Best Lightweight Rain Jacket for Hiking and Backpacking

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket 2023 | Hiking & Backpacking

Staying dry is critically important on the trail, which is why we’re here to recommend the very best lightweight rain jacket for your hiking and backpacking needs in 2023. The following jackets are fully waterproof and superior to the competition in terms of weight, waterproofness, breathability, packability, user-experience, and value.

We verify the performance of these hiking rain jackets through a mixture of backcountry testing, meta-study, stats/feature comparisons, and decades of critical hiking gear review experience. In short, you can trust this guide. Ultralight rain jackets are held to the very highest standard, and ultralight backpacking is the lens through which we review.

If something that weighs less can perform as well, then it is a superior product. The average weight of rain jackets featured in this guide is 10.5 oz.

There is no such thing as a one size fits all best hiking rain jacket. Which is best really just depends on what you prioritize. While every one of these lightweight rain jackets is a capable all-purpose performer on the trail, each in turn represents a best-in-class option for specific performance priorities, use-cases, and budgets. Here you are sure to find your next favorite lightweight rain jacket for hiking and backpacking.

Jump to the bottom of this article for our pro tips on understanding and maintaining rain gear, or complete your layering system with our guide to rain pants, fleece jackets, puffy jackets, windbreakers, and hiking shirts.

Best Lightweight Rain Jackets

Hiking Rain Jacket Accessories

Lightweight Hiking Rain Jacket Comparison Table

Rain Jackets Price ($) Weight (oz) Fabric
Outdoor Research Helium Rain 170 6.3 2.5L Pertex
Patagonia TorrentShell 3L 179 14.1 3L H2No
Zpacks Vertice Rain 299 5.6 3L Vertice
Arc’Teryx Beta LT 450 13.9 3L Gore-Tex
Patagonia Slate Sky 199 10.4 3L Hy2No NetPlus
REI Co-op XeroDry GTX 169 12.5 2L Gore-Tex
Black Diamond Treeline 140 8.9 2.5L BD.dry
REI Co-op Rainier Rain 99 13.1 2.5L Peak
REI Co-op Trailmade Rain 75 14.1 2L Wp/Br
Montbell Versalite 249 6.4 2L Windstopper

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Overall

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket

The Outdoor Research Helium Rain is a premium ultralight rain jacket at a lower than expected price. It’s our pick for best lightweight rain jacket, and definitely the best backpacking rain jacket. Primarily, that’s because it checks all of the boxes while only weighing 6.3 oz.

Relative to other top performing lightweight rain jackets, Helium Rain is significantly lighter weight but still gets the job done well. And relative to other ultralight jackets, it’s more durable, and less expensive, offering a better value and longer lifespan. This is a true backpacking rain jacket, and with it, you can have your cake and eat it too.

  • Weight: 6.3 oz
  • Price: $170 (M’s) $180 (W’s)
  • Fabric: Pertex Shield Diamond Fuse 2.5L
  • Pros: Ultralight. Great value. Durable.
  • Cons: No pit zips. Not 3-Layer.


The Pertex Shield technology with DiamondFuse yarn makes the Helium Rain Jacket very resistant to ripping and tearing, and the entire jacket punches above its weight class when it comes to durability.

However, one of the primary weight savings design elements is that there are very few features. As of Q1 2023 hand pockets were added to the W’s version along with a $10 price increase, but not M’s. However, neither version has pit zips for mechanical venting.

As far as performance rain gear goes, this jacket exhibits breathability and waterproofness stats that are mid-tier, but not top of the heap.

The Helium is our go-to hiking rain jacket when packing for unknown conditions in late spring through early fall (AKA most of hiking season), or when you have a forecast that calls for light to moderate rain.

However, in the event that you are knowingly hiking into a heavy storm and/or expect to wear your rain gear most of the day, we would recommend a burlier jacket. This jacket runs a little smaller than average, so if you’re in between sizes, consider sizing up.


