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REI Essential Rain Jacket Review

REI Essential Rain Jacket Review

The REI Essential Rain Jacket is a good value if you’re looking for a low-cost and affordable rain jacket than can span hiking, backpacking, cycling, skiing, and everyday use. It’s your basic 2.5 layer waterproof breathable rain jacket with an adjustable hood, velcro wrist cuffs, adjustable hem, and two zippered side pockets. The Essential Rain Jacket also available in a very wide range of sizes, from a small to an XXXL large, in men’s and women’s styles and fit.

Specs at a Glance

  • Weight: 8.8 oz (10.7 oz in a men’s XL)
  • Gender: Available in men’s and women’s
  • Pockets: 2
  • Hood: Adjustable
  • Wrist cuffs: Yes
  • Pit Zips: No
  • Seam-taped: Yes
  • Waterproofing: 2.5-layer waterproof breathable laminate
  • Fit: Runs large for layering
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL

Waterproof and Breathable

The REI Essential Rain Jacket is a 2.5 layer waterproof breathable jacket which means that it has an outer face fabric, a waterproof-breathable membrane and a lightweight half-layer on the inside to protect the membrane.

In this case, the outer face fabric is nylon. It’s covered with a chemical coating, called DWR, which stands for Durable Water Repellant, but doesn’t count as a fabric “layer”. DWR is designed to make rain drops bead up and roll off the outer surface of the jacket. Being a coating, it rubs off, but factory DWRs typically last for about 70 uses of a jacket. When the DWR coating fails, the jacket will still be waterproof, due to its interior membrane (more on this below), but its breathability will be retarded since water vapor can’t pass through the wet external fabric as easily.

The next layer is a waterproof-breathable fabric membrane or coating, like Gore-tex, but a lower-cost, non-branded version that REI uses. REI doesn’t publish waterproof breathability rating for their jackets, but these generic membranes typically score around 10,000 MVTR (movable vapor transmission rate), which is lackluster, but functional. Premium rain jackets typically have an MVTR of 20,000 up to 30,000.

Finally, the interior surface of the jacket a very thin layer that’s often sprayed on, which is why it’s called a half-layer. It’s job is to protect the waterproof-breathable fabric from sweat, bug spray, and body oils that can break it down or blocks its breathable pores.

But how’s does the Essential Jacket perform? In the absence of laboratory equipment, it’s very difficult for people to assess the waterproofness or breathability of a rain jacket in real world conditions. I’ve hiked in the pouring rain and in the snow with the REI Essential Rain Jacket and stayed reasonably warm and dry. That said, the Essential Rain Jacket lacks pit-zips, which are found on other comparable waterproof-breathable rain jackets like The North Face Venture 2, which is similarly priced. Pit-zips can assist a waterproof-breathable layer in venting extra body heat and internal moisture, especially when the external DWR coating starts to wear out.

The hood is oversized for use with a ski, climbing, or bike helmet
The hood is oversized for use with a ski, climbing, or bike helmet.

Hood Adjustability

The hood of the Essential Jacket is adjustable with elastic cords at the neck to adjust the size of the front opening. But it doesn’t have a rear volume adjuster, which would be useful since the hood itself is very high volume. While this makes it compatible with climbing, cycling, and ski helmets, it’s awkward to use unless you have a really big head or you wear a ball cap underneath to help give the hood some shape. The front of the hood has a fabric bill of sorts, which does help keep the bill of a ball cap drier in pouring rain, but it doesn’t have a shapable wire inside that you can bend or reposition.

Wrist Cuffs and Hem Adjustment

The Essential Rain Jacket has velcro wrist cuffs, which are good for trapping heat in your wrists where your bloodstream passes close to the skin. They’re also useful for maintaining continuity with waterproof or insulated gloves in rain or snow, so your wrists stay warm and dry. The only caveat to that with the Essential Jacket is that the sleeve ends run fairly narrow, so you’ll probably want to wrap your glove or mitten cuffs over the end of the jacket arms rather than running them inside the sleeve. The jacket also features an elastic hem adjustment, with a beefy cord lock, which is good to prevent heat robbing drafts from blowing up from below.

