If you're looking for a new rain jacket, you've come to the right place! We studied over 50 models currently on the market and purchased the 10 best for our review. Then our team put them through a side-by-side gauntlet of tests in real-world conditions, along with some specific "garden hose" tests to see how well they each sealed out the rain in crucial spots. Whether you need one for severe downpours (our testers live in the Pacific Northwest and know a thing or two about rain), or are looking for one that ventilates (some do!), or just need something that will do the trick without costing an arm, and another arm, we have some recommendations for you. Be sure to also check out our windbreaker review for light rain conditions. We also have a full rain pant review, where we found that the highest rated jackets don't always correspond with the best bottoms.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2018
Spring rainy season is here! Have you bought your new rain jacket yet? We've updated our review this month to make sure we still have the best options in our lineup. We recently tested The North Face Venture 2, but still prefer the similarly priced Marmot Precip as our Best Buy winner.
Best Overall Model
Arc'teryx Beta SL
While Arc'teryx has dominated our hardshell jacket review for years, they've finally won our Editors' Choice award with the Beta SL for this category as well. This jacket scored at or near the top of the pack in almost every test category. If we could only own one jacket, whether for walking the dog or a week-long backpacking trip, this would be it. Our testing team loved its mobility, exceptional versatility, fantastic hood design, and top-notch storm worthiness - all while maintaining a below-average weight.
Best mobility and range of motion in the review
Thoughtful hood design
Lightest Gore-Tex jacket we tested
No ventilation options
Expensive for a Gore-Tex Paclite model
The one thing this model didn't do very well was ventilation. While the Gore-Tex Paclite material is one of the more breathable fabrics out there, we noticed that the lack of pit-zips or mesh pockets made it more challenging to shed heat and moisture. That makes the Beta SL a little less well-suited to high-output activities, or use in warmer weather (see the OR Foray, our Top Pick for Ventilation, below). For all other times, the Beta SL is a do-everything model for a broad range of activities, and our overall favorite this year.
Read review: Arc'teryx Beta SL
Best Bang for the Buck
The Marmot PreCip has won our Best Buy award every year for six years straight. It pretty much invented the high-performance $100 category and still owns it. It was updated last year with Marmot's NanoPro 2.5-layer coated technology, which increased the performance even more, but thankfully not the price. This fully-featured jacket has hand pockets, pit zips for ventilation, and a rollaway hood. It was a great option for high-energy hiking and backpacking in bad weather, and featured enough for around town use, all for $100.
Better breathability than others in its price range
Above average ventilation
Nice pit zips
No chest pocket
Not quite as breathable as membrane models
DWR lasts decently long
The PreCip didn't have the same mobility as the Arc'teryx Beta SL. It also scored only average for weight and packed size, so if you need an emergency layer to clip onto your harness for a big day scrambling in the Alpine, the Beta SL above or OR Helium below are better options, but they also cost 2-3 times as much. The PreCip is an affordable option, and when we compared it to the other models in its price range, we felt it delivered the most functionality and versatility for your money.
Read review: Marmot PreCip
Top Pick for Lightweight
Outdoor Research Helium II
The Outdoor Research Helium II is our Top Pick for weight-conscience hikers, backpackers, and climbers. It is by FAR the most compact and lightest jacket we tested, weighing in at a scant 6.5 ounces. This is roughly half to a third of the weight of most other models in this review. It packs down to roughly half the size of a Nalgene, and if you tuck it in the brain of your backpack you'll forget it is even there until you need it!
Perfect stuff pocket
No hand pockets
Loose wrist cuffs
It doesn't have a ton of features; there are no hand pockets or pit zips, and the cuffs are only elastic with no means of tightening them. While it held up well during our testing, the material is thin, and we doubt it has the same long-term durability as a thicker model. It did do an excellent job at its primary purpose though - keeping us dry. And while some extra features are nice, keep in mind that most hikers, climbers, or backpackers will likely end up carrying their waterproof layer 90% or more of the time, making this functional but low-weight and low bulk rain shell an excellent choice.
Read review: Outdoor Research Helium II
Top Pick for Hiking and Backpacking
The REI Rhyolite was one of our favorite options that we tested. It's made with three-layer eVent fabric, and after a range of input from testers and side-by-side testing, it proved to be most breathable jacket we tested. The Rhyolite's design allowed for excellent mobility, and it has a wonderfully designed hood with a cut that was big enough to fit over a few layers without being overly loose. We liked the raised hip pockets, which sit above where your waistbelt rides. This lets you carry things in your pockets and wear you hip belt on rainy days.
