Best Overall Model
Arc'teryx Zeta SL
: 11 ounces | Pockets
: Two elevated pack-friendly hand pockets
Exceptional hood design
Outstanding mobility and range of motion
Small packed volume
Hip belt and harness-friendly pockets
No ventilation options
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 a specific application, but this option offers 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 towards the top in every category. Our testing team loved the Zeta SL's fantastic hood design, top-tier storm worthiness, outstanding mobility, and light weight. The pockets didn't pinch our waist while wearing a pack, and we could still access them without having to undo our waistbelt. We loved its top-tier breathability, which allowed us to keep it zipped up when it was pouring outside.
While it's one of the more breathable models in our fleet, it doesn't have pit-zips or other ways to dump heat, other than the main zipper. This model is also one of the few award winners that didn't offer any stretch; the Zeta offers exceptional articulation and scored well in all of our mobility tests, but stretch is always appreciated. It's also one of the few models that does not compress into one of its pockets, which can be nice for reducing the overall volume it takes up. 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 and deserves much of the same across-the-board accolades.
Read review: Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Best Bang for the Buck
: 12.1 ounces | Pockets
: Two hand pockets
Surprisingly durable and abrasion-resistant
Good packed volume
Nice hood design
DWR is robust
No chest pocket
Not quite as breathable as membrane models
Interior feels a little clammier than other models
Small zipper pulls and cord locks
The Patagonia Torrentshell is this year's winner of the OutdoorGearLab Best Buy Award. This versatile rain layer performs well for a large cross-section of activities and is on par with dozens of products which don a much higher price tag. While it faces stiff competition from other jackets in the budget category, it stood out for its abrasion resistance, mobility, hood design, and longer-lasting weather resistance. Because of these design elements, we've deemed it the best value for rougher activities like climbing, backpacking, mountaineering, or even occasional downhill skiing.
The Torrentshell is very similar in design and construction to the Marmot PreCip, which was the former winner of the Best Buy Award and still its closest competition. While the Torrentshell is a great option for the price, if you are willing to spend the money, you can zip into a model with a name brand laminated membrane that will be more breathable and offer longer-lasting weather resistance; then again, you will also be spending twice the price.
Read review: Patagonia Torrentshell
Best for Hiking and Backpacking
REI Co-op Drypoint GTX
: 10.5 ounces | Pockets
: Two zip hand pockets
Most breathable material in our review
Small packed volume
Cut is slightly on the boxy side
Not quite as abrasion-resistant nor not as durable as other models
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, and is 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 as one of the best overall in our review. Not only is the Drypoint incredibly breathable, but it also features one of the most stormworthy designs, helping you to stay dry even when you're working hard out on the trail.
The cut of the Drypoint is boxy and its durability could be improved. 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. However, 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.
Read review: REI Drypoint GTX
Best for Range of Motion
Rab Kinetic Plus
: 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
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 it's one of the stretchiest we have ever seen in a waterproof rain jacket. In fact, the fabric 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;
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 Technical Endeavors
Black Diamond Fineline
: 7.5 ounces | Pockets
: One chest
Incredible freedom of movement and range-of-motion in our review
More breathable than average
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, Black Diamond cut back on several features. There are no Velcro closure on the cuffs and 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.
Why You Should Trust Us
Author Ian Nicholson is a professional internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide. He has spent over 2,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, European Alps, and beyond. Ian estimates he has worn a rain jacket over 3,000 days over the last two decades due to the fact he guides AND lives in rainy and wet Seattle. He has guided nearly 1,000 clients and helped them select gear for climbing, backpacking, and ski trips. 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 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. He 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, and also used each for day-to-day life in rainy Seattle. In addition to extensive testing of each model in the real-world, we supplemented our field use with other tests, like our famous timed garden hose test. This is to simulate a drenching downpour and allows for a more scientific approach to our comparison.
Related: How We Tested Rain Jackets
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.
One of the most common concerns we hear from our friends and readers is: "Is this expensive piece of gear really worth the price?". You'll find an enormous range of prices and models on the market today; the biggest contributing factor in any model's price correlates with the materials used. More price-pointed models tend to use proprietary fabrics. Some of these fabrics can perform quite well while others not so much.
On the less expensive end of those are various types of coated membrane fabrics which generally aren't as long-lasting nor as breathable compared to laminated membranes. These higher-end laminates are more expensive to produce, and when looking at Name Brand materials, you are not only paying for the "name" but also the years of engineering that went into it. It isn't that more basic coated materials don't have any engineering, but are certainly far easier to produce.