Velcro wrist cuffs help seal in the heat where your sleeves meet your gloves
Velcro wrist cuffs help seal in the heat where your sleeves meet your gloves.

Side Pockets

The Essential Jacket has 2 side pockets, both zippered. While, they’re large enough for storing snacks and a pair of spare gloves, they’re not large enough for stuffing the jacket into. The side pockets are also not hip belt compatible and there are no other pockets on the jacket on the interior or above the chest.

Comparable Rain Jackets

Make / ModelAdj HoodPit ZipsWP/BRAvg WeightPrice
Marmot Precip EcoYesYesYes13.1 oz$100
Outdoor Research Helium IIYesNoYes6.4 oz$159
Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain JacketYesNoNo5.5 oz$20
Patagonia TorrentshellYesYesYes12.1 oz$129
Frogg Toggs Xtreme LiteYesNoNo7.6 oz$45
REI Groundbreaker Rain JacketYesNoYes13.8 oz$50
Lightheart Gear Rain JacketYesYesNo7.2 oz$99
Columbia Outdry EX EcoYesNoYes13.0 oz$199
The North Face Venture 2YesYesYes11.5 oz$99
REI DryPoint GTXYesYesYes10.5 oz$249

Recommendation

While the REI Essential Jacket isn’t perfect for hiking and backpacking, it’s still one of the 10 Best Rain Jackets purchased year after year by other hikers. Why is it so popular? While it is a no-frills, waterproof-breathable jacket, it gets the job done for a reasonable price. When push comes to shove, you don’t need a super breathable rain jacket for hiking and backpacking or one that’s tricked out with ever imaginable feature. What you do need at a minimum, is a hooded waterproof jacket that repels rain and will also help keep you warm, even in cold rain and snow. The Essential Jacket fills that bill quite nicely and is comfortable and roomy enough to wear layers underneath.

Disclosure: The author purchased this jacket.

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5 comments

  1. Hi Philip,

    After reading through many of your rain jacket reviews, I’ve just bought the Marmot Precip here in Australia for A$90 (US$55). I must thank you for all of the things I’ve learnt from your site over the past few years. At 68 years old and not having got out into the hills since the early 70s, I was able, with your help to find great, lightweight gear (that has saved my ageing knees) that is almost all made in the US – Southwest pack (HMG), Duplex tent (ZPacks), sleeping bag (ZPacks), cooking (Jetboil) and water filter (Sawyer), safety/communication (InReach), etc. And that does’t include all of the great hiking/camping tips you give, too. Thanks Philip. Yours is the only site I go to now if I need a good, unbiased report. Regards. Bevil

  2. Thanks for this review. Although it seems I visit my local REI store in Henderson, NV almost weekly I never noticed this very light and very inexpensive waterproof breathable rain parka.

    I have an REI Kimtah eVent parka that I got on a big sale for about the regular price of this Essential parka. Later I got the REI eVent pants on sale as well. So far after 5 years of backpacking, town wear and skiing it is still looking new.

    I now hear that The North Face is coming out with a “revolutionary” WPB fabric. Seems I’ve heard that one before. We’ll see.

  3. I would like to know if these brands carry pants?

    • Hi Jim! I currently work at REI, so I can say that I know for sure that the Precip, Helium, Torrentshell, Essential, and Venture Jackets all have matching pants (not sure about the Frogg Toggs, but I believe they do). The REI DryPoint does not have a matching pant, but REI did come out with a XeroDry GTX jacket and pant pant (GoreTex paclite though at $159 for jacket and for pants $139).

      I’m not a brand snob by any means (thru hiker with a use it till it dies mentality) and I have never heard such a great review of the Essentials jacket! I usually recommend to get a slightly higher featured jacket vs the essentials for those working up a sweat in their future jacket. Seeing it in a new light today. Thanks, Philip!

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