To conclude, this is the lightweight rain jacket we grab most. We recommend it to all, and especially pack-weight conscious backpackers, like ourselves.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – All-Purpose

Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket

We love when sustainable gear performs as well as unconstrained designs, and the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket leads the pack for rainwear. Not only is this one constructed with recycled materials, it’s also manufactured with fair trade certified sewing and produced by the only brand owned by a environmental non-profit. And what a value for just $179

  • Weight: 14.1 oz
  • Price: $179
  • Fabric: 3L H2No® ECONYL® recycled ripstop nylon
  • Pros: 3-Layer. Fully-featured. Eco-friendly. Great value. Pit zips. Durable.
  • Cons: Mid-tier weight.


When it comes to features and performance, the Torrentshell is no slouch and a great all-purpose rain jacket. This is a fully featured design with pit zips, hand pockets, adjustable hood, hem/collar/cuff cinching, microfleece neck liner.

The full 3-layer design (very difficult to find for under $200) includes a tricot backing to protect the interior from oil and abrasion. It also adds comfort compared to a 2L jacket by reducing the wet plastic, clammy feel when bare skin touches the inside of a humid jacket.

The H2NO membrane isn’t pushing performance boundaries when it comes to waterproof breathability, but it keeps you dry as well as expected, and is comparable to most other high end rain jackets.

Our only quibble is that, at 14.1 oz, it’s more mid-weight than lightweight, and it’s twice as heavy as our favorite ultralight picks.


Nonetheless, the pros easily outweigh that con and makes this an incredible value for $179. The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Rain Jacket is a well-priced, well-rounded high performance garment that is manufactured to minimize harm to the environment and we’re proud to recommend it here. Read more in our full review.

Best Ultralight Rain Jacket

Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket

The Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket is the lightest weight and most breathable backpacking rain jacket, and it blows mainstream  outdoor brand competitors out of the water in terms of pure performance. This is a huge cottage industry flex against bigger business, and we commend Zpacks on exceptional product development.

  • Weight: 5.6 oz
  • Price: $299
  • Fabric: 3L Vertice membrane, 7D ripstop nylon
  • Pros: Exceptionally ultralight and breathable. 3-layer. Pit zips.
  • Cons: Thin fabric is slightly delicate. No hand pockets.


The Vertice membrane, in conjunction with the thin 7D nylon ripstop face fabric, has a whopping 56,000+ g/m2/24hr breathability rating (for reference Gore-Tex is rated to 17,000 g/m2/24hr). And despite that, it maintains a waterproof rating of 20,000 mmH₂O via hydrostatic head testing, which is fairly typical among high performance hiking rain jackets (for reference, Gore-Tex is on the high end and scores a 28,000mmH₂O).

And for even more breathability, you also get pit zips and the entire package weighs only 5.6 oz in a men’s medium.

This is an exceptional product and the best ultralight backpacking rain jacket currently available. Durability and longevity are about what you would expect with a 7D ultralight rain jacket with small adjustment hardware. The ripstop nylon helps prevent damage, but just like with all ultralight products, you should handle with some degree of care.


At $300 this one is definitely on the expensive end, but we feel it’s a reasonable ask and value proposition, considering it’s the single lightest and most breathable hiking rain jacket money can buy.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Protection

Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket

If you’re looking for the burliest waterproof hiking rain gear money can buy, the Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket is for you. This what we would wear for hiking into a torrential downpour, and we would feel safe and confident in doing so because it’s totally bomber. Everything about the design in premium.

  • Weight: 13.9 oz
  • Price: $450
  • Fabric: 3L Gore-Tex 40D Nylon
  • Pros: 3-layer. Gore-Tex. Pit zips. Fully-featured. Durable.
  • Cons: Mid-tier weight.


For starters, Gore-Tex is still the gold stand for waterproofness, and we love a 3-layer construction for the superior interior feel, and extending the lifespan of the membrane by protecting against oils and abrasion. The 40D nylon exterior is exceptional durable and water resistant.

