A rain jacket is a crucial part of any adventurer’s inventory. Its main purpose is to keep you dry, but it also adds a windproof shell to your layering system and can even keep mosquitoes from biting in the event you run out of repellent!
There are many rain jackets available on the market today and I have used numerous models, so in this article you will be able to take advantage of my experience. Even if you don’t like my top picks, I will share the thought process behind choosing the best rain jacket, the criteria I use, and the qualities I want when searching for my own jacket.
I generally run my gear into the ground and so I expect a lot from it. As a long distance hiker and mountaineer I have spent decades in the back country pushing my gear to the absolute limit. For a majority of my three-season adventures the outer shell I utilize is simply a rain jacket. With the proper care and a good understanding of ultra-light layering systems, you will be able to use this article of gear anywhere.
10,000’ in the Rockies, Colorado; Summer; Marmot Precip
Before we get into my top choices, let’s take a moment to go over one of the aspects of choosing the right rain jacket.
The Selection Criteria
There are some major criteria I use during my selection process to determine if the rain jacket I am considering will be right for me. Fit is everything, and ½ of an inch can make a difference! With so many models on the market and so many minute variations in the individual cuts and styles, there is one rule I have learned; all rain jackets are not created equal!
Here is a breakdown of my process when choosing my own rain jacket:
I always have my layering system and my backpack with me to make sure I can properly test fit of the rain jacket.
I always test my range of motion. This is a piece of technical gear; it is more important that I have free range of motion for hiking, climbing, or exercise. I don’t like to look in the mirror until I have made sure the jacket is going to suit my needs!
First I try the jacket on with a t-shirt, then with my complete layering system. I ask myself, is my motion restricted at any point? Do I need to go up or down a size to accommodate my down jacket or layers?
The hood is crucial to my comfort and the overall effectiveness of the jacket. When the drawstring is fully cinched, does the hood form a neat seal around my face and neck? In rough weather will water blow in, or stream in from the hood into a bulge in the neck region? Can I move my head freely when in my full layering system? Can I include a fleece headband or hat underneath the hood? Is there room for a helmet?
I always put on my backpack and test the jacket. The crucial part of this test is to fully extend my arms upward, then bend over while the waist belt is cinched. If my lower back is exposed, I know I will spend far too much time in this rain jacket constantly pulling it back down, working my fingers up to catch the edge of the jacket under my waist belt. Small annoyances like this can really take away from my enjoyment of my hike!
A Word on Brands
I try to analyze my rain gear based first on the raw specifications (waterproofing, fabric, DWR, weight), then the fit and feel, then the price, and finally the brand. For me, the brand is not something I consider heavily when choosing a rain jacket. The only time I consider the brand of a piece of equipment is when I am faced with a decision between two jackets of equal standing in my criteria, and I am more familiar with one company over the other.
If you are shopping online, be sure you have a return window. Some distributors will only accept returns if there is a warranty issue; if you find the jacket is not the right fit for you, you need to be able to return this product within a few days of purchase.
- E-commerce is reliant on providing outstanding service. Any brand worth their salt (Amazon, REI, North Face etc.) will gladly accept a return within 30 days without any hassle. Any jacket we recommend will be from a company that has an outstanding return policy and reputation.
After years of exploring the natural world I have come to recognize the industry standards in brands. For example, while acclimating at 14,337’ in the Plaza de Mulas base camp on my successful summit bid of Aconcagua, I looked around and realized that more than 50% of my fellow climbers were wearing the same glacier glasses!
While there are many smaller companies making great products, when it comes to rain protection I like to focus on the industry standard brands to make sure I have the best available.
Rain Jacket Usage
Before you purchase a rain jacket, you should determine in what conditions you will most often use the equipment.
If you are planning on mostly winter sports, check out my article on Best Men’s GORE-TEX® Winter Shell. While a rain jacket will serve as a three-season catch-all, for maximum comfort in the fourth season a heavier duty shell is definitely my recommendation.
If you are hiking during summer and/or at low altitudes, you might not need a rain jacket at all! During the summer months while I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail I carried an ultralight poncho that doubled as my rain protection, shelter, and fair-weather groundsheet. In this type of environment and season a rain jacket would have meant I was covered in sweat at all times, no matter how breathable the material!
A little research and an understanding of where you will be using the jacket and what jacket will best suit your needs will ensure you get the most out of your purchase. If you are like me and trying to stretch a budget you know good information and a clear understanding of what you are buying can really help save money!