Excellent hood design
eVent most breathable fabric we tested
Good quality construction
Not quite as abrasion-resistant as other models
Okay, but not fantastic mobility
We did miss the option to put our hands in the pockets while walking without a pack, as the higher pocket location just felt unnatural. While the fabric is breathable, there are no pit zips, so if you know you tend to sweat a lot or hike in warm but rainy weather, you may want something with pit zips instead. But for anything else outdoorsy, from hiking to backcountry skiing, this is one of the best jackets out there (especially considering its $190 price). We also loved the Marmot Minimalist, an excellent contender that was barely edged out for this award by the Rhyolite.
Read review: REI Rhyolite
Top Pick for Ventilation & Features
Outdoor Research Foray
Outdoor Research excels at making hybrid products that defy categorization. Their Helium II above is a cross between a wind shirt and a rain layer, and the Foray is part-jacket part-poncho! The Gore-Tex Paclite fabric seals out the rain, snow, and wind, and was one of the most durable materials that we tested. What set this model apart though was the "torso flow pit-zips." These zippers go from the hem to your triceps along the side of the jacket, creating a "poncho-like" layer. This provided unparalleled ventilation, and also the option to wear it over a small daypack.
On the heavier side
Slightly more expensive than average
This was the heaviest model that we tested (16 ounces), so if lightweight is always your thing, you may prefer the Helium II. It does pack down pretty small into its pocket (just a little bigger than a Nalgene), but the thicker material is not as compressible as others. It is also on the more expensive side ($215), but if you hike "hot" and need a ton of ventilation, the extra money is worth it.
Read review: Outdoor Research Foray
Analysis and Test Results
Before choosing our test models, we researched all the different options on the market today and then narrowed it down to ten finalists. We bought those jackets and put them through an intensive testing process. We used them all in the field to see how they performed in real-world situations and then did some specific side-by-side tests to compare certain features, like wrist cuffs and hoods. Then we rated them based on the most important factors we rely on when trying to decide which jacket to buy, including their water resistance, breathability and venting, comfort and mobility, weight and packed size, and their durability.
Below we describe why the above criteria are essential considerations, and which were the top performers in each category. In our individual reviews of each product, we detail their features and compare and contrast each jacket to its closest competitors. For more specific comparisons, such as each model's hood cinch performance or exact hem adjustments, see the individual reviews.
One of the most common concerns we hear from our friends and readers is, is that expensive piece of outdoor gear really worth it? There's no denying that prices have been rising in the outdoor apparel market, and when there's such a price discrepancy between some of the budget picks and the higher-end options, it does beg the question. Are you getting more for your money, or is it all marketing and hype?
When it comes to this category, prices range between $60 and $300! That's a pretty significant jump. Part of that is due to the advanced materials that some of the "fancier" brands use. There is a lot of engineering going into Gore-Tex and eVent fabrics, and those drive up the overall cost. Those fabrics make a world of difference though from a waterproof/breathability perspective. As you can see from the graph below, there is almost a direct correlation between price and performance for these items. (This is not always the case by the way!)
If you are specifically looking for a budget pick that still performs well overall, look for items that run on the bottom of the Y-axis (price) but still far along the X-axis (score). In this case, the best value picks are the Patagonia Torrentshell ($129) and the Marmot Precip ($100), which was our Best Buy winner. While not as high-performing as some models, they still worked well and cost a fraction of some of the other options.
Manufacturers use many types of waterproof fabrics and treatments in the jackets we tested. Lots of laboratory testing has been done to quantify precisely how waterproof each of these specific coated or laminated materials are. However, the critical bit to understand is that all of the products tested are water-resistant to use as a rain shell. In all the models tested feature a waterproof fabric (more on what makes a material impervious in our Buying Advice article), shell fabric that is seam-taped after sewing creating a completely sealed envelope. What differentiates each model's performance is the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket and front-zip closures, and pit zips, or other vents, as well as the longevity of DWR.
While all the models we tested sport a waterproof fabric, they are constructed with different materials and that can make a huge difference regarding breathability (which can make you feel wet from the inside), longevity, and durability. But for weather resistance from only a fabric point of view: if one fabric is waterproof to 30 PSI and one to 50 PSI, it doesn't make a functional difference.
Rain is not going to penetrate any of these fabrics; however, in a downpour, running water can seek its way in through a pocket zipper, down your wrist when you reach overhead, or where the hood meets your neck. We stood in the shower for four minutes in each jacket and got a spray down with the garden hose to help find weak spots. The Arc'teryx Beta SL and the Marmot Minimalist were the sturdiest of the bunch. The REI Rhyolite, Outdoor Research Foray, and The North Face Dryzzle all performed well, doing an excellent job of sealing out the rain. All of their hoods sealed well around the face and chin, and they had wrist cuffs that cinch down on the wrist with Velcro closures. Those that didn't have sealable cuffs, like the OR Helium II didn't score as high as a result.
All of the products we tested should keep you dry in a storm. The primary differences in our water resistance metric come from the design of the hood, cuffs, pocket closures, and pit zips.
