Protecting yourself from whatever Mother Nature throws at you while out on the road is vital. If you want to stay safe and well when you’re out in the wilderness, you need the best lightweight rain jacket for backpacking, camping, or hiking.
Lightweight rain jackets are always changing, thanks to new innovations and designs. There are many different backpacking rain jackets on the market just now, which isn’t a bad thing. However, finding one that you like the look and feel of is not always that easy. Perhaps you want to keep your backpack dry as well and it’s a great opportunity to check the best backpack rain covers.
You may not wish to spend a large amount of money on something that will keep you just as dry as the cheaper version. Below you will find a guide that should help you find a jacket that works for you.
Table of Contents
- 0.1 Our Top Pick: Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket
- 0.2 Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket
- 0.3 The North Face Men’s Resolve II Lightweight Rain Jacket
- 0.4 Columbia Men’s Watertight lI Jacket
- 0.5 Marmot Minimalist Men’s Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket
- 0.6 MAGCOMSEN Men’s Lightweight Windproof Jacket
- 0.7 The North Face Men’s Venture 2 Lightweight Rain Jackets
- 0.8 Baleaf Unisex Pullover Lightweight Jacket
- 0.9 Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket
- 0.10 GEEK LIGHTNING Waterproof Hooded Jacket
- 0.11 Marmot PreCip Eco
- 0.12 Global Blank Men’s Hooded Lightweight Windbreaker Winter Jacket Water Resistant Shell
- 0.13 Outdoor Research Interstellar
- 0.14 Patagonia Levitation Hoody Jacket
- 0.15 Arc’teryx Zeta SL
- 0.16 REI Co-op Rainier
- 0.17 REI Drypoint GTX
- 0.18 Rab Kinetic Plus
- 0.19 Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2
- 0.20 Outdoor Research Foray
- 1 Best Lightweight Rain Jacket Buying Guide
- 1.1 Types of Weather Protection
- 1.2 Lightweight Jacket Construction
- 1.3 Types of Weather Shells
- 1.4 Breathability
- 1.5 Breathable/Waterproof Technologies
- 1.6 Features
- 1.7 Durability
- 2 Rain Jacket or Poncho?
- 3 Takeaway
Our Top Pick: Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket
Just in case you don’t want to read the full review, my favorite is this jacket from Outdoor Research my current jacket from them is 12 years old and still the one I want to carry most often – even though I have bought quite a few others during the last few years.
Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket
- Solid breathability
- Fully taped seams
- Super lightweight
- Stows in its own pocket
- Solid stomrworthiness
- Lacks classic hand pockets
The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket comes with a fully taped seam that helps to keep the rain out. Open up the jacket quickly when it’s raining and fold it back into the stuff sack when it’s dry.
Durable and likely to last up to 10 years if you take care of it, the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket is waterproof and comes with a draw-cord hem. The smart black finish with the Outdoor Research logo and the blue zipper means this jacket looks good no matter what Mother Nature is doing to it.
The only downside of the jacket is the cuff/wrist design. However, it doesn’t impact its storm worthiness. Weighing only 6.4 oz, the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket may indeed be the best ultralight rain jacket on the market. Even though it doesn’t use Gore-Tex technology, the jacket offers solid breathability. The Helium II runs snug and is rather comfortable.
The Helium is a minimalist rain jacket. It doesn’t have hidden pockets, pit zips, or even classic two-hand pockets. However, the one Napoleon-style chest pocket it does have is very handy and functional. With an internal pocket that doubles up as a stuff sack, you’ll find the Helium II jacket to be very convenient.
The North Face Men’s Resolve II Lightweight Rain Jacket
- Thoughtfully designed
- Could be lighter
The North Face Men’s Resolve Jacket is a tough jacket that comes with a breathable HyVent polyurethane coated inner layer that helps prevent sweating. Here is a review of The North Face Resolve vs Venture. The fully-seamed seal helps prevent water from making its way into the jacket and the roll-away hood is very convenient. If there’s a storm, you may appreciate the hook and loop flap-over which protects the front of the jacket, including the zip. Here is a comparison between The North Face vs Canada Goose.
Complete with 2 pockets that can be zipped closed, this North Face jacket also comes with elasticated cuffs that help keep the weather at bay.
Columbia Men’s Watertight lI Jacket
- Snug, elastic cuffs and hem
- Athletic fit
The Columbia Men’s Watertight lI Jacket is a smart backpacking rain jacket that comes in a wide variety of colors. While the face fabric is made from 100% nylon, the fine mesh is constructed from 100% polyester and with its zipper closure, the wearer is protected from the elements.
