The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The Best Rain Jackets of 2019

What is waterproof really mean? Normal rain creates 3 pounds per square inch of pressure being applied to the fabric  however most waterproof breathable fabrics can withstand a lot more than that. The US military has a 25 PSI standard that most companies use as a guideline. So all the fabrics are plenty waterproof to keep you dry out in the rain. However how long they last  how well the keep water out  and over-all design has a major impact on their ability to keep you dry.
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday May 21, 2019
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To find the best men's rain jackets, our experts researched over 80 models. We then bought 16 of the best contenders of 2019 for extensive hands-on tests. 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. While we declare an overall winner, we also identify the best jacket for specific applications such as commuting, climbing, and travel. Whether you want a top-of-the-line, tricked-out model, something tiny to live in the bottom of your pack, or the best model under one hundred dollars, we have a recommendation for you.

Related: The Best Rain Jackets for Women of 2019


Top 16 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 16
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award   
Price $224.99 at Backcountry
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$173.93 at REI$160.93 at REI
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Check Price at Amazon
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$139.96 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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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 pocketsThe most breathable material in our review, lightweight and compressible, stretchy fabric, top-tier hood design, extremely stormworthyStretchiest fabric in our review, cozy interior feel, breathability, robust, pleasant low-profile wrist closures, hood design is comfortable and maintains good peripheral visionAwesome hood, fantastic fit, very durable, exceptionally versatile, good breathability and ventilation, waterproof pocketsStormworthy, versatile, durable, comfortable, high level of ventilation, great price for a Gore-Tex jacket
Cons No ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harnessCut is slightly on the boxy side, not as durable as other modelsNo chest pocket, hood doesn't fit over a helmet, size up this model to accommodate layeringHeavy for a "minimalist" design, slightly more expensive than non Gore-Tex jacketsOn the heavier side, slightly on the more expensive side
Bottom Line This storm-worthy and function-focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best across-the-board performance in our review.One of the best jackets for backpacking and hiking, it's and packable, yet still provides top-tier storm worthiness.A solid alpine performer for mixed weather conditions, this mega stretchy model moves with you - without holding you back.While this jacket didn't win an award, it remains one of our favorites and is an awesome do-anything jacket offering excellent stormworthiness, functionality, & durability.A fantastic all-around shell with some of the best ventilation features out there, in a fairly light, durable, and stormworthy package.
Rating Categories Arc'teryx Zeta SL REI Co-op Drypoint GTX Rab Kinetic Plus Marmot Minimalist Outdoor Research Foray
Water Resistance (30%)
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Breathability & Venting (25%)
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Packed Size (5%)
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Specs Arc'teryx Zeta SL REI Co-op Drypoint... Rab Kinetic Plus Marmot Minimalist Outdoor Research...
Measured Weight (Medium) 11 oz 10.5 oz 10 oz 15 oz 16 oz
Waterproof Fabric Material 2-layer GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus waterproof breathable laminate 3-layer Gore-Tex Active Proflex™ 3-layer GORE-TEX with PacLite technology 2.5 layer Gore-tex with PacLite Technology
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 40-denier ripstop (N40r) GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus 20D ripstop nylon Propriety Proflex waterproof membrane 2.5L 100% recycled polyester 50D w/ Gore-tex PacLite waterproof breathable membrane
Pockets 2 hand 2 zip hand 2 hand 2 zip hand, 1 chest 3: 1 chest pocket & 2-hand pockets
Are lower pockets hipbelt friendly Yes Yes Yes Almost
Pit Zips Yes No No Yes Yes
Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight) No No No Yes Yes
Stows Into Pocket? No No No (but included stuff sack) No Yes

Best Overall Model


Arc'teryx Zeta SL


Editors' Choice Award

$224.99
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8
  • Comfort & Mobility - 20% 9
  • Weight - 15% 6
  • Durability - 5% 8
  • Packed Size - 5% 7
Weight: 11 ounces | Pockets: Two elevated pack-friendly hand pockets
Exceptional hood design
Outstanding mobility and range of motion
Ultra stormworthy
Small packed volume
Good breathability
Hip belt and harness-friendly pockets
Interior feels less clammy than others
Long-lasting DWR
No ventilation options
Not stretchy
One of the few models that doesn't stuff into its pocket
On the more expensive side

If we could only own one jacket for everything from soggy week-long backpacking or mountaineering trips to rainy mornings walking the dog, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL would be it. Several models excel at one specific application, but no one model offers as exceptional across-the-board performance. This do-everything piece of storm protection wins our award for the best overall model as it scored the best, or nearly the best, in nearly every category. Our testing team loved the Zeta SL's fantastic hood design, top-tier storm worthiness, and outstanding mobility - all while maintaining a below average weight. Its pockets didn't pinch our waist while wearing a pack; it also breathed well enough to keep it zipped up tight while staying fairly dry inside, even if the precipitation persisted all day long. While our review team loved this model, it's worth noting that it faced stiff competition from the REI Drypoint GTX, which only just missed out on winning our Editors' Choice Award.

While we found it to be one of the more breathable jackets, it doesn't have any pit-zips or other ways to dump a ton of heat, other than the main zipper. This model is also one of the few award winners that didn't offer any stretch; the Zeta does offer exceptional articulation and scored well in all of our mobility tests but we would have appreciated stretch. It's also one of the few models that do not compress into one of its pockets, which can be nice for reducing the overall volume it takes up.

Read review: Arc'teryx Zeta SL

Best Bang for the Buck


Marmot PreCip


Best Buy Award

$64.98
(35% off)
at Backcountry
See It

67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 7
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 6
  • Comfort & Mobility - 20% 7
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Durability - 5% 6
  • Packed Size - 5% 7
Weight: 13.5 ounces | Pockets: Two hand pockets
Better breathability than others in its price range
Above average ventilation
Rollaway hood
Nice pit zips
DWR lasts decently long
Affordable
No chest pocket
Not quite as breathable as membrane models
Interior feels a little clammier than other models.

