This is The Wise Adventurer’s in-depth field test of all the most popular rain jackets currently on the market. What follows below is the result of months of first-hand field testing by our staff, all undertaken with a singular purpose: To find out which jackets are worth our hard-earned money, be it simple budget-friendly rain gear or top-of-the-line alpine shells built to handle the worst conditions day in and day out.
After spending some long hours in the wilderness with each jacket, we found the Arc’teryx Beta LT to be the best rain jacket overall. We love the Beta LT for its unrivaled combination of bulletproof wet weather performance, low weight, high packability, and premium construction. We took this jacket everywhere from wet weather walks around town to snowy mountain peaks and couldn’t find a single thing to complain about.
While we believe the Beta LT will be the best jacket for the majority of users, we also know it isn’t ideal for everyone. Some folks will want something a bit beefier, others will want something as light and packable as possible, and some are just looking for a solid all-around rain jacket for under $200. To that end, we’ve put together our favorite picks of the year for all the most common use cases, as well as a handy buyer’s guide down at the bottom of this article to help you separate the best from the rest.
Alright, let’s get started!
|Arc’teryx Beta LT: Best Rain Jacket Overall||Outstanding build quality, weather protection, and premium features. All around versatility and outstanding value. See Review|
|Arc’teryx Beta AR: Highest Overall Quality||Bulletproof construction meets industry-leading weather protection and versatility. A do-it-all hardshell that’s built to last. See Review|
|Patagonia Torrentshell 3L: Best On A Budget||Unmatched value for the money. Excellent weather protection and long-wearing durability at an affordable price. See Review|
|Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic: Best Lightweight/Breathable Option||Stretchy, comfortable, and surprisingly protective for a soft shell jacket. Light, packable, and impressively versatile. See Review|
|Marmot Precip Eco||Dirt cheap price and proven reliability. A trusted no-frills design that keeps you dry when you need it and packs down small when you don’t. See Review|
|REI Co-op XeroDry GTX||GoreTex protection at a price that’s almost too good to be true. Premium features and quality design anyone can afford. See Review|
|Rab Downpour Plus 2.0||A lightweight rain jacket that works great for more aerobic activities. A small price tag with an even smaller packed size. See Review|
Best Rain Jackets of 2023
Arc’teryx Beta LT: Best Rain Jacket Overall
– Price: $450
– Weight: 13.9oz (394g)
– Waterproofing Fabric: GoreTex 3 Layer
– Waterproofing Rating: 28,000mm
– Number of pockets: 2
– What we like: Excellent weatherproofing, build quality, and versatility
– What we don’t: Expensive, not as tough as GoreTex Pro shells
Topping our list as the best rain jacket overall is the Arc’teryx Beta LT, a jacket which Arc’teryx describes as the “minimalist option” in their popular Beta line of hardshell jackets. Don’t be fooled by the title though: This “minimalist” jacket excelled in nearly every metric our testers evaluated.
This was the one jacket we simply couldn’t put down this year, and our testers brought it along for the ride during rainy rock climbs, drenched weekends around camp, and even a snowy 14,000-foot summit of Mt. Nadelhorn in Switzerland. Long story short, the Beta LT provided us with bombproof protection from wind, rain, and snow while also delivering outstanding breathability and ventilation across a wide variety of activities.
Speaking of which, the Beta LT’s three-layer GoreTex build carries the same industry-leading 28,000mm waterproof rating as a top-of-the-line GoreTex Pro garment, which our testers found to be dead reliable regardless of how hard or how long it rained. As for breathability, the Beta LT was the most breathable hardshell in our testing, delivering levels of comfort and moisture management that were nearly on par with many of the softshells we’ve tested over the years.
As we’ve come to expect from Arc’teryx, build quality for the Beta LT is also outstanding, and is completely on par with their more expensive offerings. Seam taping is tight and precise, all of the zippers are Arc’teryx’s own “WaterTight” design, and the hood is helmet-compatible and fully adjustable while still offering outstanding peripheral vision.
We were also impressed with the Beta LT’s set of premium features, which is saying a lot for a minimalist jacket. The Beta LT gets hipbelt-compatible hand pockets, a drop tail hem that helped keep our hind quarters dry in the snow, and body-mapped articulated sleeves that provide full range of motion without adding any undue weight or bulk. Arc’teryx even threw in the same sueded chin-guard found on their more expensive models for added comfort (and facial hair friendliness), which is pretty remarkable considering the LT’s sub-14oz weight.
