To find the best rain jackets for hiking, backpacking, and general outdoor use, we reviewed 50 models, bought 10 and sought out some downpours. Whether you want a top-of-the-line, tricked-out model, or something under $100, we have a recommendation for you. In the review below we also identify the best jacket for many applications such as commuting, climbing, and travel. See our windbreaker review for light rain conditions and our rain pant fleet, where we found highest rated jackets don’t always correspond with the best bottoms.
Best Overall Rain Jacket: Arc’teryx Beta SL
The do-everything Arc’teryx Beta SL scored the best, or nearly the best, in almost every category. If we could only own one jacket whether that be for walking the dog or a week-long backpacking trip, this would be it.
We loved its’ mobility, exceptional versatility, great hood, and top-notch storm worthiness. While some jackets offer advantages for specific applications, this is the do-everything rain jacket for a broad range of activities.
Best Bang for the Buck: Marmot PreCip
The Marmot PreCip is our choice for the best value for a while now. It pretty much invented the high-performance $100 category and still owns it. Updated last year with Marmot’s NanoPro 2.5-layer coated technology, we think this jacket gets better every year. This fully featured jacket is a great value.
Top Pick for Light Weight: Outdoor Research Helium II
The Outdoor Research Helium II is our top pick for weight-conscience hikers, backpackers, and climbers. It is by far the most compact and lightest jacket we tested, weighing in at a scant 6.5 ounces. This is roughly half to-a-third of the weight of most jackets we tested. It isn’t feature-rich, lacking lower hand pockets but despite offering a pretty basic, though effective hood, and overall minimal design it still did a pretty good job at its primary purpose: keeping its wearer dry. This functional but low-weight and low bulk rain shell is an excellent choice.
Top Pick for Ventilation & Features: Outdoor Research Foray
The Gore-Tex Paclite Outdoor Research Foray seals out rain, snow, and the wind and is more durable than products with proprietary fabrics. The Foray excels at ventilation and dumping heat for highly aerobic actives or folks who run on the warm side. It goes beyond just pit zips and venting pockets and includes “torso flow pit-zips” that fully separate like a poncho, unzipping from the hem to your triceps down the sides of the jacket.
Top Pick for Hiking and Backpacking: REI Co-Op Drypoint GTX
Excellent hood design
- eVent most breathable fabric we tested
- Great price
- Good quality construction
- Not quite as abrasion-resistant as other models
- Okay, but not fantastic mobility
The REI Rhyolite is easily one of our favorite rain jackets on the market. It features a 3-layer eVent, and it proved to be the most breathable jacket we tested. The Rhyolite’s design allowed for excellent mobility, a wonderfully designed hood with a cut that was big enough to fit over a few layers; but not overly loose, and an intelligent pocket hip-belt friendly design. The lack of lower hand-warmer pockets means this is a so-so dog-walking jacket, but for anything outdoorsy from hiking to backcountry skiing, this is one of the best jackets out there (especially considering its $190 price). We also love the Marmot Minimalist, an excellent contender that was only just barely edged out for this choice.
Types of Rain Jackets
Only two of the products we tested in this review uses a Gore-Tex fabric. The Outdoor Research Foray and Marmot Minimalist, which we rated the most durable products in the review, use Gore-Tex Paclite, an advanced 2.5-layer laminate. Three other jackets tested utilize a laminated fabric: the Patagonia Torrentshell and Marmot Essence use proprietary 2.5-layer laminates. The remainder of the models we tested use advanced PU coated fabrics. Marmot’s NanoPro PU coating, used in the PreCip, is air permeable; and the light Pertex Shield+ fabric used for the Outdoor Research Helium II is more breathable than most PU coated fabrics. The budget-friendly Columbia and The North Face models use a PU coating as well.
Two-layer jackets are at the low end of the cost continuum. A hanging mesh liner protects the outer fabric of these three jackets, and none have pit zips for ventilation. These jackets are best suited for around-town use, and lack the ventilation necessary for high energy activity. All perform best in cool to cold weather, are great jackets if your budget is less than $100, and they handle occasional hikes and short trips just fine.
Models in this category include:
Columbia Watertight II
The three 2-layer jackets with mesh linings that we tested; Watertight II Resolve and Seven J. None of these models have pit zips and all are affordably priced. The jackets have little ventilation and are most appropriate for low energy activity and around town use.
The three 2-layer jackets with mesh linings that we tested; Watertight II, Resolve, and Seven J. None of these models have pit zips, and all are affordably priced. The jackets have little ventilation and are most appropriate for low energy activity and around town use.
Standard 2.5-Layer Jackets
In a lot of ways, 2.5-layer technology is what defines the rain jacket category. These models are lighter, more compact, and generally less expensive than the more durable three-layer hardshells. The Torrentshell and Minimalist utilize a laminated fabric, while the PreCip and Venture 2 are built with a coated fabric. These standard jackets are the most featured we tested; all have pit zips for ventilation. They are also the most versatile models we tested; the ventilation makes them appropriate for warm weather use and high energy activity that generates lots of sweat. Sized appropriately for insulating layers underneath, they perform exceptionally in cool to cold weather. The PreCip is our choice as the best value, delivering the most bang for your buck. The Torrentshell, with its helmet-friendly hood, is a great choice for climbing and peak bagging. The Minimalist is the most durable model we tested for those less concerned about weight, and the ventilation features of the Foray earned it a Top Pick.
