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

Best Rain Jackets for Men of 2020

What does waterproof really mean? Rain creates three 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. All the fabrics are plenty waterproof to keep you dry out in the rain. How long they last  how well they keep water out  and overall design have a major impact on their ability to keep you dry.
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Monday July 20, 2020
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Our rain-loving gear heads have tested over 35 of the best rain jackets over seven years. This 2020 update features 12 of the market's most current and best that'll keep you protected from thundering downpours and white-out snow conditions. We wear them while hiking, skiing, backpacking, and mountaineering, in both sunny and gnarly weather conditions. We take hours assessing materials and nuances to each design, and comparing each as we wear them consecutively day in and day out. Our recommendations are grounded in an unbiased testing regime that's designed to help you find an excellent rain shell that'll keep you protected and comfortable.

Top 12 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 12
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Best Overall Rain Jacket


Arc'teryx Zeta SL


Editors' Choice Award

$194.35
(35% off)
at Backcountry
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 8
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Durability - 5% 8
  • Packed Size - 7% 7
Weight: 11 ounces | Pockets: Two elevated pack-friendly hand pockets
Exceptional hood design
Outstanding mobility and range of motion
Stormworthy
Small packed volume
Good breathability
Hip belt and harness-friendly pockets
Long-lasting DWR
No ventilation options
Not stretchy
Doesn't stuff into its pocket
Price

If we could only choose one rain jacket for a wide range of activities from backpacking and mountaineering to visiting the farmers market on a rainy Sunday, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL would be it. While other options might excel in specific applications or particular metrics, no model can match the Zeta's exceptional across the board performance. Our testers loved its optimized hood design, fantastic mobility, lightweight construction, and, most importantly, its ability to ward off weather. The pockets are placed strategically to still use them with your pack on, and the breathable construction and ventilation features kept us on the move, without heating up when it was pouring outside.

While it's one of the more breathable models in our fleet, for folks wanting ventilation options, this model doesn't have any pit-zips or other ways to dump heat — other than the main front zipper. It's also one of the few award winners that isn't constructed with a stretchy material. However, the Zeta does offer exceptional articulation and scored well in all of our mobility tests, but the stretch is always appreciated. 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


Patagonia Torrentshell 3L


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 6
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 8
  • Weight - 15% 6
  • Durability - 5% 8
  • Packed Size - 7% 7
Weight: 14 ounces | Pockets: Two hand pockets
Stormworthy
Not clammy feeling
Surprisingly durable and abrasion-resistant
Respectable packed volume
Nice hood design
Pit zips
DWR is robust
Affordable
No chest pocket
Not quite as breathable as membrane models
Slightly heavier-than-average weight
Hood doesn't fit over a helmet
So so mobility and freedom of movement

Despite a small price bump from the older 2.5-layer version, the newer 3-layer Torrentshell offers a significant performance boost for not much more money. It performs well across a wide range of activities with the performance that matches many more expensive options. It beats out other budget-minded rain jackets with its abrasion resistance, durability, hood design, and above-average weather protection while maintaining a respectable weight and packed volume. While you can buy a lighter option, few can match it for as wide a range of activities for the price. We even recommend it for activities like backpacking, climbing, and mountaineering, which can be hard on your gear.

The Torrentshell is very similar in design to the Marmot PreCip, which still represents some of this model's closest competition. While the Torrentshell is an excellent option for the price, the PreCip remains a less expensive option but lost the award because it doesn't perform as well as the Torrentshell in any category. While we were happy with the level of breathability and the weight of the Torrentshell for the money, if you are willing to spend more, you can buy a lighter and/or more breathable product.

Read review: Patagonia Torrentshell

Best for Hiking and Backpacking


REI Co-op Drypoint GTX


Top Pick Award

$249.00
at REI
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 8
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Durability - 5% 6
  • Packed Size - 7% 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
Okay mobility

The REI Drypoint GTX is a superb all-around model that was in close running for our top honors. It's one of our review team's go-to favorites for backpacking, hiking, or other similar applications, and is a staff choice 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 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. All of our testers commented on its stretchy fabric, which provides excellent freedom of movement to its wearer and helps it adapt well to a wide range activity, adding to its extraordinary versatility.

