Best Rain Jackets for Men of 2021
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|Pros||Stretchiest fabric in our review, cozy interior feel, breathability, robust, low-profile wrist closures, hood maintains good peripheral vision||Stormworthy, versatile, durable, comfortable, high level of ventilation||Top-tier storm-worthiness, mobility and range of motion, hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pockets||Versatile, durable, long lasting DWR, good stormworthiness, minimal clammy feel||Stylish, stretchy fabric, stormworthy material, athletic cut, internal fabric feels less clammy than most|
|Cons||Fabric wets out quicker than some, no chest pocket, hood doesn't fit over a helmet, size up this model to accommodate layering||On the heavier side||No ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harness||Heavy, average packed size, mobility, and freedom of movement||Mediocre mobility and freedom of movement, breathability, heavy, hood doesn't fit over a helmet|
|Bottom Line||A solid alpine performer for mixed weather conditions, this mega stretchy model moves with you - without holding you back||A fantastic all-around shell with some of the best ventilation features out there, in a fairly light, durable, and stormworthy package||This stormworthy and function focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best performance in our review||A durable jacket with function focused design that will keep most satisfied, without putting a hole in your wallet||Comfortable, stylish, and stormproof, but its limited mobility and weight limit its use for traditional applications|
|Rating Categories||Rab Kinetic Plus||Outdoor Research Foray||Arc'teryx Zeta SL||Patagonia Torrentsh...||The North Face Apex...|
|Water Resistance (30%)|
|Breathability & Venting (25%)|
|Comfort & Mobility (18%)|
|Packed Size (7%)|
|Specs||Rab Kinetic Plus||Outdoor Research Foray||Arc'teryx Zeta SL||Patagonia Torrentsh...||The North Face Apex...|
|Measured Weight (Medium)||10 oz||16 oz||10.9 oz||14 oz||28 oz|
|Waterproof Fabric Material||Proflex 3-layer||2.5 layer Gore-tex with PacLite Technology||2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite Plus waterproof breathable laminate||3-layer H2No Performance Standard shell||DryVent 3L shell|
|Face Fabric and Layer Construction||Propriety Proflex waterproof membrane 2.5L||50D w/ Gore-tex PacLite waterproof breathable membrane||40-denier ripstop (N40r) Gore-Tex Paclite Plus||350-denier 100% recycled nylon, polycarbonate PU membrane, tricot backer||95% polyester, 5% elastane with DWR finish|
|Pockets||2 hand pockets||1 chest pocket, 2 hand pockets||2 hand pockets||2 zippered hand pockets||2 hand pockets|
|Are lower pockets hipbelt friendly||Yes||Almost||Yes||No||No|
|Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight)||No||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Stows Into Pocket?||No (but included stuff sack)||Yes||No||Yes||No|
Best Overall Rain Jacket
Arc'teryx Zeta SL
If we could only choose one rain jacket for a wide range of activities, from backpacking or mountaineering to 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 the hem, to its low weight and packed size, the Zeta's design is well thought out. We appreciated its ability to ward off weather, even during the stormiest of circumstances.
The Zeta offers excellent articulation; however, more higher-end models are starting to offer designs with stretchier, less cumbersome feeling fabrics. 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. The Zeta is our review team's favorite jacket, thanks to its overall versatility and performance.
Read review: Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Best Bang For The Buck
REI Co-op XeroDry GTX
The REI XeroDry is a well-designed jacket that features a Gore-Tex insert 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. Our testing team found 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 literally blows away the competition in a similar price range.
Read review: REI Co-Op XeroDry GTX
Excellent for Backpacking
REI Co-op Stormbolt GTX
The REI Co-op Stormbolt GTX is a stormworthy jacket that is geared towards 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 also built 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 protections. The Stormbolt GTX's cut is less bulky than the previous Drypoint, but it is still boxer than most cuts in our review. It is built for layering; we don't think you need to downsize unless you are truly between sizes, but you'll want to consider that it does run roomier than most other options in its price range.
Read review: REI Stormbolt GTX
An Excellent Lightweight, Compact Option
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
The insanely light and compact Outdoor Research Helium Rain practically disappears in your pack. While we wouldn't call it an all-around jacket, it's more versatile than we originally gave it credit for. It's an excellent option for those folks who are likely to carry their rain jacket in their pack far more often than they wear it. As one of the lightest and most compact models in our review, it still provides adequate storm protection while conveniently stowing away into its reversible chest pocket and 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 all-around versatility aren't. For a similar price, most other shells we tested offered superior breathability and 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.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium Rain
Our Favorite Air-Permeable Option
Outdoor Research Microgravity
A whole new wave of stretchy air-permeable models has flooded the market, and with so many options, it can be hard to keep track. However, even in this newly crowded sector of the market, the Outdoor Research Microgravity still manages to stand out. No model could match its blend of durability and stormworthiness while maintaining top-tier breathability and excellent freedom of movement. The advantage of Ascentshell and other air-permeable materials is the relatively 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 Microgravity stands out as one of the most stormworthy (something many of the new air-permeable models can't even come close to matching, as they tend to wet out much faster), while still offering a high level of breathability and freedom of movement.
