Updated March 2017
Our 2017 review update includes new award categories to help you find the exact right jacket for your activity. For example, we now have a Top Pick for ventilation if you need a model that excels at more aerobic activities. We bought and tested the most recent models of all the jackets. Many new award winners emerged, notably at the high-performance end of our selection. We also now have charts and graphs for each performance metric.
Best Overall Rain Jacket
Arc'teryx Beta SL
Best mobility and range of motion in the review
Thoughtful hood design
Lightest Gore-Tex jacket we tested
No ventilation options
Expensive for a Gore-Tex Paclite jacket
While Arc'teryx dominates our hardshell review awards, 2017 marks the year they pulled ahead for rain jackets. But just narrowly by one point. 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, this would be it. Our testing team loved its best-in-review mobility, exceptionally versatility, fantastic hood design, and great storm worthiness - all at a below average weight. While some jackets offer advantages for certain applications, this is the do-everything rain jacket for a broad range of activities.
Read full review: Arc'teryx Beta SL
Best Bang for the Buck
Better breathability than others in its price range
Above average ventilation
Roll away hood
Nice pit zips
No chest pocket
Not quite as breathable as membrane models
DWR lasts decently long
has won Best Buy every year for six years straight. It invented the high-performance $100 category and still owns it. Updated last year with Marmot's NanoPro 2.5-layer coated technology; it's even better. This fully featured jacket has hand pockets, pit zips for ventilation, and a roll away hood. It's for high-energy hiking and backpacking and featured enough for around town use. A few other models we tested are similarly affordable, but the PreCip
delivers the most functionality and versatility for your money. The demanding budget-conscious buyer won't find a better deal than this jacket, ringing it at $100.
Read full review: Marmot PreCip
Top Pick for Light Weight
Outdoor Research Helium II
Perfect stuff pocket
No hand pockets
Loose wrist cuffs
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 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, and offering a pretty basic (though effective) hood, and an overall minimal design. But for many hikers or backpackers who end up carrying their waterproof layer 90% or more of the time, this functional rain shell is an excellent choice. Our review team also loved how tightly it stowed away into its own pocket.
Read full review: Outdoor Research Helium II
Top Pick for Hiking and Backpacking
Excellent hood design
eVent most breathable fabric we tested
Good quality construction
Not quite as abrasion-resistant as other models
Good, but not fantastic mobility
The REI Rhyolite
is easily one of our favorite rain jackets on the market. It features 3-layer eVent; after a range of input from testers and side-by-side testing, it proved to be most breathable jacket we tested. The Rhyolite's
design allowed for excellent mobility, a wonderfully designed hood, 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 jacket and was only just barely edged out for this award.
Read full review: REI Rhyolite
Top Pick for Ventilation & Features
Outdoor Research Foray
On the heavier side
Slightly more expensive than average
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. 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. If you seek a product that could cross over into the durable hardshell category but highly value the ventilation features common to the best rain jackets, the Foray
might be for you.
Read full review: Outdoor Research Foray
Analysis and Test Results
We researched the top 90 rain jackets, before narrowing down to the 10 finalists. We bought those jackets and put them through an intensive testing process to see how they performed. Our ratings as based on the most important factors we rely on when trying to decide which jacket to buy.
Nine of the top rain jackets, ready for our testing. There are three distinct types of jackets here, and one will meet your needs best.
Below you'll find descriptions of our evaluation metrics, as well as information about the top performers in each metric and how they compare to other models. In our individual reviews, we detail each product's features, explain our scoring in each metric, and compare and contrast each jacket to its closest competitors. For hood cinch performance or exact hem adjustments, see each product's review.
A rain jacket should keep you dry, whether hiking, backpacking, or just out walking the dog. Period. In our scoring metrics, this was the most heavily weighted category, at 30 percent.