The Drypoint is a very function-focused jacket that incorporates the needs of outdoor enthusiasts into nearly all of its features and design; thus, we were surprised with its boxier than average cut. While this might seem great for layering, REI could still have gotten away with downsizing by half a size, offering significantly less bulk while still being able to layer underneath. The Drypoint is also thin, and extra care must be taken to ensure it isn't torn when worn on overgrown trails or while ducking under downed trees. We will take its slight fragility as it's lighter and more packable than the majority of the competition, which makes it perfect for backpackers, mountaineers, and hikers who end up carrying their jacket for more than they wear it.

Read review: REI Drypoint GTX

Best Just in Case Layer


Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket


Top Pick Award

$158.95
at Backcountry
See It

71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 7
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 5
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 7
  • Weight - 15% 10
  • Durability - 5% 5
  • Packed Size - 7% 10
Weight: 6.3 ounces | Pockets: One chest
Insanely lightweight and tiny compressed size
Stows tightly in a reversible pocket
Hood maintains great peripheral vision
Respectable storm-worthiness
No ventilation options
Average breathability
Minimal hood keeps the rain outside, but our faces get wet
Only one pocket
Wets out slightly faster than others in prolonged downpours

The new insanely light and compact Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket practically disappears in your pack like no other model can. While we wouldn't necessarily call it an all-around jacket, it's more versatile than you might think. It's a great option for most backpackers, hikers, climbers, and trail runners, who are likely to carry their rain jacket in their pack the majority of the time. As the lightest and most compact model in our review, it provides more than adequate storm protection while conveniently stowing away into its reversible chest pocket, packing down to roughly the size of your fist.

While minimal weight and respectable storm protection are why you buy this model, durability, breathability, and true versatility aren't. For a similar price, most other shells we tested offered superior breathability. Not surprisingly, this is the least durable model using the thinnest fabrics and the tiniest zippers, meaning you need to take care. If you know you're going to have a week of bad weather on a backcountry trip and will wear your rain jacket everyday, you'll want to consider looking elsewhere. However, for most people who are going to pack their shell the majority of the time, and only break it out for a few hours here or there, few options are better.

Read review: Outdoor Research Helium Rain

Best Air-Permeable Option


Outdoor Research Interstellar


Top Pick Award

$224.21
(25% off)
at Backcountry
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 8
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 7
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Durability - 5% 7
  • Packed Size - 7% 7
Weight: 11 ounces | Pockets: One chest, two lower
Very breathable
Stretchy fabric
Light and packable
Versatile
Respectable stormworthiness
Pockets aren't the best with a pack on

A whole new wave of stretchy air-permeable models has flooded the market. With so many to choose from, which is the best? After extensive testing, we found the Outdoor Research Interstellar, using OR's proprietary Ascentshell to be our review team's favorite. No model could match the Interstellar's blend of durability and stormworthiness while maintaining fantastic breathability and freedom of movement. The advantage of Ascentshell and other air-permeable materials is they offer a high and steady level of breathability regardless of user temperature or external environmental factors. Even when compared to several other similar air-permeable options, the Interstellar stood out as one of the most stretchy and most breathable options while still providing top-tier weather protection.

While more than adequate for most rainy day adventures or soggy multi-day backpacking trips, for the worst-of-the-worst weather where breathability might be less of a factor, you can still get a more storm-resistant model. This product isn't as great for hanging out in camp in the rain, as it keeps breathing even when you aren't moving to result in heat loss. It wasn't that the Interstellar didn't offer adequate weather resistance; there are just a handful of burlier models that perform better for straight-up hanging out in the rain. This model is better for more aerobic activities like backpacking, hiking, and mountaineering, where its stretchy, mobility-focused design and top-tier breathability are strongly are more important than absolute storm protection.