While this model is more than adequate for most rainy day outings or soggy multi-day adventures, you can still get a more storm-resistant model — it just won't be an air-permeable one. Since it's so breathable, it isn't as comfortable for hanging out during a soggy day 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. It isn't that the Microgravity 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, anything moving) where its other benefits of non-stop breathability and solid mobility are more important than absolute storm protection.
Read review: Outdoor Research Microgravity
Why You Should Trust Us
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, 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.
Related: How We Tested Rain Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
Our selection involves a wide range of products, from the most stormworthy to the most budget-friendly, while also selecting some of the best models geared for specific applications or with specific attributes like the most lightweight and packable. 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.
Related: Buying Advice for Rain Jackets
You've likely asked yourself something along the lines of "is this the instance of when the most expensive gear is really worth the price? Well, the answer to this question is rarely crystal clear, as it depends on the user and their intended use of the product. We aim to help 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 budget happy.
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.
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 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.
A rain jacket's most important job is to keep its wearer dry, whether hiking, backpacking, ski-touring, alpine climbing, or simply walking the dog on a rainy day. 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. 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.
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 from wetting out. This 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 longevity of DWR and the 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.
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. Besides the models we mentioned above, the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L and the REI XeroDry GTX offered good DWR and resisted wetting out — both over time and during a single day out on 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 & Ventilation
Our water resistance metric measures how well each contender keeps its wearer dry 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. First and foremost, we researched and tested each fabric's breathability, and this is undoubtedly where waterproof-breathable fabric technologies distinguish themselves the greatest from one another — even more so than weather protection.
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. We also examined and studied how well each model's ventilation features performed. Besides examining how effectively each model's ventilation options could dump heat, 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. A vent might be well-designed, 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 considering and comparing different ventilation options and 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.
A Note on Breathability
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, you can even drench a lightweight t-shirt if you're working hard enough, and even the most basic lightweight synthetic t-shirt is significantly more breathable than any waterproof 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) in the outdoor world that is a design aspect 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 Plus and Outdoor Research MicroGravity are 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, not like the rest of the waterproof-breathable garment industry, which relies on a disparity in heat and/or pressure. This does mean that on a micro-level, air-permeable jacket 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 even 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.
Now, this is where it gets a little more complicated. Several high-end materials like Gore-Tex Paclite, normal Gore-Tex, or eVent all have a fluctuating maximum level of breathability. These fabrics breathe when there is a big temperature difference (and temperature differences inherently create a pressure difference) between the user and the outside environment. Let's say, for example, you are hiking uphill, and it's cold and rainy outside; these types of materials, like Gore-Tex, will likely breathe better, as they have a higher ceiling of potential breathability that is likely reached with some excursion in a cold environment.
However, this is where it's tougher to follow because they don't breathe as well once the user has stopped and cooled down, as the pressure difference will be lower. Conversely, these fabrics don't perform as well if the environment is hot and humid and the user is working hard and warm.
Side-By-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of these jackets while hiking, backpacking, climbing, and ski touring. We looked at the 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 Stairmaster 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 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 Plus using Proflex and Outdoor Research MicroGravity using Ascentshell, which allows for exceptional breathability and were nearly as breathable.
After an intense series of comparisons by our review team, we found that these two air-permeable models scored nearly as well as models using Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, which was used in the REI Stormbolt GTX, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Marmot Minimalist, REI XeroPoint GTX, and Outdoor Research Foray. While the Gore-Tex models performed pretty similarly overall, these two air-permeable models were notably more breathable than the rest of the none-air permeable products we tested.
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.
The Most Breathable
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 Plus and Outdoor Research MicroGravity. It's worth noting that with these jackets (the Kinetic Plus and Microgravity), we noticed ourselves becoming colder during breaks than with the non-air-permeable ones.
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 moves 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 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 let 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 interior feeling; was it more or less clammy feeling on our bare skin? 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 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 about this model is its ultra-slim fit aimed towards 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 Outdoor Research MicroGravity, REI Stormbolt GTX, and the Arc'teryx Zeta SL. These models feature mobility-oriented designs and offer functional range-of-motion that is just a small notch below the Rab Kinetic Plus, though all scoring well for different reasons. The MicroGravity is 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 or consider a rain hat while in the backcountry; a hood that rolls away and stows can be appreciated.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.
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 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.
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 lower handwarmer pockets is 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 who log a lot of time in the backcountry on multi-day trips, low handwarmer or "lower" hand pockets located 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. Whether out for a day or an extended trip, this is the case, and the pocket's primary zipper can dig into your hips, making your rainy day outing even more miserable. The pinching zipper-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.
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 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 multi-day trips with perfect or less than perfect forecasts, packed size should be high on 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 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 packed size in our review.
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 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 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 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 is more complicated than it might seem. While keeping you dry is the goal, features like ventilation can make a big difference in daily use. Our metrics are in place to help you decide 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.
— Ian Nicholson
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