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Over the last 10 years, we've tested over 50 of the best rain jackets. This review features 15 of the market's top contenders. Pitted against each other in rigorous side-by-side and real-world tests, we've identified the pros and cons of each model, what applications they are best suited for, and the best overall. In addition to wearing each under heavy downpours, snow, and sleet, we've soaked them with garden hoses and showers to assess their performance. We've taken them skiing, backpacking, and even mountaineering. After almost a decade of hands-on testing, we offer you unbiased and honest recommendations to help you get the best possible option for your needs.
While most of these models are available in men's and women's versions, we've found that they don't always perform the same. With this in mind, we publish a detailed review of women's specific models performed by our female review team. Spanning the range of a decade, GearLab has tested a variety of products, including hiking and backpacking-related apparel. If you are getting into more burly weather, you might consider a hardshell jacket.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on May 24, 2022, to include newly added products, like the updated Rab Kinetic 2.0, the Patagonia Storm10, and The North Face Flight Lightriser FUTURELIGHT.
Weight: 11 ounces | Pockets: Two elevated pack-friendly hand pockets
Exceptional hood design
Outstanding mobility and range of motion
Small packed volume
Hip belt and harness-friendly pockets
No ventilation options
Doesn't stuff into its pocket
If we could only choose one rain jacket for a wide range of activities, from backpacking to mountaineering or simply strolling through the farmers market on a rainy Sunday, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL would be it. Simply put, no other model can match the Zeta's across-the-board performance. In every aspect, from the hood to its storm protection, to its low weight and top-tier breathability. Simply put, the Zeta's design is well thought out and provides an unmatched balance of weight, breathability, and an unmatched ability to ward off weather, even during the stormiest of circumstances.
The Zeta offers excellent articulation and maintains itself as one of the better models when it comes to the range of motion and freedom of movement; however, more models are starting to offer materials that are stretchier and less cumbersome feeling. This one is rigid and provides no stretch; while we never felt it inhibited our movement, we are big believers that stretchy materials provide more comfort and better performance. Fortunately, the Zeta makes up for this by offering exceptional articulation, and it scores well in all of our mobility tests. The Zeta is one of the more breathable models in our test, yet it doesn't feature any pit zips and only has a main front zipper to dump heat. This isn't a big deal; however, for those who run hot or are commonly hiking in warmer rain (where this model's breathability will be reduced), something with pit zips might be better. It's our review team's favorite jacket, thanks to its overall versatility and performance.
"Wets" out slightly quicker than comparable models
Hood doesn't fit over a helmet
So-so mobility and freedom of movement
The REI Co-Op XeroDry GTX is a nicely-designed model featuring Gore-Tex at an unbelievable price. While you can buy a nicer, lighter, or more stormworthy rain shell, it will be tough to buy one for less money. The Xerodry vastly outperforms all less expensive options while offering very comparable performance to a number of the more expensive ones. The Xerodry offers above-average weather protection and breathability at a respectable weight and packed size — for a far lower price than its competitors.
This model does have a few downsides, though these downsides are only when directly compared to more expensive models, most of which feature Gore-Tex rather than a more price-oriented, proprietary 2.5-layer coated-membrane option. Compared to several higher-end models, we found the XeroDry had a slightly clammier interior and a tendency to wet out faster than spendier 3-layer models. However, these are small differences, and this model's price is hard to beat for the performance it provides; it blows away the competition in a similar price range.
Wets out slightly faster than others in prolonged downpours
The insanely light and compact The North Face Flight Lightriser FUTURELIGHT practically disappears in your pack. It's more versatile than we originally gave it credit for and is an excellent option for folks who will likely carry their jacket in their pack more often than they wear it. As one of the lightest and most compact models in our review, it provides adequate storm protection while conveniently stowing away into its reversible chest pocket and packing down to roughly the size of your fist. Our review team loves its athletic cut and stretchy material, which provides good freedom of movement. Its air-permeable design is also decently breathable.