Read review: Outdoor Research Interstellar


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 2,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, European Alps, and beyond. Ian estimates he has worn a rain jacket over 1,000 days over the last two decades due to the fact he guides AND lives in rainy and wet Pacific Northwest. He has guided nearly 1,000 clients and helped them select gear for climbing, backpacking, and ski trips. Additionally, Ian also works for the Northwest Avalanche Center and teaches snow safety courses both at a Professional level for AIARE as well as recreational level courses, where he has instructed over 80 such courses.

In addition to staying up to date on the latest and greatest innovations in weather protection, Ian looked at over 80 contenders for nearly 10 hours before selecting products for this review. OutdoorGearLab bought these products at retail prices and sent them to Ian's house, where we immediately got to work. This review is the result of over 300 field hours tromping around in wet conditions in the Pacific Northwest. We swapped these jackets to our friends to get more opinions on less objective tests like comfort and fit, but Ian personally tested each jacket in our review for months in the temperate rainforests of Western Washington, and milling around Seattle, with a coffee in hand. When the rain wasn't pouring from the sky, it was pouring from our garden hoses, where we had timed spray tests with each product to figure out the limits of each jacket in a side-by-side setting. As you can see, we take testing seriously, and it happens both in the field and in our home labs.

Related: How We Tested Rain Jackets

None of the models we tested 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 cheaper models. This jacket 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


We tested an enormous number of jackets geared toward helping you explore the backcountry but focused most specifically on the top performers. We preferred models designed to move with you while protecting you from the elements, yet not slowing you down if stowed in your pack.

To evaluate each product objectively and fairly, we created tests for critical categories and compared each model and category as objectively and independently as possible. These categories represent what our experts believe to be, the most important considerations when deciding which rain jacket is best for you. If any of these categories speak to you more than others, skip to that section to see which are the best and why.

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


When considering value, you've got to ask the question "is the most expensive gear worth the price? Depending on how you use the product, you might want to buy the best of the best, or you might be happy settling for something that'll "just do". Regardless, there is an enormous price range of options on the market today. The most expensive options represent those built with the best materials and have years of engineering behind them. Nine times out of ten, these jackets will keep you dry all day, even in a hard downpour. More price pointed models use proprietary fabrics that'll do the trick but won't perform as well as a higher-end option.

Of the highest value options on the market today, the Marmot PreCip and Patagonia Torrentshell 3L are two of the best. Both offer great functionality and will indeed keep you dry in most rainy conditions. Neither are as high quality as our top-scoring models but are less than half the price of higher-end products without a huge drop in performance. If a lightweight, high-value option is what you seek, the Marmot Minimalist stands out from the rest. This is the best priced GoreTex Paclite jacket we've ever tested or researched. Using Gore technology, it's high quality, with fantastic savings potential.


Why Are Higher-End Products More Expensive

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.

Rain is not going to penetrate the fabrics that any of these jackets are constructed with. In a downpour  however  running water can seep 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 the fabrics that any of these jackets are constructed with. In a downpour, however, running water can seep 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 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 with features that kept 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 with features that kept 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 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 waterproofness strictly from a fabric point of view; that is, if one fabric is waterproof to 30 PSI versus one to 60 PSI, it doesn't make a functional difference to any tester.

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. The other way you get wetness inside a jacket is once the DWR fails either because it has run out of life or prolonged wetness.


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 testings 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.

A drizzly hike turned to pouring rain made for perfect testing opportunities. On six occasions we went out for long day hikes in the rain  bringing along every jacket in our review to test them side by side.
A drizzly hike turned to pouring rain made for perfect testing opportunities. On six occasions we went out for long day hikes in the rain, bringing along every jacket in our review to test them side by side.

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 its 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.

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 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.

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. 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. 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.

This result of a jacket wetting out is significantly 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.

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 measures how well each contender keeps its wearer dry by not letting water in from the outside. In contrast, our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each model keeps its wearer dry from the inside by allowing sweat and heat to escape.


