Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Rain Jackets for Men of 2021

We tested rain jackets from Arc'teryx, REI, Outdoor Research, and more to find the very best
What does waterproof really mean? Rain creates three pounds per square...
Photo: Ian Nicholson
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Friday September 17, 2021
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Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
Over the last 10 years, we've tested over 50 of the best rain jackets for men. Our 2021 update features 14 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.

Top 14 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Awards Top Pick Award    Editors' Choice Award 
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Overall Score
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66
73
51
81
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Pros Insanely lightweight, tiny compressed size, stows tightly in a reversible pocket, hood design maintains great peripheral vision, respectable stormworthinessBetter breathability than others in its price range, decent ventilation, roll away hood, nice pit zips, affordableStretchiest fabric in our review, cozy interior feel, breathability, robust, low-profile wrist closures, hood maintains good peripheral visionComfortable, affordable, athletic fit, good wrist cuffsTop-tier storm-worthiness, mobility and range of motion, hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pockets
Cons Average breathability, minimal hood, only one pocket, not as versatile in the traditional senseNo chest pocket, not quite as breathable as models that use non-coated membraneFabric wets out quicker than some, no chest pocket, hood doesn't fit over a helmet, size up this model to accommodate layeringBulky, warm, limited hood adjustmentNo ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harness
Bottom Line Light and compressible, ideal for trips where low weight is paramountA great jacket that offers above-average breathability, with an excellent price tagA solid alpine performer for mixed weather conditions, this mega stretchy model moves with you - without holding you backAn excellent price, but it doesn't offer nearly as many outdoor activity oriented features as other models we reviewThis stormworthy and function focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best performance in our review
Rating Categories Outdoor Research He... Marmot PreCip Eco Rab Kinetic Plus Columbia Watertight II Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Water Resistance (30%)
7.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
9.0
Breathability & Venting (25%)
5.0
6.0
8.0
3.0
8.0
Comfort & Mobility (18%)
7.0
7.0
9.0
5.0
8.0
Weight (15%)
10.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
Durability (5%)
4.0
6.0
7.0
5.0
8.0
Packed Size (7%) Sort Icon
10.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Outdoor Research He... Marmot PreCip Eco Rab Kinetic Plus Columbia Watertight II Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Measured Weight (Medium) 6.3 oz 13.5 oz 10 oz 13.5 oz 10.9 oz
Waterproof Fabric Material 2.5-layer Pertex Shield NanoPro Proflex 3-layer 2-Layer Omni-Tech w/ Mesh Liner 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite Plus waterproof breathable laminate
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 30D 100 nylon ripstop w/ Pertex Shield+ waterproof breathable insert 100% nylon ripstop Propriety Proflex waterproof membrane 2.5L Nylon with coated waterproof breathable insert and hanging mesh protective liner 40-denier ripstop (N40r) Gore-Tex Paclite Plus
Pockets 1 zippered hand pocket 2 zip hand pockets 2 hand pockets 2 hand pockets 2 hand pockets
Are lower pockets hipbelt friendly Yes No Yes No Yes
Pit Zips No Yes No No Yes
Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight) No Yes No No No
Stows Into Pocket? Yes Yes No (but included stuff sack) Yes No


Best Overall Rain Jacket


Arc'teryx Zeta SL


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance 9
  • Breathability & Venting 8
  • Comfort & Mobility 8
  • Weight 7
  • Durability 8
  • Packed Size 7
Weight: 10.9 ounces | Pockets: Two elevated pack-friendly hand pockets
Exceptional hood design
Outstanding mobility and range of motion
Stormworthy
Small packed volume
Good breathability
Hip belt and harness-friendly pockets
Long-lasting DWR
No ventilation options
Not stretchy
Doesn't stuff into its pocket
Price

If we could only choose one rain jacket for a wide range of activities, from backpacking 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


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance 8
  • Breathability & Venting 8
  • Comfort & Mobility 7
  • Weight 6
  • Durability 6
  • Packed Size 7
Weight: 12.5 ounces | Pockets: Two hand pockets
Incredible price for a Gore-Tex jacket
Stormworthy
Very breathable
Respectable packed volume
Nice hood design
Pit zips
DWR is robust
Affordable
Slightly clammer than other Gore models
"Wets" out slightly quicker than comparable models
Hood doesn't fit over a helmet
So-so mobility and freedom of movement