The Arc’teryx Beta LT lightweight rain jacket is a no-holds-barred design when it comes to features, including pit zips, hood/hem/cuff cinching, microsuede chin guard, helmet compatible hood, tall collar, taped micro-seaming, and hip-belt compatible pockets.

Designed for rigorous alpine conditions, this is a multisport jacket that performs amazing well for climbing, ski touring, and pretty much anything else you can throw its way.


The only drawback aside from price is that all of the amazing features and benefits come at the cost of weight; at 13.9 oz, it’s on the heavier end of what we would consider for a hiking rain jacket. Read more details in our full review.

All that to say, this is a truly incredible piece of hiking rain gear that will reliably keep you dry on the trail for years, and an obvious pick for the most protective lightweight rain jacket available.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Sustainability

Patagonia Slate Sky Jacket

Here we have a sleek, minimalist hiking rain jacket made from 100% recycled fishing nets. As such, the Patagonia Slate Sky Jacket is the best blend of high performance, low weight, good value, and eco-friendly materials.

  • Weight: 10.4 oz
  • Price: $199
  • Fabric: 3L H2N0 NetPlus 100% recycled nylon
  • Pros: Eco-friendly. Good value. 3 layer performance. Lightweight.
  • Cons: No pit zips. Not ultralight.


Three layer construction is simply superior 2L or 2.5L, and we’re thrilled to see that in the Slate Sky Jacket. 3L has a more pleasant, less plastic-y hand feel, reduces the perception of clamminess, prolongs the life of the jacket, and helps to wick sweat.

Slate Sky isn’t just made of 100% recycled nylon, it’s made of 100% recycled nylon derived exclusively from fishing nets, so it’s working extra hard to save the earth. Just using plain old recycled nylon isn’t good enough to compete with Pataognia!

Physical jacket features include two zippered hand pockets, waterproof front zipper with storm flap, and an adjustable hem, and an adjustable hood with stiffened visor.


Patagonia Slate Sky Jacket is a high performance eco-friendly design that justifies a slot in your backpack regardless of if you prioritizing sustainable design. But if you are, it easily outcompetes the rest and delivers an excellent all-around lightweight rain jacket at a good price.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Value

REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket

The REI Co-op XeroDry GTX is a very good all-purpose hiking rain jacket at an excellent price. It’s hard to find bomber Gore-Tex protection for under $200, and this one is listed at an eye popping $169. It’s just so much bang for the buck.

  • Weight: 12.5 oz
  • Price: $169
  • Fabric: 2L Gore-Tex Paclite
  • Pros: Excellent value. Gore-Tex.
  • Cons: No pit zips. Not 3-layer.


The jacket itself is a classic 2-layer Gore-Tex hard shell with basic features including two hand pockets, a chest pocket, and hem/cuff/hood cinching. It gets the job done in the backcountry.

While we love it’s protection and reliability, Gore-Tex is no longer the most breathable waterproof technology. A 2-layer garments in particular can feel a bit like wet plastic bags to the touch when heat and humidity build up.

Thus, we recommend wearing this over long sleeves, and keeping the hand pockets open for extra ventilation. The jacket designed with articulation for ease of reaching. Plus, it comes with REI’s warranty!


We recommend the REI Co-op XeroDry GTX as the best value pick for lightweight hiking rain jackets, and the most affordable Gore-Tex option.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Under $150

Black Diamond Treeline Rain Shell

If you want a cost-efficient, lightweight, waterproof hiking rain jacket, grab the Black Diamond Treeline Rain Shell. At just under nine ounces, it’s a killer value proposition for only $140.

  • Weight: 8.9 oz
  • Price: $140
  • Fabric: 2.5L nylon with BD.dry™ waterproof/breathable membrane
  • Pros: Very lightweight. Affordable. Great value. Back vent.
  • Cons: No pit zips. Not 3-layer.


The first thing to call out about the build is the use of a mechanical back panel vent, unusual in this day and age. It might not be at its most effective if you’re wearing a backpack over top, but with even a small gap between back and pack, it will help dump heat.

