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 backpacking rain jackets are held to the very highest standard, and this 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 oz, which is likely the lightest among all mainstream gear reviewers.
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.
Best Lightweight Rain Jackets
- Best Overall: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
- Best All-Around: Patagonia Storm10 Jacket
- Best Ultralight: Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket
- Best Protection: Arcteryx Beta LT Jacket
- Best Sustainability: Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket
- Lightest Gore-Tex: Mountain Hardwear Minimizer Jacket
- Best Value: REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket
- Best Under $150: Black Diamond Treeline Jacket
- Best Under $100: REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket
Hiking Rain Jacket Accessories
- Best Rain Pants: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
- Best Rain Gloves: Showa Gloves TEMRES 282
- Best Cleaner/DWR Refresh: NikWax Hard-Shell Outerwear Care Kit
- Best Repair Patch: Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch Kit
Best Lightweight Rain Jackets for Hiking & Backpacking
|Rain Jackets||Price||Weight (oz)||Fabric|
|Outdoro Research Helium Rain||$170||6.3||2.5L Pertex|
|Patagonia Storm 10||$329||8.3||3L H2No|
|Zpacks Vertice Rain||$299||5.6||3L Vertice|
|Arc’Teryx Beta LT Jacket||$450||13.9||3L Gore-Tex|
|Patagonia TorrentShell 3L||$179||14.1||3L H2No|
|Mountain Hardwear Minimizer||$320||8.5||2L Gore-Tex|
|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||$100||13||2.5L Peak|
Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Overall
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
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 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. Across the span of a season, rain gear will probably spend 95% of its time inside a pack, which is why weight savings are the second highest priority behind only waterproofness. 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 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 wrap up, 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-Around
Patagonia Storm10 Jacket
Weight: 8.3 oz
Fabric: 3-layer H2No® 100% recycled nylon ripstop
Pros: Ultralight. 3-layer.
Cons: Expensive. No pit zips.
The Patagonia Storm10 Jacket is one of the lightest 3-layer, near-fully featured rain shells on the market. Most jackets in this category weigh 12-15 oz, yet the Storm10 is only 8.3 oz, a massive relative weight savings! We can’t stress enough how much more pleasant it is to wear a 3L jacket than a 2 or 2.5, especially in short sleeves. This is a lot of jacket for 8.3 oz.
The chassis has a chest pocket and two hip belt-compatible hand pockets. It has an adjustable helmet compatible hood, cuffs, and hem to fully seal out the elements, and a full length storm flap zipper. It does not have pit zips, but we’re willing to forgive that because the lack-there-of likely keeps the weight below 9 oz and the cost below $400.
The face fabric and Patagonia H2NO laminate are waterproof and solid at shrugging off water, but the benefits with Storm10 all point to weight savings and comfort. Breathability and waterproofness are average/as-expected for a lightweight rain jacket in this price range, but not exceptional.
At $329, this is a fairly expensive hiking rain jacket, but the stats and build are excellent, and you can feel good knowing it uses recycled materials and is fair trade certified. We have limited experience with Storm10, but are looking forward to testing it more this season.
Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Ultralight
Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket
Weight: 5.6 oz
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 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.
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
Weight: 13.9 oz
Fabric: 3L Gore-Tex 40D Nylon
Pros: 3-layer. Gore-Tex. Pit zips. Fully-featured. Durable.
Cons: Mid-tier weight.
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. 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 Torrentshell 3L Jacket
Weight: 14.1 oz
Fabric: 3L H2No® ECONYL® recycled ripstop nylon
Pros: 3-Layer. Fully-featured. Eco-friendly. Great value. Pit zips. Durable.
Cons: Mid-tier weight.
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
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.
Lightest Weight Gore-Tex Rain Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Minimizer Jacket
Weight: 8.5 oz
Fabric: 13D Nylon, 2L Gore-Tex Paclite® Plus
Pros: Lightweight. Gore-Tex. New for 2023!
Cons: No Pit Zips. Not 3-layer. Expensive
With the Mountain Hardwear Minimizer Jacket, you’re getting the most reliable waterproof membrane in an unusually lightweight, 8.5 oz package. We rarely see Gore-Tex jackets come in under 12 oz.