The Marmot PreCip is the most recent update to a long line of tried-and-true PreCip jackets and is the winner of our Best Buy Award. Just over a decade ago, this model basically invented the high-performance budget waterproof breathable jacket category. While it lagged for a bit, the most recent update uses Marmot's NanoPro 2.5-layer coated technology, which is made from recycled materials. We also see some slight overhauls, allowing it to take back its claim for the best model for those on a budget. The PreCip offers surprisingly good storm worthiness with a number of pleasantly designed featured including hand pockets, pit zips for ventilation, and a rollaway hood - all for under one hundred dollars. It breathed the best of any of the value models and was our review team's favorite in its price range for high-energy hiking and backpacking. A few other models we tested are similar when it comes to the price point, but the PreCip delivers the most performance and versatility for your money. The demanding budget-conscious buyer won't find a better deal than this jacket.

One of the PreCip's biggest drawbacks is how clammy it feels inside, even with minimal physical exertion. The larger-than-average pit zips help, but this model may leave you feeling damp and humid, especially when the performance is compared to a few more expensive models. This is also one of the few models that doesn't feature a chest pocket - the pocket that we use the most while backpacking, as it keeps items accessible while wearing a backpack. This hood also didn't fit over the top of a bike or climbing helmet.

Read review: Marmot PreCip

Top Pick for Hiking and Backpacking


REI Co-op Drypoint GTX


Top Pick Award

$173.93
(30% off)
at REI
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8
  • Comfort & Mobility - 20% 8
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Durability - 5% 7
  • Packed Size - 5% 7
Weight: 10.5 ounces | Pockets: Two zip hand pockets
Most breathable material in our review
Hood design
Incredibly lightweight
Small packed volume
Stretchy fabric
Extremely stormworthy
Quality construction
Cut is slightly on the boxy side
Not quite as abrasion-resistant nor not as durable as other models
Okay, but not fantastic mobility

The REI Drypoint GTX is a superb all-around model that was in the running for our Editors' Choice Award. It's one of our review team's go-to favorites for backpacking and hiking, or similar applications; it's a staff Top Pick for these types of trips. 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 also features one of the most storm-worthy designs, helping you to stay dry even when you're working hard out on the trail. It's lighter and more packable than the majority of the competition, which makes it perfect for backpackers, mountaineers, and hikers. Its stretchy fabric provides its wearer with excellent freedom of movement, which helps it adapt to a wide range of users and activities, 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 the boxy cut. While this might be great for layering, REI could have gotten away with downsizing by half a size, offering significantly less bulk. The Drypoint is also thin and care must be taken to ensure it isn't torn when worn on overgrown trails or while ducking under down trees.

Read review: REI Drypoint GTX

Top Pick for Range of Motion


Rab Kinetic Plus


Top Pick Award

$160.93
(30% off)
at REI
See It

77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 7
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8
  • Comfort & Mobility - 20% 10
  • Weight - 15% 6
  • Durability - 5% 7
  • Packed Size - 5% 7
Weight: 10 ounces | Pockets: Two elevated pack-friendly hand pockets
Fabric is impressively stretchy
Some of the best mobility and range of motion in the review
Unique and effective hood design
Excellent breathability
Long-lasting DWR
No ventilation options
Wets out slightly faster than others in prolonged downpours

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 plenty stormworthy and entirely waterproof. This model is an excellent option for anyone that needs a waterproof jacket, but mobility is vital. This advantage is amplified by its trim, 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.

The Kinetic Plus' fabric is impressively stretchy and feels more like a softshell than a hardshell. Unfortunately, it can wet through at a faster rate than others, especially in places where there's additional pressure, such as our shoulder straps. With an athletic fit, it can be challenging to layer much underneath; for those who plan to wear more than a light fleece, you'll want to consider sizing up.

Read review: Rab Kinetic Plus

Notable for Light Weight


Patagonia Storm Racer


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 6
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 6
  • Comfort & Mobility - 20% 8
  • Weight - 15% 10
  • Durability - 5% 5
  • Packed Size - 5% 10
Weight: 6 ounces | Pockets: One functional pocket chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack
Incredibly lightweight
Above average breathability
Sweet stuff pocket
Great mobility
Stretchy fabric
No hand pockets
Difficult to layer underneath without sizing up

The Patagonia Storm Racer is notable for weight-conscience hikers, backpackers, climbers, and trail-runners 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 models in our review. It isn't feature-rich, lacking the several common designs such as lower hand pockets and Velcro closure wrist cuffs. Despite the minimal design, our review team discovered solid performance at a rain jackets most important task: keeping the wearer dry. 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% or more of the time. While extra features might seem sweet, they certainly don'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 weenies out there.

The Storm Racer is the lightest model we tested at a near unbelievable six ounces. This low weight does come at a cost, which borders on affecting aspects of functionality. This model features just one small chest pocket, and only elastic on its wrists, instead of the much more common Velcro tabs. The fabric is thin and care must be taken on overgrown trails. It's designed with one of the more athletic fits in our review, so you'll want to consider sizing up if you plan to layer.

Read review: Patagonia Storm Racer

Notable for Technical Endeavors


Black Diamond Fineline



$134.95
at Amazon
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 7
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 6
  • Comfort & Mobility - 20% 8
  • Weight - 15% 9
  • Durability - 5% 6
  • Packed Size - 5% 10
Weight: 7.5 ounces | Pockets: One chest
Superlight
Extremely packable
Stretchy fabric
Incredible freedom of movement and range-of-motion in our review
More breathable than average
Well-designed hood
No closure on the cuffs, only elastic
No ventilation options
Not as tear resistant as other models

The Black Diamond Fineline offers better overall climbing-focused functionality than a majority of superlight rain shells. 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 sports outstanding freedom of movement and packs down mega tightly into one of its pockets; it can then be clipped and carried on a climbing harness. These traits make it a favorite for our testers that are climbers (and to a slightly lesser extent trail runners) as these are activities where solid mobility and a small, packed volume are appreciated.