The other important 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 allows it to bead and shed water. Even though 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 results in a heavier jacket with reduced breathability. The DWR used on the Marmot PreCip, Minimalist and Arc'teryx Beta SL stands out, as does the The North Face Dryzzleand The North Face Venture 2. With that said, it's worth noting that all the jackets we tested beaded water quite well to start, and DWR treatment can be reapplied to your jacket if needed. Check out DWR maintenance in our Care & Cleaning section.
Breathability & Ventilation
Our water resistance metric measured how well each model keeps you dry from the outside, while our breathability and ventilation metric quantifies how well each keeps you dry from the inside by allowing sweat to escape.
We considered two main factors when awarding scores for this metric (which is weighted at 25% of our overall ratings).
First, we thought about the fabric's breathability, and this is undoubtedly where waterproof technologies distinguish themselves between each-other. These multi-layered fabrics allow water vapor to be wicked through the material to the outside where it can evaporate. We also studied how well the features of a jacket allow for ventilation.
A Note on Breathability
Remember you can sweat-out a cotton or synthetic t-shirt while working hard or quickly walking up a hill. We've overheard too many people saying that their jacket didn't breathe at all, or enough for their needs, but in many of those cases, they were wearing too many layers underneath their rain shell for the activity. All of the jackets reviewed here allow moisture to pass through them; however, none of them allow all the moisture you'd want to escape all of the time, especially if you're working hard at a high exertion rate in warmer temperatures. Again, remember that sometimes your lightweight t-shirt can't breathe and pass moisture quick enough, and the same goes for rain jackets. Set yourself up for success and wear the minimum layers you can get away with while using the vents to maximize the air exchange and allow moisture and heat to escape.
To a large degree, a garment's breathability is affected by the waterproof fabric itself, as well as the material it's constructed with or bonded to. However, in our review, the difference in face fabrics (the outer fabric you can see, and no, that is not the waterproof part) or the interior material didn't vary significantly in thickness and thus didn't affect breathability as much as construction style and the waterproof membrane itself.
Due to its construction, eVent is the most breathable waterproof fabric we tested. Gore-Tex PacLite and some PU laminates, like Marmot's NanoPro 2.5, were close but couldn't entirely pass as much moisture as eVent.
We didn't find eVent FAR more breathable, but after side-by-side testing and real-world use, it won our review team over. We didn't test any jackets that used Gore-Tex Active Shell, which WL Gore claims is the most breathable of their current three types of Gore-Tex.
A fabric's breathability is more important than ventilation when it is raining hard because you want to batten down the hatches by closing pit-zips and cinching the hood to keep the water out. In rainier weather, the more active your endeavors, the more significant the importance of breathability.
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 nearly as crucial as breathability. Pit zips and mesh-lined pockets that allow airflow can be valuable features depending on your activity. To a lesser extent, cuffs that adjust to allow for air circulation from the wrist give you some, though more limited, ventilation options. Indeed, ventilation, while undoubtedly important, takes a back-seat to breathability for practical, real-world use.
Side-by-Side Hiking Test
We tested the breathability of these jackets in both real-world use while hiking and backpacking but also in a series of side-by-side rain tests. (The Pacific Northwest fall served up plenty of rainy days to help us out.) We also performed a 10-minute stair master test (thanks, Vertical World Seattle).
The REI Rhyolite, which is constructed with eVent, breathes better than other jackets but offers only a little ventilation (so we are comparing all-zipped-up to all-zipped-up). This model was less steamy inside during high-energy activities than any others, and we noticed ourselves getting colder quicker at breaks when wearing the Rhyolite (faster than when wearing other contenders). During testing and in our all-zipped-up breathability comparison, other stand out performers included the Arc'teryx Beta SL and the Marmot Minimalist.
The Outdoor Research Foray also earned our highest possible score. Its Paclite fabric had excellent breathability that was among the very best in our fleet. What set the Foray apart was its "TorsoFlo" design. What's that, you ask? Two long zippers that extend from the hem of the jacket to the wearer's triceps (mid-upper arm), which allows the jacket to be opened, and to have a similar feeling to a poncho. Among coated jackets, the Marmot PreCip and the The North Face Venture 2 received respectable scores for breathability. While their fabrics weren't as breathable as the previously mentioned models, they featured larger than average pit zips and lower hand pockets that dumped more heat than you'd think when left open.
Comfort & Mobility
We tested these jackets in drizzles and downpours while hiking, climbing, playing disc golf, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and backpacking. We also used them for everyday chores, like carrying groceries, helping a friend move in the pouring rain and chop some firewood.
Whatever activities you have planned, you want a jacket that moves comfortably with you. Our review team compared things like how efficiently does the hood move with your head, does it block your peripheral vision? Does the jacket ride up, leaving your waist exposed, when you raise your arms above your head? We answer these questions in each jacket's individual review.