We have zero major complaints from our time in the field with the Arc’teryx Beta LT. This jacket delivers incredible protection and versatility as well as a lighter and more packable design than your average hardshell, and does it all for a good $200 less than Arc’teryx’s more premium offerings. Our only real gripe here is that while the Beta LT’s 40D fabric construction is far from fragile, it isn’t quite as burly as the three-layer GoreTex Pro models in the Beta lineup either. Read our full test and review of the Arc’teryx Beta LT…
|– Flawless weather protection|
– Outstanding build quality and premium features
– More affordable than your typical Arc’teryx hardshell
|– Still not cheap|
– Not quite as tough as the 80/100D GoreTex Pro shells
Arc’teryx Beta AR: Highest Overall Quality
– Price: $600
– Weight: 15.8 oz (448 g)
– Waterproofing Fabric: 3-layer GoreTex Pro
– Waterproofing Rating: 28,000 mm
– Number of pockets: 3 (one interior)
– What we like: Outstanding waterproofing, rugged construction, premium features
– What we don’t: Expensive, a bit heavy, less breathable than comparable softshells
The Arc’teryx Beta AR is the “all-rounder” in the Beta lineup, which means it’s designed with versatility in mind to perform in the widest array of outdoor activities possible. What differentiates the AR from our top pick LT, however, is that it’s made to be as durable and feature-rich as possible rather than minimalist and compact.
The main headline here is the Beta AR’s upgraded GoreTex Pro construction, which uses a combination of 80D fabric in high-wear areas for durability and 40D fabric in lower-stress areas for less weight and bulk. Our testers found the Beta AR to be pound-for-pound the toughest jacket in this year’s sample, and felt they’d have zero concerns stuffing it into a full pack alongside angular gear like tent poles, stakes, and stoves for weeks at a time.
In addition to its outstanding durability, we also found the Beta AR to be water and windproof beyond reproach, and never had a single issue or leak over several months of use. The DWR coating is outstanding, all of the jacket’s zippers are laminated and highly water resistant, the adjusters do a great job of sealing out moisture, and the hood was the best in our testing, combining a helmet-compatible shape with a separate storm collar for a best-of-both-worlds approach.
As could be expected from a top-of-the-line Arc’teryx hardshell, our testers were also thoroughly impressed with the Beta’s laundry list of premium features. Both of the hand pockets are extra large and hip-belt compatible, the adjusters are all glove-friendly, there’s a super-soft microsuede liner at the chin and neck for added comfort, and Arc’teryx even threw in an additional internal chest pocket that could keep a tissue dry in a hurricane.
In terms of drawbacks, the list is short. The Arc’teryx Beta AR is definitely an expensive hardshell, but it’s also the most durable and well-made of our test, as well as the most protective in poor weather. It’s a bit heavier than your typical rain jacket due to the GoreTex Pro fabric, but it’s still under a pound and packs down surprisingly well, making it completely serviceable for long-distance use in the backcountry. All things considered, the Beta AR is an impressively technical rain jacket that’s built exceptionally well and will last for years of hard use, so we feel the investment is well warranted for serious outdoor enthusiasts. Read our full test and review of the Arc’teryx Beta AR…
|– Bulletproof GoreTex Pro construction and weather protection|
– Works well for just about any activity
– Lacks nothing in terms of features or build quality
|– Typical hardshell crunchiness|
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L: Best On A Budget
– Price: $179
– Weight: 14.1 oz (400 g)
– Waterproofing Fabric: 3-layer H2No Performance Standard
– Waterproofing Rating: NA
– Number of pockets: 2
– What we like: Bombproof water protection, outstanding build quality, affordable
– What we don’t: Needs more/better pockets, still fabric, little heavy/bulky
Inexpensive, but by no means cheap: That’s what we love about the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L, a three-layer hardshell that goes toe to toe with the best in the business when it comes to weather protection, but does it for well under $200.
Our testers were skeptical about this jacket at first, and had every right to be. It’s affordable, it uses a proprietary membrane rather than a name brand like GoreTex, and at first glance its non-descript outer and stormflap zippers certainly look a little bare bones. After spending some time in the Torrentshell, we’re convinced this is arguably the best jacket out there for most people.
Starting with the basics, we found the Torrentshell’s proprietary 3-layer H2No membrane to be just as reliable and protective as any three-layer GoreTex design.