While minimal weight and respectable storm protection are why you buy this model, durability and true all-around versatility aren't. For a similar price, many shells we tested offer better storm protection. Not surprisingly, this is one of the least durable models in our review, as it uses the thinnest fabrics and the tiniest zippers, meaning you need to exercise a little more care with it — depending on the terrain you are traveling in. If you know you're going to have a week of bad weather on a backcountry trip and are likely to wear your rain jacket over large portions of most days, you'll want to consider something different. However, for people who are likely to stow their shell in the bottom of their pack and only break it out for a few hours every other trip, it's hard to beat.
Weight: 14.5 ounces | Pockets: Two zip hand pockets
Incredibly breathable material
Fantastic hood design
Small packed volume
Raised, hip-belt friendly pockets
Average weight and packed volume
The cut is slightly on the boxy side
The REI Co-op Stormbolt GTX is a stormworthy jacket geared toward outdoor enthusiasts. This model is packed full of outdoor-centric features, offering some of the best overall weather protection and breathability in our review. It boasts raised, pack-friendly handwarmer pockets, a helmet-compatible hood, large pit zips, and a layering-friendly cut, making it ideal for folks who end up heading out — regardless of the forecast.
This jacket is designed to be worn in terrible conditions and is ever-so-slightly heavier and bulkier; however, for 3-4 extra ounces, it packs some serious storm protection. The Stormbolt GTX's cut is less bulky than the previous Drypoint, but it is still boxer than many cuts in our review. It is built for layering; we don't find you need to downsize unless you are truly between sizes, but you'll want to consider that it does run roomier.
Weight: 14.5 ounces | Pockets: One chest, two lower
Good storm protection
Well designed hood
Pockets aren't the best with a pack on
Average weight and packed volume
A new wave of stretchy air-permeable models has flooded the market, and it can be hard to keep track. However, even in this newly crowded sector of the market, the stretchiest of the stretchy Rab Kinetic 2.0 still manages to stand out. No model could match its blend of durability, comfort, and freedom of movement while maintaining top-tier breathability and respectable storm protection. The advantage of the Kinetic and other air-permeable materials is the relatively high and steady level of breathability, regardless of user temperature or external environmental factors. This means they continue to breathe better in warmer conditions or once their user has cooled off. The other advantage of most air-permeable models is how stretchy they are and the Kinetic offers excellent articulation, an athletic cut, and the stretchiest fabric we have ever seen.
A downside of many of the new air-permeable models can't even come close to matching the weather protection for extended, low activity days as the top-performing models and tend to wet out much faster. The Kinetic was no different but was in the upper third of air-permeable models. It is fine for a few hours of wet hiking or ice climbing, snowshoeing, or ski touring in the snow but hanging out in camp on a rainy day we'd rather have something else. This also presents a problem since it's so breathable, it isn't as comfortable for those "soggy days in camp", as it keeps breathing even when you aren't moving, which usually results in a net heat loss and the user feeling colder than if they were not wearing an air-permeable model. Again it isn't that the Kinectic doesn't offer solid weather resistance; there are just a handful of burlier models that perform even better for straight-up hanging out in the rain. This model is better suited for more aerobic activities (hiking, backpacking, ski touring, or anything moving) where its other benefits of non-stop breathability and incredible mobility are more important than absolute storm protection.
Author Ian Nicholson is a professional internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide who has spent over 2,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Andes, European Alps, and beyond. Ian estimates he has worn a rain jacket over 800 days over the last two decades because he guides AND lives in the rainy and wet Pacific Northwest. He has guided nearly 1,000 clients and helped them select gear for climbing, mountaineering, backpacking, and ski trips.
In addition to staying up to date on the latest and greatest innovations in weather protection, Ian spent over 20 hours meticulously inspecting and considering over 80 contenders before selecting the best products for our review. OutdoorGearLab then bought these products at the same retail outlets available to you and sent them to Ian's house, where he immediately got to work putting each product through its paces.
This review results from over 350 field hours hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, and just plain hanging out in wet conditions around the Pacific Northwest. We loaned these jackets out to our friends to get more opinions on less objective tests like comfort and fit; however, Ian personally tested each jacket in our review in the Cascade Mountains and temperate rainforests of Western Washington and while 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 focused side-by-side setting. As you can see, we take testing seriously, both in the field and in our home labs, to help produce the best reviews possible.