Cool retro feature and we hope to see more of it from other brands. That, back vents still play second fiddle to pit zips, and we of course wish that Treeline had some.

Aside from that, it has the usual adjustable hem/cuff/hood, and two zippered hand pockets. BD.dry has been a solid performer in the waterproof breathable membrane space, but it’s still not quite as premium as name-brands like Gore-tex or eVent, nor is it air permeably like OR’s AscentShell.

It’s waterproof/breathable stats come in at 10k/10k, which is acceptable if not exciting.


When scanning the marketplace for all the best new rain jackets, this one really stood out as a strong performer, statistically speaking. It only launched in 2021, and flew under our radar, so we look forward to testing it more this year. Very high potential and a clear front runner for best lightweight rain jacket under $150.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Under $100

REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket

The REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket is the best hard shell we know of for only $100. It checks all of the basic boxes for waterproofness and breathability, and even has some nice features like pit zips, a three-piece adjustable hood, and hem/cuff cinches, and of course the REI warranty.

  • Weight: 13 oz
  • Price: $100
  • Fabric: Peak 2.5L recycled ripstop nylon
  • Pros: Very Affordable. Pit zips. Eco-friendly.
  • Cons: Mid-tier weight. Bulky. Not 3-layer.


The jacket is made with recycled ripstop nylon and bluesign® approved manufacturing, which we love for its low impact on the environment. We don’t have much experience with REI’s proprietary “Peak” waterproof breathable laminate, but similar price point technologies from other brands tend to perform okay with the biggest hit in performance being lower breathability.

We find the fit to be a bit boxy, but hey, look on the bright side – that’s more room for layering in the cold. Lastly, we want to call out the inclusive sizing, including men’s tall and women’s plus up to 3X. Thanks REI!


All said and done, this jacket gets the job done and is a great pick for beginner and hikers who don’t want to break the bank on gear. It would also make for a nice gift to nudge someone out on their first hike.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Under $75

REI Co-op Trailmade Rain Jacket

While REI Co-op Trailmade is the most basic rain jacket in our roundup, it’s also the most affordable. Sure, it’s a bit heavy and low tech by modern ultralight standards, but for just $75, it gets the job done nearly as well.

REI Co-op Trailmade Rain Jacket Key Stats

  • Weight: 14.1 oz
  • Price: $70
  • Fabric: 2L waterproof/breathable, polyester, mesh lining
  • Pros: Affordable. REI Warranty. Covers all the basics.
  • Cons: Midweight. No pitzips. 2L  construction.


The REI Co-op Trailmade Rain Jacket checks the most important boxes for performance rain gear without breaking the bank. That is to say, it has a waterproof/breathable laminate and seam-sealed construction. And unlike comparably priced knock off gear, this one is covered by REI’s incredibly generous warranty.

The 2L fabric waterproof/breathable fabric is backed by a mesh liner which adds weight but has a nice handfeel compared to other more plasticy rain fabrics. That is reflected too in the outside, which is a softer and less noisy polyester, rather than nylon.

Trailmade offers two hand pockets and an adjustable hood. The same basic features we come to expect from most lightweight rain jackets. And it’s made with bluesign approved manufacturing, minimizing dye and chemical runoff.

Lastly, this one comes in a litany of color and size offerings, scaling all of the way up to 3X for women and XXXL for men.


Like the rest of REI’s expansive line of Trailmade hiking gear, this jacket delivers a well-made, basic product at a very favorable price. Nobody else even comes close for less then $75.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Thru-Hiking

Montbell Versalite Jacket

The Montbell Versalite is a trail-tested, ever popular ultralight rain jacket weighing only 6.4 oz. It has lots of features and an interesting design.

  • Weight: 6.4
  • Price: $249
  • Fabric: 2L 10D WINDSTOPPER
  • Pros: Breathable. Pit zips. Very few seams. Good pockets. Ultralight.
  • Cons: 2-layer. Expensive. Delicate.