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-breathable fabric technologies distinguish themselves the greatest 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.
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.

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

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 limitations. 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.

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.

People are often more worried about being too cold, but in our experience, we see far more people wear WAY too much clothing and end up too hot. We recommend to be bold and start cold or at least cool to the point where it takes you 5-10 minutes to get comfortable, though this changes if a downpour is on its way. If you're warm before you start, and you're taking part in aerobic activity, you'll likely produce far more sweat than your jacket can handle.

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.

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, mostly proprietary waterproof-breathable jackets that have recently surged onto the market. We feature a number of the models that are air-permeable in our review, such as the Rab Kinetic Plus and Outdoor Research Interstellar.

Air-permeable fabrics are a cool new trend in the outdoor industry  offering a static level of breathability regardless of user output and external environments. This means your jacket keeps breathing even after you've cooled off.
Air-permeable fabrics are a cool new trend in the outdoor industry, offering a static level of breathability regardless of user output and external environments. This means your jacket keeps breathing even after you've cooled off.

What is an air-permeable fabric or jacket? Nearly exactly what it sounds like, a fabric where air can pass through the material at all times, not just when there is a large disparity in heat and/or pressure. This means that on a micro-level, these models aren't technically windproof. With that said, all these models feel windproof but do feel cooler than most folks are used to once they have stopped exercising or are just hanging out in the rain.

A number of models in this review  like the Outdoor Research Interstellar  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. Most of these models breathe quite well.
A number of models in this review, like the Outdoor Research Interstellar, 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. Most of these models breathe quite well.

One common misconception is that because a given model might be air-permeable, people assume it must be more breathable than all non-air permeable jacket (such as Gore-Tex or eVent), but the truth is that this isn't always the case. Air-permeable fabrics offer a much more static level of breathability, meaning they are always letting the same amount of moisture pass through the material, regardless of user excursion or external temperature.

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

This is where it gets complicated. Several high-end materials like Gore-tex Paclite, Active, and eVent all have a fluctuating maximum level of breathability. These breathe best when there is a big temperature difference (which creates a pressure difference) between the user and the outside environment; for example, if you are hiking uphill and it's cold and rainy outside, these types of materials stand a chance to breathe better. They don't breathe as well once you as the user have stopped and have cooled down, or the environment you are in is hot and humid.

A majority of waterproof breathable fabrics require a pressure differential to start breathing. This is generally accomplished by your body generating a fair amount of heat  thus warming the inside of your jacket. 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.
A majority of waterproof breathable fabrics require a pressure differential to start breathing. This is generally accomplished by your body generating a fair amount of heat, thus warming the inside of your jacket. 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.

The most breathable materials in our review were the Gore-Tex Active, Gore Paclite Plus, and eVent. These three fabrics were a cut above the rest when we were out on a rainy winter hike, where they were able to pass an impressive amount of moisture at an astounding rate. While these three fabrics scored the best overall, there were a number of the proprietary air-permeable models and fabrics, like the Rab Kinetic Plus using Proflex and Outdoor Research using Ascentshell, which allowed for exceptional breathability.

There are a lot of breathable fabrics out there  but in our side-by-side 10-minute stairmaster tests (and in real-world use) we found eVent to be one of 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 breathable fabrics out there, but in our side-by-side 10-minute stairmaster tests (and in real-world use) we found eVent to be one of 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.

These air-permeable fabrics scored nearly as well models using Gore-Tex Paclite and Paclite Plus, which was used in the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Marmot Minimalist, and Outdoor Research Foray. These air-permeable models were more breathable than the rest of the none-air permeable products we tested. Lastly, we say there isn't a huge breathability gap between any of the products mentioned above.

John Yarnall testing and checking the wind resistance of his air-permeable Rab Kinetic Plus on a 6-day traverse of the Northern Picket Range  WA.
John Yarnall testing and checking the wind resistance of his air-permeable Rab Kinetic Plus on a 6-day traverse of the Northern Picket Range, WA.

