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 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.
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 / Model||Adj Hood||Pit Zips||WP/BR||Avg Weight||Price|
|Marmot Precip Eco||Yes||Yes||Yes||13.1 oz||$100|
|Outdoor Research Helium II||Yes||No||Yes||6.4 oz||$159|
|Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain Jacket||Yes||No||No||5.5 oz||$20|
|Patagonia Torrentshell||Yes||Yes||Yes||12.1 oz||$129|
|Frogg Toggs Xtreme Lite||Yes||No||No||7.6 oz||$45|
|REI Groundbreaker Rain Jacket||Yes||No||Yes||13.8 oz||$50|
|Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket||Yes||Yes||No||7.2 oz||$99|
|Columbia Outdry EX Eco||Yes||No||Yes||13.0 oz||$199|
|The North Face Venture 2||Yes||Yes||Yes||11.5 oz||$99|
|REI DryPoint GTX||Yes||Yes||Yes||10.5 oz||$249|
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.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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