There are 5 things you must take into consideration when purchasing Backpacking Rain Jackets.
They must be waterproof, of course.
They must have a quality DWR Coating, this is super important.
They must be breathable, the more the better.
They must be packable, the smaller the better.
They must be lightweight, preferably ultralight.
Waterproof Rating of Rain Jackets
The waterproof rating for rain jackets is often called the Hydrostatic head, rated in millimetres (mm). It refers to to the amount of water pressure needed to leak through the rain jacket material.
A rain jacket with a hydrostatic head rating of 20000mm is the equivalent of placing a cylinder of water 25mm (1 inch) round on a jacket and filling it with 20000mm of water before it will leak through.
For a hiking rain jacket to be waterproof while wearing a backpack it is generally accepted that it must be rated at 15000mm or above. Only rain jackets being worn in the city and not in the backcountry should be rated lower such as 5000mm.
A good waterproof membrane is essential to keep the water out. The best waterproof breathable fabric is also lightweight such as Gore Tex, Pertex, and ePTFE.
What is a DWR Coating?
A DWR Coating, also known as Durable Water Repellent Coating is arguably the most important feature needed for a rain jacket.
It is a chemical coating on the face fabric of a jacket that caused the water to bead and run off the surface of the rain jacket. All the Best backpacking rain jackets have a good DWR.
Think of it as similar to the way water runs off the surface of a car after it has a layer of wax applied.
How long does a DWR Coating last?
A DWR coating will not last forever. It will usually last for several backpacking trips before it wears off and needs to be reapplied. Hikers and backpackers will need to take note of when the DWR treatment is starting to wear off.
Without a quality DWR the your rain gear will ‘Wet Out’. The water will sit on the surface of the jacket instead of beading and running off the jacket making the waterproof breathable membrane useless.
What is Wetting out?
When the jacket ‘Wets Out’ it will not allow the waterproof and breathable membrane of rain gear to allow the transfer of moisture from the inside of the jacket to the outside.
This leads to a build up of moisture inside the waterproof jacket and the feeling of clamminess. Some hikers will think the jacket is no longer waterproof when in fact, it is just the sweat and build up of moisture inside the jacket.
This feeling is made worse if hiking uphill as the build up of moisture is not able to transfer through the fabric anymore. It can be prevented by reapplying a new chemical layer of DWR, but more about that later.
Is DWR environmentally Friendly?
Many years ago waterproof raingear used the non environmentally friendly C8 DWR. It was long lasting, durable and did an amazing job at repelling the water for a very long time.
When the C6 environmentally friendly DWR was developed it was much better for the environment but honestly, it was not as durable and long lasting as the old C8.
As a result, the DWR coating on all new jackets needs to be reapplied more often to keep the jacket waterproof and prevent ‘Wetting Out’. It is super important on an ultralight rain jacket to have a good DWR treatment.
Fortunately, it is possible to add a new chemical coating of DWR by using products such as Nikwax to make the jacket breathable again and keep you dry.
In conclusion, the DWR Coating is incredibly important to the function of the rain jacket and easily fixed. The video below will help explain how more.
How to restore a DWR Treatment Video
What is the Best Breathable Waterproof Jacket?
The best breathable waterproof Rain Jacket is not only lightweight but allows moisture generated from exercise to pass through the fabric out to the atmosphere. Not all breathable rain jackets are the same. The best breathable waterproof jackets on the market right now are:
Enlightened Equipment Visp
Outdoor Research Helium
Outdoor Research Helium 2
Marmot Precip Eco
ARCTERYX Zeta SL
Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2
What is Breathablity?
Breathability is measured by the amount of moisture that transfers through the fabric in grams per square meter of fabric (g/m2) in 24 hours. The minimum standard of breathability of a high quality rain jacket is 15000g/m2.
The highly breathable fabric on a rain jacket will allow 15000 grams of water vapour to pass through a square metre of fabric in a 24 hours period.