There’s also an abrasion-resistant chin guard that adds extra protection from the elements. Even though we can’t count it among ultralight rain jackets, the Watertight easily packs into its own pocket.
The Omni-shield ensures that you are dry and clean as it works to resist the absorption of water. You can read more about Omni-Tech vs Gore-Tex technology here.
The jacket is surprisingly versatile—it’s an excellent option for casual hiking, cool weather work, around-town use, and even for a day of resort skiing.
The mesh liner is very comfortable during cool weather and low-energy activities. However, the Watertight II lacks pit zips, so it’s not the best choice for trail running.
Marmot Minimalist Men’s Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket
- Ideal for harsh weather and light travel
- Pit zips
- Reliable 2.5-layer construction
- Water-resistant zipper
The Marmot Minimalist Men’s Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket comes complete with a 2.5-Layer Gore-Tex construction which ensures this rain jacket is breathable, waterproof, and easy to pack.
Like Gore-Tex Active and eVent, the Paclite technology ensures maximum breathability. The jacket allows you to easily dump extra heat during strenuous activities.
The pit zips allow you to increase the airflow should you need to and the water-resistant zipper does a great job of keeping out rain.
With its taped seams, you’re less likely to get wet and the attached hood can be adjusted so your face is covered. Even the pockets on the jacket are fully waterproof and seam-taped.
It’s not an ultralight jacket as it weighs about 12 oz. However, it will keep you dry in harsh storms, and last longer than most other ultralight rain jackets on the list.
Compared to the average lightweight or ultralight rain jacket, the Minimalist is much more stretchier, beefier, and UV resistant. Its Gore-Tex membrane is incredibly resistant to abrasion and tears. On top of that, it’s backed by a lifetime guarantee.
MAGCOMSEN Men’s Lightweight Windproof Jacket
Specs and features:
- Face fabric: Polyester
- Rain jacket weight: 24 oz
- Pockets: Two hand pockets, one chest pocket
- Extra-large chest pocket
- Breathable lining
- Elastic cuffs
- Not as light as the other jackets on the list
The MAGCOMSEN Men’s Lightweight Windproof Jacket is available in 5 different colors and is relatively lightweight. The chest pocket and hand pockets make it easier to store belongings and the inner chest pocket is ideal for cell phones and wallets.
With a breathable lining and hook and loop closure, this jacket keeps you protected from the wind and rain. It’s a great rain jacket for hiking, rock climbing, camping, and working outdoors.
The North Face Men’s Venture 2 Lightweight Rain Jackets
- Breathablе, quick-drying fabric
- Velcro storm-flap
- Pit zips
- Fully adjustable hood
- Bulky fit
The North Face Men’s Venture 2 Jacket is available in 31 different colors and patterns and is made from polyester, nylon, and twill. The waterproof fabric gives the jacket a barrier against moisture. Its quick-drying properties work to stop the wearer from sweating while improving the movement of air.
The DWR coating on the jacket holds up more than well over time. The adjustable hood does an excellent job of keeping the elements out.
Even though it doesn’t outperform the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L or the Marmot PreCip, the Venture 2 comes pretty close to these two models. Considering its reasonable price, it’s an excellent around-town jacket for folks who will occasionally wear it on hikes.
Baleaf Unisex Pullover Lightweight Jacket
Specs and features:
- Face fabric: Nylon
- Rain jacket weight: 8 oz
- Pockets: Zippered hand pockets, one back pocket
- Super affordable
- Adjustable hem
- Elastic cuffs
- Not so durable
If you are looking for a super affordable jacket that’s great for hiking or trail running, the Baleaf Unisex Pullover rain jacket is one of the better options on the market.
The Baleaf Unisex Pullover Rain Jacket comes in 8 different colors and needs to be pulled on and off over the head. Lightweight and made from waterproof material, the jacket has elasticated cuffs and two zipper pockets.
The reflective logo helps to keep you visible and the hood is completely adjustable. Do keep in mind that this is an entry-level rain jacket. If you are planning on going hiking or backpacking often, consider getting one of the higher-end models from the list.
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket
- Great stormworthiness
- Long-lasting DWR
- The hood is not helmet compatible
The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L has quickly become one of the most popular 3-layer jackets on the market, thanks to its impressive weather resistance and durable design.
