Best Lightweight Rain Jacket for 2022
The best lightweight rain jackets and pants have all earned their spot on this list by performing better than the competition:
- Keep you dry in sustained rain
- Breathable and vent internal humidity (sweat) to keep you dry on the inside
- Lightweight & pack down to a small size
- Hold up to the rigors of hiking, backpacking & extended travel
- Value | We offer a number of lower-cost jackets that perform beyond their price point.
In this guide, we’ll help you pick the right jacket and pants for your needs, your trips, and your budget. No BS. We’ve analyzed the marketplace, looked at the data, field-tested the lot of it, and we come back to you with these recommendations for the very best rain jackets and pants available.
6 Quick Picks for a Lightweight Rain Jacket
For those short on time, here’s our take on the best of the best.
Best Value | All-around-performance Jacket: Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket Jacket | Amazing value for a rugged, 3-layer jacket! From a trusted company, and it’s fully featured including pit zips! Durable with lifetime Patagonia warranty.
Best Ultralight Jacket: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket | Ultralight 6oz AND durable. Costs less than the competition.
Best All-around-performance Jacket: REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket | Affordable, light & durable. Uses GORE-TEX PACLITE fabric so save weight, while remaining rugged.
Best Thru Hiker Jacket: Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket | 9oz jacket & pants! Super breathable, less $ than the competition
Best Semi-Technical Jacket: Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell | Our choice for semi-technical trips in places like Patagonia.
Best Value Rain Jacket: REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket | Fully featured including pit-zips. Under $100 (on sale for even less)
New for 2022 Arc’Teryx Killer | Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell Jacket
While Arc’Teryx usually gets all the buzz for high-end, durable, technical shells… we feel that Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell Jacket is even better! We prefer the high breathability of the AscentShell technology which is actually air-permeable. The GoreTex on Arc’Teryx is not. And the OR Helium AscentShell Jacket has the new super-strong Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric (5x more tear-resistant and 2x more abrasion resistant) making it insane rugged for an 11 ounce Jacket! It was recently used on K2, the second highest mountain in the world. In summary, this jacket does it all for a mere 11 ounces — super breathable, rugged, and fully featured including 6 pockets, and a beautifully designed hood.
How to Find Your Perfect Rain Jacket Fast!
To make it fast and easy to find the right rain jacket. We divide our rain jackets into three basic categories of features and price. So jump right in to find a fantastic rain jacket at the right price that has the features that matter the most to YOU.
- Lightweight Rain Jacket– 9-11 oz & $70-$100 | super value, full-featured & 1st choice for many
- Ultralight Rain Jacket – 5-6+ oz $160-$300+ | the very lightest and the highest-tech. most pricey (but not all)
- Durable Lightweight Rain Jacket ( 3-layer) – 10-15 oz & $150 to $400 | durable, do-it-all workhorses but still light! Appropriate for day-after-day wear under a backpack or extended travel to wet areas.
(AKA Packable Rain Jacket)
These lightweight rain jackets are the perfect blend of performance, weight, and cost. As such, they are the best all-round jackets and likely the first choice for most hikers, backpackers and travelers (yes, an eminently packable rain jacket!). They are low cost, reasonably durable, and have a good to excellent set of features. In summary, a fantastic deal for folks not counting weight to the last gram.
- PRO: Best all-round rain jacket for most folks. Low cost AND low weight. Good to excellent feature set. Usually a more durable outer fabric that is more resistant to tears and abrasions vs. most of the Ultralight Rain Jackets.
- CON: Almost double the weight and bulkier than most Ultralight Rain Jackets. The 2-layer / 2.5-layer WP/B liner membrane is more delicate to wear and more prone to leaking when worn long term under a pack vs. 3-layer jackets [please see more below on this important topic].
- BEST FOR: Lightweight backpackers, hikers and travelers looking for a great value in a full-featured, and reasonably durable rain jacket that’s packable down to a small size.
- NOT GREAT FOR: Week-after-week wear with a heavy backpack, e.g. wet climates like Pacific NW.
REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket
Top Pick | Value Rain Jacket
WEIGHT: 13 oz
MSRP: $89.95 (clearance options $27-$64 also available)
TECH: 2.5-layer waterproof breathable laminate Bluesign Approved Nylon with DWR finish
FEATURES: A quality rain jacket in the range of $30 – $90 is a steal. The REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket’s utilitarian design keeps weight and cost low. Styling is a bit boxy, but the jacket also has room to layer. The Co-op Jacket has a modestly sized, 3-piece hood with dual hood adjusts (but still best with a ball-cap under it), two zippered hand pockets, a drawcord hem and internal elastic cuffs to allow a seal at waist and wrists. And, the new model has pit zips and uses recycled nylon ripstop (bluesign® approved).
BEST FOR: Budget hikers and backpackers looking for good rain and wind protection that will last at an incredibly low price.
WHAT WE LIKE: A modestly priced jacket with room to layer underneath, strong wind protection, and pit-zips for ventilation.
CONS: Weighs more than many 2.5 layer jackets. Bulky styling and minimal hood brim.
Marmot Precip Eco Jacket
WEIGHT: 10.1 oz
TECH: [membrane/laminate] NanoPro Eco, [face fabric] 100% recycled nylon ripstop
FEATURES: The Marmot PreCip Eco Jacket is a durable, excellent jacket with a lifetime warranty at an incredible price. The hood is convertible, which means it can zip and stow into its own collar for a more casual look, or when being used as a wind layer. There are two zippered hand pockets, and pit zips for ventilation. At 10.1 ounces, it’s the lightest budget pick. Furthermore, it’s made with recycled and repurposed materials, hence the “eco” in the name. It comes in 11 different color options on Backcountry.
BEST FOR: A durable, lightweight rain jacket that will do great on any hiking or backpacking trip.
WHAT WE LIKE: A great value for a fully-featured rain jacket, with many different run color options.
CONS: The “regular” fit has a tendency to look and feel boxy.
NOTE: This jacket is noted to run small, so we recommend sizing up if you are planning to layer underneath.
Columbia EvaPOURation Jacket
WEIGHT: 10.8 oz
MSRP: $100 (currently on sale for $75)
TECH: 2-Layer Omni-Tech waterproof breathable fabric Nylon; 100% nylon
FEATURES: The EvaPOURation is quite similar in weight and features to the Marmot Precip. It’s included here because of Columbia’s broad distribution. As such it is likely to be readily available to many hikers. And because, like the Precip, it can often be found on sale. The EvaPOURation has pit zips, velcro adjustable hood and cuffs, waterproofed zippers, and two hand pockets. When the sun is shining, the jacket zips into its own hand pocket.
BEST FOR: A good value in a fully featured, 2 layer rain jacket that’ll last for quite a while.
WHAT WE LIKE: This jacket fits nicely, has pit-zips for ventilation, and fully seam-sealed waterproof zippers for $100 (at the most).
CONS: Like many 2 layer budget jackets it’s prone to wetting out with extreme activity and storms.
These are the Rain Jackets that Ultralight Backpackers get all excited about. They are a good choice for most trips where weight is critical, but also outings without serious bushwhacking and where you don’t expect to constantly wear the jacket under heavy pack (i.e. backpacking in day-after-day rain).
- PRO: They weigh ~6 ounces and pack down to a ridiculously small size. Most use highly breathable high tech fabrics. Used with modest care they do a great job of keeping you dry and your pack light. [We’ve used them successfully for many years.]
- CON: Many (but not all) have minimal features, e.g. lack pockets and/or pit-zips etc. Shell fabric is thin and vulnerable to tears if not used properly [again, with care I’ve used them successfully for many years, and some of the lighter fabrics are becoming more durable, for instance the Pertex Diamond Fuse on the OR Helium Rain Jacket.]. Many are quite expensive— although a few are in the affordable range.
- BEST FOR: Ultralighters and thru-hikers looking for the lightest jacket to keep them dry and don’t mind spending significant $. Or for day hikers.
- NOT GREAT FOR: Bushwhacking, week-after-week wear with a heavy backpack on, e.g. wet climates like Pacific NW.