Our selection involves a wide range of products, from the most storm-worthy to the most budget-friendly, while also selecting some of the best models geared for specific applications or with specific attributes like being the most lightweight and packable or facilitating the greatest freedom of movement. Each is evaluated across several important metrics to determine which models are the best overall and which are best at specific applications or for specific user types.
You've likely asked yourself something along the lines of "is this piece of gear really the extra money over that piece of gear? The answer is rarely crystal clear, as so much of it depends on the user and their intended use of the product. However, we prioritize quantifying the differences to go what you get (if anything) by spending more with the end goal is helping you decide if you'll get the most out of the best of the best or if you'll be happy with a model that will keep your wallet happy.
Likely wider than any other product there is an enormous price range of rain jacket 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 (or at least drier) all day from a drizzle to a downpour. More price-pointed models use proprietary fabrics, often with coated waterproof membranes that'll do the trick but most frequently won't perform as well as a higher-end option.
Of the highest value options on the market today, the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L and REI Co-op XeroDry GTX are two of the best. Both offer great functionality and will keep you dry in most rainy conditions. Neither are as high quality as our top-scoring models, but both are roughly half the price of higher-end products without a massive drop in performance. They are a little more expensive than the lowest-priced models in our review but provide a significant step up in performance.
Why Are Higher-End Products More Expensive
On the less expensive end are various products that use coated membrane fabrics, which generally aren't as long-lasting or as breathable as 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 behind them; they are just generally less expensive and easier to produce.
After extensive testing, we found that there is a good reason that most companies will sacrifice some of their profit and use more expensive materials like Gore-Tex made by a third party on their more performance-focused pieces — rather than just proprietary fabrics. While it might be a slight downer to hear that these more expensive fabrics tend to work better and last longer, quality fabrics make a world of difference from a waterproof/breathability perspective. While generally not the case with most outdoor products, there is often a pretty direct relationship between price and performance when it comes to rain jackets.
Without question, a rain jacket's most important job is to keep its wearer dry, whether hiking, backpacking, ski-touring, or simply taking the dog out for a walk on a rainy day. You can have all the best features in the world and the most packable product, but if your rain jacket doesn't do an adequate job of keeping you dry, not a whole lot else matters. We extensively tested each model in the real world using these models in the rain, wind, sleet, and snow. We also conducted a series of side-by-side tests to help us quantify performance and better understand why and how each model directly compared to one another. Some of the testings included a four-minute shower and a spray down with the garden hose. We did this to help find weak or potentially problematic spots and to get a feel for how long it took them to wet out.
There are many waterproof fabrics and treatments that manufacturers use in the various models we tested. There is also a heap of laboratory testing that has been done to quantify precisely how waterproof each of these specific coated or laminated materials are. 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. This doesn't mean they all perform at the same level, but they are all weather-resistant enough to be called 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 keeps the water out and how long they keep the water out and from wetting out. This is a columniation of a number of factors but generally refers to several design aspects of the jacket, particularly each model's hood, cuffs, pocket(s) front/primary zipper, 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 make-up and construction of its waterproof insert (more frequently called a membrane) and the longevity of DWR and its' subsequent ability to resist wetting out after extended periods — that can be hours or weeks of use.
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Marmot Minimalist, and REI Stormbolt GTX offer our group's most robust weather resistance. These models all do an excellent job of sealing out precipitation in all of its forms and have well-designed wrist cuffs and hoods that can be cinched down to help seal out the elements, keeping us dry.
All the products we tested will keep you dry in a storm. The primary differences in our water resistance metric come from individual fabric characteristics and to a slightly less extent each model's respective hood's design, cuffs, pocket closures, and the longevity of a model's DWR.
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 the precipitation. Even though both nylon and polyester are hydrophobic, if they aren't treated with a DWR (or after the treatment wears off), they will "wet out"or become covered with a thin but continuous film of water and will frequently appear wet, hence the term wetting out. Besides the models we mentioned above, the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L, Patagonia Storm10, and the REI XeroDry GTX offered good DWR and resisted wetting out — both over time and during a single day out in heavy weather.