The Fineline was one of the lightest models we tested; to achieve this lightweight, BD cut back on a number of features. There is no Velcro closure on the cuffs, only thin elastic wrist bands which weren't quite as comfortable and didn't perform as well. This model only sports one chest pocket and there aren't any ventilation options.

Read review: Black Diamond Fineline


Nine of the top rain jackets  ready for our testing. There are three distinct types of jackets here  and one will meet your needs best.
Nine of the top rain jackets, ready for our testing. There are three distinct types of jackets here, and one will meet your needs best.

Why You Should Trust Us


Author Ian Nicholson is a professional internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide. He has spent over 3,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, European Alps, and beyond. Ian estimates he has worn a rain jacket over 4,000 days over the last two decades due to the fact he guides AND lives in rainy and wet Seattle. He has guided more than 1,000 clients and helped them select gear for backpacking, climbing, and ski trips. When not guiding or climbing in the rainy Cascades, Ian works in an outdoor gear shop and keeps up-to-date with the latest in waterproof breathable fabric technologies. Ian also works for the Northwest Avalanche Center and teaches snow safety courses both on a Profesional level for AIARE as well as recreational level courses where he has instructed just over 80 courses.

In addition to following product releases year-round, Ian sat down for nearly 10 hours to look at 80 contenders to add to this review update. After selecting the most promising models, he took to the mountains. Ian backpacked, hiked, skied, and climbed for over 300 hours to see how each model performed in the most demanding conditions in the temperate rainforests of Western Washington. He also used each for day-to-day life in rainy Seattle. Then we supplemented our field testing with other tests like our famous garden hose test, which simulates a drenching downpour.

Related: How We Tested Rain Jackets

None of the models we tested had offered terrible peripheral vision but some certainly maintained it better than others.
Not all models fit the same and you may need to size up or down to help your jacket to best suit your needs. For example with the Patagonia Storm Racer  marketed as a trail running jacket; tester Ian Nicholson could only fit a technical fleece underneath or a super thin puffy (in a pinch) where with a majority of models he could fit more.
While you can buy a rain jacket for less than half the price  this model easily outperforms those cheaper models. For $250  you'll have a jacket that uses Gore-Tex Active and boasts awesome features and performance. This is one of the better values out there for a rain jacket  period.

Analysis and Test Results


Our metrics below cover the most critical factors you should consider when trying to decide which rain jacket is best for you. 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.

Related: Buying Advice for Rain Jackets

We considered over 90 different rain jackets before choosing the best 16. We tested each jacket by spraying them with hoses  wearing them in the shower  and spending countless hours hiking  climbing  skiing  and backpacking in them. Our findings are reported below.
We considered over 90 different rain jackets before choosing the best 16. We tested each jacket by spraying them with hoses, wearing them in the shower, and spending countless hours hiking, climbing, skiing, and backpacking in them. Our findings are reported below.

Value


One of the most common concerns we hear from our friends and readers is: "Is this expensive piece of gear really worth the price?". Among jackets we tested, prices had a huge spread. The biggest contributing factor to a given model's price correlates with the materials used. More price-pointed models tend to use proprietary fabrics (some of which can perform quite well) and on the less expensive end of those are various types of coated fabrics compared to laminates which are generally more expensive. Higher end models tend to use time-tested Name Brand materials which often have loads of engineering going into materials like Gore-Tex or eVent. It is not that loads of engineering might not go into some proprietary fabrics, but well know and trusted performance oriented fabrics tend to drive up the overall cost.

While it might be a slight downer to hear that more expensive fabrics tent to perform better, a specific fabric 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 types of outdoor products.


If you are specifically looking for a budget pick that also performs well, the best options are the Patagonia Torrentshell and the Marmot PreCip, the second of which is our Best Buy winner. While not as high-performing as a number of the more expensive models, both of these models 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 Zeta SL is the highest performing jacket we tested, but you pay for it. Also of note on the price versus performance front is the Marmot Minimalist, which is the best priced Gore-tex Paclite jacket we've seen and is a rad jacket for the price.

Rain is not going to penetrate any of the fabrics that any of these jackets are constructed with; however  in a downpour  running water can seeks its way in through a pocket zipper  down your wrist when you reach overhead  or where the hood meets your neck and thus the features and design of each model is the most critical part of keeping you dry.
Rain is not going to penetrate any of the fabrics that any of these jackets are constructed with; however, in a downpour, running water can seeks its way in through a pocket zipper, down your wrist when you reach overhead, or where the hood meets your neck and thus the features and design of each model is the most critical part of keeping you dry.

Water Resistance


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, this is the equipment's primary purpose. You can have all the best features in the world, but if your rain jacket doesn't do at least an okay job of keeping you dry, not much else matters. As a result, 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. There is also heaps of laboratory testing that has been done to quantify precisely how waterproof each of these specific coated or laminated materials are. Now with that said, the critical bit to understand is that all of the products tested are water-resistant enough to use as a rain shell and all meet the technical requirements to be referred to as waterproof.

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 model 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 jackets ability to keep its wearer dry also has a lot to do with the longevity of DWR and subsequent ability to resist wetting out after extended periods that can be hours or weeks of use.

Obviously  the waterproof material itself is important  but with nearly all manufacturers offering a material that is more than adequate  those jackets which had features that helped keep the rain out and move moisture scored the best. Ian Nicholson climbing "Pretty Nuts" near Kicking Horse Pass in extremely wet conditions.
Obviously, the waterproof material itself is important, but with nearly all manufacturers offering a material that is more than adequate, those jackets which had features that helped keep the rain out and move moisture scored the best. Ian Nicholson climbing "Pretty Nuts" near Kicking Horse Pass in extremely wet conditions.