The level of stormworthiness Patagonia’s proprietary H2No membrane offers is tough to beat. It’s one of the few worthy competitors to Gore-Tex.
To help keep the elements out, the hood features an easy-to-use elastic cord and a stiffened brim. Patagonia Torrentshell 3L is great for hiking up wet overgrown trails, thanks to the storm gutters on the back and the front of the zipper.
Compared to most other high-end jackets, the Patagonia Torrentshell feels less clammy. It is almost as breathable as the shells that use eVent or Gore-Tex Paclite.
The two 11-inch long pits greatly help with regulating body heat. The fleece patch at the back of the collar prevents sweat and rain from working their way down the jacket.
The Torrentshell feels very comfortable against the skin. The 3-layer design offers the least amount of bunching or restriction. The range of motion and mobility the jacket offers are quite impressive.
The two hand pockets are waterproof and feature low-profile zippers. However, the low pockets don’t get in the way of a pack’s waist belt.
Featuring 50D recycled nylon face fabric, the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L is a tough, durable, and tear-resistant jacket. It is a great choice for hikers who are hard on their gear.
GEEK LIGHTNING Waterproof Hooded Jacket
Specs and features:
- Face fabric: 100% polyester with PU coating
- Rain jacket weight: 16 oz
- Pockets: Chest pocket, hidden zip pockets
- Bungee cords, and hook and loop cords
- Adjustable hood
- Not so durable
The GEEK LIGHTNING Waterproof Hooded Rain Jacket has a clean finish with the SwissSwell logo located near the left shoulder. Abrasion-resistant and quick-drying, this rain jacket has an attached hood and bungee cords to ensure a good fit. The jacket fits into a pocket and is easily foldable.
Marmot PreCip Eco
- Fully waterproof
- Driclime chin guard
- Pit zips
- Lifetime warranty
- No chest pocket
The Marmot PreCip Eco Men’s Lightweight Waterproof Rain Jacket is a smart rain jacket that comes with an adjustable hood and a DriClime-lined chin guard.
It has reached iconic status among everyday wearers as well as backpackers and hikers. In terms of crossover around-town and hiking use, the PreCip Eco remains top of the class.
Made from breathable fabric and with a taped seam, it also has pit zips that keep you even dryer. The storm flap provides an extra layer of defense against the elements.
The Velcro tabs on the cuffs allow for a nice, snug seal. The two handwarmer pockets feature mesh lining for extra ventilation.
Thanks to the PFC-free DWR coating and the recycled face fabric, the MarmotPreCip Eco is one of the most eco-friendly rain jackets on the market.
The jacket packs into its left pocket. You can also easily squeeze it into your suitcase or backpack. The Marmot PreCip Eco is available in 29 different colors.
The Marmot PreCip Eco has a comfortable, roomy fit. You can easily wear it over a fleece jacket or a lightweight down jacket. The mobility will remain excellent even when you layer up.
Global Blank Men’s Hooded Lightweight Windbreaker Winter Jacket Water Resistant Shell
Specs and features:
- Face fabric: 100% polyester
- Rain jacket weight: 8 oz
- Pockets: 2 welt pockets
- 3-panel hood
- Welt pockets
- Scuba neck
- Great for layering
- Not so durable
If you are on a particularly tight budget, the Global Blank shell may be the best ultralight rain jacket for you. The Global Blank Men’s Hooded Lightweight Windbreaker Winter Jacket Water Resistant Shell is made from 100% polyester and comes with water-resistant coating in its interior.
The scuba neck offers more protection and the toggles at the waistband ensure a better fit. The three-panel hood allows for a better fit and the mesh pocket bags are very durable. Ideal for hunting, hiking, trail running, and a variety of other outdoor activities, the Global Bank shell is undoubtedly one of the best ultralight rain jackets in its price category.
Outdoor Research Interstellar
- Excellent mobility
- Good storm protection
- Light and packable
- Hand pockets can feel cold
The Interstellar is a seriously stretchy, breathable, and waterproof shell, thanks to the proprietary Ascentshell construction. It is an excellent choice for any aerobic-oriented activity where rain is a constant threat.
From stormworthiness to great freedom of movement, the Interstellar is one of those shells that excels in every metric. It’s breathable and sturdy enough for multi-day mountaineering and ski touring, but compact and light enough for day hiking or backpacking.
It offers more than great protection for wintery weather situations, wet backpacking trips, or soggy hikes.
You can easily adjust the hood with one hand. It can accommodate different head sizes and headwear. The hood cinches do an excellent job of sealing out the elements when tightened.
