To find the best men's rain jackets, our experts researched over 80 models. We then bought 16 of the best contenders of 2019 for extensive hands-on tests. Our review team sought out downpours in the Pacific Northwest, analyzing via soggy backpacking, mountaineering, trail running, and ski touring adventures. We performed side-by-side weather resistance tests in a lab environment and in extensive real-world applications. While we declare an overall winner, we also identify the best jacket for specific applications such as commuting, climbing, and travel. Whether you want a top-of-the-line, tricked-out model, something tiny to live in the bottom of your pack, or the best model under one hundred dollars, we have a recommendation for you.
The Best Rain Jackets of 2019
|Price||$224.25 at Backcountry|
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|$249.00 at REI||$229.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Top-tier storm-worthiness, mobility and range of motion, hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pockets||The most breathable material in our review, lightweight and compressible, stretchy fabric, top-tier hood design, extremely stormworthy||Stretchiest fabric in our review, cozy interior feel, breathability, robust, pleasant low-profile wrist closures, hood design is comfortable and maintains good peripheral vision||Awesome hood, fantastic fit, very durable, exceptionally versatile, good breathability and ventilation, waterproof pockets||Stormworthy, versatile, durable, comfortable, high level of ventilation, great price for a Gore-Tex jacket|
|Cons||No ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harness||Cut is slightly on the boxy side, not as durable as other models||No chest pocket, hood doesn't fit over a helmet, size up this model to accommodate layering||Heavy for a "minimalist" design, slightly more expensive than non Gore-Tex jackets||On the heavier side, slightly on the more expensive side|
|Bottom Line||This storm-worthy and function-focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best across-the-board performance in our review.||One of the best jackets for backpacking and hiking, it's and packable, yet still provides top-tier storm worthiness.||A solid alpine performer for mixed weather conditions, this mega stretchy model moves with you - without holding you back.||While this jacket didn't win an award, it remains one of our favorites and is an awesome do-anything jacket offering excellent stormworthiness, functionality, & durability.||A fantastic all-around shell with some of the best ventilation features out there, in a fairly light, durable, and stormworthy package.|
|Rating Categories||Arc'teryx Zeta SL||REI Co-op Drypoint GTX||Rab Kinetic Plus||Marmot Minimalist||Outdoor Research Foray|
|Water Resistance (30%)|
|Breathability & Venting (25%)|
|Comfort & Mobility (20%)|
|Packed Size (5%)|
|Specs||Arc'teryx Zeta SL||REI Co-op Drypoint...||Rab Kinetic Plus||Marmot Minimalist||Outdoor Research...|
|Measured Weight (Medium)||11 oz||10.5 oz||10 oz||15 oz||16 oz|
|Waterproof Fabric Material||2-layer GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus waterproof breathable laminate||3-layer Gore-Tex Active||Proflex™ 3-layer||GORE-TEX with PacLite technology||2.5 layer Gore-tex with PacLite Technology|
|Face Fabric and Layer Construction||40-denier ripstop (N40r) GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus||20D ripstop nylon||Propriety Proflex waterproof membrane 2.5L||100% recycled polyester||50D w/ Gore-tex PacLite waterproof breathable membrane|
|Pockets||2 hand||2 zip hand||2 hand||2 zip hand, 1 chest||3: 1 chest pocket & 2-hand pockets|
|Are lower pockets hipbelt friendly||Yes||Yes||Yes||Almost|
|Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight)||No||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Stows Into Pocket?||No||No||No (but included stuff sack)||No||Yes|
Best Overall Model
Arc'teryx Zeta SL
If we could only own one jacket for everything from soggy week-long backpacking or mountaineering trips to rainy mornings walking the dog, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL would be it. Several models excel at one specific application, but no one model offers as exceptional across-the-board performance. This do-everything piece of storm protection wins our award for the best overall model as it scored the best, or nearly the best, in nearly every category. Our testing team loved the Zeta SL's fantastic hood design, top-tier storm worthiness, and outstanding mobility - all while maintaining a below average weight. Its pockets didn't pinch our waist while wearing a pack; it also breathed well enough to keep it zipped up tight while staying fairly dry inside, even if the precipitation persisted all day long. While our review team loved this model, it's worth noting that it faced stiff competition from the REI Drypoint GTX, which only just missed out on winning our Editors' Choice Award.
