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 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.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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