Best Overall Rain Jacket
Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's
: 11.4 oz | Material
: Gore-Tex with Paclite, polyester 50D plain weave
Great for backcountry and urban use
Sleeves a bit on the short side
The Outdoor Research Aspire scored high marks across the board; from water resistance to breathability, it comes fully equipped with various bells and whistles that make it an excellent choice for a rain jacket. It's a top contender, proudly sporting its smooth, soft fabric and flattering fit right down to its high standard of waterproofing and relatively light and compact size. This jacket stood out as the best overall rain shell and offered leading water resistance with a GORE-TEX, Paclite integrated fabric design to withstand and keep you protected from even the heaviest of downpours. With reinforced, sealed seams and water-resistant zippers, as well as an adjustable hood, hip cinches, and both elastic and Velcro to seal around your wrists, no water is getting in this bad boy. Being completely watertight might sound awfully stuffy, but don't be fooled, the pit zips can be fully opened for a quick and easy way to shed excess body heat.
This award winner earned top marks for its breathability especially when it comes to ventilation. It has full side zips that are easy to use and allow for a quick heat escape. The main zipper is a two way and fully watertight. On those days when the rain is coming straight down, but it's still hot outside, you can zip those babies down and get airflow all around your torso to keep you cool and on the move while still repelling the rain. The added waterproof zip pocket on the chest is essential and came in rather handy for our small essentials. This jacket also offers a stuff sack pocket that it zips into and even includes a clip to attach to a harness or a pack. While its lowest rating was for weight (at 11.4 ounces, it ranked a little over the middle ground for the jackets tested), it only took up about 107 cubic inches when stored in its stuff sack, making it reasonably compact overall.
Read review: Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
Marmot PreCip - Women's
: 8.4 oz | Material
: NanoPro, nylon ripstop, DWR treatment
This has been an award-winning jacket for the second year in a row. With a price tag that won't put a strain on your pocketbook, the Marmot Precip made the list as our choice for Best Buy. Offering storm flaps to cover the main zipper on both sides, and fully taped seams, the PreCip came in with high marks in waterproofness and breathability. It also offers amenities like a large adjustable hood that rolls into the collar, beneficial when the rain stops, and you want to reduce bulk.
For added comfort, this jacket touts a lined chin guard. At 8.4 ounces, it's surprisingly lightweight and packable for having a lot of great added features. Ranking in at just a hair behind the Aspire, this jacket is a steal at less than half the price; it also offers fairly comparable water-resistant performance. It did rank lower in durability, so it is less of a long-term investment, but will still hold its own over time while pursuing your many outdoor adventures.
Read review: Marmot PreCip - Women's
Top Pick for Ultralight Adventures
Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's
: 5.2 oz | Material
: 2.5 layer Pertex Shield DS stretch 30D ripstop nylon
Lightest jacket tested
Lacks water resistant
Minimal extra features
This is an excellent choice for backpacking when weight and space are your main concerns. The Outdoor Research Helium II is hands-down the best overall jacket for lightweight travel, scoring at the top of the charts in weight and packed size. It also ranked highly in comfort and breathability, which was surprising considering our first impressions of the flimsy feeling fabric. However, the Helium II ranked at the bottom of the scale in waterproofness, lacking the ability to rappel water in a downpour more often than not.
In addition to becoming semi-saturated in a downpour, this jacket didn't offer much protection from the cold or wind, as its ultralightweight fabric lacks insulation. Nevertheless, it is excellent for a hike in the early mornings or on a day where you might encounter unpredictable weather conditions. In fact, you can simply wrap this baby up in its stow pocket and attach it with a carabiner to your belt loop or pack. Plus it offers a high degree of minimal comfort while out on the go with not a lot of extra features to add weight or cause any chafing, particularly with its soft, smooth fabric. For lightweight travel, you can't beat this basic shell sans bells or whistles.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's
Notable for Torrential Downpours
Outdoor Research Interstellar - Women's
: 9.6 oz | Material
: Ascentshell 3L 100% nylon 20D mechanical stretch ripstop
Great for climbing
The Outdoor Research Interstellar came in at a close third behind the Aspire and Ozonic, ranking slightly better in weight but falling just slightly behind on breathability, mainly regarding the lack of ventilation without pit zips. With a middle of the road weight of 9.6 ounces and an average packed size, this shell isn't for the true ultralight packer. However, it performed exceptionally well in the water resistance metric, keeping a lot of us dry in even the most torrential of downpours. In fact, it very closely matched the top ranking jackets in most areas. Its sleek design and backpack or harness accommodating pockets make it a great fit for both active and urban pursuits. This jacket meets and exceeds all of the expectations you might have for a rain shell in its price range, giving the dependability of the Aspire without some of the functionality.
