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Top 10 Backpacker Rain Jackets – Survey Results

hiking-in-the-rainBuying a rain jacket has got to be one of the most confusing purchases a new backpacker can make. With dozens of manufacturers and rain jackets to choose from at all levels of the pricing spectrum, inflated expectations about the effectiveness of waterproof/breathable fabrics in real world conditions, and a constant flow of new jacket models each year, it’s a wonder that new backpackers and hikers can figure out what to buy.

We recently surveyed 322 backpackers in order to answer the following questions:

  • What are the most popular backpacking rain jackets?
  • What are the most important criteria used to purchase a rain jacket?
  • How satisfied are backpackers with the jackets that they have purchased?

Our results may surprise you.

Top 10 Backpacking Rain Jackets

The most popular rain jacket purchased by the backpackers we surveyed is the Marmot Precip Jacket, perhaps the best known waterproof/breathable outdoor recreation jacket ever made. An astonishing 28.8% of our survey respondents own this rain jacket, far more than any other, as shown in the table below.

Rain Jacket% OwnedMSRP (USD)Satisfaction 1-5
Marmot Precip Jacket28.8100.004.07
Frogg Toggs UL Suit13.224.994.10
Outdoor Research Helium II8.14159.004.04
Patagonia Torrentshell2.7129.003.44
The North Face Venture2.499.003.60
Marmot Essence2.4199.953.43
Columbia Watertight II1.490.004.00
Mountain Hardwear Plasmic1.4139.953.80
Columbia Pournation1.490.003.75
Zpacks Challenger1.4275.004.00

What do these results tell us?

First, slightly over 50% of our survey respondents purchased one of three rain jackets: the Marmot Precip, the Frogg Toggs UL Rain Suit, or the Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket. Knowing backpackers, it’s incredible that so many would share such a strong consensus about these three items.

Second, none of the top three rain jackets are made with a Gore-tex or eVent waterproof/breathable membrane. Of the top 10, the only jacket made using Gore-tex or eVent is the ZPacks.com Challenger, the most expensive jacket listed. It would seem that have a Gore-tex or eVent membrane is unimportant to most backpackers when purchasing a rain jacket.

Third, the backpackers who own these jackets are fairly satisfied with them (on a scale of 1-5, where 5 is the highest level of satisfaction,) but most of the ratings fall between 3 and 4, not approaching a 5. If you were reading customer reviews on an online retailer’s web site, I doubt these ratings would have a big impact on your decision-making for or against a product. This tells me that cost is probably the most important criteria behind the purchase decision to buy one of these jackets, not performance or features. We see further evidence of this below.

Most Important Purchase Criteria

What are the most important reasons that backpackers give for purchasing one jacket over another?

Criteria% Reported
Cost71.80
Lightweight55.20
Waterproofing27.80
Packable/Compressible26.80
Ventilation (Pit Zips)26.10
Manufacturer Reputation24.10
Breathability17.30
Fit/Sizing16.50
Durability12.90
Pocket Distribution9.00
Hood Features8.50
Warmth7.1
Customer/Media Reviews6.8
Color6.4
Manufacturer Guarantee3.3

We asked respondents to pick the three most important factors that determined their rain jacket selection. As you can see in the table above, cost was the most important decision criteria, cited by 71.8% of respondents. This is consistent with cost of the top 10 jackets purchased by the survey respondents, shown in the first table above.

Light weight is the second most important purchase criteria, which gives you some indication to which backpacking gear and clothing weight has become an increasingly important reason to favor one product over another.

Surprisingly, breathability is less important than waterproofing, packability/compressibility, and ventilation (pit zips), providing further evidence that backpackers are less willing to pay extra for it when purchasing a rain jacket. This and the fact that the overwhelming favorite Marmot Precip Jacket has pit-zips, is a good indication that backpackers understand the breathability limitations of rain jackets in real world conditions.

Do any of these results surprise you? What takeaways do you conclude from these results?

About this Survey

This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=322 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the most popular rain jackets carried by backpackers are and the reasons that their peers use to select the jackets that they buy.