The above chart shows where each rain jacket landed on our Comfort and Mobility scale.
Within this metric, we also noted small features like a microfleece patch at the chin or soft fabric where the hood rests on your brow — both nice touches. We even considered ease of use. Are the cinch cords for the hood easy to access and adjust? Some jackets add small string or fabric pull tabs to the zipper pulls for ease of use with cold fingers or gloves.
The Arc'teryx Beta SL featured the best range of motion and mobility of any jacket reviewed. The Beta SL has well-designed and articulated shoulders and sleeves, with an arm length that was above average but not too long. Other jackets that were decent, but when it came to climbing and mobility demanding activities, this was our favorite option. The Marmot Minimalist, Outdoor Research Foray, and Outdoor Research Helium II also had good mobility and received the next highest rating in this metric. The REI Rhyolite also sported above average movement and The North Face Venture 2, while baggy; didn't limit our mobility much at all.
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 favorite hoods were the Arc'teryx Beta SL and the REI Rhyolite; the Outdoor Research Foray scored right behind them. All three of these jackets featured hoods that cinched down over a range of headwear, from beanies to baseball caps, and minimized the amount of peripheral vision loss. We like the Marmot Minimalist, Patagonia Torrentshell and The North Face Dryzzle's hoods, but they didn't fit over a helmet as nicely.
For some users, light is right. We value lightweight clothing and equipment, but not at the expense of the functionality of a given piece of equipment for its required tasks. If you're thru-hiking 2,000 miles, climbing technical terrain, or riding your bicycle from coast to coast, weight is your primary concern. Around town, weight is less significant and keeping your hands cozy may take priority.
Many jacket users have several priorities above weight, including breathability, comfort, and the right combination of features. Let weight be the final deciding factor if you're torn between two products that meet your needs.
The Outdoor Research Helium II is the lightest model we tested, weighing in at 6.5 ounces. That's half the weight (or even less) of most of the jackets we reviewed! While the Helium isn't feature-rich, we feel like it has the features many people find most important, such as above-average mobility, a well-designed hood, and a tiny stuff pocket with a clip-in loop. The next lightest jackets tested were the Arc'teryx Beta SL (11 ounces), which was the lightest of Gore-tex or eVent contenders, as well as the Patagonia Torrentshell.
Weather changes quickly. At some point, we've all been caught in a storm, getting soaked when we left our jacket at the then-sunny trailhead. These just-in-case packing scenarios are when having a super light, and compact shell is useful. Grab it from the car, throw it in, and forget it until you need it. Seven of these jackets 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 it requires a fair bit of wrestling to get them stowed; others comfortably fit into their stuff pocket. A clip-in loop (for use after the jacket has been stuffed) is a nice feature that many climbers will appreciate and use at some point; check the individual reviews for this detail, as well as a photo of each beside a 1-liter Nalgene bottle. As for weight, the Outdoor Research Helium II was by far the most compact option, with the Marmot PreCip and Patagonia Torrentshell coming in as the next most compressible.
As we've described above, the products tested range from bare-bones designs to fully featured models. For some adventures, super light is right, but more often a few pockets and pit zips contribute enough utility for the extra 2-4 ounces not to matter. If you are wearing your jacket around town, room in the pockets for a pair of gloves and a warm hat plus a phone and keys is nice.
In each product review, after detailing the jacket's performance in each metric, we provide an additional rundown of the jacket's features, from the hood all the way down to the waist hem. If you want to know exactly where the hem cord locks are, we'll let you know!
Having a few pockets on your jacket is useful. 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. Low hand-warmer pockets are great for around town but can be a nuisance while wearing a harness or heavy pack.
When wearing a pack over a shell, the pressure from the hip-belt can make the pockets' zippers dig into your hips, making your rainy-day outing even more miserable. We love pockets that are higher and out of the way of a hip-belt or a harness, so that we can still access items and, more importantly, so that the zipper doesn't cause us pain under heavy loads. Without a pack or harness, low pockets are slightly more helpful and more comfortable for keeping your hands warm.
A rain jacket needs to stand up to the demands you place on it. The chart below shows each jacket's durability score in our review.
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 on a regular basis.
The Marmot Minimalist and Outdoor Research Foray both pair 50D polyester ripstop face fabrics and with Gore-Tex Paclite, enabling them to earn the two highest durability scores. Other jackets, such as the Patagonia Torrentshell, and REI Crestrail pulled in a 7 out of 10. We focused mostly 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 each jacket's DWR longevity in their durability and water resistance scores.
Figuring out which rain jacket is right for you is more complicated than it might seem at first glance. 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. If you are still not sure, consider taking a look at our buying advice article.
— Ian Nicholson
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.