I always have a lightweight rain jacket at the bottom of my backpack. You never know when that short rain shower could happen. It is easy to think it will be dry because the Camino de Santiago is in Spain. But it is Northern Spain, and it rains a lot the further west you walk. For any hike, I like to be prepared.
The Quick Version
- Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket – best overall jacket
- The North Face Resolve Jacket – best mid-price
- REI Co-op Rainier Jacket – Best price
The Long Version
Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket
- Solid breathability
- Fully taped seams
- Super lightweight
- Lacks classic hand pockets
The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket comes with fully taped seams that help 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. This is not the cheapest of jackets. But I bought one in 2008 and still use it fourteen years later.
The jacket is waterproof and comes with a draw-cord hem. The only downside is the cuff/wrist design which can take a bit of getting used to. Weighing only 6.4 ounces, 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 is a minimalist rain jacket. It doesn’t have hidden pockets, pit zips, or even classic two-hand pockets. The Napoleon-style chest pocket is very handy and functional. You’ll find the Helium II jacket very convenient, with an internal pocket doubling up as a stuff sack.
If you are interested in the Helium II jacket, I suggest you also check out my Helium HD vs Helium II comparison.
The North Face Men’s Resolve II 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 and Venture.
The fully-seamed seal helps prevent water from entering the jacket, and the roll-away hood is very convenient. If there’s a downpour, you’ll appreciate the hook and loop flap-over, which protects the front of the jacket, including the zip.
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 various colors. While the outer fabric is made from 100% nylon, the fine mesh is constructed from 100% polyester. With its zipper closure, you are protected from the elements.
There’s an abrasion-resistant chin guard that adds extra protection from the rain. Even though we can’t count it among ultralight rain jackets, the Watertight easily packs into its own pocket. See here for a full review of why I think Columbia is a good brand.
The Omni shield ensures that you are dry and clean as it works to resist water absorption. You can read more about Omni-Tech and Gore-Tex technology here.
The jacket is surprisingly versatile and an excellent option for casual hiking, cool weather work, and around-town use. 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 if the weather is warmer.
Marmot Minimalist Men’s 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 with a 2.5-Layer Gore-Tex construction, ensuring this durable 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 release extra heat during strenuous activities. The pit zips allow you to increase the airflow should you need to. While the water-resistant zipper does a great job of keeping the rain out.
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 ounces. However, it will keep you dry in heavy rain and last longer than most other ultralight rain jackets on the list.
The North Face Men’s Venture 2 Lightweight Jackets
- Breathablе, quick-drying fabric
- Velcro storm-flap
- Pit zips
- Fully adjustable hood
- Bulky fit
Here we have another jacket from The North Face. The 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 waterproof coating lasts a long 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 lower price, it’s an excellent around-town jacket for folks who will occasionally wear it on hikes.
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket
- Great storm worthiness
- 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 storm worthiness 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 zipper’s storm gutters on the back and the front.
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.
Featuring 50D recycled nylon outer 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.
Marmot PreCip Eco Jacket
- 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, backpackers, and hikers. Regarding 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 outer fabric, the MarmotPreCip Eco is one of the most eco-friendly rain jackets on the market.
The jacket packs into its left pocket. The Marmot PreCip Eco is available in 29 different colors.
Outdoor Research Interstellar
- Excellent mobility
- Good storm protection
- Light and packable
- Hand pockets can feel cold
The Interstellar is another jacket from outdoor research to make my list. It is a stretchy, breathable, and waterproof shell, thanks to the proprietary Ascentshell construction.
From storm worthiness to great freedom of movement, the Interstellar is one of those shells that excels in every metric. It’s sturdy enough for multi-day mountaineering and ski touring but compact and light enough for day hiking or backpacking.
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.
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
- Lacks pit zips and other ventilation options
I love the idea behind Patagonia, and their styles are great. But their prices are often too high for my pocket. The Patagonia Levitation Hoody Jacket is light gray 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 softshell fabric also allows for greater freedom of movement.
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, ensuring they fit over your gloves.
Arc’teryx Zeta SL
- Allows for a great range of motion
- Reliable waterproof/breathable membrane
- Pit zips
- Top-tier storm worthiness
The Arc’teryx Zeta SL is an excellent rain jacket for various activities, from trail running to shopping at the farmers’ market on a rainy afternoon. Compact, lightweight, and perfect for nearly any activity, it’s undoubtedly one of the best lightweight rain jackets.