The stormflaps look simple, but they do their job (both at the center zipper and pockets), while the Torrentshell’s two pit zips help to shed excess heat and moisture on the move. Durability was also a surprising highlight of the build, and the Torrentshell’s full 50D ripstop nylon construction ranked second only to the GoreTex Pro garments in our test.
The Torrenshell’s weight is respectable and packs down fairly small into an integrated stuff sack/stash pocket. It even gets a few bonus features like a soft microfleece-lined collar and a stashable hood. Truth be told the only real shortcomings of this jacket are that it doesn’t breathe quite as well as a GoreTex membrane and the exterior fabric is particularly tough/crunchy. That being said, it still works well for hiking, backpacking, and snowshoeing, and is easily the best bang for your buck currently available. Read our full test and review of the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L…
|– Unbelievable quality for the money|
– Bombproof water protection
– Impressively durable
|– Loud/crunchy fabric|
– Lacks chest/interior pockets
Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic: Best Lightweight/Breathable Rain Jacket
– Price: $230
– Weight: 10.6 oz (300.5 g)
– Waterproofing Fabric: 2.5 layer Dry.Q 50D stretch ripstop
– Waterproofing Rating: N/A
– Number of pockets: 3
– What we like: Breathable, stretchy, light, and compact
– What we don’t: Not super protective, expensive
Three layer rain jackets may offer the best protection in the business, but if you want something as light and breathable as possible, the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic was the favorite choice among testers this year. This lightweight rain jacket weighs in at under 11 ounces, packs down to the size of a grapefruit, and delivers a level of comfort and stretch we didn’t know was possible.
We found that while the Ozonic wasn’t the most protective jacket in our roundup, its 2.5 layer Dry.Q membrane reliably kept us dry in lighter showers, and held its own surprisingly well for periods of moderate rainfall as well. The soft and stretchy outer face fabric was prone to wetting out after 30 minutes or so of heavier precipitation, but the ultralight construction was also one of the fastest to dry in our testing.
We’ll also give the Ozonic props for its unexpected level of durability. Typically a fabric this soft and stretchy isn’t the kind of the thing we’d want to take bushwacking or rock climbing, but Mountain Hardwear’s unique 50D stretch ripstop construction showed no signs of wear after several months of use, which added serious value for our testers.
Features were another unexpected highlight of our time with the Ozonic considering it’s still a minimalist rain shell at heart. Despite its low weight, Mountain Hardwear managed to work in an integrated stash pocket, a three-piece adjustable hood, an extra chest pocket that stays dry in lighter rain, and two large pit zips for venting extra heat on the move.
Our main complaints with the Ozonic are that it’s nowhere near as protective as a three-layer design, and it’s a bit spendy for a fairly basic softshell jacket. Still, the Ozonic’s combination of a 4-way stretch fabric and a surprisingly soft interior feel made it the most comfortable jacket in our testing, as well as the most breathable and quickest drying of the bunch. Read our full test and review of the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic…
|– Super comfortable 4-way stretch fabric|
– Respectable protection for a lightweight/breathable rain jacket
– Surprisingly durable
|– Bit expensive for what it is|
– Not ideal for heavier rain or all-day showers
Marmot Precip Eco
– Price: $100
– Weight: 10.6oz (301 g)
– Waterproofing Fabric: 2.5 layer NanoPro Eco
– Waterproofing Rating: NA
– Number of pockets: 2
– What we like: Super affordable, reliable, light and packable
– What we don’t: Not built to last, basic construction, clammy when wet
Marmot’s proposition with the Marmot Precip Eco is simple: For just $100, you’ll get a real rain jacket from a reputable brand that’s built to withstand the rigors of backcountry use. It may not be the flashiest thing on the market, but at this price, we couldn’t resist bringing the Precip along to see how it compares to more expensive alternatives.
Surprise, surprise, we found that while the Precip may be dirt cheap, it’s also damn good. Marmot’s combination of a high-quality DWR coating and their proprietary 2.5-layer NanoPro membrane performed well above their price point, keeping rain rolling off our shoulders for a solid 2-hour downpour before the face fabric began to wet out. Even when moisture made its way to the underlying membrane, we didn’t actually experience any leaks or failures in the field, which is high praise for such an affordable garment.
