How We Test And Review Rain Jackets In The Field

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The only way to test and review a rain jacket is to go outside and get it wet as many ways as you can. Here’s how we go about doing that ourselves.
Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Introduction
Camping in the rain isn’t our favorite pass time, but someone has to do it.

Our goal here at The Wise Adventurer is to create the most useful and reliable information on the web for all our readers. When it comes to rain jackets, that means racking up the wet weather miles firsthand so you know whether or not the jacket you’re buying will perform when called upon. 

We strive to keep our reviews as unbiased as possible, so each jacket you see reviewed on our site is one that we selected ourselves after hours of research, and then paid for out of our own pockets. This gives us the freedom to bring you the most quality feedback possible, which is why we started this massive undertaking in the first place.

Our Method

Believe it or not, our method for choosing jackets is the same as anyone else: It starts with hours of online research, pouring over spec sheets, reading other online reviews, and digesting as much existing customer feedback as possible. Our goal here is to identify jackets that should be standout performers in a wide variety of applications, and then to match those jackets with the folks who stand to benefit from them the most. 

Once we’ve narrowed down our selections, a sampling of jackets is ordered, and then the real fun begins. We split the rain jackets among our group of testers, striving to match each jacket to its intended user and climate. Each tester who receives a jacket evaluates it using the same standard procedure and testing sheet, taking down impressions in real time as they live with each garment. 

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Our Method
We purchase our jackets from the same popular retailers as you, then take them into the field ourselves.

Once the testing is done and the results are in, we carefully read through each review to identify common themes like high-scoring areas or potential shortcomings. This method allows us to collect the most diverse pool of perspectives possible, which makes for a much more well-rounded and balanced review come publication time. 

Why Don’t We “Grade” The Rain Jackets We Review?

If you’ve read any of our roundups or specific reviews, chances are you’ve noticed we don’t actually “score” or “grade” any of our rain jackets. We don’t assign hard scores to our jackets because different rain jackets are meant for different things, and we’d hate for someone to miss the right jacket for their particular outdoor endeavor based solely on a numeric score.  

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Why Dont We Grade
The Rab Downpour Plus 2.0 we’re wearing here is a great example of why we don’t grade jackets: It’s a great value for extra-active users, but not ideal for extended downpours.

When it comes to rain jackets, no single model is a standout performer for every activity. Some folks want a jacket for all-day mountain bike rides, which means breathability is the most important consideration. Others will want a rock-solid hardshell for hiking and backpacking duty, where outright protection will trump breathability for 99% of users. Attempting to grade these two jackets on the same scale wouldn’t do much good, so we stick to the facts and our first-hand impressions to give you the info you actually need. 

What Do We Do With Our Rain Jackets After Testing?

While we’d love to keep all the jackets we buy, we’re still a relatively small operation here at The Wise Adventurer, and that means all of us are still leaning on day jobs to pay the bills (and support this site). For that reason, we sell the jackets we buy back to the outdoor community, which benefits us in two different ways. 

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - What Do We Do
Jackets that survive our testing are carefully inspected for damage, then sold back to the community at a steep discount.

First, it allows us to recoup some of our operating costs, which we’re then able to roll back into our next project, be it reviewing tents, snowshoes, or sleeping pads. Second, it allows us to “give back” to the community we love by supplying top-notch gear at cut-rate prices you’ll normally find nowhere else. 

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s dig into the particulars of our test and review process. 

Water Resistance

Water resistance is the main thing most of us look for in a rain jacket, and for that reason, you’ll find this metric front and center in all of our reviews. If a jacket can’t keep you dry when you need it to, it isn’t worth buying, so we spend ample time and effort testing this metric. 

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Water Resistance
The only way to know if a jacket will keep you dry outdoors is to get it wet, and that’s just what we do!

All of our field tests include wet weather hiking as part of this evaluation. We spend hours outdoors hiking with and without packs in varying degrees of rain, and report back on how well and how long a given jacket holds up. Our goal here is to assess both the jacket’s membrane and DWR treatment, as well as other “waterproof” essentials like waterproof zippers and storm flaps. 

Some jackets go through a few additional tests depending on their intended use and what we’ve got scheduled for the year. Weekend camping trips, snowy mountaineering, and even wet rock climbing have all been on the menu before, and we never miss an opportunity for a little extracurricular testing in this regard. 