Manufacturers used many types of waterproof fabrics and treatments in the jackets tested. Lots of laboratory testing has been done to quantify how waterproof each of these coated or laminated fabrics are. The important bit to understand is that all of the products tested are water-resistant to use as a rain shell. In all the models tested, shell fabric is seam-taped after sewing, making a sealed envelope. What differentiates performance when the rain pours down is the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket closures, and pit zips; to a lesser extent, the longevity of its DWR also differentiates performance.
Obviously the waterproof material itself is important, but with nearly all manufacturers offering a material that is more than adequate, those jackets that had features that helped keep the rain out and move moisture scored the best at keeping us dry.
Materials make a difference regarding breathability (which can make you feel wet from the inside), longevity, and durability. If one fabric is waterproof to 30 PSI and one to 40 PSI, it doesn't make a functional difference.
Garden hose to the face and wrists? Check. The Foray can handle it. All of these jackets do a good job keeping you dry in your average rain storm. But models with adjustable cuffs and well-designed hood adjustments are superior in howling rain storms or when working with your hands overhead in the rain.
Rain is not going to penetrate any of these fabrics; however, in a downpour, running water seeks a way in through a pocket zipper, down your wrist when you reach overhead, or where the hood meets your neck. We stood in the shower for four minutes in each jacket and got a spray down with the garden hose to help find weak spots. The Arc'teryx Beta SL
and the Marmot Minimalist
were the sturdiest of the bunch. The REI Rhyolite
, Outdoor Research Foray
, and The North Face Dryzzle
all performed well, doing an excellent job of sealing out rain. All contenders have wrist cuffs that can be cinched down on the wrist with Velcro closures. All hoods sealed well around the face and chin.
All the products we tested should keep you dry in a storm. The primary differences in our water resistance metric come from the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket closures, and pit zips.
A well designed hood is one of the most important factors influencing how dry a rain jacket is going to keep you. The REI Rhyolite's hood shown here.
The other important component of a jacket's water resistance is its durable water repellent (DWR) treatment. This treatment is factory applied to the fabric's exterior and allows it to bead and shed water. Even though nylon and polyester are hydrophobic, if they aren't treated with a DWR (or after the treatment wears off), they wet out, or become covered with a continuous film of water. This results in a heavier jacket and reduced breathability. The DWR used on the Marmot PreCip
, and Arc'Teryx Beta SL
stands out, as does the The North Face Dryzzle
. All the jackets tested beaded water well to start, and DWR treatment can be reapplied to your jacket if needed. Check out DWR maintenance in our Care & Cleaning
Breathability and ventilation are both important factors to help keep the wearer dry by minimizing how wet they get from their own sweat. We weighted breathability slightly higher than ventilation because sometimes when it's really raining or snowing hard opening your vents can make you wetter....
Breathability & Ventilation
To a large degree, a garment's breathability is affected by the fabrics it's bonded to. However, in our review, the difference in face fabrics (because they didn't vary greatly in thickness and materials) didn't affect breathability as much as construction and waterproof membrane type.
A Note on Breathability
We compared each jackets over-all breathability as well as their ability to ventilate allowing moisture and heat to escape. Here wet skinning with intermediate sun-breaks and heavy snow flurries up the Southwest Face of Lichtenberg Mountain near Stevens Pass, WA
You can sweat walking up a hill while wearing only a shirt. We've overheard too many people saying that their jacket didn't breathe at all or enough for their needs. All of these jackets allow moisture to pass through them; however, none of them allow all the moisture you'd want to escape if you're working hard while wearing layers or working hard at a high exertion rate (at warmer temperatures). Sometimes your lightweight t-shirt can't breathe and pass moisture quick enough, and the same goes for rain jackets. Set yourself up for success and wear the minimum layers you can get away with, while using the vents to maximize the air exchange and allow moisture and heat to escape.
Stripping off the warm Rab Xenon X after break time, with the Marmot Essence ready to continue the action. Blue Lake along the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies.