The Backpacking Rain Jackets Breathability is one of the key features to staying warm and dry when hiking backpacking.
The the jacket to be at it’s best it needs to be used in combination with a good DWR. In this review I rate breathability as more important than the waterproof rating of the jacket . The higher the breathability rating the better the backpacking jacket will be.
Best Features in a Lightweight Backpacking Rain Jackets
What features are important on the best lightweight rain jacket for backpacking? Apart from the obvious ability to keep the hiker dry there are some things that set one jacket apart from another. There are 4 important features to consider when purchasing a high quality rain jacket:
Waist Cinch Cord
Rain Jacket Pockets
Pockets are great feature but they add a bit of weight to the rain jacket. Most ultralight rain jackets do not have hand pockets, usually, the chest pocket is as complicated as it gets.
Having used a jacket without pockets for many years I don’t feel they are important, other feel they are super important.
Most backpacking rain jackets pack into an internal pocket for storage, some have a stuff sac and some roll into the hood for storage when not in use.
The compressed pack size of the jacket when not in use is important for an ultralight hiker.
Rain Jacket Hood
It should make sense that an adjustable hood be designed to keep the water off the head and prevent it running inside the jacket.
Hooded rain jackets come in so many designs with some that are simple elastic that pull the hood tight over the head.
Rain Jackets with an adjustable hood often use cinch cord and toggles prevent wind or water from entering the body around the head and neck much better than simple elastic hoods.
When things turn nasty and the wind is blowing hard with sideways rain the toggles or cinch chord are worth the extra weight.
The toggles and cinch chord add weight and the backpacking rain jackets that use simple elastic on the hoods will be much lighter.
Helmet Compatible Hood
For those that spend time in alpine areas and require an Alpine rain jacket then they may also need a helmet compatible 3 layer jacket.
The helmet compatible jacket is usually heavier but this is not always the case. Most of the jackets in this review would not be recommended for climbing in Alpine areas. Better to look at heavy duty 3 layer Gore Tex Jackets or similar which are much more abrasion resistant.
Rain Jacket Waist Cinch Cord
Cinch cord on the bottom of the jacket is used to restrict the amount of cold air entering the jacket from the weight and providing the best fit. Not all jackets have this feature. Some jackets use simple elastic stitched into the jacket to provide a tight fit around the waist or hood.
The cinch cord does add a small amount of weight and cost to the jacket but for the most part this is considered well worth it. It is also important that the hip belt of the backpack does not dig into the waist cinch cord of the rain jacket or it will be too uncomfortable to wear all day.
Rain Jacket Cuffs
The Rain Jacket cuffs come in several options. There are elastic cuffs which are the most common on most waterproof and breathable jackets. Most full featured jackets use adjustable cuffs. The adjustable cuffs use velcro or similar.
All the rain gear in this review use quality water resistant zipper. YKK is the current gold standard for quality waterproof zippers for outdoor use.
Pit zips are the under arm zips on rain jackets used to shed heat quickly. Rain jackets with pit zips are great to reduce the build up of heat and sweat when active. In most cases they are a great idea but there are down sides of pit zips.
Pit zips on the best lightweight rain jackets can fail quicker due the fact that they are in a very high wear area. They also they add weight and cost to the rain jacket.
With its excellent protection against both rain and wind, it is best suited for ultralight thru hikers. The Enlightened Equipment Visp would be the best rain jacket for the Pacific Crest Trail or similar long distance trail.
The 3 layer jacket is made from ultralight 7D ripstop nylon. This is a paper thin waterproof breathable membrane which is ePTFE is soft to the touch, comfortable and weighs around 5 ounces or 142 grams.
Being such a thin material is will be more prone to getting holes while hiking in the backcountry. If going off trail or on trails with lots of sharps sticks I would avoid this jacket in preference to a heavier duty.
With a claimed breathability rating of 75000 g/m2/24hour this is the most breathable jacket in this review. There is also an option to have a rain jacket with pit zips.