While we found it to be one of the more breathable jackets, it doesn't have any pit-zips or other ways to dump a ton of heat, other than the main zipper. This model is also one of the few award winners that didn't offer any stretch; the Zeta does offer exceptional articulation and scored well in all of our mobility tests but we would have appreciated stretch. It's also one of the few models that do not compress into one of its pockets, which can be nice for reducing the overall volume it takes up.
Read review: Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Best Bang for the Buck
The Marmot PreCip is the most recent update to a long line of tried-and-true PreCip jackets and is the winner of our Best Buy Award. Just over a decade ago, this model basically invented the high-performance budget waterproof breathable jacket category. While it lagged for a bit, the most recent update uses Marmot's NanoPro 2.5-layer coated technology, which is made from recycled materials. We also see some slight overhauls, allowing it to take back its claim for the best model for those on a budget. The PreCip offers surprisingly good storm worthiness with a number of pleasantly designed featured including hand pockets, pit zips for ventilation, and a rollaway hood - all for under one hundred dollars. It breathed the best of any of the value models and was our review team's favorite in its price range for high-energy hiking and backpacking. A few other models we tested are similar when it comes to the price point, but the PreCip delivers the most performance and versatility for your money. The demanding budget-conscious buyer won't find a better deal than this jacket.
One of the PreCip's biggest drawbacks is how clammy it feels inside, even with minimal physical exertion. The larger-than-average pit zips help, but this model may leave you feeling damp and humid, especially when the performance is compared to a few more expensive models. This is also one of the few models that doesn't feature a chest pocket - the pocket that we use the most while backpacking, as it keeps items accessible while wearing a backpack. This hood also didn't fit over the top of a bike or climbing helmet.
Read review: Marmot PreCip
Top Pick for Hiking and Backpacking
REI Co-op Drypoint GTX
The REI Drypoint GTX is a superb all-around model that was in the running for our Editors' Choice Award. It's one of our review team's go-to favorites for backpacking and hiking, or similar applications; it's a staff Top Pick for these types of trips. It earned this award for a variety of reasons; most notably is for its exceptionally breathable fabric, which ranked the best overall in our review. Not only is the Drypoint incredibly breathable, but it also features one of the most storm-worthy designs, helping you to stay dry even when you're working hard out on the trail. It's lighter and more packable than the majority of the competition, which makes it perfect for backpackers, mountaineers, and hikers. Its stretchy fabric provides its wearer with excellent freedom of movement, which helps it adapt to a wide range of users and activities, adding to its extraordinary versatility.
The Drypoint is a very function-focused jacket that incorporates the needs of outdoor enthusiasts into nearly all of its features and design; thus, we were surprised with the boxy cut. While this might be great for layering, REI could have gotten away with downsizing by half a size, offering significantly less bulk. The Drypoint is also thin and care must be taken to ensure it isn't torn when worn on overgrown trails or while ducking under down trees.
Read review: REI Drypoint GTX
Top Pick for Range of Motion
Rab Kinetic Plus
The Rab Kinetic Plus is a frontrunner among the new wave of stretchy, air permeable waterproof breathable fabrics. The double-layered hood and impressively stretchy material set the Kinetic Plus apart from others in our fleet, as the material is one of the stretchiest we have ever seen in a waterproof rain jacket. In fact, the material looks and feels more like a softshell than a hardshell; rest assured, it is plenty stormworthy and entirely waterproof. This model is an excellent option for anyone that needs a waterproof jacket, but mobility is vital. This advantage is amplified by its trim, athletic fit, which was the slimmest fitting model we tested. These qualities make it perfect for everyone from Nordic skiers to ice climbers; it's worth noting that folks planning to layer a fair amount underneath will want to consider sizing up.
The Kinetic Plus' fabric is impressively stretchy and feels more like a softshell than a hardshell. Unfortunately, it can wet through at a faster rate than others, especially in places where there's additional pressure, such as our shoulder straps. With an athletic fit, it can be challenging to layer much underneath; for those who plan to wear more than a light fleece, you'll want to consider sizing up.
