You shouldn't compromise when it comes to selecting a rain jacket. Over the course of several months, we experimented with 10 of the best on the market, selected and purchased after analyzing over 45 models available from top manufacturers. With many options on the market and the significant cost of a quality model, our experts conducted exhaustive testing to determine which contender will ensure proper weather protection for years to come. We tested across a broad series of metrics to determine the best overall, the best bang for the buck, and the best when light is right. From Lake Tahoe to Red Rock, we hiked, kayaked, biked, and spent time out in thunderstorms so we can provide you with the information you need to make the best selection.
The Best Rain Jacket for Women
The rain protection industry continues to expand, with a wide variety to choose from. This spring, our experts put 10 models to the ultimate test, selecting an Editors' Choice, Best Buy, and Top Pick for Lightweight Adventures. We've also added charts, including a price to value comparison graph, so you'll be able to compare each model.
Best Overall Rain Jacket
Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's
The Outdoor Research Aspire, which ranked highly in each class, from water resistance to packed size, comes with a lot of bells and whistles. From its smooth, soft fabric and flattering fit to extreme waterproofing and relatively light and compact size, this jacket stood out as the best overall rain shell from among the best in its class. The Aspire offers leading water resistance with GORE-TEX to withstand the most driving rain. With reinforced, sealed seams and water-resistant zippers, as well as an adjustable hood, cinchers around the hips, and both elastic and Velcro to seal around your wrists, no water is getting in this bad boy. And, as a bonus, the elastic pull tabs on the hood have a low profile and are constructed such that you will never lose them inside the hood.
For added breathability, this jacket even comes with full side zips and a double zipper in the front. On those days when the rain is coming straight down, but it's still hot outside, you can zip those babies up and get airflow all around your torso to keep you cool and on the move while reflecting the rain. With generous pockets and an extra zip pocket on the arm to keep small equipment on the ready, this jacket also offers a stuff sack pocket that it zips into. While its lowest rating was for weight (at 14.01 oz, it ranked at about the middle of the range 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
Coming in at just $100, the Marmot Precip made the list as our choice for Best Buy. This jacket gives you the most bang for your jacket-buying buck. Offering NanoPro™ technology, flaps to cover the zipper on both the inside and outside, and fully taped seams, the PreCip ranked among the highest in waterproofness. It also offers amenities like a large adjustable hood that rolls into the collar, for when the rain stops and you want to reduce bulk, and armpit zips for added breathability.
For added comfort, this jacket touts a DriClime lined chin guard. It also proved very lightweight at just 9.41 ounces and relatively packable at just over 136 cubic inches. And, ranking in at just a hair behind the Aspire, this jacket is a steal at less than half the price and almost the same performance. It did rank lower in durability, so it is less of a long-term investment — but in the short term, it will keep you dry and comfortable while pursuing your choice of adventure.
Read review: Marmot PreCip - Women's
Top Pick Ultralight
Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's
Excellent for backpacking, hiking, and general travel, the Outdoor Research Helium II was hands-down the best overall jacket for lightweight travel, scoring at the top of the charts in weight, ranking in at a measly 5.82 ounces, and packed size at just 60.75 cubic inches. It also ranked among the best jackets in comfort and breathability. However, the Helium II ranked at the bottom of the scale in waterproofness, absorbing water in a downpour more than it repelled it.
In addition to becoming sopping wet in a downpour, this jacket will also not help you in very windy or cold conditions, as it does not provide any insulation nor a high degree of wind resistance. Nevertheless, it is great for a hike in the early mornings or on a day with unpredictable weather during the spring, summer, or fall or on a day when light rain or mist is in the forecast, especially if you want to keep your load minimal. In fact, you can simply wrap this baby up in its stuff sack and attach it by a carabiner to your belt loop if you really want to travel light. Plus it offers a high degree of comfort while hitting the trail with no extra features to add pinch points of cause any chafing, particularly with its soft, smooth fabric. As a basic shell with no bells or whistles, this can't be beat for traveling light.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's
Notable for Torrential Downpours
The North Face Venture 2 - Women's
The North Face Venture 2 came in at a close third behind the Aspire and PreCip, ranking better on weight and a little low on breathability and durability when compared to the Aspire and just shy of the PreCip on packed size. With average weight and below-average pack size, this shell isn't for the ultralight packer, but it performed exceptionally well in water resistance, keeping you dry in even the most torrential downpour. In fact, it very closely matched the top ranking jackets in most areas, with its added breathability complemented by amenities such as pit zips and ventilation technology. Plus, it offers compactness features like a built-in stuff sack pocket with carabiner loop, so you can pack it away or attach it to the outside of your pack or belt loop.