The fabric is subtle and soft. It is clear that the jacket has been designed with mobility in mind. The Interstellar also offers more than enough room for layers.
Patagonia Levitation Hoody Jacket
Specs and features:
- Face fabric: 100% polyester
- Layer construction: Double-weave soft shell
- Rain jacket weight: 13.9 oz
- Pockets: 2 zippered hand pockets, zippered chest pocket
- Quality DWR treatment
- Internal chest pocket
- Lifetime warranty
- Helmet-compatible hood
- Lacks pit zips and other ventilation options
The Patagonia Levitation Hoody Jacket is available in a light gray color and comes with 2 handwarmer pockets and abrasion-resistant fabric.
In addition to being water-resistant, the Patagonia Levitation jacket is quite breathable. The double-weave soft shell fabric also allows for greater freedom of movement.
The helmet-compatible hood makes this jacket ideal for rock climbing and hiking. The microfleece at the back of the neck is a really nice touch. It feels great against the skin, and does a great job of wicking away moisture.
The front zipper has a microfleece zipper garage and an interior wind flap. The left chest pocket comes with a zipper. All the zippers are snag-free. The cuffs come with a spiral-seam which ensures they fit over your gloves.
Arc’teryx Zeta SL
- Allows for a great range of motion
- Reliable waterproof/breathable membrane
- Pit zips
- Top-tier stormworthiness
The Arc’teryx Zeta SL is an excellent rain jacket for a wide range of different activities—from trail running to doing some shopping at the farmers’ market on a rainy afternoon. Compact, lightweight, and perfect for nearly any activity, it’s undoubtedly one of the best rain jackets of 2021.
Thanks to the new and improved Gore-Tex Pacile technology, the Arc’teryx Zeta SL rain jacket is both waterproof and breathable. Compared to older 2-layer jackets, the Arc’teryx Zeta SL is significantly lighter and more breathable.
When it comes to weather protection, this is one of the best lightweight rain jackets on our list. The long-lasting durable water repellent (DWR) comes as a very nice surprise. It won’t wear off even after several weeks of backpacking, ski touring, and climbing in very damp conditions.
The sleek, low-profile Velcro wrist closures are a really nice touch. If you hold your hands above your head, they will do a great job of preventing rain from running down your arms.
The Arc’teryx Zeta SL doesn’t come with a helmet-compatible hood, but the design of the hood is still exceptionally great.
It comes with a nice brim that keeps the rain off your face, and offers top-tier peripheral vision. The cinch allows you to easily adjust the hood with one hand.
Gore-Tex claims that their 3-layer Active construction is even more breathable, but, in reality, there isn’t a considerable difference between Paclite and Gore-Tex Active waterproof/breathable layers.
Even if you only have a T-shirt under it, the Arc’teryx Zeta SL feels great directly against the skin. Compared to the majority of its competitors, it has a significantly better internal fabric. It won’t feel clammy and sticky when you start to sweat.
REI Co-op Rainier
Specs and features:
- Face fabric: Recycled ripstop nylon
- Layer construction: Peak 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable laminate
- Rain jacket weight: 13 oz
- Pockets: Zippered hand pockets
- Will keep you dry for a long time
- Pit zips
- Adjustable hood
- No internal chest pocket
Relatively breathable, fully waterproof, packed with numerous features, and very pocket-friendly, it comes as no surprise that the Rainier is one of the most popular REI Co-op jackets.
The Rei Co-op Rainer may not be my first choice for trail running, but it is a decent rain shell for backpacking and hiking. While you may start to sweat when wearing the REI co-op Rainier, the pit zips will significantly reduce perspiration and help prevent overheating.
The pit zips are very easy to reach and unzip while you are on the go. They also feature storm flaps. The adjustable hood on this REI Co-op rain jacket is quite large. You can roll it away into a high collar when you don’t need it.
To prevent heat loss, the jacket has loop and hook wrist cuffs. They will keep you dry even if you raise your arms towards the sky. But you can also slide the sleeve all the way up to the elbows and refasten the cuffs. It’s a simple and easy way to regulate body temperature.
The two mesh-lined pockets also help with ventilation. Both hand pockets are big enough to hold a bunch of snacks, hats, or gloves. When you’re not wearing the jacket, you can stow it into one of its side pockets.
When it comes to the features, performance, and price, the Rei Co-op Rainer is virtually the same as the Marmot Precip Eco. If you are looking for a reliable but inexpensive rain jacket, REI never disappoints.
