Best Lightweight Rain Jacket for Hiking and Backpacking

Hiking Rain Jacket Comparison Table

Rain Jackets Price ($) Weight (oz) Fabric
Zpacks Vertice Rain 299 5.6 3L Vertice
Outdoor Research Helium Rain 170 6.3 2.5L Pertex
Enlightened Equipment Visp 250 6.4 3L WP/B
Arc’teryx Norvan 400 6.7 3L GTX C-Knit
Outdoor Vitals Tushar 230 7.4 2.5L Toray Torain
Stio Exploit 399 8.8 3L GTX Active
REI Co-op Swiftland H2O 150 10.4 2.5L Wp/B
REI Co-op XeroDry GTX 179 12.5 2L GTX
REI Co-op Rainier Rain 99 13.1 2.5L Peak
Arc’teryx Beta LT 450 13.9 3L GTX
Patagonia TorrentShell 3L 179 14.1 3L H2No

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – All-Around

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 (shop now). 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. Learn more in our full-length Patagonia TorrentShell 3L Review.

  • 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.

Construction & Features

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, and 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-y, clammy feel when bare skin touches the inside of a damp 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. But the functionality is worth the weight.


The pros easily outweigh that con and makes this hiking rain jacket an incredible value for $179. The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L is a well-priced, well-rounded, high performance waterproof shell that is manufactured to minimize harm to the environment, and we’re proud to recommend it here.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Value Gore-Tex

REI 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 $179. It’s just so much bang for the buck. Shop now.

  • Weight: 12.5 oz
  • Price: $179
  • Fabric: 2L Gore-Tex Paclite, recycled polyester
  • Pros: Excellent value. Gore-Tex. Sustainable
  • Cons: No pit zips. Not 3-layer.

Construction & Features

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

While we love it’s protection and reliability, Gore-Tex isn’t the most breathable waterproof technology and pit zips would have been a really nice add. Because it’s 2L and the interior feels a bit plastic, we recommend wearing this over long sleeves, and keeping your hand pockets open for extra ventilation.

The jacket is designed with articulation for ease of reaching and is pleasant to hike in. Plus, it comes with REI’s warranty!


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

Best Lightweight Gore-Tex Rain Jacket

Stio Exploit Jacket

Finally! Stio Exploit Jacket (Shop now) is the Gore-Tex Active shell we’ve always wanted and finally found. This highly versatile and extra breathable 3L raingear is minimalist perfection in an ultralight 3-layer chassis. Read more in our full-length Stio Exploit Jacket Review.

  • Weight: 8.8 oz
  • Price: $399
  • Fabric Tech: 3L Gore-Tex Active, recycled micro ripstop nylon, knit backer
  • Pros: Ultralight. Waterproof. Most breathable type of Gore-Tex. Offset front-zip at mouth. 
  • Cons: No pit zips or hand pockets. Expensive.


What makes the Exploit so desirable (and so expensive) is the fully seam-taped 3L Gore-Tex Active fabric. This waterproof laminate is Gore’s most breathable variety, yet still is “guaranteed to keep you dry” all the same.

What’s more, it’s a 3-layer construction, meaning the Gore-Tex liner is sandwiched between a thin outer shell of recycled micro-ripstop nylon and an inner shell of c-knit fabric. The latter protects the laminate against skin oil and abrasion, extending the life expectancy of its waterproofness.

We love the Exploit Jacket’s offset waterproof center front zipper. This prevents the zipper pull from grinding on your face when you cinch down the hood in a storm.

A single, large zippered Napolean pocket sits on the chest. It’s big enough for a phone and is lowered to situate below sternum straps but well-above a hip belt. The hem and hood both have shock cord cinch adjustment mechanisms, though the sleeves are only secured with a half-elasticized hems.


The Stio Exploit Jacket is a phenomenal blend of minimalist design and premium fabric technology. Few jackets can boast a superior combination of waterproofness, breathability, and lightness of weight. The end result is a seriously excellent ultralight rain shell for a high-but-worthwhile asking price. A truly exceptional waterproof jacket.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Protection

Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket

If you’re looking for the burliest waterproof hiking rain jacket money can buy, the Arc’teryx Beta LT is for you (shop now). 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. Learn more in our full-length Arcteryx Beta LT Jacket Review.

  • 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.

Construction & Features

For starters, Gore-Tex is still the gold standard for waterproofness, and we love a 3-layer construction for the comfortable interior fabric feel, and how it extends the lifespan of the membrane by protecting against skin oils and abrasion. The 40D nylon exterior is exceptional durable and water resistant thanks to an excellent DWR treatment.

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 multi-sport jacket that performs amazingly well for mountaineering, ski touring, adventure travel, 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. All that to say, this is a truly incredible piece of 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 Running Rain Jacket

REI Swiftland H2O Running Jacket

Running in rain gear is a famously sweaty affair. But the Co-op’s new 2.5L Swiftland H2O partially solves for this by adding massive back vents to significantly increase airflow and reduce, but not eliminate, overheating (shop now). Plus for just $150, it’s an incredibly value for a lightweight rain jacket. Read more in our full length REI Swiftland H2O Running Jacket Review.