Our water resistance metric measured how well each rain jacket keeps you dry from the outside, while our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each keeps you dry from the inside by allowing sweat to escape. We took two main factors into consideration when awarding scores for this metric (which is weighted at 25% of our overall ratings). First, we thought about the fabric's breathability; this is where waterproof technologies distinguish themselves. These multi-layered fabrics allow water vapor to be wicked through the fabric to the outside where it can evaporate. We also 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 less layers under your rain shell while hiking with a heavy pack uphill and you'll sweat no matter the outside temperature. Here Mark M pushes the breathability to the max on a Marmot PreCip Jacket on a wet approach to Mt. Baker, North Cascades, WA
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 are close, but can't pass as much moisture. 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 most important when it is raining hard and you want to batten down the hatches by closing pit-zips and cinching the hood. The more active your endeavors, the greater importance of breathability. In the time between cloud bursts when you want to continue wearing your jacket for wind protection or as part of your layering system, ventilation becomes nearly as important as breathability. Pit zips and mesh-lined pockets that allow airflow can be valuable features depending on your activity. To a lesser extent, cuffs that adjust to allow for air circulation from the wrist give you some, though more limited, ventilation options.
Side-by-Side Hiking Test
We love the Outdoor Research Foray: if you want a durable rain jacket with class-leading ventilation features, it's a rad option.
We tested the breathability of these jackets in both real-world use while hiking and backpacking but also in a series of side-by-side rain tests. (The Pacific Northwest Fall served up plenty of rainy days to help us out.) We also performed a 10-minute stair master test.
After extensive testing, we thought the Rhyolite with eVent offered the most breathable fabric, but the Outdoor Research Foray with its huge poncho-style vents was the best at managing moisture and heat. Photo: Slay'n some pow on Tye Peak, near Stevens Pass in an Arc'teryx Beta SL.
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 jacket was less steamy inside during high-energy activities than any others, and we noticed ourselves getting colder quicker at breaks when wearing the Rhyolite
. Comparing all-zipped-up jackets, we thought the Arc'teryx Beta SL
and the Marmot Minimalist
breathability was among the best reviewed; while they were comparable to the Rhyolite
, they did not stand out as much.
The Patagonia Torrentshell has large pitzips with easy to use pull strings on the zippers. Pitzips let the wearer ventilate the jacket for high energy activities. Other models, like the award winning Marmot Precip have mesh-lined pockets for additional ventilation. The Torrentshell's hand pockets are lined with waterproof fabric.
The Outdoor Research Foray
also earned our highest score. Its Paclite fabric had excellent breathability; what sets the Foray
apart is its "TorsoFlo" design, which is basically two lengthy zippers. The zippers extend from the hem of the jacket to the triceps and allow the jacket to be opened like a poncho. Among coated jackets, the Marmot PreCip
and the The North Face Venture 2
received respectable scores for breathability. While their fabrics weren't as breathable, they featured larger than average pit zips and lower hand pockets (lined with mesh) that dumped a noticeable amount of heat when open.
Comfort and mobility are extremely important factors that are often under considered when purchasing a jacket. This is likely because there is less quantifiable metrics to go along with a given jackets mobility. Or some people might simply think "I am just hiking, I'm not climbing". Well, at many points whether crawling over a downed tree, setting up a tarp at camp, or climbing the most epic peak of your life, you'll repeatedly utilize the maximum mobility of your jacket. Josh Brewer (In a green Patagonia Torrentshell) and Alex Chew enjoy the fruits of their labor in camp, Jones Island State Park, WA.
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 and firewood. Whatever activities you have planned, you want a jacket that moves comfortably with you. How well does the hood move with your head? Does the jacket ride up — leaving your waist exposed — when you raise your arms above your head? We answer these questions in each jacket's individual review.
The above chart shows where each rain jacket landed on our Comfort and Mobility scale.