After extensive testing, we found that there is usually a reason that a majority of companies will sacrifice some of their profit and use materials like Gore-Tex made by a third party, rather than just use proprietary fabrics. While it might be a slight downer to hear that these more expensive fabrics tend to work better and last longer, a specific material makes a world of difference from a waterproof/breathability perspective. When it comes to rain jackets, there is almost a direct relationship between price and performance, which is not the case with all outdoor products.
If you're specifically looking for a budget pick that also performs well, the best options are the Patagonia Torrentshell and the Marmot PreCip, the first of which is our Best Buy winner. While neither of these are as high-performing as a number of the more expensive models, they perform well overall and are no doubt incredibly functional - and cost a fraction of the price. 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; it's worth checking out if you are on the fence about buying a Gore-Tex jacket and aren't looking to break the bank.
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.
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 an adequate 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 one keeps the water out. This generally refers to several design aspects of the jacket, such as the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket(s) front/primary-zipper, and pit zips or other vents, and how well they keep water out. A jacket's ability to keep its wearer dry also has a lot to do with the longevity of DWR and the subsequent ability to resist wetting out after extended periods that can be hours or weeks of use.
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 a significant difference 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.
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. The other way you get wetness inside a jacket is once the DWR fails either because it has run out of life or pro-longed wetness; more on DWR below.
We extensively tested each model in the real world; we also conducted a series of side-by-side tests to quantify performance and better understand how models compared to each other. Some of the testing included a four-minute shower, as well as a spray down with the garden hose. We did this to help find "weak" or potentially problematic spots.
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Marmot Minimalist and REI Drypoint GTX offer the most robust weather resistance of the bunch. They do an excellent job of sealing out precipitation in all of forms, and have wrist cuffs that can be cinched down with Velcro closures. All hoods seal well around the face and chin, keeping us dry as a bone.
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.
Another essential component of a jacket's water resistance is its Durable Water Repellent or DWR treatment. This treatment is factory applied to the fabric's exterior and makes the water bead when it lands on the surface of the jacket, allowing it to shed 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 thin but continuous film of water. This result of a jacket wetting out is greatly reduced breathability, a feeling of dampness or clamminess, and a slight increase in weight. The exterior also looks wet when this happens, and is generally darker; it appears that the garment is physically starting to absorb water (which it is). This water may or may not be making it all the way through, but in nearly all cases, the continuous film eliminates all breathability, and the wet-looking area will feel cold and wet from the inside.
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. Check out DWR maintenance in our Care & Cleaning section.
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 measures 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.
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-breathable fabric technologies distinguish themselves from one another.
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. We also examined and studied how well each model's ventilation features performed. More importantly, we evaluated how much the vents could be open in the rain while hiking, trail running, and backpacking. More venting is more effective at transferring moisture, and 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 proved far better (or worse) at allowing sweat to escape or keeping rain from getting in.
A Note on Breathability
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.
While wearing even the most breathable of garments, anyone can drench themselves in sweat via too many layers underneath a shell while charging uphill or otherwise working hard. We've overheard too many people say that their jacket "doesn't breathe enough for their needs", but in a majority of 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 - a problem that could be solved or at least significantly improved by wearing the minimum number of layers possible.
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 allow an infinite amount of moisture to pass through, and they all have their limit. Remember that you can even drench a lightweight 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, though this obviously changes if a downpour is on its way. If you're warm before you start, and you're taking part in aerobic activity, you'll likely produce far more sweat than your jacket can handle.
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 essential pieces. These pieces are the waterproof breathable fabric it has been constructed from, and the material it is bonded to which make up the exterior and interior of the garment (all of the jackets in this review are constructed with multiple layers, even if it only looks like one). The outer fabric that you can actually see, which is inside the jacket and not waterproof, did not vary significantly in thickness amongst our fleet; thus, breathability wasn't affected as much as construction style (or the number of layers used) and the waterproof membrane itself were, with the characteristics of the membrane having the most significant single impact.
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 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 review, such as the Rab Kinetic Plus and Outdoor Research Interstellar. Air-permeable is exactly that; air can pass through the fabric at all times, not just when there is a large disparity in heat and/or pressure. This means that on a micro-level, these models aren't technically windproof.
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.
While some people expressed concern about this, our testing indicated that they do feel waterproof, and it takes a very 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 but still breathable fabrics (we know, a lot of buzzwords here) 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.
