, it turned out to be super comfortable and effective, doing a top-notch job of maintaining 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 users head instead of turning into it.
For some users, light is right, and weight is everything. We value lightweight clothing and gear, but not at the expense of the functionality of a given piece of equipment for its required tasks. If you're thru-hiking 2,000 miles, climbing technical terrain, or riding your bicycle from coast to coast, weight may be your primary concern. Around town, weight is less significant and keeping your hands cozy may take priority. For backpacking and mountaineering, weight is important but so is staying comfortable for a week with rain forecasted every day.
The Patagonia Storm Racer is the lightest model tested, weighing in at an impressive six ounces. That's half the weight (or even less) of most of the jackets reviewed. If weight is your primary concern, this contender is pretty hard to beat and is one of the lightest waterproof breathable models currently available. While the Storm Racer isn't feature-rich, it has many of the features that the majority of people find valuable, such as above-average mobility, a well-designed hood, and a tiny stuff pocket with a clip-in loop.
A very close contender for this title of the lightest model tested was the Outdoor Research Helium II. At 6.5 ounces, its only half an ounce heavier, has nearly all of the same features, equal storm worthiness and is around $80 less expensive. Its only real drawback is that the Storm Racer offers more breathability, mostly due to its stretchy fabric and marginally better overall mobility.
The next lightest contenders tested were the Black Diamond Fineline (eight ounces), which for being only 1.5 ounces heavier, was built with a stretchier material and provided better breathability. There are a number of models in the 10-11 ounce range, such as the REI Drypoint GPX (10 ounces), which was the lightest of Gore-Tex pieces, while our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Beta SL weighed in at 11 ounces, though even that was slightly lighter than average.
Weather changes quickly. At some point, we've all been caught in a storm, getting 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 is useful. Grab it from the car, throw it in your pack, 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. Our rating for packed size considers not only the 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 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; check the individual reviews for this detail, as well as a photo of each beside a 1-liter Nalgene bottle. As for weight, the Patagonia Storm Racer and the Outdoor Research Helium II were the most compact jackets, with the Black Diamond Fineline, Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite REI Drypoint and the Patagonia Torrentshell all coming in at very close seconds as the next most compressible. The Outdoor Research Interstellar was decent, but its stuff sack pocket did a poor job of minimizing its volume, though this doesn't matter much if you just squeeze it into your pack. Among the price-pointed models, the Marmot Precip offered the most compact size.
The products in our review range from bare-bones designs to fully featured models. For some adventures, super light is right, but more often, a few pockets and pit zips contribute enough utility for the 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.
Having a few pockets on your jacket is useful. Besides the use of storing small items and having a convenient place to keep your hands warm, their location can affect the comfort of the jacket. Having low hand warmer pockets are great for around town but can be a nuisance while wearing a harness or heavy pack.
When out on adventures that require wearing a pack, when a majority of the jacket's pocket is under a weighted hip-belt, whether out for the day or an extended trip, the pocket's zipper can dig into your hips, making your rainy-day outing even more miserable.
We love pockets that are higher and out of the way of a pack's hip-belt or a 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 helpful and more comfortable for keeping your hands warm.
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands you place on it. We know everyone would like their rain jacket to last an eternity, but in reality, many users might be better off going with a lighter weight model that they will use infrequently and simply carry around a good chunk of the time. The chart below shows each jacket's durability score in our review.
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 tears. Most of the jackets tested use between a 30-50 Denier face fabric with the 50D shells being more robust than the 30Ds. All but the Columbia Watertight II feature ripstop material. The 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.
Other models use a polyester exterior, which is known to be stretchier and more durable than nylon. If you plan to use your jacket off trail or while bushwhacking, choose a model with ripstop face fabric, and do consider a polyester model. Lastly, jackets with fewer seams in the shoulders hold up better if you plan to carry a pack on a regular basis.
The Marmot Minimalist and the Outdoor Research Foray both pair 50D polyester ripstop face fabrics and with Gore-Tex Paclite, and the Marmot Phoenix, all earned the highest durability scores. The Foray and Minimalist are bomber jackets and will handle anything you could hope a backpacking oriented rain jacket could take. Other jackets, such as the Patagonia Torrentshell pulled in a 7 out of 10 and was one of the more robust models below $150.
We mostly focused 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 need maintenance and reapplication to match the lifespan of the jacket. We reflected on each jacket's DWR longevity in their durability and water resistance scores.
At first glance, figuring out which rain jacket is 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 day to day use. We hope 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, and even if you are, consider having a look at our buying advice article.
— Ian Nicholson