Versalite is constructed with an innovative K-Mono Cut pattern that drastically reduces the number of seam lines. This in turn reduces weight, simplifies manufacturing, and reduces the number of areas that can allow water to penetrate, requiring less seam taping and having less failure points.

Interestingly, Montbell has used WINDSTOPPER instead of traditional Gore-Tex, but it seems to be plenty waterproof enough. And in conjunction with the pit zips, it’s significantly more breathable than your average lightweight rain jacket.

We love the large, hipbelt compatible pockets. It adjustable cuffs, hood, and hem, and is very well-featured for how lightweight it is.

Noteworthy drawbacks include it’s 10D fabric. 10D is durable enough if you treat this jacket respectfully, but it certainly cannot be abused. Check out our top overall pick, the Outdoor Research Helium Rain for a more durable ultralight model.

It is also a 2-layer construction, which can feel clammy against skin and fails to protect the interior, shortening the lifespan of the garment.


Montbell Versalite is an well-featured, ultralight rain jacket that performs well across the board and is thru-hiker approved.

However, it fits in awkwardly to the rain jacket category. It is more expensive and less durable than Helium Rain, and heavier and less breathable than Zpacks Vertice.

Best Lightweight Rain Pants For Hiking

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants

Incredibly light, fully waterproof, great value, and more durable than the competition, thanks to its Pertex Shield DiamondFuse shell fabric. The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants are our go-to option, and the best rain pants for hiking.

  • Weight: 6.7 oz
  • Price: $130
  • Fabric: Pertex Shield with DiamondFuse, 30D Nylon Ripstop
  • Side Zippers: Ankle
  • Pros: Ultralight. Durable. Great Value.
  • Cons: No side pockets or vents. Difficult on/off with shoes.


Relative to other ultralight rain pants, the 30D Nylon Ripstop DiamondFuse is significantly longer lasting, more durable, and less prone to snagging and tearing. And that is even more important for pants than jackets.

Relative to more expensive and fully-featured pants, these weight 50-100% less. In general, rain pants are worn less frequently and stored more frequently than jackets, which is why we strongly prefer ultralight versions to those with the bells and whistles; the weight savings are are more beneficial.

The downside to minimalist gear like this is that it’s very feature-light. There is only one pocket on the entire garment, which also doubles as a stuff sack. There is no zipper venting, and it can be difficult to pull the pants on over shoes unless you have smaller feet.


We prefer featureless rain pants, and this is a great value and a great performer. Helium Rain stand out as the lightest and most durable option in the pack from mainstream brands, and they are our go-to rain pants.

Best Rain Shell Mitts For Hiking

Zpacks Vertice Rain Mitts

If you want the lightest and most breathable waterproof handwear, pull on a pair of Zpacks Vertice Rain Mitts.

  • Weight: 1.0 oz
  • Price: $70
  • Fabric: 3L, 7D Vertice ripstop nylon
  • Pros: Ultralight. Very breathable.
  • Cons: Delicate.


Constructed with the same fabric as the corresponding Vertice Rain Jacket and Pants, the mitts have a breathability that is greater than 3X Gore-Tex. What’s more, a pair weighs only an ounce.

The biggest drawback is that they use a 7d fabric, which is about as thin as it gets. You can handle rough objects with them, and you should even be careful not to rub them too hard on trekking pole straps for hours at at time.

We recommend packing them in conjunction with any basic fleece liner for a complete 3-season hand system. These are great rain mitts to just always have in your backpack by default. But if we knew we were hiking into super rainy weather, we would pack something a bit burlier.


Zpacks Vertice Rain Mitts offer a significant amount of weather protection to a critical area. And they do so comfortably while only weighing an ounce. It doesn’t get better than that.

Best Cold Rain Gloves For Hiking


For sleet and cold rain, we use the SHOWA Gloves TEMRES 282, designed for winter-use in the maritime industry. These gloves are at home in truly nasty weather. and are 100% waterproof and never wet out from the exterior.