The notable advantages of air-permeable fabrics are they tend to be cooler feeling because there is some air always creeping its way in and out. The other and most significant difference between air-permeable and more traditional materials is they don't require a big difference in temperature (and thus pressure) to breathe well. Most waterproof-breathable fabrics require a significant temperature difference to perform as intended; 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 warmer areas to the colder ones; this isn't a problem for most users. An example in which it can create more of a problem is if you've been working hard and sweating for a while, and then you stop moving for a chunk of time to cool off. At this point, you may become cold and wet, and thus the moisture won't move as well from your potentially wet t-shirt to the outside world. The other common scenario that keeps non-air-permeable fabrics from breathing as effectively is 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.
The most breathable materials in our review were the Gore-Tex Active and eVent. These two fabrics were a cut above the rest when we were out on a rain winter hike, where they were able to pass an impressive amount of moisture at an astounding rate. While these two fabrics scored the best overall, there were a number of the proprietary air-permeable models and fabrics, like the Rab Kinetic Plus using Proflex and Outdoor Research using Ascentshell, which allowed for exceptional breathability. These air-permeable fabrics scored similarly to Gore-Tex Paclite, which was used in 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.
All the products listed above performed reasonably similar, and we wouldn't say there is a massive performance gap between them. There is a small breathability gap between the previously listed models and the next tier down, which generally use some type of proprietary PU laminates. These are models with fabrics like Marmot's Membrane, Patagonia's H2No used on the Cloud Ridge, and Black Diamond's BDry.
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.
There was a much more significant gap in breathability performance between the PU laminates and generally more price-pointed products that use a coated waterproof membrane like the Marmot PreCip, The North Face Venture, and the Patagonia Torrentshell. Models with coated membranes tend to be a lot less expensive, sometimes half the price. That reduced cost may come with reduced breathability, which is one of the biggest performance deficits.
Breathability Versus Ventilation
When considering and comparing different ventilation options, as well as a model's overall breathability, it is essential to remember that these two design aspects, while related, are not equal. Between the two, a fabric's breathability is far more important than its ventilation. If it's pouring rain or you're out after a storm, we like to batten down the hatches by closing the pit zips and cinching up the hood, even if it means trapping some of your body-made moisture in. The bottom line is when working or recreating in stormy weather, the more active your endeavors, the more significant the importance of breathability becomes.
Ventilation Features and Comparison
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.
In lighter drizzle or in the time between cloudbursts when you want to continue wearing your jacket for wind protection or as part of your layering system, ventilation can be a valuable way to move moisture and dump a lot of heat quickly. Pit zips, along with various other zippered ventilation designs including mesh-lined pockets, all have their place. Besides a given model's primary zipper, pit zips are the next most effective ventilation tool in dumping heat and moving moisture.
An advantage in opening the pit zips over the front zipper is that the pit zip stays moderately protected in light rain, minimizing how much external moisture may find its way inside. In the end, ventilation, while undoubtedly important, takes the backseat to breathability for practical, real-world use, as you may be unable to open ventilation points when it's pouring rain.
Side-by-Side Hiking Test
We love the Foray. If you want a durable rain jacket with class-leading ventilation features, it's a great option.
We tested the breathability of these jackets 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 our tests several times, comparing models with lots of ventilation options, and keeping vents completely closed, partially open, and completely open to best get a sense of how each model performed.
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.
The REI Drypoint GTX, which is constructed with Gore-Tex Active, breathes the best but for those interested, offers little in the way of ventilation. The Drypoint is slightly less steamy inside than other high-end performers during high-energy activities and is way more breathable than models that feature coated waterproof-breathable fabrics. We even noticed ourselves becoming colder during breaks when wearing the REI Drypoint GTX. With that said, the Outdoor Research Interstellar, Rab Kinetic Plus, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Outdoor Research Foray, and Marmot Minimalist were close competitors when testing for our breathability metric.
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 warm up easily, the Outdoor Research Foray is 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 design 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 varying degrees (or all the way) to share a similar feeling to that of a poncho.
Among the more price-oriented coated-membrane models, there was a small difference in breathability. This is where the performance of different ventilation designs becomes more apparent. The Marmot PreCip and The North Face Venture 2 offer effective venting options, but breathability was not on par with that of higher-end models. While their fabrics aren't as breathable as many of the PU laminates or name brand fabrics, they feature adequate 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 & Mobility
For whatever activities you have planned, you'll want a jacket that moves comfortably with you and doesn't inhibit your movement. In the mobility portion of this metric, our review team compares how each model moved with its user and how restrictive it may be. We tested each model's overall freedom of movement for general applications, as well as a handful of specific activities like climbing and ski touring.