A few other features our testers appreciated with the Precip were its simple yet effective storm flaps, which kept any and all moisture out of the zippers, as well as its roll-and-stash hood, which uses a similarly simple yet effective velcro tab to keep the hood secured when not in use. We also love that Marmot includes an integrated stash pocket/stuff sack combo in the Precip’s construction, adding further value to an already sweet deal.
Of course a jacket this affordable is bound to have a few notable tradeoffs, and our testers had two main complaints with the Precip. The first is that its bare-bones 2.5 layer membrane isn’t the most breathable, and starts to feel clammy and unpleasant once the face fabric begins to wet out. The dual pit zips help to shed heat on the move, and are a major bonus in a jacket this affordable, but when the precipitation picked up and we had to seal the jacket entirely, its limitations started to show. Our second issue is that we don’t expect the Precip to last more than a few seasons. The main culprit here is the 2.5 layer membrane material, which in our experience tends to break down and lose its effectiveness after a few seasons of exposure to abrasion and oils from your skin.
Neither of these issues comes anywhere close to a deal breaker, however, and we felt that the Precip’s combination of reliable weather protection and incredible value were well worth its asking price. The fact that Marmot throws in a generous amount of highly-functional features is just icing on the cake here, making the Precip Eco our top recommendation for anyone wanting a lightweight rain jacket on a minimal budget. Read our full test and review of the Marmot Precip Eco…
|– Insanely affordable|
– Reliable rain protection
– Solid features for the money
|– Not the most durable|
– Lacks premium features
– Feels clammy after prolonged exposure to rain
REI Co-op XeroDry GTX
– Price: $170
– Weight: 12.5 oz (354 g)
– Waterproofing Fabric: 2-layer GoreTex Paclite
– Waterproofing Rating: 28,000mm
– Number of pockets: 3
– What we like: Affordable, loaded with premium features, light and packable
– What we don’t: Not the most breathable, boxy fit
Who else other than REI could deliver a GoreTex equipped rain jacket loaded with premium features for under $200? The REI Co-op XeroDry GTX stands alone in this regard, so naturally we had to see if it lived up to the hype during this year’s field test.
Our testers found a lot to love here: First and most obvious is the two-layer GoreTex Paclite membrane, which carries the same “guaranteed to keep you dry” promise as the three-layer stuff, but does it with less weight and bulk. We’re happy to report we experienced no leaks or failures during our time with the jacket, and that alone is worth the XeroDry’s asking price.
The other major highlight of the XeroDry is that REI uses a multi-thickness fabric blend similar to the ultra-premium Arc’teryx Beta AR, implementing a more durable fabric through the shoulders and arms to hold up to the extra wear and tear of backpack straps and skis. We also love that the XeroDry delivers all the above while only tipping our scales at a scant 12.5 ounces, and packs down decently well into its own hood for transport.
Our testers also reported a few other highlights when it came to features: The pockets are hip-belt-friendly, for instance, and the XeroDry also includes an extra pocket at the chest for quick-access essentials. We also found the hood was another highlight of the build, and our testers loved its two-way adjustment system as well as its ability to roll down and stash away using an integrated hang loop inside the collar of the jacket.
As far as downsides go, our biggest complaint with the XeroDry is that for all of its finery, REI has yet to include basic pit zips in the jacket’s construction. This feels like an oversight on a jacket that’s impressive enough to include a name-brand GoreTex membrane, so we hope to see it addressed in future iterations. This is particularly important as the only direct ventilation baked into the XeroDry comes from the pockets themselves, which are mesh lined to double as core vents. Unfortunately none of these three pockets can be left open when it’s raining for obvious reasons, so despite the outstanding breathability of the XeroDry’s membrane, the jacket can get humid when it’s fully battened down.
Our testers also weren’t in love with the XeroDry’s big/boxy fit, and found that many users could likely get away with dropping a size down from their usual while still having room left over for layers. It’s not without its benefits, of course, as extra room means extra freedom of movement, but slimmer builds will need to make judicious use of the adjusters to get a good seal out of the jacket. Read our full test and review of the REI Co-op XeroDry GTX…
|– GoreTex protection for well under $200|
– Above average durability
– Room to move and layer comfortably
|– Lacks pit zips for heat management|
– Bulky/boxy fit
Rab Downpour Plus 2.0
– Price: $185
– Weight: 13.2 oz (374 g)
– Waterproofing Fabric: 2.5 layer Pertex Shield
– Waterproofing Rating: 20,000mm
– Number of pockets: 2
– What we like: Lightweight, breathable, super packable
– What we don’t: Not the most waterproof or durable
The Rab Downpour Plus 2.0 caught our eye thanks to its impressively technical build sheet combined with a sub-$200 price. Rab outfits the Downpour Plus 2.0 with a Pertex Shield 2.5-layer membrane, which has been a favorite of ours in the past for more active endeavors like biking and trail running.