Waterproof or Water Resistant?
You may notice that all of the jackets that we review in this article are dubbed "waterproof" and "breathable". In this setting "waterproof" means water resistant, because in order to allow moisture to evaporate (or breathe) the moisture needs to be able to pass through in each direction.
To have a truly waterproof jacket, impermeable materials are needed in the construction (think plastic poncho or your childhood rain slicker), and this material is just not suited to outdoor activity when your body temperature is going to rise and fall according to your exertion levels.
The scientific concept behind “waterproof and breathable” is that the membrane used in your jacket will allow the warm moisture from your body to leave the interior of the jacket, migrate across the membrane, and disperse in the cooler, drier area outside of the membrane.
So now that we know the key words are waterproof and breathable, what are we looking for in terms of fabric and membrane? All three season rain jackets are constructed from nylon but there are several main leaders of waterproof and breathe-able technologies. The most popular material is GORE-TEX® but there are a number of other brands that have since developed similar technologies include;
- Polartec® NeoShell®
Unlike a few of these other material GORE-TEX ® isn't tied to a specific brand, it's a material which brand's often use for their high end gear and then utilize their own technologies for the lower end gear. Basically, GORE-TEX® is going to cost you more.
There is a reason GORE-TEX® costs more; the research and development put into this technology has created a product that dominates the outdoor world. Nearly every waterproof and breathable product I have use is GORE-TEX® or a similar proprietary laminate product.
What is Gore-tex®?
GORE-TEX® is a membrane. It is used in conjunction with layers of nylon or other fabric to create a laminate. GORE-TEX® is made of microscopic waterproof fibers layered upon each other in a process that creates pores. Why does the water not seep through these pores? The pores in Gortex are about 1/20,000 the size of a water droplet!
This means that water droplets are prevented from crossing the membrane while air can move across freely!
2 Vs 2.5 Vs 3 Layered GORE-TEX® Construction
There are three options you will find when searching for a rain jacket:
- 2-layer construction utilizes a laminate or membrane applied directly to the fabric of the jacket.
- 2.5-layer construction utilizes a laminate or membrane applied to the outer fabric of the jacket, and a series of dots or a grid pattern of laminate on the interior of the fabric.
- 3-layer construction utilizes a laminate or membrane both on the outside and inside of the jacket.
Durability and abrasion resistance increase with more layers. Once the outer laminate of a two layer jacket is non-functional due to wear or abrasion, the jacket will not function. More layers does mean more protection, but comes with an increase in price.
OK, let’s cover a few more major criteria and get into my top picks for the Best Men’s Rain Jacket!
Hot or Not? Do You Need Great Ventilation?
This is a crucial step in determining which rain jacket you purchase; do you generate lots of heat when exercising, or do you tend to stay cooler? I personally run extremely hot and so venting is something I have vast experience with!
Your rain jacket will be equipped with various vents. In some models there is a back vent; most models will have underarm or “pit” vents and pockets backed with mesh that serve as vents; finally, the main zipper can be opened to vent fully in good weather or breaks in the storm.
How the vents function, how easy they are for you to use, and how efficient they cool you is important to determine before you make your decision. Try each of the possible vents both in and out of your pack; if you can easily adjust the vents in any condition, you will be more comfortable on the trail!
Constructing a rain jacket means many seams, and these seams can leak after a short time of use; all jackets I have featured will come with an extra layer of seam sealing tape inside each of the seams. GORE-TEX® jackets require companies to use their tape if they're going to be producing GORE-TEX® gear.
On cheap jackets the seams are usually the first item to fail.
DWR or durable water repellent is a coating applied to the surface of your rain jacket that creates a impermeable barrier. Water will bead on the outside of a jacket treated with DWR, but the lifetime of these jackets depend on proper maintenance and consistent reapplication. Once the DWR has been worn off from use or abrasion, water will sit on top of the jacket surface, preventing moisture from escaping.
OK, let’s get to the choices and I will wrap up with some care tips for your new jacket!
Top 9 Rain Jackets for Summer, Fall and Spring
1. The Marmot Jacket
The Marmot Precip is the best high-end economy rain jacket available on the market today. In the photo above I had been snow-shoeing across the Northern Cascades for weeks. When I am show-shoeing I create an incredible amount of heat (breaking trail is tough), so instead of a heavier Gortex winter shell, I use a rain jacket with my base layers, and put on my puffy down as soon as I stop working.