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


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance 9
  • Breathability & Venting 8
  • Comfort & Mobility 8
  • Weight 6
  • Durability 6
  • Packed Size 7
Weight: 14.5 ounces | Pockets: Two zip hand pockets
Incredibly breathable material
Fantastic hood design
Extremely stormworthy
Small packed volume
Raised, hip-belt friendly pockets
Average weight and packed volume
The cut is slightly on the boxy side
Okay mobility

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


70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance 7
  • Breathability & Venting 5
  • Comfort & Mobility 7
  • Weight 10
  • Durability 4
  • Packed Size 10
Weight: 6.3 ounces | Pockets: One chest
Insanely lightweight and tiny compressed size
Stows tightly in a reversible pocket
Hood maintains great peripheral vision
Respectable stormworthiness
Lacking ventilation options
Average breathability
Minimal hood keeps the rain outside, but our faces get wet
Only one pocket
Wets out slightly faster than others in prolonged downpours

The 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


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance 8
  • Breathability & Venting 8
  • Comfort & Mobility 8
  • Weight 6
  • Durability 8
  • Packed Size 7
Weight: 14.5 ounces | Pockets: One chest, two lower
Good storm protection
Very breathable
Stretchy fabric
Versatile
Well designed hood
Pockets aren't the best with a pack on
Average weight and packed volume

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

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
81
$300
Editors' Choice Award
Excelling across the board, this jacket is versatile enough for outdoor activities and is lightweight and stormworthy
78
$279
Top Pick Award
If days, weeks, or months of potentially damp time in the backcountry are possible in your future, then this notable stormyworthy model should be on your radar
76
$215
With awesome ventilation capabilities, top-tier stormworthiness, and above average durability, this model is a great all-rounder
76
$249
Top Pick Award
A tough, stormyworthy, versatile air-permeable model
74
$159
Best Buy Award
It offers enough performance to keep almost any outdoor enthusiast happy, at a price that won't break the bank
73
$189
This is a classic, awesome do-anything piece
73
$230
This slim-fitting model boasts the stretchiest fabric and best range of motion of any model in our review; it's also incredibly breathable and features an innovative hood design
71
$150
Best Buy Award
Great for those on a budget, this versatile model marries durability and stormworthiness, without being too heavy or costly
71
$200
A decent all-around rain jacket at a respectable price
70
$160
Top Pick Award
An ideal layer for fast-and-light trips, where every ounce of weight matters
66
$230
Satisfies the majority of outdoor enthusiasts with its excellent combination of durability and weight
66
$100
With better breathability than similarly priced models, it's tough to beat
61
$200
Perfect for those looking a rain jacket that doesn't look like a rain jacket
51
$90
This model boasts a good price and adequate protection, but it lacks outdoor features present in other contenders

Nine of the top rain jackets, ready for our testing. There are three...
Nine of the top rain jackets, ready for our testing. There are three distinct types of jackets here, and one will meet your needs best.
Photo: Brandon Lampley

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

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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

We considered over 90 different rain jackets before choosing the...
We considered over 90 different rain jackets before choosing the best in our review. We tested each jacket by spraying them with hoses, wearing them in the shower, and spending countless hours hiking, climbing, skiing, and backpacking in them.
Photo: Ian Nicholon

Value


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.


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 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.

Rain is not going to penetrate the fabrics that any of these jackets...
Rain is not going to penetrate the fabrics that any of these jackets are constructed with. In a downpour, however, running water can seep its way in through a pocket zipper, down your wrist when you reach overhead, or where the hood meets your neck, and thus the features and design of each model is the most critical part of keeping you dry.
Photo: Ian Nichcolson

Water Resistance


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.


Obviously, the waterproof material itself is important, but with...
Obviously, the waterproof material itself is important, but with nearly all manufacturers offering a material that is more than adequate, those jackets with features that kept the rain out and move moisture scored the best. Ian Nicholson climbing "Pretty Nuts" near Kicking Horse Pass in extremely wet conditions.
Photo: Andy Dahlen

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 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.

Garden hose to the face and wrists? Check. The Foray can handle it...
Garden hose to the face and wrists? Check. The Foray can handle it. All of these jackets do a good job keeping you dry in your average rainstorm. But models with adjustable cuffs and well-designed hood adjustments are superior in howling rainstorms or when working with your hands overhead in the rain.
Photo: Amanda Fenn

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, the hood's design, cuffs, pocket closures, and the longevity of a model's DWR.

