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 hardshell for hiking is simple. Avoid spending more than $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 the 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 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 with the hard way by reading a lot of product descriptions.

Arcteryx Alpha SL JacketM & WGore-tex PacLite
Arcteryx Alpha SL PulloverM & WGore-tex PacLite
Arcteryx Beta AR JacketM & WGore-tex Pro
Arcteryx Beta SLWGore-tex PacLite
Marmot AegisMMemBrain Strata
Marmot Conness JacketMMemBrain Strata
Marmot Ether DriclimeM & WDriClime
Marmot Minimalist JacketM & WGore-tex PacLite
Marmot OracleM & WMemBrain Strata
Marmot Precip JacketM & WPrecip
Marmot Speed LightMGore-tex Pro
Marmot Super MicaMMemBrain Strata
MontBell Rain TrekkerM & WBreeze Dry-Tec
MontBell Storm Cruiser JacketM & WGore-tex Pro
Montbell Thunder Pass JacketM & WSuper Hydro Breeze
MontBell Torrent FlierMGore-tex PacLite
Mountain Hardwear Beacon JacketMDry.Q
Mountain Hardwear Epic JacketM & WConduit
Mountain Hardwear Stretch TyphoonM & WDry.Q
Outdoor Research Aspire JacketWGore-tex PacLite
Outdoor Research Foray JacketMGore-tex PacLite
Outdoor Research Paladin JacketM & WPertex Shield
Outdoor Research Palisade JacketWNylon
Outdoor Research Panorama JacketM & WVentia Dry
Outdoor Research Rampart JacketMBarrier
Outdoor Research Furio JacketMGoretex
Patagonia Rain Shadow JacketM & WNylon
Patagonia Super AlpineM & WGore-tex Pro
Patagonia Super PlumaMGore-tex
Patagonia Torrentshell JacketM & WH2No
Patagonia Torrentshell Plus JacketMH2No
Pataonia PioletM & WGore-tex
Rab VoltMPertex Shield
REI RainwallM & WNA
The North Face LeonidasM & WHyVent
The North Face Varius Guide JacketM & WHyVent
The North Face Venture JacketM & WHyVent

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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