Montbell Versalite Rain Jacket Review

Montbell Versalite Rain Jacket Review

The Montbell Versalite is an ultralight waterproof/breathable rain jacket that weighs 7.0 oz in a men’s XL. It’s by far the best backpacking rain jacket in my gear closet in terms of the features important to hikers. It has pit zips, a four-way adjustable hood, hook and loop wrist cuffs, hip-belt compatible chest pockets, an internally controlled hem adjustment, waterproof zippers, and taped seams. Montbell nailed this one.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 6.4 oz in Medium (7.0 oz in XL)
  • Fabric: 2 layer Gore-tex Windstopper Infinium and 10-denier Ballistic Airlight nylon ripstop
  • Water resistance: 30,000 mm
  • Breathability: 43,000 g/m2/24hrs (JIS L-1099 B-1 method)
  • Center back length: 28.7 in (73 cm)

Montbell Versalite Jacket

Water Resistance
Breathability
Comfort & Mobility
Hood Adjustability
Weight
Durability
Packed Size

Best of Breed Rain Jacket

The Montbell Versalite Jacket is one of the best hiker-specific rain jackets you can buy and I think it's fairly priced at $199. The things that make this jacket so great are its features, the quality of its construction, and its low weight.

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Pit zips

The Montbell Versalite Rain Jacket has 18″ long pit zips with smooth sliding waterproof zippers in the armpits to vent built-up body heat and reduce perspiration. I view it as a very positive sign when a waterproof/breathable jacket manufacturer includes pit zips, even when a jacket has a high breathability rating like the Versalite. It indicates that they understand the limitations of the technology and aren’t trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Perspiration and condensation buildup inside a rain jack is a fact of nature and not something you can engineer away with breathable fabrics.

The Versalite hood is sized for people and not beachballs or ski helmets
The Versalite hood is sized for people and not beachballs or ski helmets

Pit zips help vent some of the heat that builds us inside a rain jacket when you’re active so you perspire less. They also reduce the temperature differential between the inside of your jacket and the exterior, reducing the amount of condensation that forms. It’s no different than venting a single-wall tent to reduce internal condensation.

Four-way adjustable hood

The Versalite Jacket has a four-way adjustable hood with a velcro tab on the back to adjust the height of the front brim and a rear elastic adjuster to tighten the circumference of the crown of the hood. The size of the hood opening is controlled by two cords at the top of the chest which are easy to grab and tighten even if you’re wearing gloves or rain mitts. The beauty of this system is that you don’t have to reach into the neck or hood area with wet gloves to adjust it in the rain.

The cords are routed through two channels in the neck and sewn quite robustly to avoid tearing. If you still manage to rip them out, there are exposed adjusters above the channels, much like the conventional ones you find on other jackets, that you can still use to tension and adjust the size of the hood’s face opening.

The cord are routed through the neck so they can be adjusted easily while wearing gloves
The cords are routed through the neck so they can be adjusted easily while wearing gloves

There’s also a stiffener sewn into the brim to keep its shape, although it’s not bendable like a wire. Still, it is sturdy enough that I can hike without a billed cap to keep the rain off of my eyes and my glasses, which I appreciate.

Overall, the Versalite hood is just fantastic for a rain jacket. I especially like the hood sizing and adjustments because they minimize noisy flapping in a stiff breeze so I can use the Versalite as a wind shirt as well as a rain jacket. That saves a few ounces of extra weight on my gear list.

Hip-belt Compatible Chest Pockets

The Versalite Jacket has two medium zippered chest pockets, also with waterproof zippers, that can be accessed while you’re wearing a hip belt. They’re large enough to fit electronics, maps, snacks, glove liners, or anything else you want close at hand during the day. There are very few rain jackets available today that have hip-belt-compatible zippered chest pockets for the simple reason that few rain jackets are actually made for hikers, backpackers, or climbers instead of downhill skiers or casual urban users.

When I hike, I like to treat the pockets in my rain jacket as an extension of my packing system, like I do with backpack hip belt pockets. You can’t do that though if the pockets are covered by the hip belt and inaccessible. If you can find a rain jacket with hip-belt-compatible chest pockets (sometimes called Napoleon Pockets) grab it. It’s a rare but useful feature for three-season and winter hiking.

Wrist cuffs

The Versalite Jacket has velcro (hook and loop) wrist cuffs which are much better than elastic cuffs because you can wrap them over the ends of rain gloves and prevent rain from dripping down your arms. The same holds for cold air in winter when using insulated gloves. Your blood flows very close to your wrists and keeping them warm and dry, especially in wet hypothermia-inducing conditions is important. It’s also a heck of a lot more comfortable.

The Versalite Jacket has hook-and-loop cuffs which are good for sealing out wind and moisture
The Versalite Jacket has velcro cuffs which are good for sealing out wind and moisture

I usually wear the Versalite Rain Jacket with REI’s Minimalist GTX Mittens (see review), which are great rain gloves, also with velcro wrist cuffs. The combination works really well and keeps my wrists warm and dry in wet and cold weather.