This jacket meets and exceeds all of the expectations you might have for a rain shell in its price range, giving the affordability of the PreCip with much of the functionality. Overall, it came in at a close third and would be a great option for the thrifty outdoors enthusiast facing inclement weather or just for wearing around town during a rainstorm.
Read review: The North Face Venture 2- Women's
Analysis and Test Results
Many buyers assume all rain jackets will repel rain equally and that is the primary factor one must consider when purchasing a coat for rain protection. However, not all jackets are created equal when it comes to waterproofness, and there are a variety of other factors that can really get in your craw if you don't consider them before making your raincoat investments. 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.
This is why we thoroughly tested not only the water resistance of each of these top-ranking rain jackets, but several other metrics as well. We tested the breathability of each of the jackets to make sure you don't pass out from heat exhaustion while hiking or paddling across land or sea. We further analyzed their durability, so you don't have a catastrophic failure while out in the wilderness, and we tested packed size and weight, so you know exactly what to expect when you throw your jacket into your rucksack or daypack. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we assessed the comfort of each rain jacket, so you don't waste your time or money buying a coat you never end up wearing, because it just doesn't fit comfortably.
We selected from among the highest rated jackets from industry leading brands that range from ultra-lightweight to three-season heavyweight models and ran them through a gamut of tests to help you decide which one will work best for your needs. Below, you will find more information about our testing methods and metrics and how the jackets performed in each category.
Typically, we choose award winners based on niches or the best overall. We also include a Best Bang for the Buck winner, which provides a high price to value ratio. Below we've included a graph which details each model in our fleet, as well as where they fall on our price comparison chart. Models that fall toward the bottom right of the chart offer the highest price to value ratio.
With a variety of technologies, ranging from GORE-TEX and NanoPro to Pertex and Dryvent, each touting its own waterproofing benefits, the water resistance of the fabrics and designs of rain coats has a, perhaps, unsurprising degree of variation. In addition to fabric technology, the waterproofness of a jacket is also supported by the details, such as zipper flaps, seam seals, hood size, and tightening straps, Velcro, and elastic, to keep out multi-directional pummeling rain and flurries. In order to test the water resistance of each of the selected rain jackets, we took them out into the field, 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 North Face Venture 2 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 REI Rhyolite and Columbia Arcadia II allowed water in at the hood and sleeves and showed some signs of permeability in the body. And, the Outdoor Research Helium II completely failed the test, wetting worse than a standard wind breaker.
When it comes to waterproof fabrics, issues such as condensation and moisture trapping can become major annoyances, along with increasing body heat like a plastic sweat suit. Thus, breathability is a major concern for both allowing heat and moisture to exit on one hand, and preventing chilly winds and moisture from entering on the other. We tested the breathability of each jacket by hiking in each of the coats to get a general sense of their ability to keep cold air out and also let body heat escape, and we compared the jackets side-by-side by using an elliptical under consistent conditions after a warm-up in the controlled environment of a gym.
There were two options for ventilation zips. The Outdoor Research Aspire offered zippers that ran up the sides of the jacket to allow the user to get full side ventilation to prevent overheating with a poncho-like design in exchange for protection against gusts of wind or sideways rain. The other style of ventilation zip was the underarm zipper, such as on the Marmot Precip. This allows the user to let cooler air into the jacket with very little sacrifice to water resistance, since this is in a more hidden portion of the jacket. Other jackets, such as the North Face Venture 2 use a mesh lining, so the outer fabric doesn't stick to you and to help improve airflow inside the shell, keeping you cooler longer, even while exerting yourself or in humid conditions.