  • Weight: 10.4 oz
  • Price: $150
  • Fabric: 2.5L Ripstop nylon laminate
  • Pros: Well-ventilated back. Good value. Lightweight. Clever hood storage mechanism. Lightly stretchy.
  • Cons: Not 3-Layer. Light-not-ultralight. Wearing a running vest blocks vents.

Construction & Features

What separates this running rain jacket from the pack are its massive side-to-side back vents and favorable price tag. A mesh panel connects the top to the bottom of the vent, but for the most part, it’s open air for maximum heat dumpage. This is an extremely effective solution for short to medium distance runs when you aren’t carrying gear, but wearing it under a running vest for longer runs effectively closes the vents and mitigates the best feature.

Testing it while running in the rain and standing in the shower proved water beads up and rolls off the surface thanks to an effective DWR, while the laminate provides long lasting protection. What’s more, the 2.5L fabric is lightly stretchy and comfortable to move in. Two hand pockets, reflective trim, and a zipper polish off the chassis. The adjustable hood can be rolled up securely to prevent drag by connecting the hang loop to a back hook. Very nice little add-on!


Thanks to the large back vent and affordable price tag, REI Swiftland H2O Jacket might be the airiest, comfiest waterproof running jacket in its price tier. While fancier, higher-tech waterproof breathable fabrics exist, this goes to show that mechanical venting gets the job done just as well, if not better. Pick up the great value REI Swiftland H2O rain running jacket, and continue crushing miles even if its wet outside.

Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Under $100

REI Rainier Rain Jacket

The Rainier is the best lightweight rain jacket we know of for only $100, it’s surprisingly well-featured, and it check all the boxes a hiker would need. Shop now.

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

Construction & Features

The Rainier Rain is made with recycled ripstop nylon and bluesign® approved manufacturing, which we love for its low impact on the environment. REI’s proprietary “Peak” waterproof breathable laminate is functional-not-exceptional, and certainly better than expected given the price point.

Features-wise, we’re pleasantly surprised by the combination of pit zips, hand pockets a three-piece adjustable hood, hem/cuff cinches, storm flap, hood stowe, and of course REI’s generous warranty.

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. And of course, the Co-op offers very inclusive sizing, including men’s tall and women’s plus up to 3X.


This lightweight rain jacket gets the job done without breaking the bank, and is a great nudge out the door in sodden weather.

Best Ultralight Rain Jacket

Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket

Choose the Visp Rain Jacket because it is the most breathable ultralight rain shell with an unprecedented MVTR rating of 83,000. The three layer Visp weighs just 6.4 ounces in a unisex size medium, and comes with most of the bells and whistles including pit zips for even more breathability. This is Alan’s preferred rain jacket and we know you’ll love it too! Shop now.

  • Weight: 6.4 oz
  • Price: $250
  • Fabric: 3L WP/B, 7D ripstop nylon, tricot lining, 83k MVTR, 10k Waterproof
  • Pros: Ultralight. Best-in-class breathability. Three layer. Long drape, roomy fit. Velcro cuffs.
  • Cons: No pockets. Modest durability.

Construction & Feature

We can’t stress enough how impressive it is that Visp has a Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (AKA MVTR, AKA breathability score) of 83,000. For context, most GORE-TEX varietals range from 15-30k. Adding to that are large pit zips, which dump even more heat in order to help prevent clamminess.

Visp comes with a bevy of other features, including hood and hem adjustable, Velcro cuffs, waterproof zippers, fully-taped seams, and a tricot lining. In fact, the only feature it doesn’t have are pockets, neither chest nor hand. While we generally prefer minimalism, we would have been happy with at least one chest pocket, and would happily pay a bit more in terms of weight and cost to get that. But not a huge issue.

We also nod to the fit, which is both long, and roomy to accommodate layers underneath. The Visp is a unisex design, and they state that it runs about half a size larger than men’s sizing to accommodate layers. You can easily fit this jacket over a puffy as well as moderately wide hips.


It cannot be understated just how breathable and pleasant to wear this rain jacket is compared to other waterproof shells, and how statistically dominant it is in the marketplace in terms of weight, breathability, and value. We recommend it very highly, especially to ultralight enthusiasts and thru-hikers.

Best Ultralight Gore-Tex

Arc’teryx Norvan Shell Jacket

Designed for trail running, but perfect for ultralight hiking and backpacking, Arc’teryx Norvan is the lightest GTX jacket we’ve covered, weighing in at just 6.7 ounces for a men’s medium. Shop now or read more in our full length Arc’Teryx Norvan Shell review.

  • Weight: 6.7 oz
  • Price: $400
  • Fabric: GORE-TEX 3L C-KNIT, 13d nylon face
  • Pros: Ultralight. Breathable. Lightly stretchy. Best-in-class zipper teeth.
  • Cons: No pockets. Expensive. No hang loop.