Additional features

The Versalite Jacket is seam-taped so it won’t leak in heavy rain. This can be a problem with jackets that have bound seams instead of taped seams like the Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket and the Anti-Gravity UL Rain Jacket. Getting wet isn’t a huge deal in summer, but it can be pretty miserable when it’s still cold in spring or autumn. I’ve experienced it and I know others who have too.

The Versalite also has elastic hem adjusters so you can prevent cold wind from cooling your torso from below. These are adjusted from within the chest pockets and routed through the interior of the Versalite Jacket, much like the hood cords described above. Montbell uses this same buried hem adjustment system in other garments, including the Ex Light Down Anorak, we reviewed last winter.

Comparable Lightweight Waterproof/Breathable Rain Jackets

Make / ModelPit ZipsAdjustable HoodWrist CuffsAvg WeightPrice
Marmot Precip ECOYesYesYes10.9 oz$100
Black Diamond Stormline StretchYesYesYes9.9 oz$149
Outdoor Research HeliumNoYesNo6.3 oz$159
Enlightened Equipment VispOptionYesYes5.3 oz$190
Montbell VersaliteYesYesYes6.4 oz$200
REI DryPointNoYesYes10.5 oz$249
Zpacks VerticeYesYesYes6.2 oz$259
Marmot BantamweightNoYesNo5 oz$275
Montbell Storm CruiserYesYesYes10 oz$299
ArcTeryx Zeta SLNoYesNo10.9 oz$299

Recommendation

I think the Montbell Versalite Jacket is one of the best hiker-specific rain jackets you can buy and I think it’s fairly priced at $199. The things that make this jacket so great are its features, the quality of its construction, and its low weight. It’s only weakness, is that it’s made with waterproof/breathable fabrics and coated with a DWR layer that will rub over after 1-2 years, although you can restore it with a product like Nikwax Tx-Direct. Despite this, I far prefer wearing this jacket over the non-breathable jackets in my gear closet, because it’s so well made and functional with features that few other rain jackets offer. However, I wouldn’t recommend wearing the Versalite Jacket for off-trail hiking. It’s far too delicate for that.

Disclosure: Montbell provided the author with a sample jacket for this review.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate 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 and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, Philip volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.

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33 comments

  1. How would you compare it to ORs newest version of the Helium?

    • Vastly superior.

      Does the Helium have pit zips? No.
      Does the helium have hip belt accessible pockets? No.
      Does the helium have velcro wrist cuffs? No.

      Sure, the helium will be fine if you have to hike in less demanding summer conditions where you don’t mind being soaked with perspiration. But it really doesn’t even come close to the Versalite. The only difference between the old Helium and the new one is that they changed the fabric (big whoop), probably because the older one was so dated that their supplier stopped making it.

  2. How is the sizing? Normally wear a large over a puffy(Ghost whisper).

    Thanks

    • Generally, true to size. This XL layers well over a fleece although I fell it’s a touch large, which you can’t always count on for clothing from Japan or the UK.

      • Is that because on the other side of the oceans, they think we’re all fat Americans?

      • We are much better fed…well we eat more junk food..than in other countries.

  3. I am so glad to see you review this jacket. I don’t know why it doesn’t get more attention (price maybe?). On paper it appears to have threaded the needle between weight and functionality. I have been hesitant to pull the trigger on it though because I saw so little mainstream discussion on it, so I just assumed there was something I was missing.

    • That is probably due to the way it’s sold by Montbell. Only direct to consumer (not through retail) and they don’t pay for affiliate commissions to get reviewers to advertise for them. Every piece of Montbell clothing and gear I’ve purchased in the past 15 years has been utterly fantastic, but delicate. They have backpackers’ and mountaineers’ needs very dialed in.

      • How does this work in an all day rain?

      • The hood and brim protect my head from rain without the need for a billed cap.
        No rain enters through the pit zips which are easy to zip and unzip without help from a friend.
        Some condensation and perspiration buildup, but much less than the Outdry jacket I just reviewed and many others, which I attribute to the pit zips.
        Wrists stay warm and dry when worn with rain mitts.
        Pretty much what I wrote in the review. I’ve been using this jacket since October and we’ve had a very rainy spring.

  4. I am also glad you did the review on the Versalite. It is at the top of my list for my next rain jacket purchase. Pitzips are a have to have for me.

    I’m a big Montbell fan. I currently have a pair of their rain pants and an older down jacket that is still going strong. All of the clothing I’ve purchased from them has been thoughtful and well made. Thank you

  5. One more question. Enlightened Equipment has a rain jacket with similar water resistance specs but higher breathability specs. Im not sure what their material is, so when shopping for rain gear is it realistic to just compare specs or does a person need to know what the material actually is? I’m using EE as an example, there are also other companies out there that give specs but not necessarily material composition. I’m just trying to figure out how to make an educated purchase, though, I suppose, I could let you have all the fun and do the field research.

    Off topic, a couple years ago, you were going to do some research on bunions, did you get a chance to do so?