There is a wide range of fabric comfort among these jackets with the REI Rhyolite falling at the bottom of this list, with its stiff, crinkly fabric.
The Mammut Wenaha and Outdoor Research Aspire made the top of the list with their soft, smooth fabric that feels great on your skin and allows you to move freely. The latter two also had the most flattering and flexible fit.
Weight is very important if you are an ultralight hiker. We've come a long way from the heavy full-frame canvas backpacks and thick, rubberized slickers, and with the trend of ultralight hikers packing only a daypack for overnight trips, weight has gained much more importance when considering which gear to purchase. Thankfully, with the increase in fabric and equipment technologies, you no longer have to sacrifice comfort and weight for functionality, easily packing everything you need to maintain your stride and stay dry for often under 35 pounds. We weighed each of the coats 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, at only 1/2 to 1/3 the weight of the rest of the jackets, but what you gain in portability, you lose in functionality. With only one pocket, which on the plus side doubles as a stuff sack, and little wind and almost no water protection, this jacket would serve better as a light shell rather than a raincoat suitable for a downpour.
However, many users do not want to sacrifice function in order 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 9.41 ounces while still providing excellent water resistance and comfort and ranking high in portability. This jacket will not weigh you down too much and will provide all of the protection you should expect from a high-end raincoat to keep you moving and dry.
Whether you are planning on taking a two-week backpacking trip or just heading out for the day, fitting your jacket easily into a full-frame backpack or hydration pack makes your life easier and gives you extra room in your pack for other essentials, such as extra water or backcountry luxuries. Plus, since serious hikers, kayakers, and backpackers often take a jacket as a just-in-case measure, you want to make sure that this piece of equipment, which you may not even use, does not add too much bulk to your trip.
Some of the jackets we tested, such as the Patagonia Torrentshell include their own stuff packs of varying sizes, some with hoops, so you can attach them to the outside of your pack with a carabiner, which provides an added layer of carrying convenience. And, as with the weight category, the Outdoor Research Helium II again ranked highest in the packed size class, coming in at only 60.75 cubic inches when tucked away in its pocket sack, making it perfect for a bit of added weather protection on unpredictable days or when transitioning from morning dew to evening breezes.
The Arct'teryx Beta SL and Mammut Wenaha ranked lowest in this category with their relatively stiff fabrics, 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 you need it.
While difficult to determine in just a few months, we did our best to test the durability of these jackets by taking them out on the trails, the water, and wearing them around town. We also tested the seams with torsion and pressure, and the REI Rhyolite came out on top with its seemingly indestructible, hard fabric, but what you gain in durability, you lose in comfort, as it feels like you are wearing armor. A better balance is the Outdoor Research Aspire II or the Mammut Wenaha with their reinforced, sealed seams and thick, but soft fabric, which will provide water resistance for many adventures.
If you do experience a failure, Patagonia and Outdoor Research offer a lifetime guarantee, where you can trade in any item, no matter how worn, for the lifetime of the product, allowing you to rest easy when shelling out a lot of money for those products. Some other companies, like The North Face, offer limited warranties in case of manufacturing faults.
Choosing the right rain jacket, particularly if you are making a significant investment, can seem daunting. If you make the right selection for you, you'll have a trusty piece of equipment that will last you for years and accompany you on a variety of adventures. Water resistance is key when selecting a rain jacket, but you must also consider comfort, fit, durability, and a number of other factors to avoid buyer's remorse later on down the road. Hopefully, our reviews have helped you select from among the top-rated jackets on the market today, so you can pick the best jacket for your needs, whether you are hiking the backcountry, going for a stroll through the woods, scaling up the side of a mountain, kayaking down a raging river, or just window shopping in town. To find out more about picking out the best rain shell for your needs, check out our Buying Advice Article.
— Holly Zynda & Lyra Pierotti