There is additional cost and weight but this could be one of the rain jackets best upgrades that you could do. The worst thing about this custom feature is the very long wait times which means you will need to order this jacket well in advance of when you intend to use it..
It has a waterproof rating of 20,000mm which is more than enough for any backpacking rain jacket.
Overall, Enlightened Equipment’s Visp Rain Jacket is one of the best waterproof breathable rain jackets for thru hiking. With class leading light weight, best in class breathability and the option of pit zips for better ventilation there is little to dislike about this rain jacket.
Sizes run a bit big and there can be a long wait for any custom work such as optional pit zips.
Total Weight – 5oz / 142 grams (without Pit Zips) Outer fabric – 7Denier Ripstop Nylon with ePTFE membrane Breathability – 75000 g/m2/24hour Waterproof rating – 20000mm Pockets – 2 pockets for hands Stuff Sac – No Pros – Very Lightweight, very breathable, optional pit zips Cons – Expensive, long wait for customization such as pit zips.
The upgraded Outdoor Research Helium weighs in at only 6.6oz / 187 grams. This makes it one of the best lightweight rain jackets for thru hiking and backpacking.
The Helium Rain Jacket is a minimalistic jacket with no hand pockets and a small chest pocket just big enough for smaller sized phone or other items that the hiker wants to keep dry. The small pocket in the chest also doubles as the storage sack for the jacket.
I like the elastic cuffs, waist drawcord hem and everything about the adjustable hood. It comes in a range of colours including my favourite, Bright Orange. A great colour for a rain jacket for cycling in dull weather!
The Helium Rain Jacket is quite breathable but I always seem to want more breathability than any jacket seems capable of providing. Having said that, I’m a big fan of the 2.5 Layer construction made from Pertex Shield Pro outer material.
The Durable Water Repellent Coating (DWR) seems to be just as good as the previous model, which was ok but not outstanding.
Overall, the Helium Rain Jacket Rain jacket can get a bit sticky after a while, specially when climbing up steep trails in wet weather. The jacket has no pit zips to vent the heat but that helps keep the overall weight down.
The upgraded 2.5 layer Pertex Shield Pro is 30 Denier and uses Diamond Fuse technology which essentially is an upgraded ripstop nylon that is said to be 5 times stronger than the previous model.
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Total Weight – 6.3oz / 178grams Outer fabric – 30 Denier Ripstop nylon 2.5 layer waterproof Pertex Shield Breathability – Not specified but I believe it is 20000 g/m2/24hour Waterproof rating – Hydrostatic Head rating 15000mm Pockets – 1 Chest Pocket only Stuff Sac – Stuffs into chest pocket Pros – Ultralight, Reasonable price, small pack size, upgraded tear resistant fabric. Cons – No hand pockets or pit zips, Not as breathable as other jackets in this review
The Helium ii is one of the many 2.5 Layer jackets made with high quality Pertex Shield Ripstop Nylon fabric. The Helium ii is not only lightweight but works great as a wind jacket or full featured water resistant jacket for use in torrential rain.
Like every single ultralight jacket in this review I wish this jacket had a better DWR. It is not as good as I would like so I needed to reapply the coating many times over the years.
The quality of DWR used on the face fabric is not the best. But this is common with every jacket in this review.
It has an adjustable hood that is good enough in all but the worst kind of windy conditions.
At only 6.4oz Helium ii is one of the lightest jackets on the market and the fact that this jacket has proved so popular over the years is testament to it’s quality and the trust many hikers like myself have placed in the jacket to keep me dry over thousands of miles of trails over the years.
This jacket is getting harder to find as it is now discontinued in favour of the upgraded Outdoor Research Helium.
If you are looking for a cheap, lightweight and high quality rain jacket then look no further.
Check out the links below to retailers that still may have them in stock at a very cheap price, but hurry, once they are gone, they are gone.