All the models we tested sport a waterproof fabric (as you likely guess Waterproof is a legal term) but each model is 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 the ability to resist wetting out after extended use. However what doesn't have much of a functional real-world 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 actually make a functional difference to any tester.

Garden hose to the face and wrists? Check. The Foray can handle it. All of these jackets do a good job keeping you dry in your average rainstorm. But models with adjustable cuffs and well-designed hood adjustments are superior in howling rainstorms or when working with your hands overhead in the rain.
Garden hose to the face and wrists? Check. The Foray can handle it. All of these jackets do a good job keeping you dry in your average rainstorm. But models with adjustable cuffs and well-designed hood adjustments are superior in howling rainstorms or when working with your hands overhead in the rain.

Rain is not going to penetrate any of these fabrics directly; however, in a downpour, running water can seep 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 Zeta 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.

Ian Nicholson testing waterproof Jackets in Torres Del Paine  Chile.
Ian Nicholson testing waterproof Jackets in Torres Del Paine, Chile.

All the products we tested will keep you dry in a storm. The primary differences in our water resistance metric come from the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket closures, longevity of a model's DWR, and pit zips.

A well designed hood is one of the most important factors influencing how dry a rain jacket is going to keep you.
A well designed hood is one of the most important factors influencing how dry a rain jacket is going to keep you.

Another essential 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 makes the water bead when it lands on the surface of the jacket allowing it to shed it. Even though both 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.

While these jackets weren't designed with sea kayaking in mind  that didn't stop our review team from utilizing a trip to the West Coast of Vancouver Island to put them to the test. We also felt that trips like this only added to the testing of each model's versatility. In this photo  lead tester paddled over 20 miles in the Broken Islands in non-stop rain.
While these jackets weren't designed with sea kayaking in mind, that didn't stop our review team from utilizing a trip to the West Coast of Vancouver Island to put them to the test. We also felt that trips like this only added to the testing of each model's versatility. In this photo, lead tester paddled over 20 miles in the Broken Islands in non-stop rain.

The DWR used on the Marmot PreCip, Marmot Phoenix, Marmot Minimalist, and Arc'teryx Zeta SL all stand out for exceptional and long-lasting DWR treatments. Worth noting and not too far behind in DWR performance are 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, the jackets we tested beaded water quite well to start, and DWR treatment can be reapplied to your jacket if needed.

Breathability and ventilation are both significant factors in keeping the wearer dry  minimizing how wet they get from their own sweat. We weighted breathability slightly higher than ventilation because sometimes when it's really raining or snowing hard  opening your vents can make you wetter.
Breathability and ventilation are both significant factors in keeping the wearer dry, minimizing how wet they get from their own sweat. We weighted breathability slightly higher than ventilation because sometimes when it's really raining or snowing hard, opening your vents can make you wetter.

Breathability & Ventilation


Our water resistance metric measured how well each contender keeps its wearer dry by not letting water in from the outside, while our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each model keeps its wearer dry from the inside by allowing sweat and/heat to escape.


Breathability Comparisons

We considered two main factors when awarding scores for this metric; the total of these two factors 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.

It is possible to sweat-out even a t-shirt if working hard enough. We've overheard far too many people saying that their jacket didn't breathe at all or well enough for their needs  but in many of those cases they were wearing too many layers for the task at hand.
It is possible to sweat-out even a t-shirt if working hard enough. We've overheard far too many people saying that their jacket didn't breathe at all or well enough for their needs, but in many of those cases they were wearing too many layers for the task at hand.

All of these multi-layered fabrics are breathable to some extent, meaning they allow water vapor to be wicked through the material from the inside to the outside, where it can subsequently evaporate. Secondly, we also tested and studied how well each model's ventilation features performed, and more importantly, how open we could have the vents while hiking, trail running, and backpacking in the rain. More venting is more effective at transferring moisture; however; real-world functionality is where we noticed another one of the more significant differences between models and ventilation designs. Some models offered ventilation designs that did far better (or worse) at allowing sweat to escape or keeping rain from getting in.

We compared each jacket's overall breathability as well as their ability to ventilate  allowing moisture and heat to escape. Here  wet skinning with intermediate sun-breaks and heavy snow flurries up the Southwest Face of Lichtenberg Mountain near Stevens Pass  WA.
We compared each jacket's overall breathability as well as their ability to ventilate, allowing moisture and heat to escape. Here, wet skinning with intermediate sun-breaks and heavy snow flurries up the Southwest Face of Lichtenberg Mountain near Stevens Pass, WA.

A Note on Breathability

Anyone can drench themselves in sweat while wearing too many layers underneath a shell 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 for the energy output they are undertaking. As a result, they are sweating more than necessary and might be needlessly sweating more than the given jacket can handle not only dehydrating themselves but also soaking themselves from the inside.

Breathability is an important factor when considering shells. At some point  you can't shed any more layers under your rain shell while hiking with a heavy pack uphill and you're going to sweat no matter the outside temperature. Here  Mark M pushes the breathability to the max on a Marmot PreCip Jacket on a wet approach to Mt. Baker  North Cascades  WA.
Breathability is an important factor when considering shells. At some point, you can't shed any more layers under your rain shell while hiking with a heavy pack uphill and you're going to sweat no matter the outside temperature. Here, Mark M pushes the breathability to the max on a Marmot PreCip Jacket on a wet approach to Mt. Baker, North Cascades, WA.

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, and they all have a limit. Remember that you can even drench a lightweight t-shirt if you're working hard enough and that lightweight synthetic T-shirt is no doubt 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. 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.