    • I have the EE jacket and am preparing a review of it. I’ve had it all winter and all spring. The EE Visp is a very credible first attempt by a company at a rain jacket, but isn’t as good as the Versalite in my opinion. Which is why I wanted to sequence my review of the Versalite first.

      On breathability…it really is inconsequential after you hike in the rain for about an hour with a backpack on (the backpack blocks over half the surface area of the jacket AND can’t keep up with your perspiration or the condensation that forms as a result of the inner/outer temperature differential).

      This is why people entertain the thought of using non-breathable rain jackets. The breathability ratings have nothing to do with reality. If anything, you should be a lot more concerned with the waterproof rating.

      On bunions. I looked into it but couldn’t find enough people to interview, so I gave up pursuing the topic.

      • I’d be willing to do an interview regarding hiking with bunions if you ever decide to take another crack at it. I have section hiked the AT from Palmerton to the Long Trail Inn and done many other overnight trips with my kids not to mention many hundreds of miles day hiking with severe “you should have those things operated on” bunions.

      • I appreciate the offer, but I was looking for a much larger sample size. It’s off my radar now.

    • The EE Visp is 7D while the Versalite is 15D. I recently made the decision to go with Montbell over EE. Not only do I not have to wait two and a half months for a rain jacket, but I get front pockets.

  6. Interesting. Sounds like they have made a number of improvements since I bought this jacket in 2016. I was very grumpy after my purchase. It cost $200. Wasn’t waterproof. Wasn’t breathable. And the pit zips were comically hard to use (‘smooth sliding’ is not a term anyone would have been able to use with a straight face) — they almost required taking the jacket off so you could use a full two hands. And to boot, it wasn’t something I could easily return. To be fair, the fit was good, the feature set was `theoretically’ good, and the weight was good. After a month of hating the thing I picked up a lightheart gear rain jacket on your recommendation which has served me well. For >3 years now my versalite has only seen use as `loaner’ when folks visit and don’t have a jacket. Apparently I was 4 years too early for the good version.

    • I’ve owned a few of their products which have seen upgrades in the past couple of years. This is definitely not the same jacket you tried. That LHG jacket is a still good inexpensive alternative, but I’ve had some challenges with it in Scotland last year with the leaking seams, albeit in very unpleasant conditions. It rekindled my appreciation for seam tape.

  7. Marko Koskenoja

    Looks like a winner – I will check out Montbell products. I’d rather love using a product extensively and wear it out rather than add to my closest of unsatisfactory outdoor gear.

  8. Ronald Strickland

    Thank you for this excellent review. I am a big fan of Montbell.

    • Have you thought about seam sealing your lightheart gear rain jacket? If the problem with water getting though the bound seams can be resolved would you still prefer the versalite?

      • I’ve tried. It’s really a nasty process with a rain jacket. It’s why I just recommend getting a seam taped jacket if waterproof seams are required.

  9. I bought a Versalite 5 years ago. I really liked the features of this jacket but when I tried it in the rain iit wet out within 5 minutes. I contacted Montbell who said this was not normal. They quickly sent me a new one with a return package for the first one. I tried out the second one in the rain and it wet out just as fast. I have since bought a Lightheart Gear non-breathablr jacket (following Philip’s recommendations) and have been mire than satisfied with that one. Perhaps Montbell has changed their material or their manufacturing process since then but my experience with this jacket was terrible. One other thing to notice is that these jackets are made quite small so anyone wanting to purchase one should consider sizing up one size.

    • This model is made with an entirely different fabric for starters and runs large. You’ve got old beta.

  10. I have worn mine a couple of times and it keeps me dry. Being 100% nylon I suspect that it will be durable. The hood also seems to fit better than my other rain jackets.

  11. This is a solid review!! I have been on the fence with several different “rain jackets” that are deemed ultralight, but this one is what I was looking for. I don’t mind the $199 price tag given all the features you mentioned. I hope this will serve me well on my AT section hike in September!

  12. In the market for a jacket, ordered one immediately after reading Mr. Werner’s review.

    Only have worn once in rain but can conclude:

    1. jacket is of high value if you are looking for those features pointed out in the review, such as being light but sporting pit zips, both mandatory for me
    2. as I’m long necked, collar fully zipped only reaches my chin’s base; was hoping it would be 2 or 3 inches higher
    3. jacket material is annoyingly loud, unlike my now-retired, whisper quiet Marmot Super Mica
    4. being 6′ 3″ with a 38″ chest I ordered a Large, a perfect fit. Room for a winter fleece beneath and that’s it. If you have a 40″ chest or more you might want to go XL despite what the Montbell sizing chart indicates.

  13. Love the review. One question I have is how effective is the jacket as a windbreaker with the gortex windstopper material? REI advertises their Rainier rain jacket for up-to 60mph. It also weighs twice as much.

  14. Hi
    Your review helped me decide
    i Want to buy but not sure which size to choose
    My measurements are:
    chest 37″ waist 34″ sleev 31″

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