Outdoor Research Helium Jacket
Top Pick | Ultralight Jacket
WEIGHT: 6.4 oz
MSRP: $159 (currently on sale for $110)
TECH: Pertex Diamond Fuse 2.5-layer waterproof breathable laminate Ripstop nylon
FEATURES: As the lowest cost jacket in this category The Outdoor Research Helium is a great value! Also, upgrades to the jacket in 2020 made it even stronger than their previous model.nIt boasts a new super-strong Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric. Outdoor Research says it 5x more tear-resistant and 2x more abrasion resistant than the old Helium. That’s a huge deal for a 6 oz Rain Jacket where any increase in durability is most welcome. While it weighs far less than just a few rain jackets, it still has a good feature set — drawcord-adjustable hood, elastic adjustable cuffs, and a chest pocket that can stow the entire jacket. Though this jacket is on the roomier side, it still fits true to size. It will layer over an 8-12+ oz fleece mid layer, but anyone layering it over something larger (e.g. a down jacket) should likely size up. And like always, the Helium II Rain Jacket costs less than the competitor’s 6 ounce rain jackets!
BEST FOR: Combination of low weight, durability, and value | One of the best all-around rain jackets for serious travelers, hikers, and outdoor athletes looking for extremely light rain protection without the high prices of other jackets at this weight and who value high packability.
WHAT WE LIKE: Incredibly strong fabric, against snags and storms. For an ultralight jacket on a budget, this has withstood the test of time.
CONS: A lack of ventilation makes it hard to stay comfortable and dry during hot and wet months
Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket
Top Pick | Thru Hiker Jacket
WEIGHT: 4.9 oz
MSRP: $190 ($200 with pit zips -5.9 oz)
TECH: 3-layer custom Toyota fabric (75,000 g/m2/24h) is the highest breathability spec we’ve seen
VENTILATION: Pit-zips and velcro adjustable cuffs
The Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket is one of the very lightest WP/B rain jackets on the market. It features a super breathable 3-layer custom Toyota fabric (75,000 g/m2/24h) — the highest spec we’ve seen in a rain jacket. Last year, Enlightened Equipment added the option of pit zips. The combo of high fabric breathability and pit zip venting makes the Visp is one of the best at preventing internal humidity buildup (sweat), which keeps you dry on the inside. Despite its minimal weight, it has a roomy fit – especially in the upper torso and arms, and will accommodate a warm jacket under it. It has raglan sleeves for a full range of motion, and a rear drop hem for full coverage. Additional features: drawcord-adjustable hood with brim, full-length waterproof zipper, drawcord adjustable hem, well-sized velcro cuff adjusters, and sleeves long enough to fully pull your hands inside to keep them out of rain/wind. Of note, the Visp does not have any pockets on the Jacket or Pants. Finally, while not inexpensive, the Visp costs significantly less than any sub 6 ounce WP/B jacket we know of, and less than most jackets in the 6 ounce range. The comparable Arc’teryx Norvan SL is more than $100 more expensive.
BEST FOR: Experienced hikers and travelers looking for one of the lightest and most breathable rain jackets on the market. While not the cheapest jacket, it’s still a value for a jacket that is under 6 ounces.
WHAT WE LIKE: A great ultralight option that has plenty of breathability and still keeps you dry.
CONS: We wish there were pockets, although many ultralight options do not have this feature.
Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket
WEIGHT: 5.6 oz
TECH: 3-Layer “Ventum-WPB” fabric. high 56,000+ g/m2/24hr breathability!, Tricot lining, a waterproof, vapor permeable membrane, & 7 denier ripstop nylon on the exterior.
VENTILATION: Pit-zips and adjustable velcro cuffs
FEATURES: The Zpacks Vertice is one of the most breathable jackets in this group. Its 3-layer construction has a fabric liner to protect the WP/B membrane making it more suited for long term wear under a backpack vs. the 2 layer jackets. It’s also among the most fully featured jackets in this group, with a large dual adjustment hood with stiffened brim, pit-zips, adjustable cuffs, a large chest pocket, & long protective hem.