REI Drypoint GTX
Specs and features:
- Face fabric: 20-denier ripstop nylon
- Layer construction: 3-layer Gore-Tex Active
- Rain jacket weight: 10.5 oz
- Pockets: 2 zippered hand pockets
- Incredibly breathable 3-layer jacket
- Extremely stormworthy
- Stretchy fabric
- Top-tier hood design
- Compressible and lightweight
- Slightly boxy cut
If you are looking for a solid all-around rain jacket, REI has got you covered. The REI Drypoint GTX is a great rain shell for trail running and a multitude of other outdoor activities.
Of all the Gore-Tex materials, the Gore-Tex Active 3-layer construction uses the lightest and most breathable fabrics. Even after you cool off, the membrane within the 3-layer construction will keep passing moisture. This makes the REI Drypoint an excellent rain jacket for hiking.
Although it is a 3-layer rain jacket, the REI Drypoint GTX packs down smaller than most other models on the list. Moreover, the REI Drypoint GTX most likely has the best hood of all the lightweight jackets on the market. It offers great protection from the rain and wind, without affecting your peripheral vision.
When wearing the Drypoint GTX, your face won’t be forced into the hood—no matter how far you turn your head to the side. So that you can fine-tune the tightness, the hood comes with three easy-to-adjust cinches.
Tucked behind the main zipper, there is a small internal storm flap. It won’t allow any water to get on your base layer. The quality DWR coating will hold up even after several months of intensive use.
To help keep the water out, the REI Drypoint GTX also features low-profile but effective and functional laminated Velcro cuffs.
Rab Kinetic Plus
- Super comfortable
- Very breathable
- Great hood design
- Low-profile wrist closures
- No ventilation options
Thanks to its super stretchy fabrics, the Rab Kinetic Plus feels more like a softshell than a traditional hard shell. The Rab Kinetic Plus sports a soft brushed interior and a stretch-woven exterior.
But the Rab Kinetic Plus isn’t all about stretchiness. The jacket is perfect for stormy days of ski touring or soggy backpacking trips. On top of a cozy interior feel and excellent breathability, this rain shell offers nearly unparalleled freedom of movement.
The plush, wicking interior deals with sweat more than well. The DWR treatment will hold up even after extended use in wet weather. The Rab Kinetic Plus greatly outperforms basic, non-laminated shells.
The low-profile Velcrom cuffs come much appreciated. They keep the elements out, and they rarely snag. The hood features a unique 2-layer design. It is incredibly efficient and comfortable. The hood also allows you to maintain great peripheral vision.
The hood doesn’t come with a traditional drawcord. Instead, it has a Velcro tab on the back and an internal hood gaiter. Even though most hikers are not fans of this design, this hood is very easy to adjust.
The only drawback of the Rab Kinetic Plus is the fact that it lacks real ventilation options. However, you can use the handwarmer pockets to dump moisture and heat.
Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2
- Easy-to-use drawcords
- Super comfortable
- Lacks pit zips
When it comes to Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2, simplicity is the name of the game. This jacket delivers on all of its promises, even though there aren’t too many of them.
The Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 isn’t as crinkly and uncomfortable as the average rain jacket. On top of providing great weather protection, the jacket is super stretchy. It is noticeably flexible and pliable.
It’s mobile and comfortable enough to cross over nicely between around-town use and hiking. The waist and the sleeves cinch down easily to protect you from the cold and the winds. The DWR coating does a decent job of repelling water.
The jacket offers extra coverage around the back, thanks to the drop hem. Even though it’s just a 2.5L rain jacket, it comes close to some full-on hard shells.
The Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 lets both moisture and heat escape without a problem. It’s a solid all-around performer. Even though the jacket lacks ventilation options, it can adequately regulate body temperature.
The Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 rolls up to the size of a small plastic bottle. In case the weather improves, you can easily stow it away in your backpack.
The hood features a single drawcord at the back. It allows you to dial in the fit without much effort.
Outdoor Research Foray
- Full-length pit zips
The Outdoor Research Foray is an incredibly versatile shell that provides a high level of breathability and durability. If you like to run on the warmer side, you will appreciate the jacket’s ability to dump massive amounts of heat.
The Outdoor Research Foray will keep you dry throughout your whole multi-day adventure, no matter how rainy it gets. The beefy 50D polyester exterior laminated to a Gore-Tex membrane does a great job of keeping the water out.
