There’s no shortage of rain jackets on the market, and it’s hard to know where to start. Understanding some key terms and the basics of rainwear technology will help you find a jacket that keeps you dry—and one that fits your budget at that. In this blog, we’re sharing everything you need to know in order to choose the best rain jacket for your needs.
Rainwear is grouped into three broad categories: water resistant; waterproof, breathable; and waterproof. Here is the definition of each:
Water resistant: This type of jacket can handle light rain for a brief time — think windbreakers and featherweight jackets, for example. If precipitation lingers or starts coming down steadily, it will ultimately get wet.
Waterproof breathable: This type of performance rainwear keeps rain from getting through to your skin, while also wicking away sweat. While a waterproof garment will keep you dry from the outside, without breathability, perspiration vapors can't escape and you'll end up as wet from your own sweat. So, opt for this type of jacket if you plan on getting your legs and heart pumping. Waterproof breathable technologies include System Three from Eastern Mountain Sports, HyVent from The North Face, PreCip and MemBrain from Marmot, NeoShell from Polartec, Pertex from Outdoor Research, and, of course, Gore-Tex.
Waterproof: The classic PVC vinyl rain jacket worn by your local crossing guard is the classic example of a non-breathable rain jacket. If you simply need to keep the rain out while sitting or standing around, this gear does just fine and costs very little money.
When looking for rain jackets you’ll often see them labeled as 2-layer, 2.5-layer, or 3-layer. This will be in addition to whatever waterproof-breathable material is embedded in the jacket. For instance, a jacket with GORE-TEX could be 2-layer, 2.5-layer, or 3-layer, depending on the type of GORE-TEX used. Here’s a quick breakdown of each layer type:
2-layer: If you see a jacket with a mesh lining, it’s likely a 2-layer jacket. This means that the coating layer is applied inside an outer fabric layer to form a single piece of material, and a loose-hanging liner is added inside that to protect the coating. If you’re looking for a rain jacket to walk around a city in, a 2-layer will do the trick.
2.5-layer: The .5 layer here is a half step up from a 2-layer rain jacket. Instead of the mesh lining, a very thin half-layer is printed onto the inside of the jacket. This protects the membrane from dirt and abrasion, while also wicking moisture up and out. The 2.5-layer rain jacket is a good standard for hikers who need decent rain protection, don’t want to spend a lot of money, and also want their gear to be packable and light. Heads up thought: some people find the 0.5 layer uncomfortable against their skin, claiming it to be sticky. Make sure to try on your rain jacket in the store and walk around to get a sense for if it will bother you!
3-layer jacket: In a 3-layer jacket, no coatings are used. Instead, a membrane is tightly sandwiched between a rugged face fabric and a liner. This makes the jacket more effective and durable, and also more expensive. They were designed for more intense alpine conditions.
Here are our picks for some of the best rain jackets on the market:
Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket - Best Overall
Category: Daily use/hiking
Weight: 13.9 oz.
Waterproofing: 3L H2No Performance Standard
Patagonia recently upgraded the Torrentshell from a 2.5-layer jacket to a 3-layer jacket, making it more durable and breathable. The best part? The price went up by only $20, making it a solid choice for a rain jacket that will perform without breaking the bank.
Outdoor Research Apollo Jacket - Best Budget Jacket
Category: Daily use/hiking
Weight: 12 oz
Waterproofing: Ventia 2.5L
Outdoor Research is highly regarded in their home state of Washington, and for good reason! For $99, you’ll get 2.5-layers that will hold up well against precipitation, along with some nice features like pit zips and elastic cuffs.
Arc’Teryx Beta LT - Best Performance Jacket
Weight: 13.9 oz.
Waterproofing: 3L Gore-Tex
When it comes to top performing gear, Arc’Teryx always makes the list. This jacket blurs the line between a hard shell and a rain jacket, meaning it will deliver trustworthy protection for 4-season hiking and backcountry exploration. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors in potentially harsh conditions, it’s worth investing in this jacket. If not, definitely pass - at $400 this is one of the pricier jackets on the market.
There you have it: how to choose a rain jacket! With this knowledge, you should feel confident heading into the store and selecting the best rain jacket for your needs. Make sure to check out some of our other gear breakdowns such as How to Choose a Down Jacket and What to Consider When Buying Hiking Boots.
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