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.

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 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.

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 while hiking, backpacking, climbing, and ski touring. We looked at the actual volume of water each fabric can pass through (though there is no standardized method of testing among manufactures) and performed a series of side-by-side stationary bike and 10-minute stair master tests (thanks, Vertical World Seattle) to better compare and analyze breathability. We conducted our tests several times, comparing models with lots of ventilation options, and keeping vents completely closed, partially open, and completely open to best get a sense of how each model performed.

Slayin' some pow on Tye Peak in an Arc'teryx model.
Slayin' some pow on Tye Peak in an Arc'teryx model.

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.

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. Some models 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. Some models have mesh-lined pockets for additional ventilation. The Torrentshell's hand pockets are lined with waterproof fabric.

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.

Comfort and mobility are extremely important factors that are often under-considered when purchasing a jacket. This is likely because there are less quantifiable metrics to go along with a given jacket's mobility. Or some people might simply think  "I'm 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 are less quantifiable metrics to go along with a given jacket's mobility. Or some people might simply think, "I'm 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 the peripheral vision and how it moved with our heads. We compared each jacket with our arms facing straight forward, straight up, and straight out to the sides, 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.

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.

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.

Which jacket has the best range of motion? Only one way to find out.
Which jacket has the best range of motion? Only one way to find out.

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.

Range of motion is an advantage possessed by many of the stretchier models. For users who intend to use their shell climbing or nordic skiing  we recommend checking them out. Here Mike Bowman makes an ascent of the Beckey route on Liberty Bell during a light snowstorm.
Range of motion is an advantage possessed by many of the stretchier models. For users who intend to use their shell climbing or nordic skiing, we recommend checking them out. Here Mike Bowman makes an ascent of the Beckey route on Liberty Bell during a light snowstorm.

The model 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.

Depending on what you like to do  mobility can play a pretty large roll in your purchasing decisions. Here we test a Patagonia Torrentshell on the 18-pitch Serpentine Arete on Dragontail Peak between intermittent rain showers.
Depending on what you like to do, mobility can play a pretty large roll in your purchasing decisions. Here we test a Patagonia Torrentshell on the 18-pitch Serpentine Arete on Dragontail Peak between intermittent rain showers.

Next in line for the best freedom of movement and mobility are the Outdoor Research Interstellar, REI Drypoint GTX, and the not-stretchy but still high performing Arc'teryx Zeta SL. All of these models 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.

Hood designs varied considerably between jackets. A good hood design will keep the water out while 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. A good hood design will keep the water out while 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.

Features


If you're wearing your jacket around town, having room in the pockets for a pair of gloves and a warm hat or a phone and keys can be nice. Some folks like to use a rain hat; a hood that rolls away and stows can be appreciated.

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

Pockets

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.

If a jacket's handwarmer pockets are too low  they are rendered totally useless by the waist-belt of a pack or a harness and can pinch the wear's hips quite uncomfortably under heavier loads. We prefer models with higher handwarmer pockets  or at least lower-profile zippers to minimize pinching.
If a jacket's handwarmer pockets are too low, they are rendered totally useless by the waist-belt of a pack or a harness and can pinch the wear's hips quite uncomfortably under heavier loads. We prefer models with higher handwarmer pockets, or at least lower-profile zippers to minimize pinching.

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.

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 the slightly elevated and function-oriented pockets on the Rab Kinetic Plus.
All of our testers appreciated the slightly elevated and function-oriented pockets 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 casual crowd  but are often impractical while hiking since 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 casual crowd, but are often impractical while hiking since they are nearly inaccessible while wearing a pack or harness. Shown here is the Interstellar, with so-so pockets.

Hood Design

The effectiveness of each model's hood (of keeping our heads dry while not chaffing our chins or cutting off our peripheral vision) varied wildly. Our favorites were the Arc'teryx Zeta SL and the REI Drypoint GPX, while the Outdoor Research Foray and Patagonia Torrentshell, scored not too far behind.