Thanks to the three-way adjustments on the hood and the stiffened front brim, you can create an almost-impenetrable shield from the rain.
The Velcro cinch on the back and the elastic wrist cuffs will also help keep you bone dry. On top of that, Outdoor Research has updated its DWR. The new treatment is more durable and environmentally friendly.
The Outdoor Research Foray breathes better than most other shells on the list. However, the other Outdoor Research models offer better breathability than the Forray.
Outdoor Research has brought the concept of pits zips to a completely new level. Instead of featuring standard pit vents, the Foray features full-length zippered vents. If you need complete ventilation, you can easily turn the jacket into a poncho.
Best Lightweight Rain Jacket Buying Guide
The most important, for me, is that it is comfortable. I don’t want a hood that keeps falling down over my face or will not stay on my head as soon as there is a light breeze. The jacket has to be thick enough that it will last a long time, years, with my backpack rubbing against it all day.
Types of Weather Protection
You’ll find that every rain jacket is water-resistant to some extent. The question is what degree of protection against the elements does the model in question offer?
Water-Resistant vs. Waterproof
When a jacket can keep out driving rain without any problems, it’s called “waterproof.” Brands disagree on test standards, so not all waterproof shells are made equal. If a jacket is suspiciously cheap and labeled “waterproof,” something may be amiss.
However, waterproof jackets from major brands such as Patagonia and Outdoor Research can undoubtedly stand up to a serious squall.
Water-resistant: Some rain jackets can protect you from water only for a brief time. These are not waterproof, only water-resistant. A water-resistant jacket won’t be up to the task if raindrops linger on the shell or if you get caught in a heavy downpour.
Most lightweight rain jackets are water-resistant. In order for a jacket to be super lightweight, often, some sacrifices have to be made.
Breathable/waterproof: If you prefer a specific type of fabric or you want something you’ve never tried before, you may want to opt for jackets that are made from Gore-tex or polyester.
These materials have been used for years to keep you warm while keeping the rain and wind out. Gore-tex has pioneered the technology of making fabrics that are both breathable and waterproof.
Rain jackets that are both breathable and lightweight move sweat to the outside world while also keeping rain from getting through to your skin.
These kinds of lightweight rain jackets are great for activities that get your limbs and lungs pumping. For a jacket to be fully waterproof, it has to be seam-sealed.
Non-breathable/waterproof: Think emergency poncho or rain slicker. This type of rain jacket is just fine if you need something to keep the rain out while you are standing around or sitting somewhere.
Remember what I said about cheap waterproof jackets? I was referring to these. You’ll save money if you go with something like this, but your rain slicker will be slick inside as well if you do any exertion.
Wind-resistant vs Windproof
“Wind-resistant” relates to “windproof” the same way “water-resistant” relates to “waterproof.” Let’s take the threshold REI has established for its rain jackets as an example: a rain jacket is windproof when it can stand up to winds stronger than 60 mph.
Wind-resistant: Most ultralight rain jackets are only wind-resistant. On the plus side—a wind-resistant jacket easily stuffs into a pocket. Such a rain jacket won’t offer much protection in a big storm, but it’s great for optimistic forecasts and short hikes.
Windproof: Most waterproof jackets are windproof as well. The barrier blocks wind that pushes the rain as well as the driving rain. However, there are some shells that feature a laminate that is windproof but only water-resistant.
Lightweight Jacket Construction
A 3-in-jacket combines an insulated shell with a fleece jacket—a step beyond your everyday rainwear. Such a jacket allows you to wear either piece on its own. The inner layer usually zips into the rain jacket.
Rain Jacket Layers
While the construction of a jacket will vary between manufacturers, rain jackets typically have 2 or 3 layers. Along with face fabric and a membrane, many jackets also come with a backing that helps your body breathe. If you want as much protection as possible, you should opt for a jacket that comes with 3 layers.
2 Layer Jackets
To form a single piece of material, the coating or membrane layer is applied inside an outer fabric. To protect the coating or the membrane, a loose-hanging line is added inside.
A 2-layer construction is favored for travel and urban rain jackets because it is quieter. Moderately priced rain jackets often feature a 2-layer construction.
2.5 Layer Jackets
A 2.5 layer construction has a durable, yet lightweight first layer. Inside that first layer, there is a coating or a polyurethane layer (second layer). A “half layer,” essentially a protective print or sheen, is applied over that second layer.
Generally, 2.5 layer jackets are light and affordable, but they don’t match the durability or breathability of 3-layer jackets. Many people used to complain that 2.5 layer jackets feel too clammy. To prevent this, high-end outdoor brands have started using “dry touch” prints.
