How to Buy a Hiking Rain Jacket

Hiking in the Rain with Joe

Hiking in the Rain with Joe

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.

ModelGenderFabric$ USD
Arcteryx Alpha SL JacketM & WGore-tex PacLite255
Arcteryx Alpha SL PulloverM & WGore-tex PacLite285
Arcteryx Beta AR JacketM & WGore-tex Pro475
Arcteryx Beta SLWGore-tex PacLite299
Marmot AegisMMemBrain Strata165
Marmot Conness JacketMMemBrain Strata280
Marmot Ether DriclimeM & WDriClime110
Marmot Minimalist JacketM & WGore-tex PacLite200
Marmot OracleM & WMemBrain Strata185
Marmot Precip JacketM & WPrecip99
Marmot Speed LightMGore-tex Pro425
Marmot Super MicaMMemBrain Strata200
MontBell Rain TrekkerM & WBreeze Dry-Tec159
MontBell Storm Cruiser JacketM & WGore-tex Pro325
Montbell Thunder Pass JacketM & WSuper Hydro Breeze99
MontBell Torrent FlierMGore-tex PacLite250
Mountain Hardwear Beacon JacketMDry.Q375
Mountain Hardwear Epic JacketM & WConduit100
Mountain Hardwear Stretch TyphoonM & WDry.Q200
Outdoor Research Aspire JacketWGore-tex PacLite200
Outdoor Research Foray JacketMGore-tex PacLite199
Outdoor Research Paladin JacketM & WPertex Shield250
Outdoor Research Palisade JacketWNylon90
Outdoor Research Panorama JacketM & WVentia Dry125
Outdoor Research Rampart JacketMBarrier89
Outdoor Research Furio JacketMGoretex350
Patagonia Rain Shadow JacketM & WNylon114
Patagonia Super AlpineM & WGore-tex Pro599
Patagonia Super PlumaMGore-tex549
Patagonia Torrentshell JacketM & WH2No129
Patagonia Torrentshell Plus JacketMH2No169
Pataonia PioletM & WGore-tex200
Rab VoltMPertex Shield225
REI RainwallM & WNA119
The North Face LeonidasM & WHyVent230
The North Face Varius Guide JacketM & WHyVent199
The North Face Venture JacketM & WHyVent99

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.

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22 Responses to How to Buy a Hiking Rain Jacket

  1. Rich February 5, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    I agree whole-heartedly. I have a Mountain Hardware Trice with Dry-Q Elite…haha, how’s that for marketing! Still sweat like a dog even with pit-zips. Still, I got it for a hundred and a half so I won’t complain.

    I will say this. I bought a cheap pair of rain pants (white sierra) and they were promptly ripped by a jagged thorn. I’m going to have to upgrade soon.

    • Earlylite February 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

      Duct tape looks cool – I use it all the time.

  2. Blitzo February 5, 2013 at 6:56 am #

    Wow, phenomenal compilation, Phillip. Makes me want to go shopping for a new rain jacket. None of mine have pit zips.

  3. PamW February 5, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    I have an older Mountain Hardwear Pac-Lite jacket that’s been going strong in three years in all 4 Seasons. I couldn’t agree more with the need mechanical venting (this jacket has pit zips and front pocket venting). I also like it because its light and durrable. Do you find the various fabrics to be essentially equivalent or do you have some preferences Philip?

    • Earlylite February 6, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

      Not really. I might favor eVent a bit in dry, very cold winter weather (although layering is the most effective way to prevent seating), but for 3 season hiking nothing seems to matter when I hike in pouring rain, except price. :-)

  4. Sally February 5, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    I wish Patagonia’s Rain Shadow was $114. It’s actually $189. Regardless, I have one as well as the pants and both are great pieces. They keep me and comfortable. I find that I don’t get a clammy feeling from all the sweat building up underneath like I did with my old rain gear. I highly recommend.

    I agree completely about pit zips – they are essential for rain gear no matter how breathable the fabric. In fact, I like pit zips on almost all of my shells. I’ve found it makes it so easy to regulate my temperature, much easier than layering and delayering for moderate changes in exertion level.

  5. JZ February 5, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    I sewed a “Parcho” (poncho/pack cover) from a kit I bought through Quest Outfitters. As the name suggests, it’s a silnylon poncho that fits over my pack and body in one piece. The sleeves are cut wide to allow for lots of ventilation without pit zips and the wrists have webbing straps to keep them put over my hands. It has an adjustable hood with a semi-stiff brim. I can use it as a straight pack cover with no body coverage. For me this was the best combination of low weight (~7 oz), multi-function, and realistic venting given the exertion of hiking.

    I love it so far – I hate having a wet layer of fabric between my back and my pack. The only problem is that we’ve been in a drought since I sewed it last summer and I haven’t had a chance to test it as extensively as I like!

  6. Just Your Average Hiker February 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Great list!

    I purchased the EMS Thunderhead Sync jacket over this past year and have been very pleased with it. It has both pit zips and some “breathability”.

    Price: $99
    Fabric: System Three 10k coating
    Gender: M&W

    Mens: http://www.ems.com/product/index.jsp?productId=4356559
    Womens: http://www.ems.com/product/index.jsp?productId=12331246

  7. Chris February 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Re the breathable AND pit zips: I used to use a poncho, which worked reasonably well. While well ventilated, once you have a breeze, you need to tie it to your body, making the whole combo still very poorly vented around the back and the chest — I ended up wet from the inside. I’m currently using an eVent jacket without pit zips and have not really felt the need for them. At any rate, I feel like I’m getting less wet than I used to with the poncho and I think it might be because of the breathable fabric.

  8. josh camp February 5, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Whoa, that’s a great table o’ jackets. I’m sure that was not easy to make, thanks.

  9. John Shannon February 5, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    Best value left out, Red Ledge Thunderlight parka at $69.

    http://www.redledge.com/products/view/id/120

  10. Keith February 6, 2013 at 5:36 am #

    As expected, Philip did not cut any corners! Another comprehensive and informative article on a very complex topic.

  11. Hoffman February 8, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    Awesome list. Your site has been a big help to me as Ive just recently started backpacking again.

    I don’t believe the North Face Meru has pit zips. I’ve been looking for a new jacket and its one of my concerns with the Meru.

    • Earlylite February 8, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

      Just checked TNF. I think you are right. Removed it from the table. I must have seen an earlier model. Thanks.

  12. Jimmy April 27, 2013 at 4:58 am #

    But dont you get wet from the rain if you have your pit-zips open?

  13. Weight weenie May 7, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    Nice list…. oh how I wished it included weights of each of these jackets.

  14. wayne May 29, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    montane and westcomb also make great hardshells with pit zips.

  15. Scott May 29, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    I just wanted to point out that Arc’teryx’s Beta SL does not have pit zips. It’s still an awesome little jacket that can be compressed down quite a ways. Also, the chart only mentions the Women’s Beta SL, but there is a Men’s version.

    Sad to see that my Triple Aught Design Stealth LT didn’t make the list. :(

  16. Brady August 28, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    Have you looked into the Packa? There are no pit vents but it still vents well since it doesn’t sit under your pack straps like a normal jacket. I have the 33d nylon version and will get either the eVent or the Cuben version down the road. Worth a look anyway.

    • Damifino September 4, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

      Brady, The Packa does have zip pit-vents. I love mine.

  17. chris March 4, 2014 at 1:07 am #

    Perhaps you guys might like to look beyond your shores to the U.K. at the Paramo brand. It’s quite unique if a bit on the heavy side – best considered as a shell with insulation. No condensation issues in any weather…

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