  • Weight: 3.5 oz
  • Price: $27
  • Fabric: TEMRES Technology
  • Pros: Extremely waterproof. Lightly insulated.
  • Cons: Clumsy. Low breathability. Unusual looking.

As out-of-place as they look in the backcountry, their performance is simply superior to alternatives from traditional outdoor brands, and they’re plenty warm enough. Dexterity and breathability are both lackluster, but functional enough for non-technical use. They run small so size up.

Best Cleaner/DWR Refresh for Hiking Rain Jackets

Nikwax Tech Wash and TX Direct

When you notice your rain gear starting to “wet out,” it’s time for a renewal with Nikwax Techwash and TX Direct. This two phase rain gear refresh starts by cleaning dirt and oil off of the garment, and finishes by restoring and rebuilding the DWR (durable water repellent).

  • Weight: 0 oz (once applied)
  • Price: $23
  • Technology: TX.Direct
  • Pros: Renews waterproof performance. No harsh chemicals.
  • Cons: Slightly less effective than off-the-shelf DWR treatment


The DWR finish is the technology on the outer surface that causes water to roll up and bead off, and it works in conjunction with the waterproof breathable laminate membrane to provide complete rain protection and comfort.

TX.Direct will never perform quite as well as the factory applied DWR that your jacket came with, but it will probably get you at least 90% of the original performance.

This is a trade off we accept for Nikwax creating a biodegradle, harsh-chemical-free product that can safely be used at home in your washing machine. For frequent hikers, we feel that washing your rain jacket and pants once at the start of hiking season, and once at the end is probably sufficient.


Nikwax Techwash and TX Direct are an integral part of staying dry in the backcountry and we highly recommend this product to improve your experience with rain gear.


Best Repair Patch for Hiking Rain Jackets

Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch

For small to mediums sized rips and tears, we prefer using a Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch, precut in a hexagonal shape.

  • Weight: 0.1 oz (once applied)
  • Price: $5
  • Technology: Tenacious Tape
  • Cons: Long lasting. Works in backcountry. Very adhesive. Waterproof.
  • Cons: Requires smooth surfaces


When applied to a smooth, relatively clean surface, the repair patches are incredibly long lasting and durable. The adhesive is significantly stickier than duct tape. The patch itself is waterproof and will prevent leaks. We recommend the hex shaped patches because the corners are less sharp than rectangles, thus less prone to catching and peeling.

These repair patches work on tents, backpacks, rain jackets, hiking clothes, and pretty much any other fabric item that can be laid flat and smoothed out. However, they won’t work well on textured surfaces, like shoes or mesh.


Nonetheless, Gear Aid makes a best in class product that should be a staple in every hikers repair kit, especially those who use ultralight tents with thin fabric. We always carry them and you should too.


testing lightweight rain jackets in stormy patagonia

Essential Information For Understanding Hiking Rain Jackets

Learn, how and why rain jackets fail.

In this guide, we give you critical information you won’t get elsewhere to help you understand important features for rain jacket performance. We dive into breathability, durability, waterproof/breathable (WP/B) fabric technologies, etc. And dispel a few myths, like wetted out jackets do not breathe (they do!), etc.

Understanding Breathability

Or why waterproof-breathable rain jackets get an unfair bad rap for not being breathable enough

The truth is, that when exercising hard, you’ll get significantly wet-from-the-inside wearing ANY wind-resistant jacket or shell—even a light supposedly “breathable” wind shirt! Put the fabric up to your mouth. If you can’t easily breathe through it then it will trap a lot of moisture, even if it is non-waterproof wind shirt.

The problem has more to do with having any wind-resistant fabric covering you than whether it’s a plain “breathable” nylon fabric, or a waterproof-breathable fabric for a rain jacket. And the difference in wetness-from-the-inside for a wind shirt vs. waterproof/breathable rain jacket may be less than you think.