We also explicitly compared how well a model's hood maintained peripheral vision and how it moved with our heads. We compared each jacket with our arms facing straight forward, straight up, and straight out to the sides, and how easily each model let us accomplish these tasks. We also measured how much each one 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.
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, we evaluated 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, which are appreciated touches that feel nicer. We also considered the ease of use of each feature, comparing cinch cords for the hood and how easy to access and adjust they were. Some jackets add larger fabric pull tabs to the zipper rather than small pieces of cord to ease operating with cold fingers or gloves.
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 was easily the ultra-stretchy Rab Kinetic Plus. It is just one of many new models that are part of the fresh new wave of stretchier, waterproof shells. While the number of stretch models continues to grow, the Kinetic is truly the stretchiest shell we have ever seen, and offers nearly restriction-free movement. The only thing worth noting on this model is that it has an ultra-slim fit aimed towards more technical pursuits. For those who might want to add more than one thin layer underneath should consider sizing up.
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 for the best freedom-of-movement and mobility are the stretchy Black Diamond Fineline, 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 notch below the Rab Kinetic Plus. All provided comparable levels of performance.
The Marmot Minimalist, Patagonia Torrentshell, Outdoor Research Foray, and Outdoor Research Helium II have 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 easy movements.
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.
The effectiveness of each model's hood (of keeping our heads dry while not chaffing our chins or cutting off our peripheral vision) varied wildly. Our favorites were the Arc'teryx Zeta SL and the REI Drypoint GPX, while the Outdoor Research Foray, Patagonia Torrentshell, 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.
Also in this group of jackets with higher-performing hoods, the Rab Kinetic Plus, is of special note because it features an internal elastic band that is designed to ride directly on top of the wearer's forehead, acting as an internal gasket to the main hood. As crazy as this sounds, and trust us, most of our review team was quite skeptical, it turned out to be comfortable and effective, maintaining top-notch peripheral vision. From beanies to baseball caps, each one of these jackets featured hoods that cinched down over a range of headwear, maximizing the hood's ability to turn with its users head instead of turning into it.
Graham Zimmerman wearing one of the lightest, most compressible jackets in our review, the Outdoor Research Helium II.
For some, 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. For burlier backpacking and mountaineering trips, or even for daily use, you'll want to consider durability and stormworthiness, as well as weight.
All of the models in our review are on the lighter end of the weight spectrum, particularly when compared to beefier 3-layer models. All of the contenders in our review weigh less than a pound, which is an unofficial benchmark for what is considered a lighter weight jacket. While one pound might be a benchmark, the average weight in our review is closer to 11-13 ounces, with some models dipping down to an impressive 6-7 ounces - an unfathomable weight for a waterproof jacket five 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.
The Outdoor Research Helium II weighs in at 6.5 ounces and can be stuffed into a built-in pocket with a clip-in loop, which is a nice feature for climbers or hikers, or those looking to clip it to something.
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.
At 7.5 ounces, the Black Diamond Fineline is built with a stretchy material and provides excellent breathability, ranking higher than the Helium II. There are a number of models in the 10-11 ounce range, such as the REI Drypoint GPX (10.5 ounces), which was one of the lightest of Gore-Tex pieces, while our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Zeta SL weighed in at 11 ounces, and offered bombproof stormworthiness.
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.
We've all been caught in a storm, getting soaked when we left our jacket in the car at the then-sunny trailhead. As the weather can change quickly and at times unexpectedly, it's these just-in-case packing scenarios when having a light, compact rain shell is useful, and there is less of a personal debate on whether to throw it in your running vest or the bottom of your pack. It's just easier to forget about until you need it. Even on multiday trips with perfect, or less than perfect forecasts, packed size should be high on the most outdoor enthusiast's priority list. In reality, most folks carry their rain shell 9 times out of 10, so the smaller it packs, the more room you have for other items.
Approximately half of these models stuff into one of their own pockets and others can be rolled and stuffed into their hoods. Our rating for packed size considers not only the compressed size, but the ease of using the integrated stuff pocket.