BEST FOR: Ultralighters looking for the lightest jacket that is super breathable, fully featured including pit-zips, and with 3-layer construction to protect the WP/B membrane. Note that this one of the thinnest shell fabrics of any jacket (7 denier ripstop nylon). That being said, the fabric does not seem to be unduly delicate. We used Vertice Rainwear extensively in Patagonia with no failures. Adjustment hardware is also among the smallest and lightest in this group.
WHAT WE LIKE: This is one of our go-tos for staying dry with high-output activity. The material is strong enough to carry a backpacking load, yet breathable enough for intense hiking or running.
CONS: This is a close competitor with the Visp, and it weighs slightly more and is more expensive.
NOTE: In case you hadn’t guessed, the Zpacks Vertice and the Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket with Pit Zips are close competitors in this rarified territory. You can’t go wrong with either choice.
Montbell Versalite Jacket
WEIGHT: 6.4 oz
TECH: 2-layer GORE® WINDSTOPPER® fabrics 10-denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon. [Breathability: 43,000g/m2/24hrs!]
VENTILATION: Pit-zips and adjustable velcro cuffs
FEATURES: A good value in the Extreme Light category! The Montbell Versalite has an impressive number of features for its weight — pit zips, two chest pockets that are easily accessible with a backpack on, a deep drawcord-adjustable hood, velcro/adjustable elastic cuffs, and a drawcord hem. A big bonus is that it is one of the most breathable jackets here with a breathability of 43,000g/m2/24hrs! That and the pit-zips should make this one of the least condensing rain jackets.
BEST FOR: Someone looking for a good value in a fully-featured, high-performance/extremely breathable UL rain jacket intended for intermittent use (e.g. for afternoon thunderstorms). But note that the long-term durability of the new 2 layer fabric has yet to be established. For more see Rain Jacket Durability 101 – How to Select the Best Durable Rain Jacket. As such, the jacket might not be your first choice for day after day use with a heavy backpack.
WHAT WE LIKE: Another great ultralight light option, but this one actually has pockets to store a couple of essentials you won’t want to get wet. The breathability of this jacket is a major plus as well.
CONS: Not the best option for long-term backpacking, as the outer fabric is not quite as durable as some of the other options in this category.
Patagonia Houdini Air Jacket
WEIGHT: 4.1 oz
TECH: DWR finish on fabric to repel light moisture, double-weave nylon/polyester fabric for breathability; 90% nylon (51% recycled), 10% polyester [Note: this is water-resistant, but NOT waterproof!]
FEATURES: At a screaming 4.1 ounces, this is the lightest jacket in this list. It’s designed to offer modest protection against light rain, wind, or snow. The low-cuff hems make it easy to layer underneath, and the hood has a drawchord to protect your face without sacrificing vision. The jacket zips into its own chest pocket, and can be shoved just about anywhere.
BEST FOR: Ultralight adventures with a chance of rain in the forecast. This is definitely not the jacket to choose if it’s going to rain day after day, but it’s perfect for extremely lightweight protection against light rain, or windy summits. Even without a chance of moisture, this is a great jacket to always pack in the case of a sudden temperature drop or windstorm. This is also not a good option for bushwacking / off-trail travel, as the material is extremely thin.
WHAT WE LIKE: This layer has a next-to-nothing feel that is just perfect for wind or light weather protection. Taking it on and off is a breeze because it’s so light and packs down to nearly nothing.
CONS: This might not be the best jacket to wear underneath a backpack day after day, and it is not suitable for more than light rain or snow.
These are your first choice for a rain jacket that will “do it all.” They can stand up to day-after-day wear under a backpack or a long trip to wet climates where you don’t want your jacket to fail. They are also a good choice if you have to do moderate bushwhacking and/or some scrambling where you might scrape up your jacket a bit.
- PRO: Durable 3-layer construction with a protective layer over the WP/B membrane will hold up longer worn under a backpack. That is, they are the best choice if you think you might wear your rain jacket for long periods of time each day. Heavier shell fabrics will stand up to more abuse for long trips and travel.
- CON: About twice the weight of the Ultralight Rain Jackets and bulkier when stowed. With the exception of the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L most are fairly expensive.
