Every time I slip on a rain jacket, I give thanks that we no longer have to wrap ourselves in smelly seal skin or bulky rubber slickers to stay dry. Advances in weatherproof textiles and apparel design mean that rain jackets today are more comfortable and watertight than ever before. But depending on the climate and your level of activity, sorting through different styles, technologies, and waterproofing ratings can be confusing.
To help, I tested more than 20 waterproof rain jackets through the long, wet Pacific Northwestern winters. I also consulted Amber Williams, a consumer science educator and lecturer in textile science and pattern making at Utah State University’s outdoor product design department, for advice on how to pick the best rain jackets. My conclusion: You don’t really need to spend much more than $100 to stay dry. But if you, too, spend hours in the rain every day, innovative new fabrics can immeasurably add to your comfort.
Updated March 2020: We added new picks, like the Rains Ultralight, and removed older ones.
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1. Best Everyday Rain Jacket
It’s difficult to read anything about rain jackets without coming across the Danish outerwear company Rains. Its minimalist designs are modeled on the classic rubber raincoat, with a traditional polyurethane coating on durable polyester fabric.
Technical rain jacket manufacturers tend to shy away from polyurethane because it feels, well, rubbery. But the material is durable, long-lasting, windproof, and waterproof. Unlike modern durable water repellents (DWR), polyurethane rain jackets have a fluorinate-free manufacturing process. It doesn’t release carcinogenic perfluorocarbons into the waste stream when it’s made, and the jacket’s not going to release PFCs into your favorite creeks when you’re traipsing around the woods.
Rains has been able to mitigate that thick, rubbery feel in its Ultralight rain jackets, which were released in February 2020. The tester I wore was light and flexible, with an adjustable hood and a waterproof front zip. The hand pockets use waterproof zippers, and the seams are ultrasonically welded, which is a process Rains claims is much more durable and environmentally friendly than seam tape.
I wouldn’t consider it a technical jacket. It has seams across the tops of the shoulders under backpack straps, it doesn’t have an adjustable hem, and polyurethane is a lot less breathable than some of the other fabrics I tested. But if you don’t need a jacket with a lot of bells and whistles, the Ultralight won’t stick out as a technical rain jacket if you wear it to work. It’s also environmentally friendly.
2. Best Running Rain Jacket
The Flight jacket isn’t the lightest jacket I tested. It’s a three-layer jacket, as compared with the lighter two- or two-and-a-half-layer jackets like the Marmot Bantamweight, which is still a great pick. It’s still breathable, without a ton of vents and perforations that let rain or cold air inside. The North Face’s Futurelight fabric was developed from nanospinning techniques originally used in water-filtration systems and smartphone electronics casings. The webs are waterproof and perfluorocarbon-free.
The Flight Jacket has standard running-jacket features, like an adjustable hood, stash pocket, and an elasticized waistband and cuffs. But it’s soft and flexible enough to do away with many of the darts and gussets that jacket manufacturers use to give the wearer more range of motion. The North Face also devised a soft, thin seam tape to keep water out of the jacket’s vulnerable points.
3. Most Eco-Friendly Rain Jacket
Earlier this year, I recommended Fjällraven’s Keb Eco Shell because the company uses a proprietary PFC-free spray as a waterproofing agent. But the best rain jacket is one that you won’t have to treat or replace, and so far the Marmot Eclipse with EVODry has held up.
It rains a lot here in Portland. In between biking my kids to school, walking my dog, and waiting sullenly for sushi food carts to open, I usually wear off the DWR on a rain jacket in about a year. That isn’t the case with the Eclipse; water is still beading on the surface after months of wear. Marmot’s EVODry fabric uses a technology called AquaVent, which uses high-pressure gas to press water repellents directly into the jacket’s fibers, where it is thermally polymerized into place. In addition to being more durable, it also doesn’t produce a lot of toxic wastewater as a byproduct, and it’s a lot easier to clean.