The Marmot Precip rain jacket is constructed of ripstop nylon using NanoPro proprietary technology for pore creation and breathe-ability.
- For the price there is simply no comparison! This jacket will outperform or hold it’s ground with rain jackets 2-3x more expensive
- Venting is superb; front pockets can be vented in light rain without allowing much water to enter
- Lightweight; great option for thru-hiking!
- Roomy and well-suited to use with layers
- Marmot has one of the best customer service departments in the outdoor world; any issues you have, they will resolve!
- Fabric is thin to save weight but will tear a it easier than more expensive models.
- Durability can vary due to use; for example, when I use this jacket backpacking, the back areas where my shoulder straps and pack wear quickly become permeable, and need to be treated with DWR
2. THE ARCTERYX BETA SL JACKET
The Arcteryx Beta SL rain jacket is the best lightweight shell on the market today. The only reason I am ranking this at #2 is the cost; at almost three times the cost of the Precip, it is tougher to justify this for an economy sportsman like myself; however, every inch of this jacket simply vibrates with quality.
Arcteryx is another company who stands behind their products with an iron will. I have had small issues in remote areas of Patagonia (where buying a Snickers bar would be impossible, let alone receiving a package) and somehow, some way the company found an avenue to help me. When I am looking to invest in a high-quality piece of equipment, Arcteryx is the first company I turn to in my search.
INSIDER TIP: Arcteryx allows their previous year’s models to be sold at a hefty discount! Be sure to check the sales rack or Garage sale link on the REI website, or check for discontinued models on Amazon. I have found some incredible deals this way!
The Arcteryx Beta SL is a Gortex PacLite rain jacket.
- Fantastic Arcteryx hood design will keep you dry no matter what the conditions!
- Fully waterproof zippers
- Excellent cuffs and venting
- 2-layer Gortex PacLite is lightweight, durable, and extremely breathable!
- Athletic fit means less room for layers
- Some reported zipper issues
3. THE OUTDOOR RESEARCH AXIOM JACKET
Outdoor Research is a name you will see in my top picks again and for good reason; this is a company who consistently produces and stands behind high quality outdoor products. The Outdoor Research Axiom Rain Jacket is the winner of the prestigious Outdoor Magazine Gear of the Year Award and with good reason; this jacket is built for adventure!
The Axiom is constructed of Gortex Active. This is slightly different than the Gortex PacLite being that it is built to breathe more. This jacket is built for those of us who push far and fast, and need a jacket that can adapt to the high strain of massive efforts.
The Outdoor Research Axiom Rain Jacket is my top pick for ultrarunners and back country skiers!
- Stretch Fabric and waterproofing make this extremely usable in all conditions and athletic pursuits!
- Cinches and cuffs keep you dry in heavy wind and rain
- High quality fabric will last through years of heavy use
- One of the most breathable jackets on the market today
- Athletic fit is snug; size up for layering
- Shoulder pocket can be difficult to use with gloved hands.
4. THE MARMOT MINIMALIST
The Marmot Minimalist rain jacket is slightly more expensive than the Precip rain jacket, but incorporates Gortex PacLite technology and some higher end features not available on the Precip. I would have preferred to have a water resistant zipper as the main (similar to the chest pocket) rather than the overlapping fabric, but Marmot does a good job designing the jacket to keep water from entering via the hood.
The Marmot Minimalist Rain Jacket is constructed using Gortex Paclite.
- Nearly perfect hood design
- Waterproof pockets
- Durable 50D nylon construction
- Extremely waterproof (2.5 layer Gortex PacLite is great for rough conditons!)
- Slightly heavier than similar jackets
- Can run short in length for taller people
5.THE OUTDOOR RESEARCH HELIUM II
The Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket wins my top choice for flash-storm protection and ultra-light backpacking. This jacket weighs a mere 6.4oz! There is nothing that will provide this level of protection with such a light weight or low price tag!
The Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket is constructed using a proprietary laminate known as Pertex.
- Stuffs into an incorporated pocket and can be compressed to the size of a Clif Bar!
- Fully waterproof and windproof
- Fabric is thin (30D ripstop nylon) but high-quality
- Awesome hood!
