Buying a rain jacket for hiking and backpacking can be a very confusing process. If you look at the jackets that are available, it can be difficult to figure which ones are best suited for hiking and which are really made for skiing, mountaineering and climbing. Then there are the exaggerated claims that manufacturers make about the performance of their waterproof laminates: Gore-tex PacLite, Gore-tex Pro, HyVent, Breeze Dry-Tech, eVent, PreCip, Pertex Shield, Conduit, Elements, DryQ, Membrain Strata, H2No, and so on. There are so many that it’s almost laughable when companies introduce new ones.
Hiking Rain Jackets with Pit Zips
My advice for buying a rain jacket or hard shell for hiking is simple. Avoid spending more that $250 for a jacket and ignore the exaggerated claims that many manufacturers make about the breathability of their rain jackets. Breathability is far less important if you’re hiking in the rain for hours at a time because the amount of perspiration you generate under your coat is likely to overwhelm any breathable fabric, except the emperor’s new clothes.
The features that do matter are whether your jacket has pit zips or side vents (see Mechanical Venting, Pit Zips and Layering), an adjustable hood that you can size to your head, some sort of front bill to keep rain out of your eyes, durable zippers, pockets that are not blocked by a backpack hip belt, adjustable wrist cuffs, and a good external DWR layer that keeps your jacket from wetting out (see Why Does Rain Gear Wet Out?). The rest is mostly fluff.
Jackets with pit zips or side vents can be difficult to find at brick and mortar retailers because most retailers carry a very limited selection of coats in-store or because many online retailers, with the exception of Campsaver.com, don’t list pit zips or side vents as a feature in the product descriptions they publish online for jackets or rain shells.
What follows is a list of rain jackets with pit zips or side vents (mechanical venting) that I’ve compiled from manufacturers that I’m owned, tested or are familiar with and recommend you check out. I put this together the hard way by reading a lot of product descriptions.
In pulling this list together, I was surprised at how many jackets are available that are made with pit zips and breathable fabrics. You’d think with all the buzz about breathable fabrics, that jackets with pit zips were no longer needed.