Total Weight – 6.4oz / 180 grams Outer fabric – 30D (denier) 2.5 Layer Pertex Shield Breathability – Not specified but I believe it is 20000 g/m2/24hour Waterproof rating – Hydrostatic Head 20000mm Pockets – 1 chest pocket Stuff Sac – No, the chest pocket doubles as a stuff sac Pros – Lightweight, packs up small and very very cheap right now Cons – Becoming difficult to find as it is now on clearance due to the new model. The DWR coating could be better.
The Marmot PreCip rain jacket has been around since about 1999. This latest upgraded gives the Marmot Precip an eco friendly conscience.
The Marmot PreCip Eco Rain Jacket is made from recycled nylon face fabric, and uses a PFC-free DWR which is one of the rain jackets best features.
The Marmot PreCip Eco Rain Jacket costs less than $100 at some retailers which makes it one of the cheapest rain jackets for hiking, only the Outdoor Research Helium 2 is close in the quality vs price category. For those wanting a budget backpacking rain jacket and wanting something environmentally friendly it ticks all the boxes.
This 2.5-layer rain jacket is not the most breathable rain jacket in this review and hikers will wish it was a little more breathable during hikes with long uphill climbs. To address this the Marmot Precip Eco Rain Jacket has pit zips to vent heat and there is mesh lining for the hand pockets.
The Pit Zips and the pockets pit zips with mesh do a good job at regulating body heat and transferring moisture outside when needed.
Weighing in at 10.5oz / 293g, it is just light enough for hiking and backpacking, multi-day hikes and cycling. Thru hikers and ultralight hikers will look elsewhere as there are better options for the weight.
The fixed hood is adjustable with velcro tabs so you can easily wear it over a baseball cap or a hooded down jacket. It also has two cord adjustments so you can quickly cinch it closer to your face to keep the rainwater out.
The Marmot’s uses a unique name for it’s design of this jacket. It has a built in “Angel-wing movement” design. When you reach overhead the sleeves will not want to move all the way up the lengths of the arms. A well thought out feature that appears to work well.
For the price, this is the one of the best budget rain jacket in the market right now. If you are in the market for a rain jacket that is environmentally friendly and are a fan of circular economy, you can’t go wrong with the Marmot PreCip Eco Rain Jacket.
Total Weight – 10.5oz / 293 g Outer fabric – 100% Recycled Nylon Ripstop NanoPro Eco Breathability – 17000 g/m2/24hour Waterproof rating – 10000mm Pockets – 2 hand pockets, 1 chest pocket and pit zips Stuff Sac – Stuffs into the lefthand side pocket Pros – Pit zips and mesh pockets to vent heat, environmentally friendly, 14 colours to choose from, cheap Cons – Breathable but could be better, not ultralight
The Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket is manufactured with Gore Tex Paclite Plus fabrics with the usual waterproof zippers and two hand pockets and a nice adjustable hood.
Weighing almost 11 ounces / 310 grams, this jacket is more than twice as heavy as the Enlightened Equipment Visp making it slightly heavy for those looking to buy the best rain jacket on the market.
It may not be an ultralight jacket but this Gore Tex active rain shell just works.
It has a descent DWR, superior waterproof rating and is quite breathable but like all the other rain gear it can get a bit clammy over time. With no pit zips to vent excess heat and moisture.
The Arc’teryx Norvan SL Hoody is another waterproof breathable jacket. It will be reviewed and added to this list of the best waterproof shell jackets soon. The Arc’teryx Norvan SL Hoody which also uses Gore Tex looks good on paper, I can’t wait to try it out. Stay tuned.
Overall, the Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket is a great 2 layer Gore Tex hiking and backpacking rain jacket but for those wanting an ultralight rain jacket, this may not be the best jacket. Another one of the best features is a huge colour choice with enough colours to keep anyone happy.