Why any shell increases moisture retention

Any wind-resistant shell, hiking rain jacket or wind shirt, blocks air movement to and from your base layer and the outside environment. This has the following consequences:

  • The shell retains heat, trapping warm air against your skin, and making you significantly warmer and sweat more. (In technical terms your shell creates a “boundary layer” of non-moving moist air.)
  • Moist air from your skin/base-layer can’t move freely to drier and possibly cooler outside air (as it would if you were just wearing a T-shirt exposed to the outside air). This essentially traps most of your body moisture inside the shell —thus the term wet-from-the inside.

From the above, you can see why even a “breathable,” non-waterproof wind shirt can cause moisture to build up rapidly. And the harder you exercise, the worse it gets. This is supported by a lot of research by the Armed forces clothing test labs and other PhD professionals in the field. And I did some controlled testing with runs in both a wind shirt and a WP/B rain jacket. In an hour the rain jacket only accumulated 20% more sweat on my base-layer.

Rainwear gets a bad rapport

All shells retain warm moist air and tend to get an unwarranted bad rap for not being breathable. Or at least people should also start complaining about how unbreathable wind shirts are.

This is the reason I no longer carry a wind shirt. Instead, many times I use a fleece shirt/jacket for warmth in moderate wind. While nowhere near windproof, it does a decent job of blocking enough of the wind to keep me warm. The benefit is that I don’t end up getting sweaty chilled out.

Finally, when it does get cold enough and/or windy enough to chill me, I use my rain jacket as a “wind-shell.” By this point it’s cold enough that moisture accumulation in the rain jacket is not a big a deal.

a hiker in a yellow rain jacket on snow

When to Consider a Soft Shell Jacket

Ultralight softshell jackets, like the Patagonia Houdini, are sometimes a better choice.You don’t always need a waterproof hiking rain jacket. The Houdini Air is a great choice for day hikes and trail runs where there may be a chance of rain, snow, or high winds. It is not waterproof and will not keep you dry in any excess moisture, but it’s a way more efficient, light, and affordable “just in case” layer than a fully waterproof rain jacket.

The fabric does still have a DWR finish so it will repel light moisture, and it also dries extremely quickly if it gets any sweat build-up. We don’t recommend taking the Houdini as your only rain layer on something like a thru-hike or a backpacking trip with sure rain in the forecast, but it’s a great additional layer to add for shorter trips. However, we would not recommend that as a backpacking rain jacket.

New ShakeDry Technology

The Ultralight Arc’teryx Norvan SL Jacket Uses a Brand-New Gore-Tex Tech

Shakedry technology is Gore-Tex’s most breathable and lightweight shell design. It has a persistent beading outer face, which means in rain or snow the moisture will simply run off the face of the jacket. And then, when the storm is over, simply shake out the jacket to completely dry it out. Furthermore, their Shakedry garments also include Gore-Tex stretch technology, so the Norvan jacket moves extremely well and won’t keep you constricted. Read more from Gore-Tex here.

How And Why A Lightweight Rain Jacket Fails – 3 Elements of Durability

A. Outer shell fabric durability

The ability of the rainwear’s exterior fabric to:

  • Resist tearing, punctures and abrasion damage. Most ultralight rain jackets struggle with this, which is we like the durable, 6.4 oz Helium Rain Jacket so much.
  • Maintain its water shedding & breathability—usually with a durable, water repellent finish DWR
    Note: outer shell fabric “wet out,” the breakdown of this water shedding property, does not completely stop all breathability as is popularly believed. See more below.

B. Inner waterproof/breathable (WPB) membrane durability

The ability of a lightweight rain jacket WPB lining to maintain waterproofness AND breathability:

  • The WPB membrane should remain physically intact under the wear and tear of garment use (not so easy in regular use with a backpack!).
  • In particular the WPB membrane should not delaminate from the outer shell, develop cracks, etc. In this case, 3-layer construction jackets are likely more durable. That’s because their inner fabric liner protects the more delicate WPB membrane vs. the unprotected membrane of 2.5 layer jackets.
  • The WPB membrane should not foul with body oils, dirt, detergent residues or other materials which will cause the WPB membrane to leak.