Read review: Rab Kinetic Plus
Notable for Light Weight
Patagonia Storm Racer
The Patagonia Storm Racer is notable for weight-conscience hikers, backpackers, climbers, and trail-runners and is an excellent just in case style layer. Weighing in at a scant six ounces, this is the lightest and most compact shell we tested and is roughly half the weight of the majority of models in our review. It isn't feature-rich, lacking the several common designs such as lower hand pockets and Velcro closure wrist cuffs. Despite the minimal design, our review team discovered solid performance at a rain jackets most important task: keeping the wearer dry. Carrying around a few extra ounces might not seem significant, and feature-rich jackets might seem more appealing in the store, but it is important to remember that all those additional features increase weight. Then think that most hikers, climbers, and backpackers will likely end up carrying their waterproof layer 90% or more of the time. While extra features might seem sweet, they certainly don't do much living at the bottom of your pack. Each year, more and more super light rain shells come out on the market, and this model is currently our favorite for the weight weenies out there.
The Storm Racer is the lightest model we tested at a near unbelievable six ounces. This low weight does come at a cost, which borders on affecting aspects of functionality. This model features just one small chest pocket, and only elastic on its wrists, instead of the much more common Velcro tabs. The fabric is thin and care must be taken on overgrown trails. It's designed with one of the more athletic fits in our review, so you'll want to consider sizing up if you plan to layer.
Read review: Patagonia Storm Racer
Notable for Technical Endeavors
Black Diamond Fineline
The Black Diamond Fineline offers better overall climbing-focused functionality than a majority of superlight rain shells. It is one of the lightest and most compressible models in our fleet and has been constructed with a stretchy fabric, which is cut to be climbing focuses in that it is harness friendly. It sports outstanding freedom of movement and packs down mega tightly into one of its pockets; it can then be clipped and carried on a climbing harness. These traits make it a favorite for our testers that are climbers (and to a slightly lesser extent trail runners) as these are activities where solid mobility and a small, packed volume are appreciated.
The Fineline was one of the lightest models we tested; to achieve this lightweight, BD cut back on a number of features. There is no Velcro closure on the cuffs, only thin elastic wrist bands which weren't quite as comfortable and didn't perform as well. This model only sports one chest pocket and there aren't any ventilation options.
Read review: Black Diamond Fineline
Why You Should Trust Us
Author Ian Nicholson is a professional internationally licensed IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide. He has spent over 3,000 days guiding in the Pacific Northwest, European Alps, and beyond. Ian estimates he has worn a rain jacket over 4,000 days over the last two decades due to the fact he guides AND lives in rainy and wet Seattle. He has guided more than 1,000 clients and helped them select gear for backpacking, climbing, and ski trips. When not guiding or climbing in the rainy Cascades, Ian works in an outdoor gear shop and keeps up-to-date with the latest in waterproof breathable fabric technologies. Ian also works for the Northwest Avalanche Center and teaches snow safety courses both on a Profesional level for AIARE as well as recreational level courses where he has instructed just over 80 courses.
In addition to following product releases year-round, Ian sat down for nearly 10 hours to look at 80 contenders to add to this review update. After selecting the most promising models, he took to the mountains. Ian backpacked, hiked, skied, and climbed for over 300 hours to see how each model performed in the most demanding conditions in the temperate rainforests of Western Washington. He also used each for day-to-day life in rainy Seattle. Then we supplemented our field testing with other tests like our famous garden hose test, which simulates a drenching downpour.
Related: How We Tested Rain Jackets
Analysis and Test Results
Our metrics below cover the most critical factors you should consider when trying to decide which rain jacket is best for you. Below you'll find descriptions of each of our evaluation metrics, as well as information about the top performers and how they compare to one another.
Related: Buying Advice for Rain Jackets
One of the most common concerns we hear from our friends and readers is: "Is this expensive piece of gear really worth the price?". Among jackets we tested, prices had a huge spread. The biggest contributing factor to a given model's price correlates with the materials used. More price-pointed models tend to use proprietary fabrics (some of which can perform quite well) and on the less expensive end of those are various types of coated fabrics compared to laminates which are generally more expensive. Higher end models tend to use time-tested Name Brand materials which often have loads of engineering going into materials like Gore-Tex or eVent. It is not that loads of engineering might not go into some proprietary fabrics, but well know and trusted performance oriented fabrics tend to drive up the overall cost.
While it might be a slight downer to hear that more expensive fabrics tent to perform better, a specific fabric makes a world of difference from a waterproof/breathability perspective. When it comes to rain jackets, there is almost a direct relationship between price and performance, which is not the case with all types of outdoor products.