Even the most breathable models have a limit on the amount of moisture they are able to pass through. Set yourself up for success by wearing the minimum layers you can get away with. Remember that nearly everyone can drench even a t-shirt if they're working hard enough.
Even the most breathable models have a limit on the amount of moisture they are able to pass through. Set yourself up for success by wearing the minimum layers you can get away with. Remember that nearly everyone can drench even a t-shirt if they're working hard enough.

To the highest degree, a garment's breathability is a direct result of the waterproof fabric itself, which is broken down into a couple of parts. These parts are the material it has been constructed with and the material it is bonded to within the fabric (all of the jackets in this review are constructed with multiple layers, even if it only looks like one). In our review, the difference in face fabrics (the outer fabric that you can actually see, and no, that isn't the waterproof part, that is actually inside the jacket) 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.

Stripping off the warm Rab Xenon X after break time  with the Marmot Essence ready to continue the action. Blue Lake along the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies.
Stripping off the warm Rab Xenon X after break time, with the Marmot Essence ready to continue the action. Blue Lake along the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies.

Air Permeable Fabrics

Air permeable is a new buzzword (and a technical term) that is a design aspect of many of the new wave of stretchy proprietary waterproof-breathable 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 and Outdoor Research Interstellar.

A number of models in this review  like the Outdoor Research Interstellar  as seen here  are air permeable. This means air can pass through the fabric itself  and on a micro-level  these models aren't technically windproof and don't require as much internal heat build up as more traditional fabrics. With that said  while most of these models breathe quite well.
A number of models in this review, like the Outdoor Research Interstellar, as seen here, are air permeable. This means air can pass through the fabric itself, and on a micro-level, these models aren't technically windproof and don't require as much internal heat build up as more traditional fabrics. With that said, while most of these models breathe quite well.

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 jacket (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 much moisture as high-end non-air permeable fabrics like Gore-Tex or eVent.

Nice features include a microfleece lined zipper and good fitting cuffs. Here tester Ian Nicholson with The North Face Dryzzle's under-the-helmet fitting hood on a very wet day.
Nice features include a microfleece lined zipper and good fitting cuffs. Here tester Ian Nicholson with The North Face Dryzzle's under-the-helmet fitting hood on a very wet day.

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, is they don't require a big difference in temperature to breathe well. Most waterproof breathable fabrics require a significant temperature difference to work well; they need conditions that are warmer on the inside of a jacket and cooler on the outside. This difference creates a pressure differential that drives the moisture to move from the warm areas to the older ones; this isn't a problem for most users. A few exceptions are you have been sweating for a while, and then you stop moving for a chunk of time to cool off; then you become wet and cold, and the moisture won't move quite as well from the wet t-shirt to the outside world. The other common scenario that keeps non air permeable fabrics from breathing as well is when working in hot, humid climates, where there won't be a temperature differential to move the moisture.

A majority of waterproof breathable fabrics require a pressure differential from the inside of the jacket to the outside to start breathing. This is generally accomplished by being warmer on the inside of the jacket than the outside. This isn't often a problem  as the reason you're likely sweating is because you've built up a fair amount heat. However  an air permeable model will continue to dry more effectively after you've cooled off and are standing around. Photo: Testing and comparing the breathability of different layers while making a one-day ascent of Mt. Shuksan  with Phil Wadlow shown on the summit here.
A majority of waterproof breathable fabrics require a pressure differential from the inside of the jacket to the outside to start breathing. This is generally accomplished by being warmer on the inside of the jacket than the outside. This isn't often a problem, as the reason you're likely sweating is because you've built up a fair amount heat. However, an air permeable model will continue to dry more effectively after you've cooled off and are standing around. Photo: Testing and comparing the breathability of different layers while making a one-day ascent of Mt. Shuksan, with Phil Wadlow shown on the summit here.

The most breathable materials in our review were the Gore-Tex Active and eVent. While these two fabrics scored the best overall there were a handful of the proprietary air permeable fabrics like the Rab Kinetic Plus's Proflex and Outdoor Research's Ascentshell, which allowed for exceptional breathability. These air permeable fabrics scored similarly to Gore-Tex Paclite, which was used in several models in our review like the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Marmot Minimalist, and Outdoor Research Foray.

There are a lot of pretty breathable fabrics out there  but in our side-by-side 10-minute stair master tests (and in real-world use) we found eVent to be the most breathable. Not by lots  but enough to notice. We even found that it was breathable enough that we would get cold faster during breaks.
There are a lot of pretty breathable fabrics out there, but in our side-by-side 10-minute stair master tests (and in real-world use) we found eVent to be the most breathable. Not by lots, but enough to notice. We even found that it was breathable enough that we would get cold faster during breaks.

All the products listed above all performed reasonably similar. Then there was a small performance gap between the previously listed models and products that utilized various fabrics with some type of proprietary 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 the top tier fabrics far more breathable than these proprietary PU ones, 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.

John Yarnall testing and checking the wind resistance of his air permeable Rab Kinetic Plus while camped out at Luna Col in the Northern Picket Range.
John Yarnall testing and checking the wind resistance of his air permeable Rab Kinetic Plus while camped out at Luna Col in the Northern Picket Range.

Below this, there was an even larger gap in performance between the PU laminates and products that used a coated waterproof membrane like the Marmot PreCip, The North Face Venture, and Patagonia Torrentshell. Models with coated membranes tended to be a lot less expensive, and in most cases, half the price, but we found breathability to be their biggest performance deficit.

Breathability Versus Ventilation

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 after a storm, if you happen to find yourself walking up a brushy trail, you'll want to batten down the hatches by closing pit zips and cinch up the hood to keep 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.

As useful as many ventilation features are  a fabric's breathability is more important than ventilation. When it is storming hard and you want to batten down the hatches by closing pit-zips and cinching the hood  a breathable fabric is paramount.
As useful as many ventilation features are, a fabric's breathability is more important than ventilation. When it is storming hard and you want to batten down the hatches by closing pit-zips and cinching the hood, a breathable fabric is paramount.