Total Weight – 10.9oz / 310 grams Outer fabric – 40 Denier Ripstop 2 layer Gore Tex Paclite Plus Breathability – 15000 g/m2/24hour Waterproof rating – 28000mm Pockets – 2 hand pockets Stuff Sac – No Pros – Lightweight Rain Jacket, Large colour choice, Gore Tex Cons – Very Expensive, wish it was more breathable
If you are looking for something different from a traditional hardshell raincoat that has a stretchy fit then this might be a great jacket.
Overall, I think this would be a much better Gore Tex jacket to take traveling anywhere in the world and just put it on when taking the trekking trip in Nepal or walking the wet and windy streets of London in winter.
Total Weight – 12.5oz / 353 grams Outer fabric – Gor Tex Paclite Stretch Fabric Breathability – 15000 g/m2/24hour Waterproof rating – Hydrostatic Head rating 28000mm Pockets – Chest pocket only Stuff Sac – None Pros – Good stretchy fabric, Side Zips Cons – A bit heavy, not as breathable as I would like.
The Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket is unlike most hardshell rain jacket, the Patagonia rain shadow jacket has a unique stretch feature that enables it to stand out amongst the other jackets.
The Stretch Rainshadow jacket is a 3 layer rain jacket made from a material called H2No. The shell fabric is made from ECONYL, a 100 % recycled nylon stretch fabric. The material also has a decent DWR coating.
The Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket is the heaviest jacket in this review at 14 ounces / 397g. Although it is not that heavy, the ultralight hiker will not be interested in this jacket as there are much better options for the weight. But the extra weight comes in the form of pit zips, hand pockets that actually are in a place that can be used when carrying a pack and a hood that fits well.
The Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket is breathability but like all the jackets in this review it can get clammy after a while. To prevent that clammy feeling the rain jacket pit zips vent a lot of heat and help air flow to prevent excessive sweat inside the jacket. Overall, it vents heat and moisture well.
Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket is a better option than the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L because it is a stretchy, durable and comfortable rain jackets. It ticks all the boxes as being one of the great rain jackets, I just wish it was a bit lighter. If it was, it would be the perfect jacket. If you care about the environment and want a fair trade certified jacket made from recycled materials then this could be the perfect choice.
Total Weight – 14oz / 397 grams Outer fabric – 30 Denier 3 layer Ripstop Nylon called H2No Breathability – 15000 g/m2/24hour Waterproof rating – 15000mm Pockets – Chest Pocket, 2 hand pockets Stuff Sac – Chest pocket is used as the stuff sac Pros – Pit zips, durable material, nice hand pockets Cons – I wish it was a bit lighter
All the best rain jackets in this review could be improved, whether it be shaving off a couple of ounces in weight, having a better DWR or they could be cheaper. There is no such thing as the perfect rain jacket.
For those who want the most environmentally friendly rain jackets the choice is clearly either the Patagonia Rainshadow or the Marmot Precip Eco. These environmentally friendly and eco conscience jackets will halp you feel like you are doing something good for the environment while hiking and backpacking.
Overall, my choice of the Best Rain Jacket 2021 is the Enlightened Equipment Visp with Pit Zips. This is a great rain shell and easily one of the best backpacking rain jackets on the market right now. If you want the best waterproof and windproof jacket for ultralight hiking then this is your jacket. The best option for ultralight thru hikers.
Other Rain Jackets not yet covered in this review
there are many other jackets that could have been included in the best backpacking rain jackets review including some from North Face, the Zpacks Vertice and some of the other jackets mentioned below.
These include one of the best budget jackets called Frogg Toggs which are very cheap and do a good job. Despite the very cheap price it is a waterproof breathable jacket used by many backpackers on a budget.
The Montbell Versalite is being reviewed at the moment and will be added to this review in the future. The best features of this ultralight rain jacket is the weight or lack of it, the pit zips and best quality DWR.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL
The Arc’teryx Norvan SL is a superlight jacket that is worthy of a look so will be added to this review soon. My first impression is that it is the 3.9 oz / 110 gram jacket is way too light to be used in the backcountry. Stay tuned to see if this is the case.