If you are specifically looking for a budget pick that also performs well, the best options are the Patagonia Torrentshell and the Marmot PreCip, the second of which is our Best Buy winner. While not as high-performing as a number of the more expensive models, both of these models performed pretty darn well overall and are no doubt incredibly functional while costing a fraction of the price. If you've got the funds, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL is the highest performing jacket we tested, but you pay for it. Also of note on the price versus performance front is the Marmot Minimalist, which is the best priced Gore-tex Paclite jacket we've seen and is a rad jacket for the price.
A rain jacket's most important job is to keep its wearer dry; whether hiking, backpacking, ski-touring, alpine climbing, or out walking the dog on a rainy day, this is the equipment's primary purpose. You can have all the best features in the world, but if your rain jacket doesn't do at least an okay job of keeping you dry, not much else matters. As a result, this was the most heavily weighted category, at 30 percent.
There are many types of waterproof fabrics and treatments that manufacturers use in the jackets we tested. There is also heaps of laboratory testing that has been done to quantify precisely how waterproof each of these specific coated or laminated materials are. Now with that said, the critical bit to understand is that all of the products tested are water-resistant enough to use as a rain shell and all meet the technical requirements to be referred to as waterproof.
All of the models tested feature a waterproof fabric that is subsequently seam-taped after sewing, creating a completely sealed envelope. What differentiates each model's performance is how well each model keeps the water out. This generally refers to several design aspects of the jacket such as the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket(s) front/primary-zipper, and pit zips, or other vents and how well they keep water out. A jackets ability to keep its wearer dry also has a lot to do with the longevity of DWR and subsequent ability to resist wetting out after extended periods that can be hours or weeks of use.
All the models we tested sport a waterproof fabric (as you likely guess Waterproof is a legal term) but each model is constructed with different materials and characteristics. It's these characteristics that make the significant differences when it comes to breathability (which can make you feel wet from the inside from your own sweat) as well as longevity, durability, and the ability to resist wetting out after extended use. However what doesn't have much of a functional real-world difference is weatherproofness strictly from a fabric point of view; that is, if one fabric is waterproof to 30 PSI versus one to 60 PSI, it doesn't actually make a functional difference to any tester.
Rain is not going to penetrate any of these fabrics directly; however, in a downpour, running water can seep its way in through a pocket, down your wrist if you happen to reach overhead, or where the hood meets your neck. Besides the real-world use of all of these models, we also stood in a shower for four minutes in each jacket and got a spray down with the garden hose to help find potentially problematic spots. The Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Outdoor Research Foray, and the Marmot Minimalist were the sturdiest of the bunch. The REI Drypoint GTX, Patagonia Cloud Ridge, and The North Face Dryzzle also performed very well, doing an excellent job of sealing out the rain. All contenders have wrist cuffs that can be cinched down on the wrist with Velcro closures, and all hoods sealed well around the face and chin.
Another essential 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 makes the water bead when it lands on the surface of the jacket allowing it to shed it. Even though both 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 result is greatly reduced breathability, a feeling of damp or clamminess, and a slight increase in weighing.
The DWR used on the Marmot PreCip, Marmot Phoenix, Marmot Minimalist, and Arc'teryx Zeta SL all stand out for exceptional and long-lasting DWR treatments. Worth noting and not too far behind in DWR performance are the The North Face Dryzzle, REI Drypoint GTX, and The North Face Venture 2. Conversely and generally speaking, we found that the stretchier models needed to be re-treated much more frequently than the ones with minimal or no stretch. All that said, the jackets we tested beaded water quite well to start, and DWR treatment can be reapplied to your jacket if needed.
Breathability & Ventilation
Our water resistance metric measured how well each contender keeps its wearer dry by not letting water in from the outside, while our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each model keeps its wearer dry from the inside by allowing sweat and/heat to escape.
We considered two main factors when awarding scores for this metric; the total of these two factors are weighted at 25% of our overall ratings as staying dry from the outside doesn't do much if you get soaked from the inside. First and foremost, we researched and tested each fabric's breathability to the best of our ability, and this is undoubtedly where waterproof technologies distinguish themselves from each other.