In order to achieve such a low weight, they have used a 2-layer construction, which is perhaps the biggest downside to the Minimizer. 2L is categorically less comfortable and less durable than 3L, but the use of Paclite Plus compensates for this somewhat. According to Gore-Tex HQ, the “Plus” refers to an abrasion resistant treatment on the inner surface, which acts as a pseudo third layer. Sounds a lot like 2.5L to us…
Aside from the point of interest on membranes, this is a no bells-and-whistles design. The face fabric is thin, only 13D, which we approve of. There is a chest pocket, two hand pockets, and typical hem/cuff/hood adjustability.
This is a new for 2023 model and while the price seems a bit high at $320, we look forward to testing it this spring to see how it holds up in the mountains. But at 8.5 ounces, it is a very tempting and statistically noteworthy design and we hope you join us in testing it out.
Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Value
REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket
Weight: 12.5 oz
Fabric: 2L Gore-Tex Paclite
Pros: Excellent value. Gore-Tex.
Cons: No pit zips. Not 3-layer.
The REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket is a very good all-purpose hiking rain jacket at an excellent price. It’s hard to find bomber Gore-Tex waterproof protection for under $200, and this one is listed at an eye popping $169. It’s just so much bang for the buck. The jacket itself is a classic 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite 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, and 2-layer garments in particular can feel a bit clammy to the touch if they get hot and humid. Since it lacks pit zips, so we recommend keeping the hand pockets open for extra ventilation, and wearing it over a long sleeve base layer for a more pleasant arm-feel. The jacket is designed with articulation for ease of reaching. It’s solidly durable and comes with REI’s warranty.
All said and done, we recommend the REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket as the best value pick among lightweight rain jackets for hiking, and it’s definitely the most cost-effective Gore-tex rain jacket.
Best Lightweight Rain Jacket – Under $150
Black Diamond Treeline Rain Shell
Weight: 8.9 oz
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.
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.
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 namebrands 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
Weight: 13 oz
Fabric: Peak 2.5L recycled ripstop nylon
Pros: Very Affordable. Pit zips. Eco-friendly.
Cons: Mid-tier weight. Bulky. Not 3-layer.
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, storm flap, hem/cuff cinches, and of course the REI warranty. The jacket is made with recycled ripstop nylon and bluesign® approved manufacturing, which we love for its low impact on the environment.
REI’s hasn’t disclosed many details about their 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.
This is a great pick for beginners and hikers who don’t want to break the bank on gear. It is a great all-around budget option and it gets the job done in town or on the trail.
Best Hiking Rain Jacket Accessories
Best Lightweight Rain Pants For Hiking
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
Weight: 6.7 oz
Fabric: Pertex Shield with DiamondFuse, 30D Nylon Ripstop
Pros: Ultralight. Durable. Great Value.
Cons: No side pockets or vents. Difficult on/off with shoes.
Incredibly light, fully waterproof, great value, and more durable than the competition, thanks for the Pertex DiamondFuse shell fabric. The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants are our go-to rain pants for hiking and backpacking. 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 extra important. 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. Nonetheless, this is a great value and a great performer. Our go-to rain pants.
Best Rain Gloves For Hiking
SHOWA Gloves TEMRES 282
Weight: 3.5 oz
Fabric: TEMRES Technology
Pros: Extremely waterproof. Lightly insulated.
Cons: Clumsy. Low breathability. Unusual looking.
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. 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
Weight: 0 oz (once applied)
Pros: Renews waterproof performance. No harsh chemicals.
Cons: Slightly less effective than off-the-shelf DWR treatment
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). 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
Weight: 0.1 oz (once applied)
Technology: Tenacious Tape
Cons: Long lasting. Works in backcountry. Very adhesive. Waterproof.
Cons: Requires smooth surfaces
For small to mediums sized rips and tears, we prefer using a Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patch, precut in a hexagonal shape. 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.
Essential Information For Understanding Hiking Rain Jackets
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!
- How And Why Rain Jackets Fail —The Three Elements of Rain Jacket Durability
- More FAQs on rainwear — When to Consider a Soft Shell Jacket, New Gore-Tex ShakeDry Technology…
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.
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, 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
The Three Elements of Hiking Rain Jacket 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?
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 WaterOn 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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