3 Layer Jackets
A 3-layer construction features a waterproof membrane tightly sandwiched between a liner and a rugged face fabric. A 3-layer rain jacket doesn’t feature a coating.
3-layer jackets are great for hiking and backpacking in the harshest environments. But 3-layer jackets are also the most expensive of the three types.
Types of Weather Shells
“Shell” can also refer to a poncho, parka, or a pair of hiking pants, although it’s usually used as a synonym for “jacket.” “Shell” refers to the fabric makeup of a garment. It’s easier to pick a lightweight rain jacket when you are familiar with the different types of shells.
Hard shell: Jackets that are both breathable and waterproof are essentially hard shells. These types of jackets are usually made from stiffer fabrics.
However, several high-end brands offer more supple hard-shell jackets. A typical hardshell isn’t insulated, so you will have to rely on your mid-layer or base layer for warmth.
Soft shell: A soft shell is a classic version of a rain jacket that integrates a water-resistant shell with an insulating layer. So, a single piece serves as both an outer layer and a mid-layer.
Soft shells offer less protection from cold, wind, and rain, but are more breathable. A soft shell jacket is best for activities where perspiration is the biggest concern.
The soft-shell category has become a bit fuzzy due to evolving designs. Nowadays, the average soft shell rain jacket is more flexible than a hard shell jacket.
Insulated shell: Some rain jackets are filled with synthetic insulation of down insulation for warmth. Puffier models are also breathable and water-resistant.
Hybrid shell: In a hard/soft shell jacket, the more flexible and breathable fabric is on the back, sides, and underneath the sleeves, while the windproof and waterproof fabrics are on the top and the front.
Alternatively, you may find a typical hard shell or soft shell with more durable fabrics in high-wear areas and on its outer face.
No one wants to go hiking in a wearable sauna. When we talk about breathability, what we really mean is “moisture vapor transfer.” Breathable jackets rely on the fact that the moist, warm air inside is attracted to the drier, colder air outside.
How clammy or dry you feel depends on the efficiency of this vapor transfer process. Outdoor brands have been focusing on improving that efficiency in recent years, so Gore-Tex fabrics are not the only reliable option on the market anymore.
For instance, eVent is a waterproof/breathable fabric that comes very close to Gore-Tex Paclite Plus and Gore-Tex Active.
However, it’s important to note that there is no independent certification body or universal test standard that measures breathability.
Super breathable jackets usually come with a tradeoff. They let out warm air as well as moisture, so you may need to wear an insulating layer underneath.
A membrane or coating that allows sweat vapor to escape while blocking rain is the key component of your rainwear fabric. The technology that makes this possible is rather delicate—it involves bonding a protective fabric to a membrane to create a laminate.
While the exact materials used in each jacket vary, almost every rain shell is made using either a coating or laminate.
Coatings vs. Laminates
There is a big difference between the makeup of coating and the makeup of laminates. The following chart provides widely accepted assessments about performance, price, and weight. However, it is important to note that some rain shells are exceptions to these guidelines.
|Made from:||Various formulations of polyurethane (PU)||Polyester membrane, polyurethane (PU), expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (EPTFE)|
|Think of it as:||Paint spread on a wall||Wallpaper glued to a wall|
|Weight:||Ultralight to lightweight||Lightweight|
DWR coating (Durable water repellent)
Most rain jackets, even the ones that already have a waterproof/breathable membrane feature a DWR coating. When a rain shell has a DWR (durable water repellent) coating, water beads up and rolls off the surface.
A DWR coating can’t hold up forever. It will start to wear off sooner or later, depending on its quality. If you want your high-tech rain shell to keep working its magic, maintenance of the DWR finish is critical.
The underlying waterproof membrane will still keep out the water, but the outer layer will become clammy and the jacket will become less breathable.
Today, most brands use DWR that is more environmentally friendly. However, this type of DWR wears out more quickly than older DWR coatings.
To ensure maximum protection from water, get a DWR spray such as the Nikwax TR Direct Waterproofing spray, and reapply the coating every now and then. You can tell it’s time to reapply it when the water stops beading up on the fabric.
Construction details also play an important role, even though fabric technology is the biggest factor.
Pricier rain jackets from well-known brands usually have a robust feature set. However, the more features a rain jacket has, the heavier it is.
If ultralight design is the goal, consider which features are most important to you, because you can’t have them all.