All of these multi-layered fabrics are breathable to some extent, meaning they allow water vapor to be wicked through the material from the inside to the outside, where it can subsequently evaporate. Secondly, we also tested and studied how well each model's ventilation features performed, and more importantly, how open we could have the vents while hiking, trail running, and backpacking in the rain. More venting is more effective at transferring moisture; however; real-world functionality is where we noticed another one of the more significant differences between models and ventilation designs. Some models offered ventilation designs that did far better (or worse) at allowing sweat to escape or keeping rain from getting in.
A Note on Breathability
Anyone can drench themselves in sweat while wearing too many layers underneath a shell while working hard or charging uphill. We've overheard too many people saying that their jacket doesn't breathe enough for their needs, but in many of these cases, these folks are simply wearing too many layers for the energy output they are undertaking. As a result, they are sweating more than necessary and might be needlessly sweating more than the given jacket can handle not only dehydrating themselves but also soaking themselves from the inside.
All of the contenders reviewed here allow moisture to pass through them; however, none of them allow an infinite amount of moisture to pass through, and they all have a limit. Remember that you can even drench a lightweight t-shirt if you're working hard enough and that lightweight synthetic T-shirt is no doubt more breathable than any jacket we tested. Set yourself up for success and wear the minimum layers you can get away with while using the vents to maximize the air exchange, dump heat, and allow moisture to escape. People are often more worried about being too cold, but in our experience, we see far more people wear WAY too much clothing and end up too hot. We recommend to be bold and start cold or at least cool to the point where it takes you 5-10 minutes to get comfortable. If you're warm before you start, and you're taking part in aerobic activity, you'll likely produce far more sweat than your jacket can handle.
To the highest degree, a garment's breathability is a direct result of the waterproof fabric itself, which is broken down into a couple of parts. These parts are the material it has been constructed with and the material it is bonded to within the fabric (all of the jackets in this review are constructed with multiple layers, even if it only looks like one). In our review, the difference in face fabrics (the outer fabric that you can actually see, and no, that isn't the waterproof part, that is actually inside the jacket) or the interior-most layer of material didn't vary significantly in thickness and thus, didn't affect breathability as much as construction style and the waterproof membrane itself.
Air Permeable Fabrics
Air permeable is a new buzzword (and a technical term) that is a design aspect of many of the new wave of stretchy proprietary waterproof-breathable jackets that have recently surged onto the market. We feature a number of the models that are air permeable in our reviews such as the Rab Kinetic Plus and Outdoor Research Interstellar.
Air permeable is exactly that; air can pass through the fabric itself. This means that on a micro-level, these models aren't technically windproof. Some people are concerned about this, but for the most part, they feel windproof, and it takes a pretty darn strong breeze to become chilled. However, the common misconception is that because a given model might be air permeable, people assume it must be more breathable than a non-air permeable jacket (such as Gore-Tex or eVent), but the truth is that this isn't always the case. In fact, several air permeable models aren't able to pass as much moisture as high-end non-air permeable fabrics like Gore-Tex or eVent.
The notable advantages of air permeable fabrics are they do tend to be cooler feeling because there is some air always creeping its way in and out. The other, and we feel the most significant difference, between air permeable and more traditional materials, is they don't require a big difference in temperature to breathe well. Most waterproof breathable fabrics require a significant temperature difference to work well; they need conditions that are warmer on the inside of a jacket and cooler on the outside. This difference creates a pressure differential that drives the moisture to move from the warm areas to the older ones; this isn't a problem for most users. A few exceptions are you have been sweating for a while, and then you stop moving for a chunk of time to cool off; then you become wet and cold, and the moisture won't move quite as well from the wet t-shirt to the outside world. The other common scenario that keeps non air permeable fabrics from breathing as well is when working in hot, humid climates, where there won't be a temperature differential to move the moisture.
The most breathable materials in our review were the Gore-Tex Active and eVent. While these two fabrics scored the best overall there were a handful of the proprietary air permeable fabrics like the Rab Kinetic Plus's Proflex and Outdoor Research's Ascentshell, which allowed for exceptional breathability. These air permeable fabrics scored similarly to Gore-Tex Paclite, which was used in several models in our review like the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Marmot Minimalist, and Outdoor Research Foray.
All the products listed above all performed reasonably similar. Then there was a small performance gap between the previously listed models and products that utilized various fabrics with some type of proprietary PU laminates like Marmot's Membrane, Patagonia's H2No used on the Storm Racer and Cloud Ridge, and Black Diamond's BDry. We didn't find the top tier fabrics far more breathable than these proprietary PU ones, but after side-by-side testing and real-world use, there was enough of a difference that our review team could feel easily recognize the distinction.