Some compress quite small, but require wrestling to get them stowed; others fit comfortably into their stuff pocket. A clip-in loop (for use after the jacket has been stuffed) is a nice feature that many climbers or hikers will appreciate and use at some point. As for packed volume, the Outdoor Research Helium II and Black Diamond Fineline are the most compact jackets. These models are significantly smaller and half the compressed volume of the average packed size in our review.
The REI Drypoint, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, and the Patagonia Torrentshell are more versatile and stormworthy but are 50% bigger than the smallest three models listed in the previous paragraph. Of note, the Outdoor Research Interstellar offers a decent packed volume, but its stuff sack pocket does 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 offers 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.
The models in our review span from being super bare-bones with barely the basics to decked-out fully-featured models aimed at maximizing comfort and versatility. For certain adventures, particularly human-powered ones, every ounce matters, though a few extra features can make a product well-rounded and versatile. Most of the products we selected are all on the lighter side and are geared towards outdoor-orientated sports; often, a few pockets or pit zips on less breathable models contribute enough utility for the extra 2-4 ounces to be well 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.
It is tough to argue the utility of pockets, as everyone uses them to some extent. They are unquestionably useful to help keep track of small items, keeping certain things close at hand, and are a convenient place to keep your hands warm. Not all pockets are created equal, and their size and location can have a huge impact on their overall usefulness depending on the user.
For example, having low handwarmer pockets are great for around town but can be a nuisance and render them near unusable while wearing a harness or heavy pack. For several of our testers that log a lot of time in the backcountry on multi-day trips, handwarmer or lower hand pockets that are located too low are a total dealbreaker.
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.
While on adventures that require wearing a pack, a majority of the jacket's pocket is under a weighted hip-belt strap. This is the case whether out for a day or an extended trip and the pocket's primary zipper can dig into your hips, making your rainy day outing even more miserable. The zipper pinched induced pain only compounds itself the longer the trip, so if you're planning on using your rain jacket for activities like day hiking, backpacking, or mountaineering, steer clear of models with low front handwarmer pockets. Besides discomfort, lower hand pockets are far less accessible with a pack on, and at times can be inaccessible.
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 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.
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands its user places on it. While we know everyone would like their rain jacket to last an eternity, in reality, many people might be better off going with a lighter weight model that they will use infrequently and carry around a good chunk of the time. Unfortunately, as jackets get lighter, they also generally become less durable. This is in both abrasion and cut resistance but also in overall longevity. This is particularly true among the lightest models, which are exponentially less durable than products weighing 3-5 ounces more.
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 exterior material (also know as the face fabric) is either nylon or polyester and this material plays a huge role in the overall durability. For the most part, the lighter the face fabric is, the easier it tears or the faster it is to abrade. Most of the jackets tested use between 30-50 Denier face fabric, with the 50D shells being notably more robust than the 30Ds. All but the Columbia Watertight II feature ripstop material. A ripstop weave doubles up on the thread at intervals, providing a grid of strong fibers to stop tears from growing once a rip has occurred. We find this is a significant advantage and a reason that the majority of outdoor products utilize it.
Nylon is known to be stretchier and most times, more durable than a similarly thick nylon material. While polyester is generally more durable, thickness matters more, and a 50D nylon jacket is likely to be tougher than a 30D polyester one. If you plan to use your jacket off-trail or while bushwhacking, choose a model with a higher denier and ripstop face fabric, and at least consider a polyester model. Lastly, after years of experience, we have come to find that jackets with fewer seams in the shoulders hold up better, especially if you plan to carry a pack regularly.
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 most durable models in our review are the Marmot Minimalist, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, and the Outdoor Research Foray. All three pair 50D polyester ripstop face fabrics with a much longer-lasting Gore-Tex Paclite membrane. Each proved to be able to handle anything we could hope a backpacking oriented rain jacket could take. With its 50D ripstop polyester shell, the Patagonia Torrentshell was one of the more robust budget-friendly models.
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 their durability, longevity, and tear-resistance. We also compared the longevity of each model's waterproof membrane and its exterior DWR. As we discussed in the weather resistance section at the top of this article, models with laminated membranes, whether name brand ones like Gore-Tex or proprietary ones far outlasted products with coated membranes.
We hope you enjoyed the review and that it helped you make your selection, until next time...
At first glance, determining which rain jacket is ideal right for you is more complicated than it might seem. While keeping you dry is the goal, features like ventilation can make a big difference in day to day use. Our metrics are in place to help you make the decision as to which model is best suited for your needs. Once you've taken into account which metrics take priority for your adventures, our review should help you narrow your decision down to one or two ideal contenders.