Models in this category include:
- Marmot PreCip
- Outdoor Research Foray
- Patagonia Torrentshell
- Marmot Minimalist
- The North Face Venture 2
The five standard 2.5-layer models we tested that use proprietary waterproof fabrics: PreCip Torrentshell Crestrail Evapouration and Venture. All have pit zips and other ventilation features and are well suited to hiking backpacking and other moderately aerobic adventures.
The two standard 2.5-layer models that incorporate Gore-Tex Paclite fabric: Foray and Minimalist. The jackets both have pit zips and are more expensive and more durable than models with proprietary fabrics. They are great choices for rough hiking and backpacking.
Ultralight 2.5-Layer Jackets
These bare-bones jackets are designed primarily to be super light, forgoing hand pockets and most ventilation features. They excel during high energy activities, and all three have reflective logos and patches, a great feature for running and biking. These models are best suited to very active pursuits in cool to cold weather. The ultralightweight and small packed-size makes these perfect just-in-case rain protection as well. The Minimalist and Helium II both use Pertex Shield+ coated fabric, a very light and breathable option. The Editors’ Choice winning Essence is built with Marmot’s new NanoPro coating, an air-permeable option that breathes, unlike any other fabric we tested.
Models in this category include:
- Marmot Essence
- Outdoor Research Helium II
Hardshells aka Three-Layer Jackets
These jackets are more durable and often much more expensive. Hardshell jackets are generally heavier than rain jackets due to thicker face fabrics and burly features, but the lines are blurred; many three-layer shells are weighing in quite light these days. The laminated fabrics used in hardshells represent the top of the line waterproof/breathable technology available. Hardshells are primarily designed for the rigors of alpine and winter climbing, and their features and durability reflect this.
How We Chose
We studied how well the features of a jacket allow for ventilation.
Breathability is an obviously important factor when considering shells. At some point, you can’t wear fewer layers under your rain shell while hiking with a heavy pack uphill and you’ll sweat no matter the outside temperature.
Due to its construction, eVent is the most breathable waterproof fabric tested. Gore-Tex PacLite and some PU laminates like Marmot’s NanoPro 2.5 layer laminate proved to be pretty close, but in our testing, we found they couldn’t entirely pass as much moisture as eVent.
We didn’t find eVent far more breathable, but after side-by-side testing and real-world use, it won our review team over. We didn’t test any jackets that used Gore-Tex Active Shell, which WL Gore claims is the most breathable of their current three types of Gore-Tex.
A fabric’s breathability is more important than ventilation when it is raining hard because want to batten down the hatches by closing pit-zips and cinch the hood to keep the water out. In rainier weather, the more active your endeavors, the more significant importance of breathability.
The REI Rhyolite, which is constructed with eVent, breathes better than other jackets but offers only a little ventilation (so we are comparing all-zipped-up to all-zipped-up). This model was less steamy inside during high-energy activities than any others, and we noticed ourselves getting colder quicker at breaks when wearing the Rhyolite (faster than when wearing other contenders).
The Outdoor Research Foray also earned our possible highest score. Its Paclite fabric had excellent breathability that was among the very best in our fleet. What really sets the Foray apart is its “TorsoFlo” design. What’s that, you ask? Two lengthy zippers that go from the hem of the jacket to the mid-upper arm. Among coated jackets, the Marmot PreCip and The North Face Venture 2 received respectable scores for breathability. While their fabrics weren’t as breathable as the previously mentioned models, they featured larger than average pit zips and lower hand pockets that dumped more heat than you’d think when left open.
Comfort & Mobility
We tested these jackets in drizzles and downpours while hiking, climbing, playing disc golf, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and backpacking. We also used them for everyday chores, like carrying groceries, helping a friend move in the pouring rain and chop some firewood.
Whatever activities you have planned, you want a jacket that moves with you, sealing out the elements without being restrictive. Our review team compared things like how effectively does the hood move with your head, does the jacket ride up, leaving your waist exposed when you raise your arms above your head?
The Arc’teryx Beta SL featured the best range of motion and mobility of any jacket reviewed. The Beta SL has well-designed and articulated shoulders and sleeves, with an arm length that was above average but not too long. Other jackets that were decent, but when it came to climbing and mobility demanding activities, this was our favorite option.
As we’ve described above, the products tested range from bare-bones designs to fully featured models. For some adventures, super light is right, but more often a few pockets and pit zips contribute enough utility for the extra 2-4 ounces not to matter.
Having a few pockets on your jacket is useful.
How much your jacket will wear out as you use it? The Marmot Minimalist and Outdoor Research Foray both pair 50D polyester ripstop face fabrics and with Gore-Tex Paclite, enabling them to earn the two highest durability scores. Other jackets, such as the Marmot Essence, Patagonia Torrentshell, and REI Crestrail pulled in a 7 out of 10.