Below this, there was an even larger gap in performance between the PU laminates and products that used a coated waterproof membrane like the Marmot PreCip, The North Face Venture, and Patagonia Torrentshell. Models with coated membranes tended to be a lot less expensive, and in most cases, half the price, but we found breathability to be their biggest performance deficit.Breathability Versus Ventilation
When considering and comparing different ventilation options, as well as a model's overall breathability, it is important to remember that these two design aspects, while related, are not equal. Between the two, a fabric's breathability is more important than ventilation. The reason is that when it's pissing rain or even after a storm, if you happen to find yourself walking up a brushy trail, you'll want to batten down the hatches by closing pit zips and cinch up the hood to keep keep the water out, even if it means trapping some of your body-made-moisture in. The bottom line is when working or recreating in stormier weather, the more active your endeavors, the more significant the importance of breathability becomes.
Ventilation Features and Comparison
In lighter drizzle or in the time between cloudbursts when you want to continue wearing your jacket for wind protection or as part of your layering system, ventilation can be a valuable way to move moisture and dump heat. Pit zips, various other zippered ventilation designs and mesh-lined pockets all have their place. The bottom line remains that ventilation, while undoubtedly important, takes a backseat to breathability for practical, real-world use because it is rare that you can open vents all the way when it's raining hard enough to need to put your rain jacket on.
Side-by-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of these jackets in real-world use while hiking, backpacking, climbing, and ski touring. We researched the actual volume of water each fabric can pass and performed a series of side-by-side stationary bike and 10-minute stair master test (thanks, Vertical World Seattle) to better compare and analyze breathability. We conducted the tests several times, comparing models with lots of ventilation options, keeping vents completely closed, partially open, and completely open.
After all of our testing, we determined the REI Drypoint GTX, which is constructed with Gore-Tex Active, breathes the best but offers little in the way of ventilation. The Drypoint is slightly less steamy inside than other high-end performers during high-energy activities and is WAY more breathable than models that feature coated waterproof-breathable fabrics. We even noticed ourselves becoming colder during breaks when wearing the REI Drypoint GTX.
With that said, the Outdoor Research Interstellar and Rab Kinetic Plus were close competitors during testing of our all-zipped-up breathability comparison. Other stand out performers include the Arc'teryx Zeta SL, Outdoor Research Foray, and the Marmot Minimalist.
For those who get warm super easily, the Outdoor Research Foray is easily one of the best options. It uses Gore-Tex with Paclite technology, which is one of the more breathable fabrics in our review, but it also has an extremely effective and unique ventilation design. Outdoor Research calls this TorsoFlo which is basically two long zippers (one on each side) that extend from the hem of the jacket to the wearer's triceps (mid-upper arm); this allows the jacket to be opened to a variety of degrees and to share a similar feeling to that of a poncho.
Among coated jackets, we didn't notice a massive difference in breathability, especially in the lower price range, but this is where the performance of their different ventilation designs became more apparent. The Marmot PreCip and The North Face Venture 2 received slightly below average scores for breathability (though average or even slightly above average in their price range) and offered effective venting options. While their fabrics weren't as breathable as most of the PU laminates or more name brand fabrics, they feature larger-than-average pit zips and lower hand pockets, which when left open, dumped more heat than our testing team originally gave them credit for.
Comfort & Mobility
For whatever activities you might have planned, you want a jacket that moves comfortably with you and doesn't get in the way or inhibit your movement. In the mobility portion of this metric, our review team compares how well each model moved with its user and how restrictive it may have been both in general and for specific applications. We explicitly compared things such as how well a model's hood maintained peripheral vision and how well it moved with our heads. We compared each model with our arms facing straight forward, straight up, and straight out to the sides and how easily each model let us accomplish these tasks. We also measured how much each jacket pulled back from our wrists and if the hem of the jacket pulled up around our waists.
In the comfort portion of this metric, we took into account the small features that made a given product more comfortable to wear (and how easy specific features were to use), as well as the interior feeling; was it more or less clammy feeling on our bare skin. Lastly, the basic but essential bit about how each model felt as a whole. We noted small features, like a microfleece patch at the chin or soft fabric where the hood rests on your brow - both nice touches that just made a given model feel nicer. We also considered the ease of use of each feature, comparing cinch cords for the hood and how easy to access and adjust they were. Some jackets add larger fabric pull tabs to the zipper rather than small pieces of cord to ease operating with cold fingers or gloves.