- NOT GREAT FOR: For a low weight and low cost jacket that that will be used in occasional rain. E.g. Utah or the Sierras in the summer.
A Caution: Many mainstream outdoor apparel brand offer “extremely durable” jackets. These jackets often use GORE-TEX pro with 50-70 denier fabric (or similar). They weigh 16-24 ounces and cost ~ $300-500. These have limited application for anything but hardcore/extreme sports. We strongly believe they are far too heavy and bulky (not packable) for long trips, hiking, backpacking or even lightweight mountaineering or climbing.
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket
Top Pick | Value in All-around-performance Jacket
WEIGHT: 13.9 oz
TECH: 3-layer H2NO Waterproofing Standard Shell
VENTILATION: Pit zips
FEATURES: This is an updated version of Patagonia’s old 2.5 layers Torrentshell model. It’s now a full 3-layer waterproof jacket, with a new backer to increase its durability. The waterproofing is 3-layer H2NO technology, with a DWR finish to repel rain and snow from the surface of the jacket. The hood is fully adjustable and has a clasp in the back to store it out of the way when not in use. Pit zips are included for ventilation, along with two large hand pockets. To top it all off, the Torrentshell is Fair Trade and Bluesign certified, which means it’s made with recycled materials and in a factory that promotes safe working practices and sustainability.
BEST FOR: A durable rain jacket that can be taken in a variety of conditions, such as traveling or stormy hikes.
WHAT WE LIKE: This is a durable and truly waterproof jacket at a great price! The 3-layer construction is strong enough to withstand day after day backpacking, and pit zips provide sufficient ventilation.
CONS: This jacket is not quite as breathable or lightweight as some competitors’ jackets, so it may not be best for high-intensity activities.
REI Co-op Xerodry Gore Tex Jacket
Alternative if DryPoint out of stock
WEIGHT: 12.5 oz
TECH: 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite waterproof breathable laminate
VENTILATION: Chest/core vents and adjustable velcro cuffs
FEATURES: Though this jacket belongs in the 2-layer jacket category, we’re putting it here as it is the closest jacket to the seasonal Drypoint that has year round availability. As such it’s a good option for those that can’t wait for the DryPoint or those that want to save almost$100!
This jacket uses Gore-Tex and Paclite technology to make it lightweight and breathable, yet still completely waterproof. An articulated design makes it easy to move, even with an extra layer underneath. It’s specifically designed for hiking and backpacking, and is a more breathable choice than the REI Rainier jacket. The mesh-lined pockets provide core venting, and the hood is fully adjustable to protect your eyes from pelting rain. Finally, the cuffs and bottom hem are both adjustable to allow for more breathability, or completely seal out moisture.
BEST FOR: A fully featured Gore-Tex waterproof jacket at a great budget. REI products also are made to be extremely durable. And if not, their products come with a one-year warranty.
WHAT WE LIKE: This jacket is available year-round from REI and is priced very well for a fully featured rain jacket with Gore-Tex technology.
CONS: The 2-layer design is not as durable or heavy-duty as the 3-layer Drypoint.
NOTE: YEAR-ROUND AVAILABILITY, ALTERNATIVE TO THE DRYPOINT
Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell Jacket Review
Top Pick | Semi-Technical Jacket
WEIGHT: 10.9 oz
TECH: AscentShell 3-Layer, 100% polyester 50D mechanical stretch ripstop face with 100% Polyester 20D backer
FEATURES: The Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell is a new spin on their previous InterStellar model, which was a highly breathable and technical outer shell. This jacket is the exact same weight, but uses a higher-density polyester material which makes the outer face stronger. Better yet it is $100 less expensive. We really like the stretch in the fabric and that you can actually breathe air through it — yes, the fabric is air permeable — both make it super comfortable! It features fully sealed seams, two zippered hands and one zippered chest pockets, and a lifetime warranty via Outdoor Research. We love our old Outdoor Research shell for long trips in wet climates like Patagonia, and we expect this one to perform just as well. It closely competes with the Montbell Storm Cruiser which is an ounce lighter.