Breathability

The second most important factor for any good rain jacket is breathability. If your jacket can’t transport heat and moisture from your body back to the outside atmosphere, there’s really no point in wearing it, as you’re just going to end up wet anyway from your own sweat.  

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Breathability
Different membranes deliver different degrees of breathability. This one from Marmot delivered excellent protection while still keeping us relatively comfortable inside.

To test breathability, we generally start with less intense activities like easy hiking on local trails and work our way up from there to find the limits. We add miles, add packs, add weight, and generally just add difficulty to see how a jacket handles perspiration and extra heat. 

If we still haven’t found the limits of a jacket’s breathability at this point, we add in some serious cardio. Trail running, mountain biking, or road cycling are all great ways to test the most breathable jackets in the business, and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t particularly enjoy this sort of testing ourselves.

Fit And Comfort

The quality of a jacket’s fit and comfort is largely subjective, as people come in all shapes and sizes and jackets only come in a handful of the same. This is another place where having a diverse crew of testers pays off, as we can get an idea of how a particular fit might work with a better sampling of body types. 

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Fit and Comfort
Jackets that fit well to the body while still allowing for layers and movement get the best feedback in this metric.

As for comfort, we’ve found both water resistance and breathability play a large role here, as being wet and/or hot isn’t particularly comfortable. Apart from that, we also pay close attention to the cut of the jacket, as well as any stretch incorporated in the material. Either way, the jackets that do the best in our testing are those that allow a full range of motion without restricting movement or leaving any underlying layers/skin exposed. 

Durability

In a perfect world, we’d be able to spend a full two years with each jacket we test, but as we all know, new models come out every year. This means we have to find a way to get a good idea of a jacket’s durability in a relatively short window. 

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Durability
Tough fabric and quality components like those found on the Arcteryx Beta LT here make for a long-term investment that’s worth every penny.

To achieve this, we do a few different things. First, we make it a point to spend plenty of time cramming our jackets into and out of packs full of gear. We want to know a jacket isn’t going to tear or puncture between showers out on the trail, so we’re far from gentle in this part of the evaluation. 

The other common testing criteria here is hiking off-trail between branches, through underbrush, and over rocks. In our experience this is the most common way to damage rain gear, so we spend ample time “off-trail” as well before carefully going over each jacket’s material for signs of wear and tear. 

Weight And Packability

While not everyone needs a particularly light or compact rain jacket, packable jackets make for a much more versatile tool, which adds value regardless of the end user. If a lighter jacket performs as well or better than a heavier one, this is a feature often worth paying for, so it’s something we always evaluate. 

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Weight and Packability
We’ve found the lightest and most packable jackets sometimes aren’t too far off from some fully-featured options. It might look significant on paper, but in the field the differences often seem negligible.

As far as weight goes, we pack every jacket we test down and throw it on our scales at home. Some jackets run lighter or heavier than what’s advertised on the spec sheet, so this is good information to have. Packability-wise, we simply pack each jacket down as small as possible using whatever method is available. For some jackets, this means using an integrated stash pocket, while others just pack down into their own hoods. Whatever the method, we compare each jacket to others we’ve tested to see where it lands along the spectrum.

Features 

Some features are more “essential” than others, but we group everything from pit vents to hood adjustments into this catch-all category. If it sheds heat, keeps moisture out, or makes living with a jacket more convenient or enjoyable, it’s a feature worth mentioning. 

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Features
Unless you’re going hardcore ultralight, features like pit vents are always worth paying for.

Generally speaking, the jackets that do the best in this category are those with all the bells and whistles like waterproof storage, stowable hoods, and backpack-friendly pockets. Features often add weight, bulk, and complexity to a jacket’s overall appeal though, so we weigh both the pros and cons of any extra features on a given model. 

Value

As we all know, value is subjective, but some jackets undeniably deliver better value than others. Whether that’s a $100 shell that outperforms other rain jackets twice its price or a super-premium offering that simply outperforms everything else depends both on the end user and their budget, but we try to take both sides into account here. 

Rain Jackets Testing Methodology - Value
The Patagonia Torrentshell is a great example here. It’s not the lightest or most compact on the market, but it can’t be beat when it comes to performance for the money.

Ultimately what we look for here is a jacket that’s built to a spec that delivers value regardless of its asking price. If there’s clearly another jacket on the market that delivers comparable performance for considerably less money, chances are a jacket won’t do too well in this particular metric. 

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