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22 comments

  1. I just ordered a Marmot Precip to take over for my beloved 9 year old OR Celestial rain jacket that is now a significant percentage Tenacious Tape. I’ll still use the OR jacket when bushwhacking in the desert–it can’t be hurt any worse!

    • Funny, I owned a OR Celestial way back which I upgraded to from a Marmot Precip, my first real hiking rain jacket. OR replaced the Celestial when on their guarantee with an OR Foray since the Celestial was no longer made. That Precip was a great rain coat. I gave it to a hutman in the Green Mountain Club who had his rain gear ripped off since I wasn’t using it anymore. Felt bad for him because he didn’t make much money in that job and because you do need a rain coat when you work on the Long Trail.

  2. Who won the tent? The post with all the comments as entries looks like it’s now gone.

  3. Surprised that waterproofing was not a higher consideration for a ‘rain jacket’. One could posit preventing hypothermia would be a more serious factor than carrying extra ounces. Great info for marketers though. The survey results are always interesting. Thanks for the expert reviews and information.

    • You don’t actually need to have a 100% waterproof jacket to prevent hypothermia, just one that traps enough heat when worn with a fleece mid-layer for you to stay warm “enough” while you’re actively generating heat while hiking. Since I mainly use my rain jackets to stay warm when it’s not raining (block wind/slow heat loss), I’m ok with trading off better breathability for waterproofing, since I’ve never actually owned a waterproof jacket that keeps me dry (inside) in pouring rain. I think a lot of hikers understand that, but I also think it’s easy to assume that some level of waterproofing comes assumed, so it’s less of a perceived differentiating need.

    • I too was surprised that waterproofing came in third and that cost came in first. Over the many years of hiking and backpacking I’ve invested hundreds of dollars in rain jackets – most are DWR type. I’ve owned two Precips. The first one gave up keeping me dry in wind-driven rain. I sent it back for replacement. The Precip I have now is used for everyday when needed, not hiking or backpacking. I have other DWR coated jackets that require frequent maintenance. Phil: I am very curious if you have further comments and/or feedback on the Lightheart Gear rain jacket you reviewed a while back. Given the limitations and downside of DWR jackets, the Lightheart Gear rain jacket, which is reasonably priced, looks very attractive.

  4. Appreciate the survey discussion. I think in this case the “backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers” point could be a large factor in skewing towards less expensive jackets. I don’t have a lot of free time and would never take time for a raffle/survey, but won’t hesitate to drop $250 for a good rain jacket that will last for several years and allow be more time outdoors in all sort of weather. People with more free time, in some cases (but not all of course) because they work less and earn less, might be more likely to take time for a raffle.

    There’s also the confusion between rain jackets and hard shells. Many consider them to be the same category. Some consider rain jackets to be the less expensive category, generally not breathable, and hard shells to be breathable, and as a result usually more expensive, and in a separate category rather than a rain jacket sub-category.

    • There were a lot of respondents who listed expensive jackets, but there wasn’t any consistency between their choices that would place them in the top 10 jackets listed. While there may be some self selection at play, I think that most people and the outdoor media underestimate the degree to which low cost gear is preferred by the vast majority of hikers. Put it like this. Arcteryx ($250-500/jacket) is a lot more likely to advertise on Gear Junkie than Frogg Toggs ($25 per jacket *and* rain pants). Much of the more expensive gear you seem to favor doesn’t have any performance advantage at all and is likely more of a lifestyle choice than a performance one (people like to be seen in cool branded clothes).

    • I believe the loyal readers on here are knowledgeable and are fairly representative of most backpackers. And I don’t think a raffle incentivizes cheaper backpackers to respond, especially since most responders on here now know it is used for Phillip’s posts. I can easily afford a $300 jacket, but I deem that a waste of money when I know that cheaper jackets perform just as well in most situations. I think the survey results bear that out, with mostly notable brands and moderate prices.

  5. Location might be important in selecting one or another jacket. In the Pacific Northwest, you might be willing to spend a good chunk of money on rain protection. At any rate, I’m tall and have long arms, so I bought a Marmot Precip because they offer large/long. I wish more hiking apparel was available in long sizes.