This result of a jacket wetting out significantly reduces breathability in that area that is wet. This water may or may not be making it through the fabric. Still, in nearly all cases, the continuous film of water eliminates all breathability, and the wet-looking area will feel cold and wet, or clammy, from the inside and appear to look as if the liquid is getting through. A jacket that is wetting out will also be heavier due to water weight and feel cold or damp — which no one appreciates.
Breathability and Ventilation
Our water resistance metric measures and compares how well each contender kept its wearer dry from the outside; in contrast, our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each model kept its wearer dry from the inside by allowing sweat, moisture, and heat to escape. We considered two main factors when awarding scores for this metric. First and foremost, we researched and tested each fabric's breathability, and it should be noted that this is undoubtedly where waterproof-breathable fabric technologies distinguish themselves the greatest from one another — even more so than weather protection. While some may not always feel like it all of these multi-layered fabrics are all breathable (to varying extents), meaning they all allow water vapor to be wicked through the material from the inside to the outside, where it can subsequently evaporate.
Secondly, we examined and studied how well each model's ventilation features performed. Besides examining how effectively each model's ventilation options could dump heat and moisture, we also evaluated how much the vents could actually be left open in a downpour. Basically, we measured if we could use them to dump heat while it was actually raining while hiking, trail running, and backpacking or otherwise enjoying the outdoors in active ways. A vent might be well-designed at dumping heat, but it isn't doing its user much good if it lets more rain in than moisture out. By prioritizing real-world venting functionality, our review team noticed some of the more significant differences between models and ventilation designs. Some models offered ventilation designs that were far better than others at allowing sweat to escape or keeping rain from getting in.
Breathability Versus Ventilation
When comparing different ventilation options compared to a given model's overall breathability, it is essential to remember that these two design aspects, while related, are not equally important. Between the two, a fabric's breathability is far more important than its ventilation. The reason being, if it's rain, but particularly if it's raining hard you'll likely batten down the hatches by closing the pit zips and cinching up the hood to keep the rain out, even if it means trapping some of your body-made moisture in. No ventilation designs proved capable of keeping more water out than the let in during heavy rain or even walking up bushy trails after a storm.
A Note on Breathability
As we mentioned all models we reviewed here allow moisture to pass through them; however, none allow an infinite amount of moisture to pass, and even the most breathable models have their limitations. Remember, most people can even drench a lightweight t-shirt if they're working hard enough, and even the most basic lightweight synthetic t-shirt are significantly more breathable than any waterproof jacket we tested. Set yourself up for success and wear the minimum layers you can get away with to minimize overheating unnecessarily.
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 even when it's "cold out". We recommend the be bold and start cold start or at least cool to the point where it takes you 5-10 minutes once you get moving to get comfortable. If you're warm before you start and you're taking part in any time of aerobic activity, you'll likely produce far more sweat than your jacket can handle and soak yourself.
Air-permeable is a new buzzword (and a technical term) in the outdoor world that is a design characteristic of a number of the new wave of stretchy, mostly proprietary waterproof-breathable jackets that have recently surged onto the market. We feature several air-permeable models in our review; the Rab Kinetic and Outdoor Research MicroGravity being two of our favorites.
What is an air-permeable fabric or jacket? Well, it's nearly exactly what it sounds like — a fabric where air can pass through the material at all times. This is in contrast to most of the waterproof-breathable garment industry, which relies on a disparity in heat and/or pressure to get the moisture to pass through the material. This does mean that air-permeable jackets, on a micro-level, 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 a non-air permeable jacket (such as Gore-Tex or eVent, or other proprietary waterproof fabrics), but the truth is that this isn't always the case. Air-permeable fabrics offer a much more static level of breathability, meaning they always let the same amount of moisture pass through the material, regardless of user excursion or external temperature.
Sounds great right? You might have even assumed that most materials breathed at a fairly static level but the truth is that just isn't the case. A number of high-end materials like Gore-Tex Paclite, normal Gore-Tex, or eVent all have a fluctuating level of breathability. These fabrics breathe when there is a temperature difference (and temperature differences inherently create a pressure difference) between the inside of the jacket and the outside environment. They will perform for example, if you are hiking uphill, and it's cold and rainy outside because there will be a big temperature difference. In these ideal conditions and scenarios these types of materials, like Gore-Tex, will likely breathe better than most air-permeable models, as they have a higher ceiling of potential breathability that is likely reached with some excursion in a cold environment.