Range of motion is important whether day hiking, on a moderate scramble, or on a technical route. Looking down on the second crux pitch of the mega-classic Triple Couloirs on Dragontail Peak, Central Cascades, WA. We opted to take the Outdoor Research Foray and Arc'teryx Beta SL for their exceptional freedom of movement for this climb.
Within this metric, we also noted small features like a micro fleece patch at the chin or soft fabric where the hood rests on your brow — both nice touches. We also considered ease of use. Are the cinch cords for the hood easy to access and adjust? Some jackets add small string or fabric pull tabs to the zipper pulls for ease of use with cold fingers or gloves.
We tested the maximum range of motion of each jacket by seeing how well we stay covered while reaching straight out in front of us as well as above our heads. This is where stretchy fabrics and specific designs really stood out. Here Graham McDowell tests the range of motion of the Patagonia Torrentshell while climbing the Southwest Rib of South Early Winter Spire near Washington Pass in an early season snowstorm.
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. The Marmot Minimalist
, Outdoor Research Foray
, and Outdoor Research Helium II
also had good mobility and received the next highest rating in this metric.
Hood designs and their ability to both keep the water out, but still to some extent move with you to keep as much as your peripheral vision varied greatly between jackets. Here Tester Ian Nicholson tends a backcountry breakfast on a stormy morning.
The effectiveness varied wildly among hoods. While all were waterproof, their ability to stay on our heads and not blind our peripheral vision ranged considerably. Our favorite hoods were the Arc'teryx Beta SL
and the REI Rhyolite
; the Outdoor Research Foray
scored right behind them. All three of these jackets featured hoods that cinched down over a range of headwear, from beanies to baseball caps, and minimized the amount of peripheral vision lost. We like the Marmot Minimalist
, Patagonia Torrentshell
and The North Face Dryzzle's
hoods, but they didn't fit over a helmet as nicely.
Graham Zimmerman in the lightest and most compressable jacket in our review, the Outdoor Research Helium II, while climbing in the North Cascades.
For some users, light is right. We value lightweight clothing and equipment, but not at the expense of function. If you're thru-hiking 2,000 miles, climbing technical terrain, or riding your bicycle from coast to coast, weight is your primary concern. Around town, weight is less significant.
Many jacket users have several priorities above weight, including breathability, comfort, and the right combination of features. Let weight be the final deciding factor if you're torn between two products that meet your needs.
A small break in the storm and the sun pops out on day 6 of the Isolation Traverse with Snow Field Peak and the Neve Glacier in the background and a REI Rhyolite in the foreground.
The Outdoor Research Helium II
is the lightest model tested, weighing in at 6.5 ounces. That's half the weight (or even less) of most of the jackets reviewed. If weight is your primary concern, this jacket is hard to beat and is one of the lightest waterproof breathable models currently available. We were impressed that while the Helium isn't feature-rich, we feel like it has most of the things you'd want, such as above-average mobility, a well-designed hood, and a tiny stuff pocket with a clip-in loop. The next lightest jackets tested were the Arc'teryx Beta SL
(11 ounces), which was the lightest of Gore-tex or eVent contenders, as well as the Patagonia Torrentshell
Jackets stuffed and ready to travel. The jackets we evaluated that do not stuff into one of their pockets can be rolled into their hood as shown here. L-R top row: Helium and Minimus, Essence, Resolve, Minimalist. bottom row: Torrentshell, Venture, PreCip, Watertight
Weather changes quickly. At some point, we've all been caught in a storm, getting soaked when we left our jacket at the then-sunny trailhead. These just-in-case packing scenarios are when having a super light and compact rain shell is useful. Grab it from the car, throw it in, and forget it until you need it. Seven of these jackets stuff into one of their own pockets and others can be rolled and stuffed into their hoods. Our rating for packed size considers not only the compressed size, but the ease of using the integrated stuff pocket.