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 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 when it's raining hard enough to need to put your rain jacket on.

We love the Foray. If you want a durable rain jacket with class-leading ventilation features  it's a great option.
We love the Foray. If you want a durable rain jacket with class-leading ventilation features, it's a great option.

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 extensive testing  we thought the Rhyolite with eVent offered the most breathable fabric  but the Outdoor Research Foray with its huge poncho-style vents was the best at managing moisture and heat. Photo: Slayin' some pow on Tye Peak in an Arc'teryx Beta SL.
After extensive testing, we thought the Rhyolite with eVent offered the most breathable fabric, but the Outdoor Research Foray with its huge poncho-style vents was the best at managing moisture and heat. Photo: Slayin' some pow on Tye Peak in an Arc'teryx Beta SL.

After all of our testing, we determined the REI Drypoint GTX, which is constructed with Gore-Tex Active, breathes the best 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 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 and Rab Kinetic Plus were close competitors during testing of our all-zipped-up breathability comparison. Other stand out performers include the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Outdoor Research Foray, and the Marmot Minimalist.

The Patagonia Torrentshell has large pit zips with easy-to-use pull strings on the zippers. Pit zips let the wearer ventilate the jacket for high energy activities. Other models  like the award-winning Marmot Precip  have mesh-lined pockets for additional ventilation. The Torrentshell's hand pockets are lined with waterproof fabric.
The Patagonia Torrentshell has large pit zips with easy-to-use pull strings on the zippers. Pit zips let the wearer ventilate the jacket for high energy activities. Other models, like the award-winning Marmot Precip, have mesh-lined pockets for additional ventilation. The Torrentshell's hand pockets are lined with waterproof fabric.

For those who get warm super easily, the Outdoor Research Foray is easily one of the best options. It uses Gore-Tex with Paclite technology, which is one of the more breathable fabrics in our review, but it also has an extremely effective and unique ventilation design. Outdoor Research calls this TorsoFlo which 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, we didn't notice a massive difference in breathability, especially in the lower price range, but this is where the performance of their different ventilation designs became more apparent. The Marmot PreCip and The North Face Venture 2 received slightly below average scores for breathability (though average or even slightly above average in their price range) and offered effective venting options. While their fabrics weren't as breathable as most of the PU laminates or more name brand fabrics, they feature larger-than-average pit zips and lower hand pockets, which when left open, dumped more heat than our testing team originally gave them credit for.

Comfort and mobility are extremely important factors that are often under-considered when purchasing a jacket. This is likely because there is less quantifiable metrics to go along with a given jackets mobility. Or some people might simply think "I am just hiking  I'm not climbing." However  whether crawling over a downed tree  setting up a tarp at camp  or climbing the most epic peak of your life  you'll repeatedly utilize the maximum mobility of your jacket. Josh Brewer (in a green Patagonia Torrentshell) and Alex Chew enjoy the fruits of their labor in camp  Jones Island State Park  WA.
Comfort and mobility are extremely important factors that are often under-considered when purchasing a jacket. This is likely because there is less quantifiable metrics to go along with a given jackets mobility. Or some people might simply think "I am just hiking, I'm not climbing." However, whether crawling over a downed tree, setting up a tarp at camp, or climbing the most epic peak of your life, you'll repeatedly utilize the maximum mobility of your jacket. Josh Brewer (in a green Patagonia Torrentshell) and Alex Chew enjoy the fruits of their labor in camp, Jones Island State Park, WA.

Comfort & Mobility


For whatever activities you might have planned, you want a jacket that moves comfortably with you and doesn't get in the way or inhibit your movement. 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 compared each model with our arms facing straight forward, straight up, and straight out to the sides and how easily each model let us accomplish these tasks. We also measured how much each jacket pulled back from our wrists and if the hem of the jacket pulled up around our waists.

Range of motion is essential whether day hiking  on a moderate scramble  or on a technical route. Looking down on the second crux pitch of the mega-classic Triple Couloirs on Dragontail Peak  Central Cascades  WA. We opted to take the Outdoor Research Foray and Arc'teryx Beta SL for their exceptional freedom of movement for this climb.
Range of motion is essential whether day hiking, on a moderate scramble, or on a technical route. Looking down on the second crux pitch of the mega-classic Triple Couloirs on Dragontail Peak, Central Cascades, WA. We opted to take the Outdoor Research Foray and Arc'teryx Beta SL for their exceptional freedom of movement for this climb.

In the comfort portion of this metric, we took 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, the basic but essential bit about how each model felt as a whole. We noted small features, like a microfleece patch at the chin or soft fabric where the hood rests on your brow - both nice touches that just made a given model 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.

We tested the maximum range of motion of each jacket by seeing how well we stayed covered while reaching straight out in front of us  as well as above our heads. This is where stretchy fabrics and specific designs really stood out. Here Graham McDowell tests the range of motion of the Patagonia Torrentshell while climbing the Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire near Washington Pass in an early season snowstorm.
We tested the maximum range of motion of each jacket by seeing how well we stayed covered while reaching straight out in front of us, as well as above our heads. This is where stretchy fabrics and specific designs really stood out. Here Graham McDowell tests the range of motion of the Patagonia Torrentshell while climbing the Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire near Washington Pass in an early season snowstorm.

The models with the best range of motion were easily the ultra-stretchy Rab Kinetic Plus. It is just one of many of a fresh new wave of stretchier and stretchier waterproof shells, but this model is truly the stretchiest we have ever seen. This model offered some of the best mobility in our review and impressed all of our testers with its near restriction free movement. The only thing worth noting on this model is it has an ultra slim fit aimed towards more technical persists and for those who might want to add more than one thin layer underneath should consider sizing up.