- No hand pockets 🙁
- Runs small – size up 2x for heavy layering
6. THE REI RYHOLITE
REI has been selling outdoor products of every make and model for many years; the company generally tends to produce some of the most versatile products I have ever used! It is as if REI listened to all the complaints customers have about similar products and designed their own products to address these issues. The Ryholite is a tough waterproof shell that will adapt to your hiking style and needs!
The REI Ryholite rain jacket is constructed using a proprietary technology called eVent.
- Hood design perhaps the best I have seen
- Lightweight, extremely breathable
- Quality construction and stitching
- REI’s famous warranty (you just can not beat it!)
- Not as abrasion resistant as some other models on the market
- Does not pack down quite as compactly
7. THE NORTH FACE DRYZZLE JACKET
North Face is another industry leader who is producing high quality rain jackets. The North Face Dryzzle is lightweight and certain to keep you dry in a storm; the only issues I found were that the hood was not going to work with my biking or climbing helmet, and the cuffs pull back a bit more than I like when extending my arms.
The North Face Dryzzle rain jacket is constructed from 2.5 layer Gortex PacLite technology.
- Tough, durable construction
- Great peripheral vision when using the hood
- DWR is extremely durable!
- Not as functionally designed as other models
8. THE PATAGONIA TORRENTSHELL JACKET
The Patagonia Torrentshell rain jacket wins my award for best use with a helmet; the hood is designed well and this jacket is ready for your climbing adventures!
This rain jacket is constructed using a proprietary technology known as H2NO.
- Extremely durable
- Waterproof and breathable
- Great for budget climbers looking to purchase an entry-level jacket
- Small pockets and zipper pulls (add a bit of cord or webbing to grab them easily with gloves on)
- Ventilation feels a bit lacking
9. THE COLUMBIA WATERTIGHT II
I am including this in my top picks for all the budget hikers and climbers out there looking for a bare-bones, dirt-cheap option that will still perform for you in the back country. The Columbia Watertight II rain jacket is just that; at around ½ the price of my other budget picks, this is the lowest price for a waterproof, breathable jacket out there! With an athletic fit and great wrist cuffs this jacket will not disappoint, and the low price means you can stretch that budget further!
The Columbia Watertight II is constructed using a proprietary technology called OmniTech.
- Lowest Price available!
- Great fit
- All-purpose rain jacket that can suit many activities
- Limited hood adjustment
OK, NOW THAT YOU HAVE YOUR JACKET, HOW DO YOU GET THE MOST OUT OF IT?
With a little care and maintenance the lifetime of your rain jacket can be extended greatly. However, there are different steps to caring for different materials.
WASHING YOUR RAIN JACKET IMPROPERLY WILL RESULT IN DECREASED FUNCTIONALITY!
I can not stress this enough – before you toss this piece of gear in your washing machine, do the research to make sure you do not remove a valuable DWR or waterproofing technology!
The first time I splurged on a Gortex Jacket, I decided that if I was going to spend this much, I would make sure I got my money’s worth by doing the research to know how to properly care for it. Gortex is easy to care for and with the right products you can make sure your jacket is functioning as if it was new for many years!
Be sure you do not use traditional detergent while washing your high-quality synthetic blend shells and equipment. Traditional detergent will remove the DWR and decrease the functionality of your membranes. We all like to see the water bead on our shell, because we know it is working; once you have cleaned the jacket, be sure to reapply DWR using a product like this:
I am a fan of Nikwax – from rain gear to boots, this company has always helped me properly care for my gear. There are other products on the market, so feel free to try out other brands, but when it comes to rain protection and waterproofing I stick with what I know works!
I try to treat the entire surface of my jacket with one layer of DWR spray, then hit the high-abrasion areas with a second coat. Places where my backpack shoulder straps or waist belt rubs, or the back of the neck where the seams are strained with use when I have the hood up; these are places that will lose their waterproof functionality first. Allow this to dry overnight to make sure it is saturated before heading out into the back country!
INSIDER TIP TO STAY DRY BACKPACKING: As everyone knows, there will be a gap between your backpack rain cover and your rain jacket where rain can enter and soak the inside of your backpack. I tackle this issue in two ways.
First, I generally wear a broad brimmed sun hat. In non-windy conditions I keep this on top of my hood to sheer the water away from this gap.
Second, I always use a pack liner. Sil-nylon products are great for this but if you are on a budget a large trash bag will function as a ultralight liner and be easily replaceable anywhere in the world!
So now you are ready to choose the perfect rain jacket! Happy hiking and enjoy!