We feel pit zips are a necessary feature in most cases, despite breathability being measured by the fabric and membrane combination; however, the Interstellar is sans pit zips. While it didn't fall too far below other contenders in breathability due to its integrated Ascentshell fabric technology, breathability was impacted by the lack of pit zips. Overall, it came in at a close third and would be an excellent option for the not so thrifty outdoors enthusiast not wanting to be slowed down by severe weather.
Read review: Outdoor Research Interstellar - Women's
Notable for Being a Hiker's Best Companion
Arc'teryx Zeta SL - Women's
: 9.5 oz | Material
: 40-denier ripstop (N40r) GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL quickly became a go-to accessory for shorter cross country day hikes to longer overnight backpacking adventures. What made this jacket stand out was its highly waterproof exterior combined with its comfortable 2-layer PACLITE Plus GORE-TEX fabric; it kept us dry and didn't take up to much space in our packs. This was a well-rounded rain jacket in a highly competitive category that just fell short of the award winner's circle.
While it isn't the first choice for the budget minded individual, don't let the high price tag dissuade you from potentially investing in what might be a trip saving piece of gear.
Read review: Arc'teryx Zeta SL - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Our experts in rain jackets include Katherine Elliott and a team of water-loving women from the surrounding Tahoe basin. Calling South Lake Tahoe her home, she endures all the precipitation that coastal weather can throw her way. She's been testing gear for over four years with a special fondness for all things outdoors. Hiking, biking, backpacking, you'll find her doing it all! Katherine and her friends have spent hours testing rain jackets in wet weather throughout the year. She has even spent many a day in search of the ever elusive downpour in her sometimes dry climate.
To test rain jackets, we started by selecting the highest rated jackets amongst the industry's leading brands. Ranging from ultra-lightweight to three-layered heavyweight models, we ran them through a gamut of tests. We compared the breathability of each of the models to make sure you don't overheat while taking on aerobic activities. We also analyzed durability in real life scenarios, so you don't have a catastrophic failure while out in the wilderness. We were sure not to leave out packed size and weight, so you know exactly what to expect when you throw your jacket into your pack. Finally, and not to be taken lightly, we assessed the comfort of each rain jacket. These tests had us wearing rain jackets whenever the weather rolled in. Our unbiased and objective reviews provide direct comparisons that will help you find what you need.
Related: How We Tested Rain Jacket for Women
Analysis and Test Results
It is a common mistake to assume all rain jackets must be waterproof, seeing as how that is their main purpose. However, not all jackets are created equal when it comes to waterproofness, with a variety of factors that can affect their performance if you don't consider them before making your raincoat investment. Just imagine setting out on a week+ long backpacking trip through a rainforest or up a weather-prone mountain, only to discover that the jacket you selected has pit zips that chafe your armpits or an oversized hood that flies off with each gust of wind or no pit zips at all. Below we show which perform the best, and which simply don't stack up to the competition.
Related: Buying Advice for Rain Jacket for Women
The OR Helium II is great in a pinch; it weighs under six ounces and packs down to nearly nothing.
Typically, we choose award winners based on niches or the best overall. We also include the Best Bang for the Buck winner, which provides a high price to value ratio. We bought all the jackets in the test ourselves as to maintain and write an unbiased opinion so trust us, we know that price can sometimes make or break a decision and we would like to offer our opinions on the lot and hopefully help gain you some insight as to what we chose for our award winners and why. Below we've included a graph which details each model in our fleet.