Range-of-motion is an advantage a number of the stretchier models posses and for users who intend to use their shell climbing  nordic skiing  or another activity where range-of-motion is crucial then we recommend checking them out. Here Mike Bowman makes an ascent of the Beckey route on Liberty Bell during a light snow storm.
Range-of-motion is an advantage a number of the stretchier models posses and for users who intend to use their shell climbing, nordic skiing, or another activity where range-of-motion is crucial then we recommend checking them out. Here Mike Bowman makes an ascent of the Beckey route on Liberty Bell during a light snow storm.

Next in line and quite close for the best freedom-of-movement and overall mobility were the still-quite-stretchy Black Diamond Fineline, Patagonia Storm Racer, Outdoor Research Interstellar, REI Drypoint GTX, and the not-stretchy but still high performing Arc'teryx Zeta SL. All of these models featured mobility-oriented-designs and offered functional range-of-motion that was just a small cut below the Rab Kinetic Plus.


The Marmot Minimalist, Outdoor Research Foray, and Outdoor Research Helium II provided decent mobility and received the next highest rating in this metric. None of these models offered stretchy fabric, but all sported relatively well-articulated arms that facilitated most movements nicely. The Marmot Phoenix has above average movement and The North Face Venture 2, while baggy, didn't limit our mobility much.

Hood designs varied considerably between jackets. We appreciate a hood with the ability to keep the water out while still moving with you and allowing you to hang on to a good amount of your peripheral vision. Here  Tester Ian Nicholson tends a backcountry breakfast on a stormy morning.
Hood designs varied considerably between jackets. We appreciate a hood with the ability to keep the water out while still moving with you and allowing you to hang on to a good amount of your peripheral vision. Here, Tester Ian Nicholson tends a backcountry breakfast on a stormy morning.

Hood Design

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 favorites were the Arc'teryx Zeta SL and the REI Drypoint GPX, while the Outdoor Research Foray and Black Diamond Fineline scored not too far behind.

Hood design is one of the most important aspects of a waterproof jacket; it helps seal out the rain and when well-designed lets you forget you are wearing it. However  when poorly designed obstructs your peripheral vision  is uncomfortable and doesn't adjust well to different sized heads and headwear. Photo Graham Zimmerman and Ryan O'Connell rappeling while attempting to climb a new route in the Kitchatna's AK.
Hood design is one of the most important aspects of a waterproof jacket; it helps seal out the rain and when well-designed lets you forget you are wearing it. However, when poorly designed obstructs your peripheral vision, is uncomfortable and doesn't adjust well to different sized heads and headwear. Photo Graham Zimmerman and Ryan O'Connell rappeling while attempting to climb a new route in the Kitchatna's AK.

Also in this group of jackets with higher performing hoods, the Rab Kinetic Plus, which 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 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.

Graham Zimmerman wearing the second lightest and one of the most compressible jackets in our review  the Outdoor Research Helium II.
Graham Zimmerman wearing the second lightest and one of the most compressible jackets in our review, the Outdoor Research Helium II.

Weight


For some users, light is right, and weight is everything. All of our testers value lightweight clothing and gear, but not at the expense of basic functionality. If you're thru-hiking 2,000 miles, climbing technical terrain, or riding your bicycle from coast to coast, weight may and should be one of your primary concerns. 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 forecast every day.

All of the models in our review are on the lighter-weight end of the spectrum, particularly when compared to beefier 3-layer models. As an example, all of the jackets in our review weigh less than a pound, an unofficial benchmark for what is considered a lighter weight jacket. While one pound might be a benchmark, the average weight of models in our review is closer to 11-13 ounces with some models dipping down to an impressive 6-7 ounces; an unfathomable weight for a waterproof jacket just 4-5 years ago.


Many jacket users have several priorities above weight, including breathability, comfort, and the right combination of features. Let weight be the final deciding factor if you're torn between two products that meet your needs.

A small break in the storm as the sun pops out on day 6 of the Isolation Traverse. Snow Field Peak and the Neve Glacier in the background and an REI Rhyolite jacket in the foreground. On extended trips like this  weight and comprehensibility balanced with durability become greater considerations.
A small break in the storm as the sun pops out on day 6 of the Isolation Traverse. Snow Field Peak and the Neve Glacier in the background and an REI Rhyolite jacket in the foreground. On extended trips like this, weight and comprehensibility balanced with durability become greater considerations.

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, it's only half an ounce heavier, has nearly all of the same features and equal storm worthiness, and is much less expensive. Its only real drawback is that the Storm Racer offers more breathability, mostly due to its stretchy fabric and better overall mobility. The Helium II also doesn't stuff into its own pocket to be clipped to a harness, making it slightly less ideal for climbers.

For many users  weight is possibly the single most important attribute of a rain shell because they will be carrying it more than 90% of the time. Often times  it's a just in case layer  brought along in the event of an afternoon thunderstorm  strong winds  or a drizzle that is not in the forecast. Photo: Phil Wadlow on the Upper Curtis Glacier.
For many users, weight is possibly the single most important attribute of a rain shell because they will be carrying it more than 90% of the time. Often times, it's a just in case layer, brought along in the event of an afternoon thunderstorm, strong winds, or a drizzle that is not in the forecast. Photo: Phil Wadlow on the Upper Curtis Glacier.

The next lightest contender tested was the Black Diamond Fineline (7.5 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 (10.5 ounces), which was the lightest of Gore-Tex pieces, while our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Zeta SL weighed in at 11 ounces, and offered bomb proof storm-worthiness and still checked in slightly lighter than average.