C. Hardware failures

  • Zippers that jam, no longer mate at the bottom, or start auto-separating in the field
  • Elastic adjusters on hoods, cuffs and hems of jackets. Velcro that looses its stick, adjusters/buckles that break or slip, etc.

So What Fails Most Often?

Best Durable Lightweight Rain Jacket

[Two high quality 2.5 layer backpacking rain jackets from big name outdoor gear companies] In my experience, membrane delamination like this in the neck and upper shoulders is the most common way that rainwear permanently fails. While this happens faster to the unprotected WPB membrane of 2.5-layer jackets like these — if you wear a 3-layer jacket long enough it too will eventually delaminate and leak. And backpackers beware: wearing a pack dramatically speeds up this delimitation process for both 2.5 and 3-layer jackets!

1) Waterproof Breathable Membrane Delamination

As the pictures above show, WPB membrane failure is likely the first and most common, the non-fixable way rain jackets fail (leak). And note that while the examples are dramatic, many small cracks, punctures, and delaminations are not obvious but will still cause your jacket to leak. This is true for 2.5 and 3-layer jackets, although a 3-layer lightweight rain jacket will usually last longer.

This is one reason why the outdoor industry still makes a big deal about 2.5 vs 3-layer construction.

Note: Many outdoor companies like Patagonia, REI, and Outdoor Research, offer good product warranties that cover zipper failures, membrane delamination, etc. This will protect your jacket as a long term investment. But if your jacket fails in the field you may have to suffer through wet until you get home and can ship it back for repair or replacement.

2) “Wet Out” (DWR failure) – Outer Shell no Longer Beading/Shedding Water

Best Durable Lightweight Rain Jacket

Fabric ‘wet out’ reduces but doesn’t completely stop breathability. [click photo to enlarge]

On the left is a traditional ultralight rain jacket surface treated with a DWR that has already started to fail (wet out). Large wetted-out areas will reduce the breathability of a rain jacket. In comparison, on the right is a newer, non-chemical water-shedding fabric technology. FutureLight technology from The North Face is a great example of this, though we feel it has a ways to go before taking over the industry.

Wet out is another common “failure,” altho it can be fixed. Wet out happens when the durable, water repellent finish DWR no longer beads up and sheds water. The most common reason for this is the DWR finish (a chemical) wearing off after many garment washings, and/or the surface getting fouled with dirt and other compounds. While this doesn’t cause the rain jacket to leak, it does likely slow down the breathability of the jacket (see more below). This makes it easier to sweat out the inside of the jacket if you are working hard. Your DWR can be refreshed by washing the jacket and treating it with a DWR restoring wash compound and/or spray. E.g. some of these from Nikwax.

Note: While some newer fabrics like Columbia OutDry Ex Eco are inherently hydrophobic and don’t need a DWR. You will still need to keep the fabric free of dirt for the best water shedding.

Myth: A Wetted Out Rain Jacket Doesn’t Breathe

It’s a myth rainwear stops breathing once it wets out.  This is according to interviews I had with 1) Jeff Mergy, the Director of the Innovation Team at Columbia Sportswear (among other things tech. guy for OutDry Ex Eco Fabric and 2) Dr. Fred Wilson PhD a long term industry scientist who worked for both GORE and eVENT on WPB fabrics.

In an interview I had with Jeff Mergy, he stated that WPB membranes are still breathable when the outer shell is wetted out but not as breathable. It is still not clearly understood how less breathable but Jeff believes it is significant. BUT he said that part of what consumers believe is “not-breathable” is often the clammy next skin feel of conventional WPB jackets. Water shedding fabrics like OutDry and FutureLight help with this by having an actual wicking fabric that feels far more comfortable next to the skin. Even when the outer shell is wetted out. [Note: other 3-layer technologies with a fabric liner should have a similar non-clammy feel.]


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