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.
Regarding weather protection, this is one of the best lightweight rain jackets on our list. The long-lasting, durable water repellent (DWR) is a very nice surprise. It won’t wear off even after several weeks of backpacking.
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. It has 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.
REI Co-op Rainier Jacket
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 is 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, 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.
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.
Regarding 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
The REI Drypoint GTX is a great rain shell for hiking and many other outdoor activities.
The Gore-Tex Active 3-layer construction uses the lightest and most breathable fabrics of all the Gore-Tex materials. 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.
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.
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 soft shell 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 wet 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 draw cord. 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, the hand warmer pockets can release moisture and heat.
Best Lightweight Rain Jacket Buying Guide
If you are buying a rain jacket for the Camino de Santiago or another long-distance hike, the most important feature is that the jacket will last. Additionally, the jacket must be thick enough to last a long time, with my backpack rubbing against it all day.
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, backpacking rain jackets from major brands such as Patagonia and Outdoor Research can withstand serious rain.
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.
Breathable/waterproof: If you prefer a specific type of fabric or want something you’ve never tried before, you may opt for a Gore-Tex jacket or another jacket that uses a proprietary waterproof and breathable membrane (such as H2No or Futurelight). 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 breathable and waterproof fabrics.
Non-breathable/waterproof: Think emergency poncho or rain slicker. This type of rain jacket is fine if you need something to keep the rain out while standing around or sitting somewhere, it is not for hiking.
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. A wind-resistant jacket easily stuffs into a pocket. Such a rain jacket won’t offer much protection in a storm, but it’s excellent for day hikes.
Windproof: Most waterproof jackets are windproof as well. The barrier blocks the wind that pushes the rain and the driving rain. However, some shells feature a laminate that is windproof but only water-resistant.
Lightweight Jacket Construction
A 3-in-1 waterproof jacket combines an insulated shell with a fleece jacket, a step beyond your everyday rainwear. This 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 three layers.
2 Layer Jackets
The coating or membrane layer is applied inside an outer fabric to form a single piece of material. A loose-hanging line is added inside to protect the coating or the membrane.
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 is a coating or 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.
No one wants to go hiking in a wearable sauna. When I talk about breathability, I really mean “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 close to Gore-Tex Paclite Plus and Gore-Tex Active.
However, it’s important to note that no independent certification body or universal test standard measures breathability. Super breathable jackets usually come with a tradeoff. They let out warm air and 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 the coating and the makeup of laminates. The following chart provides widely accepted performance, price, and weight assessments. 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 lightweight and ultralight rain jackets, even the ones that already have a waterproof/breathable membrane feature a DWR coating. Water beads up and rolls off the surface when a rain shell has a DWR (durable water repellent) coating.
A DWR coating can’t hold up forever. It will start to wear off 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 fabric will become clammy, and the jacket will become less breathable.
Today, most brands use DWR, which 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 (check out my pick for the best water repellent spray), and reapply the coating every now and then. You can tell it’s time to reapply when the water stops beading on the fabric.
Rain Jacket Features
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 a 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 zipper instead of full flaps to save weight.
Not many 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 you must find a rain jacket with a hood that fits well. You may also want to look for a hood with a peak, as it can help keep the rain away from your face. 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. 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 a vital part of your jacket, their position can affect what you use the jacket for. For example, if you plan to hike mountains, you should opt for a jacket with pockets located quite high up. Pockets should ideally be a good size to 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 on the inside.
Pockets that are placed away from the shoulder straps and above the hip belt are a sign of a well-thought-out design. This way, you can access the pockets while your backpack is on. 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.
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 on the shoulders and the hood. Usually, water-resistant jackets have fully taped seams in the hood and shoulders but nowhere else.
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 draw cord at the bottom hem and 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 waterproof 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.
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 them. She used it all the way along the French Camino de Santiago and Camino Le Puy. In some downpours, her backpack has stayed dry, mine has been a little damp.
Before you go
Keeping your backpack weight as low as possible is important for multi-day hikes like the Camino de Santiago or any other long-distance route. Saving a few dollars might not be the best option. The following posts will help you further down your research road.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. 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.