Jackets stuffed and ready to travel. The jackets we evaluated that do not stuff into one of their pockets can be rolled into their hood as shown here. L-R top row: Helium and Minimus  Essence  Resolve  Minimalist. Bottom row: Torrentshell  Venture  PreCip  Watertight.
Jackets stuffed and ready to travel. The jackets we evaluated that do not stuff into one of their pockets can be rolled into their hood as shown here. L-R top row: Helium and Minimus, Essence, Resolve, Minimalist. Bottom row: Torrentshell, Venture, PreCip, Watertight.

Packed Size


Weather changes quickly. At some point, we've all been caught in a storm, getting soaked when we left our jacket in the car at the then-sunny trailhead. It's these just-in-case packing scenarios when having a super light, crazy compact rain shell is useful, and there is less debate on whether to throw it in the back of your running vest or the bottom of your pack. It's easier to forget about until you need it. Even on multiday trips with less than perfect forecasts packed size is high on the most outdoor enthusiast's priority list. The reason is, in reality, most folks carry their rain shell 90% or more of the time, so the smaller it packs, the more room you have for other items or maybe it makes the last few cubic inches of difference to get away with a smaller pack.

Seven 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 of these jackets 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 Patagonia Storm Racer and the Outdoor Research Helium II were the most compact jackets, with the Black Diamond Fineline being only marginally bigger. All three of these models proved to be significantly smaller than all other models being half the compressed volume of the average packet size among products in our review.

The REI Drypoint, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, and the Patagonia Torrentshell lead the pack among the remaining jackets for being most compressible. These models are more versatile and storm-worthy but are still 50% bigger than the smallest three models listed in the previous paragraph. Of note, the Outdoor Research Interstellar offered a decent packed volume, 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. Amongst the more price-pointed models, the Marmot Precip offered the most compact size.

Peter Webb puts his Arc'teryx Beta SL jacket to the test during some wetter than ideal conditions while alpine climbing in the Canadian Rockies.
Peter Webb puts his Arc'teryx Beta SL jacket to the test during some wetter than ideal conditions while alpine climbing in the Canadian Rockies.

Features


The products in our review range from bare-bones designs to fully featured models aimed at being as versatile as possible. For some adventures, super light is right, but to some extent, all the products we selected are fairly light, and often, a few pockets or pit zips on less breathable models contribute enough utility for the extra 2-4 ounces to be worth their weight. If you are 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.

The Helium II is super light and very compact  making it an excellent jacket to carry along on multi-pitch rock climbs. Brandon Lampley getting ready for the afternoon showers at Lumpy Ridge near Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Helium II is super light and very compact, making it an excellent jacket to carry along on multi-pitch rock climbs. Brandon Lampley getting ready for the afternoon showers at Lumpy Ridge near Rocky Mountain National Park.

After detailing the jacket's performance in each metric, we provide an additional rundown of the jacket's features, from the hood all the way down to the waist hem. If you want to know exactly where the hem cord locks are, we'll let you know!

Pockets

Everyone uses pockets to some extent, and it's hard to argue the utility of a few key placed ones. 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 handwarmer pockets are great for around town but can be a nuisance while wearing a harness or heavy pack. For several of our testers that log a lot of time in the backcountry on multiday trips, handwarmer or lower hand pockets that are located too low are a total deal-breaker.

We love when the pockets are slightly elevated like the ones shown here on the Arc'teryx Beta SL. Not only do they still provide a nice place to put your hands  but we can we access them while wearing a backpacking hip-belt or harness without a zipper digging into our hips.
We love when the pockets are slightly elevated like the ones shown here on the Arc'teryx Beta SL. Not only do they still provide a nice place to put your hands, but we can we access them while wearing a backpacking hip-belt or harness without a zipper digging into our hips.

The reason is 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 a day or an extended trip, the pocket's 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 hand-warmer pockets.

All of our testers appreciated these slightly elevated and function-oriented pockets such as the ones seen here on the Rab Kinetic Plus.
All of our testers appreciated these slightly elevated and function-oriented pockets such as the ones seen here on the Rab Kinetic Plus.

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 helpful and more comfortable for keeping your hands warm while cruising the farmers market on a drizzly day.

These pocket designs are popular with the dog walker and casual crowd  but are often impractical while hiking  as they are nearly inaccessible while wearing a pack or harness. Shown here is the Interstellar  with so-so pockets.
These pocket designs are popular with the dog walker and casual crowd, but are often impractical while hiking, as they are nearly inaccessible while wearing a pack or harness. Shown here is the Interstellar, with so-so pockets.

Durability


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.

A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands of your activities - if it becomes ripped or shredded  no amount of features or special designs will keep you dry. Chris Simrell crossing the upper Elwah River in the Olympic Mountains  WA. This Patagonia Torrentshell jacket withstood quite a bit of bushwhacking use and abuse  particularly considering its weight and price.
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands of your activities - if it becomes ripped or shredded, no amount of features or special designs will keep you dry. Chris Simrell crossing the upper Elwah River in the Olympic Mountains, WA. This Patagonia Torrentshell jacket withstood quite a bit of bushwhacking use and abuse, particularly considering its weight and price.

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 regularly.

Nothing like starting a trip on a very  very rainy day in Washington's North Cascades to learn a lot about different models and how they compare to one another.
Nothing like starting a trip on a very, very rainy day in Washington's North Cascades to learn a lot about different models and how they compare to one another.

The Marmot Minimalist, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, 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 was one of the more robust models on a budget.

Dan Whitmore testing a North Face Venture jacket during an extremely wet trip to Washington's North Cascades National Park. The Venture  with its 50D external face fabric  was on the tougher end of jackets we tested.
Dan Whitmore testing a North Face Venture jacket during an extremely wet trip to Washington's North Cascades National Park. The Venture, with its 50D external face fabric, was on the tougher end of jackets we tested.

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.

We hope you enjoyed the review and that it helped you make your selection  until next time...
We hope you enjoyed the review and that it helped you make your selection, until next time...

Conclusion


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.


Ian Nicholson