  6. I wore my Precip on the AT in 2012 and the DWR coating wetted out during a fierce rainstorm. It was cold and I got hypothermia. That was my last use of a coated rain jacket. I now use a Packa all nylon material. I used it in 2013 on AT. It was great and I stayed dry. I recall hiking the Roller Coaster heading into Harper’s Ferry during an all day rain storm my hiking buddies were near soaked and I was only wet from my knees down.
    Check out Costcos rain jackets at 25 dollars. The bran name is Paradox and there waterproof,breathable,windproof and seam sealed.

    • My brother and his wife hiked the Milford Track in New Zealand a few years ago, along with their youngest son. Plenty of well off hikers on the trail were outfitted in several hundred dollar brand name rain jackets. His son stayed drier and warmer with a four dollar Walmart vinyl parka than anyone else in the entire entourage.

  7. Hi, I also have a Marmot Precip and bought another one to my wife. Both are oversized for us, but that didn’t stop us buying them (with a great discount). Based in experience, you’ll get wet no matter what: so why spent so much money for just a rain jacket? As Philip said, I mostly use it for heat trapping and wind breaking. In short, the advantages of more expensive jackets don’t justify the the exorbitant prices. I think the only pieces of gear I’m willing to pay extra are an ultralight tarptent and a down sleeping that doesn’t use live plucking. I’m well aware that shiny, admirably-colored technical gear can tickle you to buy and engage in a different sort of consumerism (been there, done that), but being really out there makes you realize those are totally unnecesary and more importantly, nothing will work perfectly so get on with it. Thanks. You all have a great day!

  8. Hi Philip- I’m a newbie planning to NOBO on the AT February 2017. I expect to have snow (and rain) in the Smokies, and wonder if a Patagonia Nano puffy jacket , with a fleece mid layer, covered with a Frogg Tog rainjacket will be warm enough? Any thoughts there? Thanks for your advice, really love your blog.

    • I think it’s stupid to try to shave your insulation weight that fine in winter in the smokies.. if it were me, I’d pack a heavier puffy, like a Parka. The weight won’t kill you. You can always mail it home later.

  9. I have a Marmot Precip – lightweight and great wind breaker, but does not keep out a downpour. FroggTog is light, cheap…and rips WAY too easy! Used a vinyl raincoat purchased at a second-hand store on the SHT in a pinch. Totally waterproof, but didn’t stand up to the rigors of backpacking, and ended up in shreds in a few days. :( I’ve recently bought a FroggTogg emergency poncho to wear OVER my Marmot. We’ll see…. LOL

  10. Hi Philip. I was reading the washing and care of a waterproof and breathable rain jacket and I also received the same advice from a REI salesmen and I wonder if you have ever considered doing this yourself with all the testing that you do on gear. These are the instructions. Machine wash in cold water on gentle cycle, close all zippers and hook and loop fastener before laundering, do not bleach, do not use fabric softeners, hang and dry, tumble dry at low heat for 5 to 10 minutes to reactivate surface water repellency, do not iron, do not dry clean. I have never tried it. When the repellency has failed in the garments I own, I just would buy a can of repellent and spray it on the garment and it never really worked as good when the garment was first used. What is you thoughts? You mentioned that you have a Light Heart Gear rain jacket which is also coated with a repellent and have you noticed any wearing off of the coating and if so what did you do to restore it?

  11. I firmly believe that VALUE is probably the determining factor for MOST backpackers. I find it extremely difficult to pay hundreds of dollars more for a rain jacket that is only a little lighter and perhaps a little more waterproof than my Frogg Toggs jacket. This is especially true when I only hike in the rain a few days per year. If there was a huge difference in weight or a huge difference in waterproofness (?), I would pay more for a jacket. However, my experience has been that the Marmot Precip and Frogg Toggs jackets are very similar in performance to jackets costing much more.

    Related to the post above: One of the reasons I prefer the Frogg Toggs jacket to others is because I use it to keep warm in the winter. I wear it over a light fleece or down jacket when I get to camp or stop for lunch. It stops the wind and adds just enough insulation factor to keep me warm under most conditions. It also is large enough to leave a larger air gap improving the insulation factor. Many of the lighter jackets do not keep me as warm because they are tighter fitting and thinner. I am very warm blooded so my experience will not equate to many people.

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