We assessed models with a wide variety of fabric components, ranging from GORE-TEX to an exclusive Acentshell technology, each touting its own superior waterproofing benefits. A new contender is the Arc'teryx Zeta SL that touts a 2-layer PACLITE Plus GORE-TEX fabric. In addition to fabric technology, the waterproofness of a jacket is also supported by the details, such as zipper flaps, taped seams, hood size, and tightening straps. Each is designed differently to keep out multi-directional pummeling rain and unexpected flurries. To test the water resistance of each of the selected rain jackets, we took them into the lab, assisted by a series of storms that ran through the Tahoe area during our testing period.
Given the variability of rain conditions on a given day, we also took a scientific approach, and after some wear and tear, we took the jackets into our outdoor lab and sprayed them with a hose from a variety of directions and at a variety of pressures. What we discovered is that many of the raincoats, such as the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic and Outdoor Research Aspire II performed consistently well, providing full-torso, arm, and head protection when fully battened down (all tighteners and straps fully sealed). On the other end of the scale, the designs of the The North Face Apex Flex GTX 2.0 and Marmot Minimalist allowed some water seepage in at the hood and sleeves and showed some signs of permeability in the body. And, the Outdoor Research Helium II scoring the lowest for water resistance at high pressure.
The Stretch Ozonic is equipped with Dry.Q Active waterproof technology, which did an excellent job of repelling moisture.
When it comes to waterproof fabrics, issues such as condensation and moisture trapping can become major annoyances. Thus, breathability is a major concern for both allowing heat and moisture to exit while preventing chilly winds and moisture from entering. Not only is breathability in a rain jacket measured by the fabric/membrane combo but our testers found the jacket's breathability to be greatly enhanced with the inclusion of pit zips. This, in most cases, did end up adding to the overall weight of the jacket but in most cases, we felt that it was a sacrifice that we would be willing to take for the added comfort and lack of perspiration accumulated while undergoing high aerobic endeavors. We tested the breathability of each jacket by undergoing a series of highly aerobic activities outdoors that got the perspiration going. We wanted to get a general sense of their ability to keep cold air out and also let body heat escape. Our key findings found that pit zips are almost always essential in aiding in the ventilation process. We compared each model side-by-side by using an elliptical under consistent conditions after a warm-up in the controlled environment of a gym.
There were two main options for ventilation zips. The first being the Outdoor Research Aspire, which offered zippers that ran up the full length of the sides of the jacket to allow the user to get full side ventilation in hopes of preventing overheating, this mimicked an almost poncho-like design. The other style of ventilation zip was the underarm zipper or pit zip like the one found on the Marmot Precip. This allows the user to let cooler air into the jacket with a minuscule sacrifice to water resistance since this is in a more hidden portion of the jacket. Other jackets, such as the REI Co-op Drypoint GTX and Arc'teryx Zeta SL leave out pit zips all together.his was a highly debated design attribute. Some use a mesh lining located in the pockets to allow for core venting. We did find that models lacking pit zips, especially at such a high price point, were kept on the shelf more often than others with pit zips.
The PreCip tested very well with water resistance but the short length of the sleeves and torso had a lot to be desired.
There is a wide range of fabric comfort among these jackets, with the REI Co-op Drypoint GTX falling at the bottom of this list, thanks to its stiff, crinkly fabric.
The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic the Outdoor Research Aspire and the Arc'teryx Zeta SL made the top of the list with their soft, smooth fabric that feels great on your skin and allows you to move freely in any direction. These three contenders also maintained an impeccably dry and breathable jacket environment throughout the testing process.
The more bells and whistles a jacket offers, the more you can adjust the shell to fit to your comfort. Here you can see the Outdoor Research Aspire's full length ventilation system.