Construction & Features

Norvan is a truly minimalist rain garment with a trim fit. By design, there are very few significant features. No pockets. No pit zips. No cuff adjusters. No hem adjuster. Most of what we found would be considered minor features, including one crown adjuster on the hood, a RECCO Reflector, a chin-guard, elasticized hem/cuffs, a front zipper with teeth instead of coil, and reflective trim for increased visibility at night.

But we’re not complaining. What it lacks in bells and whistles, it makes up for in an exceptionally light weight package. At 6.7 oz for a men’s medium, it is the lightest weight, true GTX shell we’ve covered, and we’ve written about a lot of rain jackets. Finding a rain jacket at that weight class is quite rare, let alone a Gore-Tex one. The sub-seven-ounce class is an elite niche.

But it takes more than minimalist features to make an ultralight jacket; you also need lightweight fabrics. Norvan’s 13d nylon face fabric overtop of its GTX membrane, with C-KNIT backer are the perfect textile for the job. The end result is waterproof, soft, movement accommodating, lightly stretchy, and breathable. C-KNIT is a knit backer technology that increases GTX’s breathability by 15% and weight reduction by 10%. It also feels less stiff than your typical rain shell.


The Norvan Shell is a notable piece of ultralight gear, and the lightest true GTX rainwear in our quiver. Weighing just 6.7 oz, we’d place it into the top 0.1% lightest of all waterproof/breathable rain jackets. It is great for trail running, and exceptional for ultralight hiking.

Best Super Ultralight Rain Jacket

Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket

The Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket is the lightest weight and second most breathable backpacking rain jacket, and it blows mainstream outdoor brand competitors out of the water in terms of performance stats (shop now). 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. Expensive.

Construction & Features

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 varietals range from 15-30k), second only to Enlightened Equipment Visp. And despite that, it maintains a waterproof rating of 20,000 mm H₂O 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 28,000mm H₂O), and besting Visp by double.

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 one of the best ultralight backpacking rain jackets currently available.

Durability and longevity are about what you would expect with a 7D ultralight rain jacket with small adjustment hardware. It’s adequately tough for the trail, but please don’t take it bushwhacking. 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 lightest, most waterproof, and second most breathable ultralight hiking rain jacket available.

Best Value Ultralight Rain Jacket

Outdoor Vitals Tushar Rain Jacket

The Outdoor Vitals Tushar Rain Jacket (Shop now) is a rare blend of ultralight weight, value, breathability, and pit zips – an exceedingly rare combo in the world of hiking rain jackets. See more in our Outdoor Vitals Tushar Rain Jacket Review.

  • Weight: 7.4 oz
  • Price: $230
  • Fabric: 2.5L Toray Torain 3D laminate, 2.5L micro-ripstop nylon
  • Pros: Ultralight. Good value. Pit zips. Hybrid-mapped. 3D-printed interior texture.
  • Cons: Unisex/men’s sizing only. Modest durability. No hood adjustment. Not 3L. Pit zips are small.

Construction & Features

We were pleasantly surprised to discover the hybrid-mapped nature of this ultralight rain jacket. That is to say, the gray-colored shoulders, upper-arms, and hood are optimized for max waterproofness with standard breathability, while the chest, back, and underarm are optimized for max breathability with standard waterproofness. Our experience thus far has shown this jacket to be effectively waterproof, and it has exceptionally burly seam-taping.

Arguably, the most important feature in a hiking rain jacket are its pit zips, and the Tushar checks that box. Though we wouldn’t have minded if these could vents were about 50% longer for max heat dumpage. Features-wise, it also has a waterproof zipper, chest pocket,  elasticized cuffs. One area for improvement though would be the hood, which lacks adjustability and doesn’t have a structured bill. Wear it with a cap and you should be fine though.


The OV Tushar is a proper lightweight rain jacket with the stats, features, pit zips, and performance to back it up. It’s well-made, minimalist, and ready to hit the trail for a very reasonable price point. We absolutely recommend the Tushar!

Best Budget Ultralight Rain Jacket

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket

The OR Helium Rain is an ultralight rain jacket at a lower than expected price (shop now), perfect for light to moderate, on-again-off-again precip. Read our full length Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket Review.

  • 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. Moderate waterproofness.

Construction & Features

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.

The 2.5L 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 and we wouldn’t have minded pit zips. As of 2023, hand pockets were added to the W’s version along with a $10 price increase, but not men’s. 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 waterproof enough. It 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 storm and/or expect to wear your rain gear most of the day every day, we would recommend a heavier duty jacket.


To conclude, this is the ultralight rain jacket we grab most in summer. We recommend it highly, and especially to gram counters and dollar savers. A great piece of ultralight kit!

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.

testing a hiking rain jacket in the mountains

When to Consider a Soft Shell Jacket

Ultralight softshell jackets, like the Patagonia Houdini, are sometimes a better choice. And if you want a packable rain jacket, you will love a windbreaker. That’s because 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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