After spending a long weekend hiking in the Downpour, we found it can be hit or miss depending on the intended user. Although Rab claims the Downpour Plus 2.0 boasts an impressive 20,000mm waterproof rating, our testers found that the exterior fabric had a tendency to absorb water and wet out quickly in anything heavier than light rain.
On the other hand, we also found a lot to like about this jacket. Our testers agreed that the flexible exterior fabric and soft interior coating made the Downpour one of the most comfortable jackets in our testing, and also noted that it was among the most breathable and quickest drying of the bunch.
Apart from the middling rain protection, the largest complaint we got from our testers was that the Downpour didn’t feel like the most durable jacket in our testing either. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a well-put-together garment complete with tight seams, solid seam taping, and even waterproof zippers, but the thin face fabric doesn’t look or feel particularly rugged, and our testers reported that they would not trust this jacket as much as some other models in our roundup.
Ultimately we found the Downpour would be a great option for active pursuits like running and cycling where packability and breathability are paramount. It moves well, layers well, is extremely comfortable, and the combination of the highly breathable face fabric and sizable pit zips does a great job of shedding heat and interior moisture on the move.
For your average hiker, backpacker, or weekend camper, however, we recommend looking elsewhere for the rain protection you need. Between options like the outstanding Patagonia Torrentshell and uber-frugal Marmot Precip Eco, there are much more weather-worthy choices out there for the same (or less) money. Read our full test and review of the Rab Downpour Plus 2.0…
|– Highly breathable and well-ventilated|
– Packs down impressively small
– Technical build at an affordable price
|– Not the most protective|
– Face fabric doesn’t feel particularly durable
Buyer’s Guide For Outdoor Rain Jackets
Before purchasing the jackets for our field test, we spend hours of research and analysis determining which models are worth buying in the first place. The guide below goes through our selection criteria in detail to help you understand all the most important elements to look for when selecting a jacket of your own. If you want to know even more about how we do our rain jacket reviews, you can also have a look at our detailed testing methology.
How We Evaluated and Tested the Rain Jackets
Our process begins much the same as anyone else’s: We spend a significant amount of time online, researching the best rain jackets currently on the market, digging through spec sheets, and reading through customer reviews to identify common themes.
Once we’ve decided on a selection of jackets, we source them the same way you do: By buying them directly from the retailers with our own money. This approach ensures we can test and evaluate each jacket without bias, delivering truly independent first-hand thoughts and impressions to our readers.
Once it’s time for testing, we bring each jacket out into the field with the singular focus of subjecting each model to the exact kind of day-to-day use your average outdoor enthusiast will experience. In the case of our rain jackets, this included simple hikes through afternoon showers, multi-day trips in the backcountry, and simply living with the jackets in and out of backpacks and vehicles for a few months at a time.
The most important thing to understand about any rain jacket is that none of them are waterproof. Yes, you read that correctly.
That’s because rain jackets are designed to keep you both dry and comfortable, which means some degree of permeability must be baked into the design to shed the heat and moisture your body generates as you move. To that end, rain jackets all exist somewhere on a continuum of weather protection and breathability, and finding the right one means finding the right mix for your chosen activities.
When evaluating a jacket’s water resistance, one key measurement to look for is its hydrostatic head rating. Not all jackets will list this rating, as it isn’t the end-all-be-all for overall performance, but in general, the higher the rating, the more protective the garment.
Take your classic three-layer GoreTex membrane, for instance. GoreTex is generally regarded as the industry benchmark for waterproof/breathable membranes, and all GoreTex-equipped garments sport the same 28,000mm hydrostatic head rating. While in practice this level of water resistance is practically waterproof regardless of how long or how hard it’s raining, even GoreTex has a “failure” point when exposed to enough moisture and pressure. This sky-high rating may be overkill for most users, but for best results, we like to see a 15,000mm or higher rating on any jacket that’ll be exposed to extended precipitation.