During strenuous activity, even the most breathable jacket can get overwhelmed. Quality rain jackets often feature pit zips (underarm vents) that are designed to help you cool down. Some jackets also have mesh liners in check pockets for increased ventilation.
Most rain jackets are loaded with zippers—from pit zips to the front opening to pockets. You’d want to get a jacket that has rubberized coating or a storm flap that will keep rain from seeping through the zippers.
Laminated zippers, also known as coated zippers, need a zipper garage or a zipper hut. Essentially, it’s a cover that shields the small opening at the end of the zipper track. These zippers are harder to zip up and down.
Though the coating will eventually wear down, brands have started to use this type of zippers instead of full flaps in order to save weight.
Not a lot of people pay attention to the hood, however, its construction is vital. A hood that’s too small won’t protect you. A hood that’s too big can make it too hard to see.
This is why it’s important you find a rain jacket that comes with a hood that fits well. You may also want to look for a hood that has a peak, as it can help to keep the rain away from your face.
If you plan on doing a bit of rock climbing as well as hiking and backpacking, make sure to get a hood that is helmet-compatible.
If you want to be able to fine-tune the size of the opening, get a hood that has brims and adjustments on the sides.
Not all rain jackets come with chin guards, however, they can be a useful tool. Chin guards help to protect your face from rubbing which can often be uncomfortable. They can also help prevent you from catching your chin on the waterproof fabric or the zip.
While you may not consider pockets as a vital part of your jacket, their position can have an effect on what you use the jacket for. For example, if you plan to hike up mountains, you should opt for a jacket that comes with pockets located quite high up.
Pockets should ideally be a good size as they can hold maps, cell phones, and anything else you need on the trail.
I want all but one pocket to be accessible from the outside, I don’t want to unzip the jacket to reach anything except for one valuables pocket in the inside.
Pockets that are placed away from the shoulder straps and above the hip belt are a sign of well-thought-out design. This way, you can access the pockets while your backpack is on.
Other rain jackets have so many pockets that you may be tempted to leave your backpack back at home. The more pockets a rain jacket has (especially if they have waterproof zippers), the more expensive it is.
So that you can easily listen to music on your music player or phone, many rain jackets now include a chest pocket with a cord port. Some jackets feature hidden pockets along the seams or under the storm flaps.
In order for a rain jacket to be truly waterproof, it must be fully seam taped. A jacket’s construction requires so many seams, so not all manufacturers make fully seam taped lightweight rain jackets.
You shouldn’t assume that a rain jacket is waterproof if you see that it has seam tape in the shoulders and the hood. Usually, water-resistant jackets have fully taped seams in the hood and shoulders, but nowhere else.
Moreover, don’t assume that a water-resistant rain jacket or a soft shell is of poor quality because it lacks seam taping. These types of jackets often don’t feature fully taped seams because they are not required for the intended use.
The best lightweight rain jackets are very easy to pack because they are made from ultralight non-bulky fabrics. A packable rain jacket usually comes with a stuff sack, or it has a pocket that doubles as a storage pouch.
Rain jackets often have a drawcord at the bottom hem in addition to an adjustable hood. The best rain jackets also feature adjustable wrist closures. All of these features are designed to keep cold, wind, and rain from sneaking into the opening of your rain jacket.
Lightweight rain jackets are not as durable as more traditional jackets. But if you want to get a rain jacket that will last longer, get a model with a higher-denier face fabric. Denier measures the fiber thickness of individual filaments or threads in the fabric.
Jackets with a high denier face fabric (50D) are thicker and more abrasion-resistant. Fabrics with a low denier (20D or lower) are soft and less durable.
If you are going hiking and backpacking in rocky or thick brush areas, it’s best to get a higher denier rain jacket.
The most lightweight rain jackets feature low-denier fabrics. This makes them easy to pack and easy to carry, but they tear more easily if they come into contact with jagged rock, thick brush, or branches.
Rain Jacket or Poncho?
My other half likes her poncho when we are on multi-day hikes, I could never get used to one. In some downpours her backpack has stayed dry, mine has been a little damp. There is a write-up here on the comparison between ponchos vs rain jackets.
Related: Best fleece jacket.
All of the above are great brands. You will not go wrong with any from this list. I have a few lightweight rain jackets, my favorite is one that I bought 12 years ago just before going hiking in the Rockies near Banff. This Helium II jacket from Outdoor Research is hard wearing and so far has never torn – quite something for me as I wander off the beaten tracks.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.