BEST FOR: Anyone looking for tough, highly breathable, full-featured rain jacket that works equally well for hiking, backpacking or climbing. Note that the Motive AscentShell does not have pit-zips or mesh-backed pockets for venting but rather relies on the excellent breathability of the AscentShell fabric.
WHAT WE LIKE: This is a lightweight and affordable choice for such a durable jacket that has excellent air-permeable breathability. Super comfortable to wear.
CONS: The material is very breathable, but it lacks ventilation options like pit zips, or mesh backed pockets for core venting.
Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket
WEIGHT: 13.9 oz
TECH: N40d 3L GORE-TEX fabric with tricot backer technology
VENTILATION: Pit-zips and adjustable cuffs
FEATURES: Arc’teryx products are made for high performance, breathability, and protection in alpine conditions. Their BETA hardshell series have been a favorite for backpackers, climbers, and alpinists for years; and this new model delivers the same quality with a simpler design. The jacket features pit zips for ventilation, and articulated sleeves for a full range of motion. Their WaterTight zippers prevent any moisture from sneaking in, and the hood is helmet compatible and adjustable, allowing you to see and stay protected from rain and snow. Adjustable cuffs, dual hem adjusters, and a droptail hem all make it so the jacket can be fully sealed, protecting you from wind, rain, and snow.
BEST FOR: This jacket is a bit heavier and more expensive, so it’s best for a high-quality jacket that will last for years and perform in extreme conditions. My hiking partner used it for climbing the Grand Teton, hiking the John Muir Trail, backcountry skiing, and many adventures in between. She notes how well it works in a variety of conditions, and blocks both rain and wind exceptionally well.
WHAT WE LIKE: This is a durable jacket that will protect you from extreme weather. It also can stay up to extended backpacking trips, and not lose quality under shoulder straps.
CONS: This is a bit heavier and more expensive than comparable jackets.
NOTE: For now, this product is exclusively available at REI.
Montbell Storm Cruiser Jacket
TECH: 3-layer GORE C-KNIT Backer Technology 20-denier Ballistic rip stop nylon
VENTILATION: Pit-zips and adjustable velcro cuffs
FEATURES: The Montbell Storm Cruiser is a full-featured, durable jacket that competes with the Outdoor Research Motive AscentShell. The Storm Cruiser has all the bells and whistles while weighing in at just 10 oz! Drawcord adjustable hem, velcro adjustable elastic cuffs, big pit zips, two big waterproof chest pockets (above that pesky hip belt), a good-sized coil zipper and a three way adjustable hood (it’s quite deep). For venting, the Storm Cruiser also has two large pit-zips. This is their 9th iteration of their most popular rain jacket, so they’re got the design pretty well dialed-in.
BEST FOR: Anyone looking for a tough, breathable, and well designed rain jacket that has pretty much every feature, including large pit-zips! Note: This jacket is only available directly from Montbell.
WHAT WE LIKE: The lightest option for a tough and durable 3-layer jacket. It’s also up to high-intensity activity, with ventilation options and a lightweight design.
CONS: This is on the pricier end of the spectrum, and the jacket is only available directly from Montbell which only has a one-month warranty.
We Give You Essential Information to understanding Rainwear you won’t get elsewhere
In this guide, we give you critical information to understand important features for rain jacket performance. like breathability, shell durability, waterproof/breathable (WP/B) fabric technologies, etc. And dispel a few myths, like wetted out jackets do not breathe (they do!), etc.
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, 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.
Bottom line, even a wind shirt is going to trap a lot of moisture when you exercise. Thus rainwear truly goes 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.
When to Consider a Soft Shell Jacket
Ultralight softshell jackets, like the Patagonia Houdini Air, are sometimes a better choice
You don’t always need a waterproof 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.
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 Rain Jackets Fail
A. Outer shell fabric durability
The ability of the rainwear’s exterior fabric to:
- Resist tearing, punctures and abrasion damage
- 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 the shell’s inner 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?
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 3-layer rain jackets 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 WaterOn the left is a traditional fabric 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, Columbia’s naturally hydrophobic Columbia OutDry Ex Eco Tech fabric continues to bead and shed water.
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. Columbia OutDry Ex Eco helps 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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