The models with the best range of motion were easily the ultra-stretchy Rab Kinetic Plus. It is just one of many of a fresh new wave of stretchier and stretchier waterproof shells, but this model is truly the stretchiest we have ever seen. This model offered some of the best mobility in our review and impressed all of our testers with its near restriction free movement. The only thing worth noting on this model is it has an ultra slim fit aimed towards more technical persists and for those who might want to add more than one thin layer underneath should consider sizing up.
Next in line and quite close for the best freedom-of-movement and overall mobility were the still-quite-stretchy Black Diamond Fineline, Patagonia Storm Racer, Outdoor Research Interstellar, REI Drypoint GTX, and the not-stretchy but still high performing Arc'teryx Zeta SL. All of these models featured mobility-oriented-designs and offered functional range-of-motion that was just a small cut below the Rab Kinetic Plus.
The Marmot Minimalist, Outdoor Research Foray, and Outdoor Research Helium II provided decent mobility and received the next highest rating in this metric. None of these models offered stretchy fabric, but all sported relatively well-articulated arms that facilitated most movements nicely. The Marmot Phoenix has above average movement and The North Face Venture 2, while baggy, didn't limit our mobility much.
The effectiveness of each model's hood (at keeping our heads dry while not chaffing our chins or cutting off our peripheral vision) varied wildly among models. Our favorites were the Arc'teryx Zeta SL and the REI Drypoint GPX, while the Outdoor Research Foray and Black Diamond Fineline scored not too far behind.
Also in this group of jackets with higher performing hoods, the Rab Kinetic Plus, which is of special note because it features an internal elastic band that is designed to ride directly on top of the wearer's forehead, acting as an internal gasket to the main hood. As crazy as this sounds, and trust us, most of our review team was quite skeptical, it turned out to be super comfortable and effective, doing a top-notch job of maintaining peripheral vision. From beanies to baseball caps, each one of these jackets featured hoods that cinched down over a range of headwear, maximizing the hood's ability to turn with its users head instead of turning into it.
For some users, light is right, and weight is everything. All of our testers value lightweight clothing and gear, but not at the expense of basic functionality. If you're thru-hiking 2,000 miles, climbing technical terrain, or riding your bicycle from coast to coast, weight may and should be one of your primary concerns. Around town, weight is less significant, and keeping your hands cozy may take priority. For backpacking and mountaineering, weight is important but so is staying comfortable for a week with rain forecast every day.
All of the models in our review are on the lighter-weight end of the spectrum, particularly when compared to beefier 3-layer models. As an example, all of the jackets in our review weigh less than a pound, an unofficial benchmark for what is considered a lighter weight jacket. While one pound might be a benchmark, the average weight of models in our review is closer to 11-13 ounces with some models dipping down to an impressive 6-7 ounces; an unfathomable weight for a waterproof jacket just 4-5 years ago.
The Patagonia Storm Racer is the lightest model tested, weighing in at an impressive six ounces. That's half the weight (or even less) of most of the jackets reviewed. If weight is your primary concern, this contender is pretty hard to beat and is one of the lightest waterproof breathable models currently available. While the Storm Racer isn't feature-rich, it has many of the features that the majority of people find valuable, such as above-average mobility, a well-designed hood, and a tiny stuff pocket with a clip-in loop.
A very close contender for this title of the lightest model tested was the Outdoor Research Helium II. At 6.5 ounces, it's only half an ounce heavier, has nearly all of the same features and equal storm worthiness, and is much less expensive. Its only real drawback is that the Storm Racer offers more breathability, mostly due to its stretchy fabric and better overall mobility. The Helium II also doesn't stuff into its own pocket to be clipped to a harness, making it slightly less ideal for climbers.
The next lightest contender tested was the Black Diamond Fineline (7.5 ounces), which for being only 1.5 ounces heavier, was built with a stretchier material and provided better breathability. There are a number of models in the 10-11 ounce range, such as the REI Drypoint GPX (10.5 ounces), which was the lightest of Gore-Tex pieces, while our Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Zeta SL weighed in at 11 ounces, and offered bomb proof storm-worthiness and still checked in slightly lighter than average.