Weight is a key concern if you are an ultralight hiker. We've come a long way from the days of toting around a heavy full-frame canvas backpack and a thick, rubberized slicker. Many ultralight hikers only pack a daypack for overnight trips, meaning weight has gained much more attention when considering which gear to purchase. Thankfully, with the increase in fabric technologies, you no longer have to sacrifice comfort and weight for functionality. We weighed each model on our own scale and compared them to each manufacturer's stated weights to ensure accuracy.
When it comes to the rain jackets we tested, the Outdoor Research Helium II is by far the lightest and most compact of the jackets; weighing in at 5.2 ounces, it's almost half the weight of the rest. With only one pocket, which doubles as a stuff sack, and little wind and minimal water protection, this jacket would serve better as a light emergency shell rather than a raincoat suitable for a downpour.
However, many users do not want to sacrifice function to cut down on ounces, so finding a good balance between weight and functionality is key. There are few things worse than tromping through the woods while cold and sopping wet. Our recommendation for travelers who want to keep their weight down is the Marmot Precip, which ranked second in the weight category, weighing in at 8.4 ounces all while still providing excellent water resistance and comfort. This jacket will not weigh you down and will provide all of the protection you should expect from a high-end rain jacket.
The PreCip weighed in at 8.4 ounces, making it one of the lightest jackets we tested.
Whether you are planning on taking a two-week backpacking trip or you're just heading out for the day, being able to easily fit your jacket into a full-frame backpack, hydration pack, or purse makes your life easier and gives you extra room for your other daily essentials. Plus, since serious hikers, kayakers, and backpackers often take a jacket as a just-in-case measure, you want to make sure that the piece of gear you equip yourself with does not add too much bulk to your trip.
Some of the jackets we tested, such as the Patagonia Torrentshell include their own stow pockets. A few of the models also include carabiner hoops so you can attach them to the outside of your pack providing you with a bonus of carrying convenience. Similar to the score in the weight category, the Outdoor Research Helium II also earned high marks in the packed size class, coming in at only 60.75 cubic inches when tucked away in its pocket sack. This alone makes it the perfect for a bit of added weather protection on unpredictable days or when transitioning from morning dew to evening breezes.
With their relatively stiff fabrics, the Marmot Minimalist and REI Co-op Drypoint GTX ranked lowest in this category, as they prioritized water resistance over packability. If you want a great balance between functionality and compactness, the Outdoor Research Aspire ranked second in packed size and at the top in water resistance, allowing you to carry this jacket in any size bag while resting assured that you will remain dry and comfortable should the need arise.
While difficult to determine in just a few short months, we measured the durability of these jackets by testing them in real life situations, whether it was riding our bikes, climbing, or just a casual walk around town. We also tested the seams with varied levels of torsion and pressure. The REI Co-op Drypoint GTX was a close contender against the Aspire for the most durable, with its seemingly indestructible, hard yet pliable fabric, but what you gain in durability, you sometimes lose in comfort. A better balance is the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, with its reinforced, sealed seams and sturdy, but soft fabric, which provide you with a high level of water resistance in addition to a comfortable fit.
If you do experience any failures, Patagonia and Outdoor Research offer a lifetime guarantee, allowing you to trade in any item no matter how worn, for the lifetime of the product. This assures that you can rest easy when shelling out a good chunk of money for the trusted name brand products. Some other companies, like The North Face, and Arc'teryx offer limited warranties in case of manufacturing faults.
Choosing the right rain jacket, especially when it comes to making a significant investment, can seem daunting. The right choice could mean you'll have a solid piece of gear that will last you for years to come and accompany you on a variety of drizzly adventures or you could end up with a partially saturated disappointment. Water resistance and breathability are key when selecting a rain jacket, but there are also many other factors to take into consideration before making your buying decision. Armed with the details we've provided, we hope you have enough information when it finally comes to decision-making time. Whether you are trudging through the backcountry, taking a mellow walk in the woods, scaling up the side of a mountain, or just window shopping in town, having a proper rain jacket can make or break your day when there's inclement weather afoot.
The Drypoint GTX has an extra tall collar that was a little uncomfortable at times; however, the large hood allowed the rain to simply fall off the bill without making its way into the jacket itself.