A well designed hood is one of the most important factors...
A well designed hood is one of the most important factors influencing how dry a rain jacket is going to keep you.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

While these jackets weren&#039;t designed with sea kayaking in mind, that...
While these jackets weren't designed with sea kayaking in mind, that didn't stop our review team from utilizing a trip to the West Coast of Vancouver Island to put them to the test. Trips like this only added to the testing of each model's versatility. In this photo, lead tester paddled over 20 miles in the Broken Islands in non-stop rain.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.


Breathability and ventilation are both significant factors in...
Breathability and ventilation are both significant factors in keeping the wearer dry, minimizing how wet they get from their own sweat. We weighted breathability slightly higher than ventilation because sometimes when it's really raining or snowing hard, opening your vents can make you wetter.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

We compared each jacket&#039;s overall breathability as well as their...
We compared each jacket's overall breathability as well as their ability to ventilate, allowing moisture and heat to escape. Here, wet skinning with intermediate sun-breaks and heavy snow flurries up the Southwest Face of Lichtenberg Mountain near Stevens Pass, WA.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

We love the Foray. If you want a durable rain jacket with...
We love the Foray. If you want a durable rain jacket with class-leading ventilation features, it's a great option.
Photo: Amanda Fenn

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.

Breathability is an important factor when considering shells. At...
Breathability is an important factor when considering shells. At some point, you can't shed any more layers under your rain shell while hiking with a heavy pack uphill and you're going to sweat no matter the outside temperature. Here, Mark M pushes the breathability to the max on a Marmot PreCip Jacket on a wet approach to Mt. Baker, North Cascades, WA.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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

Even the most breathable models have a limit on the amount of...
Even the most breathable models have a limit on the amount of moisture they are able to pass through. Set yourself up for success by wearing the minimum layers you can get away with. Remember that nearly everyone can drench even a t-shirt if they're working hard enough.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Air-Permeable Fabrics

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.

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

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.

A number of models in this review, like the Outdoor Research...
A number of models in this review, like the Outdoor Research Interstellar, are air permeable. This means air can pass through the fabric itself, and on a micro-level, these models aren't technically windproof and don't require as much internal heat build-up as more traditional fabrics. Most of these models breathe quite well.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

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

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.

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

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.

A majority of waterproof breathable fabrics require a pressure...
A majority of waterproof breathable fabrics require a pressure differential to start breathing. This is generally accomplished by your body generating a fair amount of heat, thus warming the inside of your jacket. However, an air-permeable model will continue to dry more effectively after you've cooled off and are standing around. Photo: Testing and comparing the breathability of different layers while making a one-day ascent of Mt. Shuksan, with Phil Wadlow shown on the summit.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

There are a lot of breathable fabrics out there, but in our...
There are a lot of breathable fabrics out there, but in our side-by-side 10-minute stairmaster tests (and in real-world use) we found eVent to be one of the most breathable. Not by lots, but enough to notice. We even found that it was breathable enough that we would get cold faster during breaks.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

As useful as many ventilation features are, a fabric&#039;s breathability...
As useful as many ventilation features are, a fabric's breathability is more important than ventilation. When it is storming hard and you want to batten down the hatches by closing pit-zips and cinching the hood, a breathable fabric is paramount.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

The Patagonia Torrentshell has large pit zips with easy-to-use pull...
The Patagonia Torrentshell has large pit zips with easy-to-use pull strings on the zippers. Pit zips let the wearer ventilate the jacket for high energy activities. Some models have mesh-lined pockets for additional ventilation. The Torrentshell's hand pockets are lined with waterproof fabric.
Photo: Brandon Lampley

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.

Slayin&#039; some pow on Tye Peak in the Arc&#039;teryx Zeta SL.
Slayin' some pow on Tye Peak in the Arc'teryx Zeta SL.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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 and mobility are extremely important factors that are often...
Comfort and mobility are extremely important factors that are often under-considered when purchasing a jacket. This is likely because there are less quantifiable metrics to go along with a given jacket's mobility. Or some people might simply think, "I'm just hiking, I'm not climbing." However, whether crawling over a downed tree, setting up a tarp at camp, or climbing the most epic peak of your life, you'll repeatedly utilize the maximum mobility of your jacket. Josh Brewer (in a green Patagonia Torrentshell) and Alex Chew enjoy the fruits of their labor in camp, Jones Island State Park, WA.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

We tested the maximum range of motion of each jacket by seeing how...
We tested the maximum range of motion of each jacket by seeing how well we stayed covered while reaching straight out in front of us, as well as above our heads. This is where stretchy fabrics and specific designs really stood out. Here Graham McDowell tests the range of motion of the Patagonia Torrentshell while climbing the Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire near Washington Pass in an early season snowstorm.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Hood designs varied considerably between jackets. A good hood design...
Hood designs varied considerably between jackets. A good hood design will keep the water out while moving with you and allowing you to hang on to a good amount of your peripheral vision. Here, Tester Ian Nicholson tends a backcountry breakfast on a stormy morning.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Features


If you're wearing your jacket around town, having room in the pockets for a pair of gloves and a warm hat or a phone and keys can be nice. Some folks 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.