4. Best Hiking Rain Jacket
I recently reviewed Outdoor Research’s MicroGravity alpine shell, which uses OR’s proprietary AscentShell fabric. You make Ascentshell by spraying nano-sized polyurethane fibers over an electric charge, which creates a thin, breathable membrane that is then sandwiched between a durable face fabric and a comfy interior backing fabric.
Like Futurelight, the MicroGravity is soft, stretchy, and fabric-like, without the crinkliness of traditional DWR-laminated fabrics. (Unfortunately, unlike Futurelight, it is not PFC-free). I’ve found it to be the perfect pick for a chilly, Pacific Northwestern spring. I’ve worn it hiking, biking, and walking my dog, and it keeps even the hardest rains out.
It also broke the wind while biking in the rain at 18 mph and was roomy enough to fit a fleece hoodie underneath. The chest and hand mesh pockets provide additional ventilation, but AscentShell was breathable enough that I didn’t need it. Even while biking hard uphill with the pockets zipped, I didn’t get uncomfortably sweaty.
5. Best Affordable Rain Jacket
For less than $100, it is tough to find rain jackets that offer better value than the Rainier. It uses high-quality laminate waterproofing instead of the less expensive coating many cheaper rain jackets tend to rely on. (Read more below on laminates and layers.) Rather than bonding a waterproof, breathable membrane below the shell fabric, manufacturers will save money by just coating the inner surface with a waterproof, breathable film. It’s less pricey but also less durable than three-layer construction.
The Rainier has many great features that are tough to find in rain jackets at this price. For example, it’s made from recycled nylon and has venting pit zips. It’s also seam-taped, has a weatherproof center zip, and has an adjustable, packable hood. For casual day hikes and traveling, the Rainier jacket is a great choice.
These are my favorite light, waterproof shells: They didn’t make my top picks, but I also liked the Fjallraven Keb and the Arc’teryx Zeta SL. I liked the Keb’s PFC-free waterproofing materials and commuter-friendly design details, and I liked the Zeta SL’s slim fit, articulated panels, and durable two-layer construction. Marmot’s Keele Peak lightweight shell performed well while hiking and biking, but Marmot’s Pertex doesn’t feel as nice as either AscentShell or Futurelight, and I don’t find it as breathable. I also don’t think it justified the substantially higher price tag.
These jackets are worth the money: I’ve had a Patagonia Torrentshell ($129) for five years. I was disappointed by Patagonia’s choice to stay with a DWR that isn’t PFC-free. However, in 2016, the company switched from the DWR treatment with a longer chemical structure, or C8 PFCs, to one with a shorter molecule that is easier to break down. This year’s version includes a stuff sack and a microfleece-lined neck that is fun to rub my face against when I have it zipped up against the wind. I was also impressed by the performance of Outdoor Research’s Helium II, a lightweight, packable rain jacket that can usually be found for under $100. Marmot’s PreCip Eco has also been around for 20 years and now has a PFC-free face fabric.
I really like REI’s in-house jackets: I am continually surprised at the value for the price in REI’s line. Its casual rain jackets have plenty of nice features, work well, and cost hundreds of dollars less than many of my other picks.
These jackets have interesting design details: Pit zips present a conundrum to me. I find cold air blasting under my arms to be uncomfortable, but I don’t like getting swampy while running. The Janji Rainrunner ($196) avoids the pit zip conundrum, as it’s basically a waterproof tank top layered underneath a long-sleeved crop top, with a full 360 degrees of venting around the core. I also tried Coalatree’s Whistler windbreaker ($129), which is a lightweight windbreaker with a DWR application. Its HiloTech fabric is also self-repairing—if you get tiny holes in the fabric from a thorny plant or a sparking ember off a fire, you can rub it with your fingertips to patch it up. It doesn’t work with tears that are much larger than a pinprick, but if you can avoid stabbing yourself with your pocketknife, you should be good to go. It will be available in April 2020.
Understanding Rain Jacket Tech
Trying to decipher jackets’ product specs is almost as annoying as getting soaked by a sudden cloudburst on the trail.
Look for laminated layers: Most technical waterproof jackets are referred to as two- or three-layer jackets. These layers usually consist of a face