Weather changes quickly. At some point, we've all been caught in a storm, getting soaked when we left our jacket in the car at the then-sunny trailhead. It's these just-in-case packing scenarios when having a super light, crazy compact rain shell is useful, and there is less debate on whether to throw it in the back of your running vest or the bottom of your pack. It's easier to forget about until you need it. Even on multiday trips with less than perfect forecasts packed size is high on the most outdoor enthusiast's priority list. The reason is, in reality, most folks carry their rain shell 90% or more of the time, so the smaller it packs, the more room you have for other items or maybe it makes the last few cubic inches of difference to get away with a smaller pack.
Seven of these models 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 require wrestling to get them stowed; others fit comfortably into their stuff pocket. A clip-in loop (for use after the jacket has been stuffed) is a nice feature that many climbers or hikers will appreciate and use at some point. As for packed volume, the Patagonia Storm Racer and the Outdoor Research Helium II were the most compact jackets, with the Black Diamond Fineline being only marginally bigger. All three of these models proved to be significantly smaller than all other models being half the compressed volume of the average packet size among products in our review.
The REI Drypoint, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, and the Patagonia Torrentshell lead the pack among the remaining jackets for being most compressible. These models are more versatile and storm-worthy but are still 50% bigger than the smallest three models listed in the previous paragraph. Of note, the Outdoor Research Interstellar offered a decent packed volume, but its stuff sack pocket did a poor job of minimizing its volume, though this doesn't matter much if you just squeeze it into your pack. Amongst the more price-pointed models, the Marmot Precip offered the most compact size.
The products in our review range from bare-bones designs to fully featured models aimed at being as versatile as possible. For some adventures, super light is right, but to some extent, all the products we selected are fairly light, and often, a few pockets or pit zips on less breathable models contribute enough utility for the extra 2-4 ounces to be worth their weight. If you are wearing your jacket around town, having room in the pockets for a pair of gloves and a warm hat or a phone and keys can be nice. Some folks like to use a rain hat; a hood that rolls away and stows can be appreciated.
Everyone uses pockets to some extent, and it's hard to argue the utility of a few key placed ones. Besides the use of storing small items and having a convenient place to keep your hands warm, their location can affect the comfort of the jacket. Having low handwarmer pockets are great for around town but can be a nuisance while wearing a harness or heavy pack. For several of our testers that log a lot of time in the backcountry on multiday trips, handwarmer or lower hand pockets that are located too low are a total deal-breaker.
The reason is when out on adventures that require wearing a pack, when a majority of the jacket's pocket is under a weighted hip-belt, whether out for a day or an extended trip, the pocket's zipper can dig into your hips, making your rainy-day outing even more miserable. The zipper pinched induced pain only compounds itself the longer the trip, so if you're planning on using your rain jacket for activities like day hiking, backpacking, or mountaineering steer clear of models with low front hand-warmer pockets.
Nearly all of our reviewers love pockets that are slightly higher and out of the way of a pack's hip-belt or a climbing harness, so we can still access items and, more importantly, so the zipper doesn't cause us pain under heavy loads. For less technical applications, low pockets are slightly more helpful and more comfortable for keeping your hands warm while cruising the farmers market on a drizzly day.
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands you place on it. We know everyone would like their rain jacket to last an eternity, but in reality, many users might be better off going with a lighter weight model that they will use infrequently and simply carry around a good chunk of the time.
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 more robust 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 once a rip has occurred.
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 while bushwhacking, choose a model with ripstop face fabric, and do consider a polyester model. Lastly, jackets with fewer seams in the shoulders hold up better if you plan to carry a pack regularly.
The Marmot Minimalist, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, and the Outdoor Research Foray both pair 50D polyester ripstop face fabrics and with Gore-Tex Paclite, and the Marmot Phoenix, all earned the highest durability scores. The Foray and Minimalist are bomber jackets and will handle anything you could hope a backpacking oriented rain jacket could take. Other jackets, such as the Patagonia Torrentshell was one of the more robust models on a budget.
We mostly focused 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 on each jacket's DWR longevity in their durability and water resistance scores.
At first, glance, figuring out which rain jacket is right for you is more complicated than it might seem. While keeping you dry is the goal, features like ventilation can make a big difference in day to day use. We hope that our review and test results have helped you narrow down to one or two jackets that fit your situation.
— Ian Nicholson