Hood design is one of the most important aspects of a waterproof jacket. When well-designed  you should forget you're wearing it. When poorly designed  you'll face issues like obstructed peripheral vision  discomfort  and a lack of compatibility to different 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. When well-designed, you should forget you're wearing it. When poorly designed, you'll face issues like obstructed peripheral vision, discomfort, and a lack of compatibility to different 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 skeptical, it turned out to be comfortable and effective, maintaining top-notch peripheral vision. From beanies to baseball caps, each one of these jackets featured hoods that cinched down over a range of headwear, maximizing the hood's ability to turn with its user's head instead of turning into it.

Consider whether you would like to use your rain jacket with a climbing or bike helmet. While any hood can be worn under a helmet  it can be more convenient (and comfortable) if it can be pulled on and off quickly by fitting over the top.
Consider whether you would like to use your rain jacket with a climbing or bike helmet. While any hood can be worn under a helmet, it can be more convenient (and comfortable) if it can be pulled on and off quickly by fitting over the top.

Weight


For many, light is right, and weight is everything or at least a crucial factor that goes into the decision. 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 storm worthiness, as well as weight.


Graham Zimmerman wearing the lightest and most compressible jacket in our review  the Outdoor Research Helium Rain.
Graham Zimmerman wearing the lightest and most compressible jacket in our review, the Outdoor Research Helium Rain.

Most of the models in our review are on the lighter end of the weight spectrum, particularly when compared to beefier 3-layer models. Many of the contenders in our review weigh less than a pound, which is 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 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.

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 Outdoor Research Helium Rain weighs in at 6.3 ounces and can be stuffed into a built-in reversible chest pocket with a clip-in loop, which is a nice feature for climbers to carrying it on their harness. It could also be useful for anyone who might want to clip their jacket to something, like their backpack.

Packed Size


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 nine times out of ten, so the smaller it packs, the more room you have for other items.


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.

Approximately half of these models stuff into one of their own pockets, and others can be rolled and stuffed into their hoods. Our rating for packed size considers not only the compressed size, but the ease of using the integrated stuff pocket.

Some compress quite small, but require wrestling to get them stowed; others fit comfortably into their stuff pocket. A clip-in loop (for use after the jacket has been stuffed) is a nice feature that many climbers or hikers will appreciate and use at some point. As for packed volume, the Outdoor Research Helium Rain is the most compact. This models is significantly smaller and half the compressed volume of the average packed size in our review.

Durability


A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands its user places on it. While we know everyone would like their rain jacket to last an eternity, in reality, many people might be better off going with a lighter weight model that they will use infrequently and carry around a good chunk of the time. Unfortunately, as jackets get lighter, they also generally become less durable. This is in both abrasion and cut resistance but also in overall longevity. This is particularly true among the lightest models, which are exponentially less durable than products weighing 3-5 ounces more.


The exterior material (also 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.

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.

Nylon is known to be stretchier and, most times, more durable than a similarly thick nylon material. While polyester is generally more durable, thickness matters more, and a 50D nylon jacket is likely to be more robust than a 30D polyester one. If you plan to use your jacket off-trail or while bushwhacking, choose a model with a higher denier and ripstop face fabric, and at least consider a polyester model. Lastly, after years of experience, we have come to find that jackets with fewer seams in the shoulders hold up better, especially if you plan to carry a pack regularly.

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 most durable models in our review are the Marmot Minimalist, The North Face Apex, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, and the Outdoor Research Foray. All three, with the exception of the Apex, 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 3L 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.
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.

Our team focused on each product's face-fabric when assessing its overall durability, as this is the layer that has the most impact towards a given products tear and abrasion resistance, as well as how well its DWR might hold up. As we discussed in the weather resistance section, models with laminated membranes, whether name brand ones like Gore-Tex or proprietary ones far outlasted products with coated membranes.

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, 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 decide 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.

Ian Nicholson