Some of these jackets compress quite small, but it requires wrestling to get them stowed; others easily fit into their stuff pocket. A clip-in loop after the jacket is stuffed is a nice feature; check the individual reviews for this detail, as well as a photo of each beside a 32-ounce Nalgene bottle. As for weight, the Outdoor Research Helium II
was by far the most compact jacket, with the Marmot PreCip
and The North Face Venture 2
coming in as the next most compressible.
Peter Webb puts his Arc'teryx Beta SL jacket to the test during some wetter than ideal conditions while alpine climbing in the Canadian Rockies.
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. If you are wearing your jacket around town, room in the pockets for a pair of gloves and a warm hat plus phone and keys is nice. Some folks like to use a rain hat; a hood that rolls away and stows can be appreciated.
The Helium II is super light and very compact. Brandon Lampley getting ready for the afternoon showers at Lumpy Ridge near Rocky Mountain National Park. This is an excellent jacket to carry along on multi-pitch rock climbs. The Marmot Essence is a far more breathable ultralight jacket for high energy use, but the Helium blocks the wind much better.
In each product review, after detailing the jacket's performance in each metric, we provide an additional rundown of the jacket's features, from the hood all the way down to the waist hem. If you want to know exactly where the hem cord locks are, we'll let you know!
Nice features include a micro fleece lined zipper and good fitting cuffs. Here tester Ian Nicholson with The North Face Dryzzle's under-the-helmet fitting hood on a very wet day.
Having a few pockets on your jacket is useful. Besides the use of storing small items and having a convenient place to keep your hands warm, their location can have an effect on the comfort of the jacket. Having low hand warmer
pockets are great for around town but can be a nuisance while wearing a harness or heavy pack.
We love when the pockets are slightly elevated like the ones shown here on the Arc'teryx Beta SL. Not only do they still provide a nice place to put your hands, but we can we access them while wearing a backpacking hip-belt or harness without a zipper digging into our hips.
When a majority of the pocket is under a weighted hip-belt, whether out for the day or an extended trip, the zipper can dig into your hips, making your rainy-day adventure even more miserable. We love pockets that are higher, out of the way of a pack's hip-belt or a harness, so we can still access items and, more importantly, so the zipper doesn't cause us pain under heavy loads.
Chris Simrell crossing the upper Elwah River in the Olympic Mountains, WA. This jacket withstood quite a bit of bushwhacking use and abuse.
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands you place on it. The chart below shows each jacket's durability score in our review.
The face fabric of most of these jackets is nylon or polyester. For the most part, the lighter the face fabric is, the easier it tears. Most of the jackets tested use between a 30-50 Denier face fabric with the 50D shells being tougher than the 30Ds. All but the Columbia Watertight II
feature ripstop material. The ripstop weave doubles up on the thread at intervals, providing a grid of strong fibers to stop tears from growing.
Ian Nicholson testing waterproof Jackets in Torres Del Paine Chile.
Other models use a polyester exterior, which is known to be stretchier and more durable than nylon. If you plan to use your jacket off trail or bushwhacking, choose a model with ripstop face fabric or choose polyester. Lastly, jackets with fewer seams in the shoulders hold up better if you plan to carry a pack on a regular basis.
Dan Whitmore testing a North Face Venture jacket during an extremely wet trip to Washington's North Cascades National Park. The North Face Venture and its 50D external face fabric was on the tougher end of jackets we tested.
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. We focused mostly on each jacket's face fabric and construction when judging durability longevity and tear-resistance. While some DWR treatments are longer lasting than others, all need maintenance and reapplication to match the lifespan of the jacket. We reflected each jacket's DWR longevity in their durability and water resistance scores.
Figuring out which rain jacket is right for you is more complicated than it might seem at first glance. While keeping you dry is the goal, features like ventilation can make a big difference in day to day use. Our hope is that our review and test results have helped you narrow down to one or two jackets that fit your situation. If you are still not sure, consider taking a look at our buying advice article.