Conversely, because they don't breathe as well once the user has stopped and cooled down, the pressure difference will be lower. These fabrics also don't perform as well if the environment is hot and humid and the user is working hard and warm (which will likely be the case if the user is exercising in a warm, moist environment).
Ventilation Features and Comparison
For users who run warmer in lighter drizzle or in the time between cloudbursts when you want to continue wearing your jacket for wind protection, or as you suspect the next storm is just minutes away, then venting your jacket can prove incredibly useful.
Pit zips, side zips, core vents, or other various zippered ventilation designs all have their place. Besides a model's front primary zipper, pit zips are the next most effective ventilation tool for dumping heat and moving moisture, with the advantage of not letting much moisture in. Pit zips generally allow more moisture to escape than core vents, which is a fairly generic term for mesh-lined pockets that you can leave open to let a little moisture out.
Side-By-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of these jackets while hiking, backpacking, climbing, and ski touring. We looked at the technical states of the volume of water each fabric can pass and performed a series of side-by-side stationary bike and 10-minute Stairmaster tests (thanks, Vertical World Seattle) to better compare and analyze breathability. When looking at the numbers, again more than half the jackets in this review don't have a static level of breathability and the exact amount of moisture you will pass will depend on your activity and the environmental conditions. Our review team conducted our tests several times, comparing models with lots of ventilation options and compared and contrasted performance keeping vents completely closed, partially open, and completely open to best get a sense of how each model performed.
The most breathable materials in our review were the Gore-Tex and Gore Paclite Plus. These two 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 two fabrics scored the best overall, there were several proprietary air-permeable models and fabrics, like the Rab Kinetic using Proflex and Outdoor Research MicroGravity using Ascentshell, which allows for exceptional breathability and were nearly as breathable.
The Best Options For Moving Moisture
After extensive testing, we found the REI Stormbolt GTX and the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, both constructed with thinner materials and Gore-Tex and Gore-tex PacLite Plus laminates, proved to breathe the best; for those interested, the Zeta SL offers little in the way of ventilation. As a result, we found the Stormbolt slightly less steamy inside than other high-end performers during high-energy activities and way more breathable than models that feature coated waterproof-breathable fabrics.
The next round of most breathable included several other options featuring Gore-Tex, like the Marmot Minimalist and The North Face Dryzzle, along with our two top-performing air permeable models, the Rab Kinetic 2.0, The North Face Flight Lightriser and Outdoor Research MicroGravity. It's worth noting that with these air-permeable jackets, we noticed ourselves becoming colder during breaks than with the non-air-permeable ones.
Comfort and 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 moves with its use or how restrictive it may be depending on the activity required. 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 compare 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. We also examined how easily each model lets us accomplish these tasks. We 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 consider the small features that made a given product more comfortable to wear (and how easy specific features were to use), as well as the feeling of the interior material; was it more or less clammy feeling on our bare skin? Base layer T-shirt? Lastly, we evaluate the basic but essential bit about how each model felt as a whole.
We note 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 the ultra-stretchy Rab Kinetic 2.0. 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 about this model is its ultra-slim fit aimed toward more technical pursuits. 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 Patagonia Storm10Outdoor Research MicroGravity, REI Stormbolt GTX, The North Face Flight Lightriser and the Arc'teryx Zeta SL. These models feature mobility-oriented designs and offer a functional range of motion that is just a small notch below the Rab Kinetic, though all scoring well for different reasons. The MicroGravity and the Storm10 are stretchy, the Zeta SL is exceptionally well-articulated, and the Stormbolt is slightly on the baggy side.
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 don't like to use hoods in a more urban setting and consider an umbrella for truly wet days. In the backcountry; a hood that rolls away and stows can be appreciated but is generally a lot less of a big deal.
The effectiveness of each model's hood (of keeping our heads dry while not chafing our chins or cutting off our peripheral vision) varied wildly. Our favorites were the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Rab Kinetic 2.0 and the REI Drypoint GPX, while the Outdoor Research Foray, Patagonia Storm10, and Patagonia Torrentshell scored not too far behind.