Hood design is one of the most important aspects of a waterproof...
Hood design is one of the most important aspects of a waterproof jacket. When well-designed, you should forget you're wearing it. When poorly designed, you'll face issues like obstructed peripheral vision, discomfort, and a lack of compatibility to different headwear. Photo: Graham Zimmerman and Ryan O'Connell rappeling while attempting to climb a new route in the Kitchatna's AK.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

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

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.

Peter Webb puts his Arc&#039;teryx Zeta SL jacket to the test during some...
Peter Webb puts his Arc'teryx Zeta SL jacket to the test during some wetter than ideal conditions while alpine climbing in the Canadian Rockies.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Pockets

It is tough to argue the utility of pockets, as everyone uses them to some extent. They are unquestionably useful to help keep track of small items, keeping certain things close at hand, and are a convenient place to keep your hands warm. Not all pockets are created equal, and their size and location can have a huge impact on their overall usefulness, depending on the user.

If a jacket&#039;s handwarmer pockets are too low, they are rendered...
If a jacket's handwarmer pockets are too low, they are rendered totally useless by the waist-belt of a pack or a harness and can pinch the wear's hips quite uncomfortably under heavier loads. We prefer models with higher handwarmer pockets, or at least lower-profile zippers to minimize pinching.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

All of our testers appreciated the slightly elevated and...
All of our testers appreciated the slightly elevated and function-oriented pockets on the Rab Kinetic Plus.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

These pocket designs are popular with the casual crowd, but are...
These pocket designs are popular with the casual crowd, but are often impractical while hiking since they are nearly inaccessible while wearing a pack or harness. Shown here is the Interstellar, with so-so pockets.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Weight


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.


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

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.

For many users, weight is possibly the single most important...
For many users, weight is possibly the single most important attribute of a rain shell because they will be carrying it more than 90% of the time. Often times, it's a "just in case" layer, brought along in the event of an afternoon thunderstorm, strong winds, or a drizzle that is not in the forecast. Photo: Phil Wadlow on the Upper Curtis Glacier.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

Packed Size


We've all been caught in a storm, getting soaked when we left our jacket in the car at the then-sunny trailhead. As the weather can change quickly and at times unexpectedly, it's these just-in-case packing scenarios when having a light, compact rain shell is useful, and there is less of a personal debate on whether to throw it in your running vest or the bottom of your pack.


It's just easier to forget about until you need it. Even on 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.

Jackets stuffed and ready to travel. The jackets we evaluated that...
Jackets stuffed and ready to travel. The jackets we evaluated that do not stuff into one of their pockets can be rolled into their hood as shown here. L-R top row: Helium and Minimus, Essence, Resolve, Minimalist. Bottom row: Torrentshell, Venture, PreCip, Watertight.
Photo: Brandon Lampley

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.

Durability


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


The exterior material (also 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.

A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands of your activities -...
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands of your activities - if it becomes ripped or shredded, no amount of features or special designs will keep you dry. Chris Simrell crossing the upper Elwah River in the Olympic Mountains, WA. This Patagonia Torrentshell jacket withstood quite a bit of bushwhacking use and abuse, particularly considering its weight and price.
Photo: Max Neale

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

Nothing like starting a trip on a very, very rainy day in...
Nothing like starting a trip on a very, very rainy day in Washington's North Cascades to learn a lot about different models and how they compare to one another.
Photo: Ian Nicholon

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.

Dan Whitmore testing a North Face Venture jacket during an extremely...
Dan Whitmore testing a North Face Venture jacket during an extremely wet trip to Washington's North Cascades National Park. The Venture, with its 50D external face fabric, was on the tougher end of jackets we tested.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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.

We hope you enjoyed the review and that it helped you make your...
We hope you enjoyed the review and that it helped you make your selection, until next time...
Photo: Graham Zimmerman

Conclusion


At first, glance, determining which rain jacket is ideal right for you is more complicated than it might seem. While keeping you dry is the goal, features like ventilation can make a big difference in 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