Aside from hydrostatic head ratings, there are a few other important factors to consider when it comes to water resistance. The first is the quality of a jacket’s DWR treatment, which is the chemical coating applied to the face fabric of your jacket that causes water to bead up and roll off rather than soak into the fabric. There’s no good way to evaluate the quality of a DWR coating other than actually testing it firsthand, which is why field reviews like ours are so important to conduct.
The other main factor to take into account is the physical hardware and design your rain jacket uses to seal out moisture. This refers to the style and shape of the hood, the manner in which the zippers are protected from moisture (waterproof zippers, storm flaps, etc.), and the style and quality of the various adjustment points found in the hood, cuffs, and hem of the jacket. Our favorite styles use waterproof zippers to eliminate bulk while still sealing out moisture, but traditional storm flaps provide a simpler (and more affordable) alternative with proven results in the field.
On the other side of the continuum is breathability, which refers to your jacket’s ability to extract heat and moisture from your body and disperse it back into the atmosphere. Any waterproof jacket without breathability is essentially just a fancy trash bag with arms and a hood, so this feature shouldn’t be ignored.
There are a few different indicators to look for in this regard when shopping for a rain jacket. The most important is the style of waterproof membrane employed in a jacket’s construction, so let’s touch on the three most common types here.
The simplest form of rain jacket is a 2 layer garment, which, as the name suggests, is just a protective outer face fabric that’s been bonded to a second waterproof/breathable layer. While this may sound like the simplest and lightest solution, waterproof membranes aren’t particularly durable on their own and therefore require an additional sewn-in layer to be added to the inside of the jacket for comfort and durability. For this reason, two-layer designs are often very affordable, but also the heaviest and bulkiest of the lot.
Next in line is the 2.5 layer jacket, which is essentially the exact same thing as a 2-layer garment, except the sewn-in fabric lining is replaced with a protective film or “print” to keep the membrane itself off your skin. This film isn’t as durable as an actual fabric layer, but it does make for a lighter, more packable, and more affordable jacket, albeit at the cost of some durability.
Finally we have 3 layer construction, which is generally considered the cream of the crop for rain jackets. Three-layer construction sandwiches a waterproof membrane between two layers of fabric and then bonds all three together, providing the best mix of durability, breathability, and packability money can buy. Three-layer shells can be a bit heavier than 2.5-layer systems and a bit less breathable than 2-layer systems, but they’re also the best suited for the rigors of regular outdoor use, especially when a heavy backpack is involved.
Fit and Comfort
One of the major things that separate the best rain jackets from the rest is comfort. Throughout the years we’ve found a few specific things that make some jackets more comfortable than others, so here’s what we recommend looking out for.
First and foremost, the type of lining used in your jacket of choice is arguably the single most important factor. Waterproof membranes tend to feel a bit sticky and plastic against the skin, which can make some 2 and 2.5-layer jackets feel gross and clammy, especially when the exterior fabric wets out and moisture is resting against the material.
For this reason, the bonded fabric linings of three-layer jackets are almost always the most comfortable option. With that being said, we’ve also found that some of the new films used in modern 2.5-layer systems feel more and more like fabric and less like a trash bag, which can make or break the comfort factor of these shells.
The other major comfort factor is fit, specifically whether or not a jacket is cut well enough to give you space to move around. Ideally a jacket should be large enough to accommodate any base or mid layers you might wear with it as the seasons change, without being so large it becomes bulky and awkward on your body. We consider it a good sign if you can raise your hands completely over your head without reaching the end of your sleeves or exposing your waistline, so consider this a good initial “test” of any rain jacket you try on yourself.
Over the years, we’ve found a durable rain jacket needs three main features to go the distance: A durable exterior, a well-protected interior, and high-quality sewing and construction.
As far as the exterior goes, a durable face fabric is your jacket’s first line of defense against abrasion, tears, and punctures. This becomes increasingly important as you add external stresses to the material of your jacket, be it from the straps of a heavy back, abrasion from rock climbing, or exposure to branches and underbrush when hiking off-trail.
In terms of the interior, the main concern here is protecting the waterproof membrane of the jacket. Again, three-layer systems are superior here as they provide full fabric coverage against both abrasion and your body’s natural sweat and oils, all of which can quickly degrade the thin membrane housed inside. This is one of the main drawbacks of many 2.5-layer systems, although more durable coatings seem to hit the market every year.