When talking about hoods it is worth bringing up the Rab Kinetic 2.0 is of special note because it features an internal elastic band 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 though our hands-down favorite hoods were on the Arc'teryx Zeta SL and the Patagonia Storm10.
It is tough to argue the utility of pockets, as everyone uses them at least some of the time. They are unquestionably useful to help keep track of small items, keep 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 lower handwarmer pockets is great for around town but can be a nuisance and rendered nearly or completely unusable while wearing a harness or heavy pack. For several of our testers whose pockets that are too low; too close to our hips can be a dealbreaker.
While on adventures that require wearing a pack, a majority of the jacket's pocket is under a weighted hip-belt strap and is frequently uncomfortable due to the zippers being pinched under the waistbelt (or harness) and the pockets themselves unusable. The zipper pinching-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. Low pockets are slightly more comfortable for keeping your hands warm while cruising the farmer's market on a drizzly day for less technical applications.
For many, light is right, and weight is a crucial factor for any piece of gear used on human-powered adventures. All of our testers value lightweight clothing and gear, but not at the expense of basic functionality. If you're thru-hiking 2,650 miles, climbing technical terrain, or riding your bicycle from coast to coast, weight may (and should) be one of your primary concerns. For burlier adventures, soggy backpacking trips, expedition-type mountaineering trips, or even for daily use, you'll want to consider durability along with storm worthiness just as much as weight.
Most of the models in our review are already 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 the 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 12-14 ounces, with some models dipping down to an impressive 6-7 ounces — an unfathomable weight even just five years ago. While some folks might not care about spending more or sacrificing some features or storm worthiness for just a few ounces; for the most weight-conscious of users, or those who own a quiver of jackets; these lightest of light jackets are impressively light and might allow you to get away with bringing a slightly smaller pack or to bring one when you otherwise might forgo a rain shell altogether.
The Outdoor Research Helium Rain weighs in at 6.5 ounces and can be stuffed into a built-in reversible chest pocket with a clip-in loop, which is a nice feature for climbers carrying it on their harness. It could also be useful for anyone who might want to clip their jacket to something.
Quite close in weight is the The North Face Flight Lightriser at seven ounces which while around half an ounce heavier is more breathable and stretchier while providing very comparable weather protection. Those seeking the lightest fully featured model should check out the Patagonia Storm 10, which unlike the two previous models listed actually has front pockets that offer superior storm protection and weighs a cool 8.5 ounces.
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 multi-day trips with perfect or less than perfect forecasts, packed size should be high on most outdoor enthusiasts' 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 the compressed size and 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 model is significantly smaller, and half the compressed volume of the average packet size in our review. the
The Patagonia Storm10 packs tightly into its chest pocket and was equally as small as the slightly lighter Outdoor Research Helium Rain. Also among the smallest models, though just a little bit bigger; The North Face Flight Lightriser was far tinier than the majority of models in our review. The only thing that kept it from being more compact is its' mesh pocket didn't do quite as good of a job compressing it.
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 three to five ounces more.
The exterior material (also known 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 20-30D. 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.
Polyester is known to be stretchier and most times, more durable than a similarly thick nylon material. While polyester is generally more durable than Nylon, thickness matters more. For example, a 50D nylon jacket is likely to be more robust than a 30D polyester one even though Polyester is "generally" tougher. 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 Outdoor Research Foray. Except for the Apex, all three pair 50D polyester ripstop face fabrics with a much longer-lasting Gore-Tex Paclite membrane. Each proves 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 is one of the more robust budget-friendly models.
Our team focuses on each product's face fabric when assessing its overall durability, as this is the layer that has the most impact on a given product's tear and abrasion resistance, as well as how well its DWR might hold up. As 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 might seem complicated or the options more limitless than they might actually be. While staying dry is the goal, aspects like breathability, hood design, or a given model's level of mobility can make a big difference in daily use. Our metrics are in place to help you decide based on what design characteristics YOU want to focus on and subsequently which model is best suited for your needs. Once you've taken into account which metrics are most important for your adventures, our review can help you narrow your decision down. Thanks for reading and we honestly hope this review helps you find the best possible option for your needs.
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