In our quest to find the best rain jacket, we've purchased 36 models over the course of 7 years, evaluating each contender across a range of metrics. For 2020, we bought 12, analyzing each one in the Pacific Northwest, putting them head to head in our exhaustive tests. Our experts ran trails, commuted, trekked, ski toured, sought out mountaineering objectives, and backpacked in each one, comparing them in real-world tests as well as in our lab setting. No matter if you want a budget-oriented model, the latest and greatest, or something that will compact to the smallest in class, we have something for you.Related: The Best Rain Jackets for Women of 2020
The Best Rain Jackets of 2020
Best Overall Rain Jacket
Arc'teryx Zeta SL
If we could only choose one rain jacket for a wide range of activities from backpacking and mountaineering to visiting the farmers market on a rainy Sunday, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL would be it. 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
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L
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. The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L is the winner of our Best Buy Award for its versatility and price. 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 was the former winner of the Best Buy Award and 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
The REI Drypoint GTX is a superb all-around model that was in close running for our Editors' Choice Award. It's one of our review team's go-to favorites for backpacking, hiking, or other 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 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
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
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
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 price 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 monthsin the temperate rainforests of Western Washington, and milling around Seattle, with a coffee in hand.
When the rain wasn't pouring from the sky, it was pouring from our garden hoses, where we had timed spray tests with each product to figure out the limits of each jacket in a side-by-side setting. As you can see, we take testing seriously, and it happens both in the field and in our home labs.
Related: How We Tested Rain Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 & Ventilation
Our water resistance metric measures how well each contender keeps its wearer dry by not letting water in from the outside. In contrast, our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each model keeps its wearer dry from the inside by allowing sweat and heat to escape.
We considered two main factors when awarding scores for this metric; 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.
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
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.
People are often more worried about being too cold, but in our experience, we see far more people wear WAY too much clothing and end up too hot. We recommend to be bold and start cold or at least cool to the point where it takes you 5-10 minutes to get comfortable, though this changes if a downpour is on its way. If you're warm before you start, and you're taking part in aerobic activity, you'll likely produce far more sweat than your jacket can handle.
Air-permeable is a new buzzword (and a technical term) that is a design aspect of many of the new wave of stretchy, mostly proprietary waterproof-breathable jackets that have recently surged onto the market. We feature a number of the models that are air-permeable in our review, such as the Rab Kinetic Plus and Outdoor Research Interstellar.
What is an air-permeable fabric or jacket? Nearly exactly what it sounds like, a fabric where air can pass through the material at all times, not just when there is a large disparity in heat and/or pressure. This means that on a micro-level, these models aren't technically windproof. With that said, all these models feel windproof but do feel cooler than most folks are used to once they have stopped exercising or are just hanging out in the rain.
One common misconception is that because a given model might be air-permeable, people assume it must be more breathable than 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.
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.
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.
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.
Breathability Versus Ventilation
When considering and comparing different ventilation options, as well as a model's overall breathability, it is essential to remember that these two design aspects, while related, are not equal. Between the two, a fabric's breathability is far more important than its ventilation. If it's pouring rain or you're out after a storm, we like to batten down the hatches by closing the pit zips and cinching up the hood, even if it means trapping some of your body-made moisture in. The bottom line is when working or recreating in stormy weather, the more active your endeavors, the more significant the importance of breathability becomes.
Ventilation Features and Comparison
In lighter drizzle or in the time between cloudbursts when you want to continue wearing your jacket for wind protection or as part of your layering system, ventilation can be a valuable way to move moisture and dump a lot of heat quickly. Pit zips, along with various other zippered ventilation designs, including mesh-lined pockets, all have their place. Besides a given model's primary zipper, pit zips are the next most effective ventilation tool in dumping heat and moving moisture.
An advantage in opening the pit zips over the front zipper is that the pit zip stays moderately protected in light rain, minimizing how much external moisture may find its way inside. In the end, ventilation, while undoubtedly important, takes the backseat to breathability for practical, real-world use, as you may be unable to open ventilation points when it's pouring rain.
Side-by-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of these jackets while hiking, backpacking, climbing, and ski touring. We looked at the actual volume of water each fabric can pass through (though there is no standardized method of testing among manufactures) and performed a series of side-by-side stationary bike and 10-minute stair master tests (thanks, Vertical World Seattle) to better compare and analyze breathability. We conducted our tests several times, comparing models with lots of ventilation options, and keeping vents completely closed, partially open, and completely open to best get a sense of how each model performed.
The REI Drypoint GTX, which is constructed with Gore-Tex Active, breathes the best but for those interested, offers little in the way of ventilation. The Drypoint is slightly less steamy inside than other high-end performers during high-energy activities and is way more breathable than models that feature coated waterproof-breathable fabrics.
We even noticed ourselves becoming colder during breaks when wearing the REI Drypoint GTX. With that said, the Outdoor Research Interstellar, Rab Kinetic Plus, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Outdoor Research Foray, and Marmot Minimalist were close competitors when testing for our breathability metric.
Comfort & Mobility
For whatever activities you have planned, you'll want a jacket that moves comfortably with you and doesn't inhibit your movement. In the mobility portion of this metric, our review team compares how each model 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.
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.
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.
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.
The effectiveness of each model's hood (of keeping our heads dry while not chaffing our chins or cutting off our peripheral vision) varied wildly. Our favorites were the Arc'teryx Zeta SL and the REI Drypoint GPX, while the Outdoor Research Foray and Patagonia Torrentshell, scored not too far behind.
Also in this group of jackets with higher-performing hoods, the Rab Kinetic Plus, is of special note because it features an internal elastic band that is designed to ride directly on top of the wearer's forehead, acting as an internal gasket to the main hood. As crazy as this sounds, and trust us, most of our review team was skeptical, it turned out to be comfortable and effective, maintaining top-notch peripheral vision. From beanies to baseball caps, each one of these jackets featured hoods that cinched down over a range of headwear, maximizing the hood's ability to turn with its user's head instead of turning into it.
For many, light is right, and weight is 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 stormworthiness, as well as weight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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're wearing your jacket around town, having room in the pockets for a pair of gloves and a warm hat or a phone and keys can be nice. Some folks like to use a rain hat; a hood that rolls away and stows can be appreciated.
It is tough to argue the utility of pockets, as everyone uses them to some extent. They are unquestionably useful to help keep track of small items, keeping certain things close at hand, and are a convenient place to keep your hands warm. Not all pockets are created equal, and their size and location can have a huge impact on their overall usefulness, depending on the user.
For example, having 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.
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.
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.
Nylon is known to be stretchier and, most times, more durable than a similarly thick nylon material. While polyester is generally more durable, thickness matters more, and a 50D nylon jacket is likely to be more robust than a 30D polyester one. If you plan to use your jacket off-trail or while bushwhacking, choose a model with a higher denier and ripstop face fabric, and at least consider a polyester model. Lastly, after years of experience, we have come to find that jackets with fewer seams in the shoulders hold up better, especially if you plan to carry a pack regularly.
The most durable models in our review are the Marmot Minimalist, The North Face Apex, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, and 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.
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.
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