Lastly, even if the interior and exterior of your jacket are rock solid, all those materials need to be held in place with quality construction. Cheap zippers fail, cheap seams leak, and cheap adjusters are prone to snagging and ripping with normal use. To this end, our testers pay close attention to every inch of a jacket’s construction, and note any shortcomings or failures they come across in their field.
Weight and Packability
The importance of weight and packability depends entirely on how you plan to use your rain jacket. If you’re looking for a casual use jacket to keep you dry around town, for instance, neither weight nor packability should be high on your priority list because your jacket isn’t going to spend much time fighting for space inside a backpack.
Backpackers, cyclists, and cross-country skiers, on the other hand, need a rain jacket that packs down easily into their bags and doesn’t add any undue weight to their back when not in use. For these folks, both the weight and packed size of a jacket play an important role.
There are no cut-and-dry rules for how light or packable a jacket “needs” to be in this regard, but you’ll want to keep in mind that thinner fabrics and ultralight construction typically make for a less durable garment. If your jacket needs to last for extended periods in the backcountry, a little extra weight and bulk will be a welcome tradeoff for peace of mind.
The features of a rain jacket refer to all the comfort, quality, and convenience details that go into a jacket’s construction, These can range from essential features like the shape and adjustability of a jacket’s hood to more “premium” add-ons like soft-touch fabric collars and waterproof pockets.
Oftentimes we find that extra features add extra cost to a jacket, and more often than not add extra weight and bulk to the package as well. The best rain jackets include a generous list of extra add-ons without actually adding any significant heft or complexity, but if you want the best of both worlds, you should be prepared to pay for it.
Our best advice here is to consider the features you actually need and/or will use, and try to avoid paying extra for the frills you don’t need. A helmet-compatible hood, for example, is a must for climbers and mountaineers, and hip-belt-compatible pockets are a big-ticket item for backpackers. If you’re just looking for a good jacket to wear around town or on car camping weekends, however, chances are you can save a considerable amount of cash while still getting the rain protection you need by skipping on these features.
We think it goes without saying that value is a subjective measurement. If you’re summiting 14,000ft peaks on a regular basis, a technical $500+ hardshell is a smart investment, but for your average weekend camper, that same jacket probably looks like an outright scam.
Alternately, we believe pretty much everyone can agree that jackets like the sub-$200 Patagonia Torrentshell 3L, which is tough, protective, and reasonably breathable, make for a great value by any measurement. Again, it all comes down to how you’ll use it (and how often), but there are a few things that should apply universally here.
The first is weather protection. Regardless of whether you’re spending $100 or $1,000, if your jacket can’t provide the weather protection you need, it’s not worth having. For some folks less protection and more breathability are worth paying for, while others need the anywhere-anytime reliability of something like a three-layer GoreTex garment.
The second is durability. A good rain jacket is an investment, and that investment needs to last if you’re going to get your money’s worth. Sometimes that means a $100 jacket like the Marmot Precip Eco is a smart investment, even if it only lasts a year or two. For others, stepping up to a bombproof hardshell like the Arc’teryx Beta AR is a great value because it’s a top performer that will continue delivering the goods for years to come.
We recommend matching your budget to your intended use and going from there. When in doubt, a proven three-layer rain jacket is almost always a safe bet.
The Wise Adventurer’s Verdict on Rain Jackets
Clearly it’s a great time to be in the market for a rain jacket. Whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly coat that reliably gets the job done or an uber-technical hardshell to get you up to your next summit, you’ve got some great options out there at a wide variety of price points.
If you’re looking for the best rain jacket overall, we’re smitten with the Arc’teryx Beta LT. This lightweight and packable coat is loaded with premium features, delivers bombproof weather protection, and is surprisingly durable for a “minimalist” rainshell. We also love that it’s significantly more affordable than most jackets in the Beta lineup, which makes for added value without sacrificing performance.
If you’re looking for outright performance at any price, the Arc’teryx Beta AR gets our vote. We love the Beta AR because it packs the weather protection you want, adds in industry-leading durability, and still remains serviceable in terms of weight and packability for a wide variety of backcountry exploits.
Arc’teryx shells are notoriously pricey though, so if you’re looking for a great all-around jacket without breaking the bank, we believe the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L simply can’t be beat. Rugged three-layer construction, outstanding build quality, and proven proprietary waterproofing, all delivered for under $200. What’s not to love?