You don’t need to buy an expensive rain jacket for hiking and backpacking because an inexpensive one will work just as well as one costing an arm and a leg. In fact, most backpackers use rain jackets that cost $100 or less for just this reason. While outdoor clothing manufacturers and the media rave about the breathability of Gore-tex, eVent, Futurelight (and dozens of other waterproof/breathable membranes), the fact is they work poorly for hikers because they can’t keep up with the perspiration and condensation inside a rain jacket when you’re carrying a backpack in the rain all day.
Here are the top 10 rain jackets that cost less than $100.
|Make / Model||Avg Weight|
|Marmot Precip Eco Rain Jacket||10.6 oz|
|REI Rainer Rain Jacket||12.5 oz|
|Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain Jacket||5.5 oz|
|Frogg Toggs Xtreme Light Rain Jacket||7.6 oz|
|Compass 360 Ultrapak UL Rain Jacket||7.8 oz|
|REI Trailmade Rain Jacket||11.5 oz|
|Columbia EvaPOURation Jacket||12.0 oz|
|Warbonnet Stash Jacket||5.3 oz|
|Sea-to-Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Poncho||5.2 oz|
|Columbia WaterTight II Rain Jacket||13.5 oz|
If staying perspiration-free in the rain is important to you while you’re hiking down a trail carrying a loaded backpack…maybe you should pick another sport. Perspiring is inevitable. So is condensation, when the interior of your rain jacket is warmer than the exterior surface. Think of a rain jacket as part of your larger layering system instead. The main purpose of a rain jacket is to keep you warm when it’s raining or the wind is blowing hard when used in combination with a mid or base layer. Your goal should be to stay warm and avoid hypothermia.
Waterproof/Breathable or Not?
The ultimate question is whether you should bother buying a waterproof/breathable jacket with crummy breathability specs or one that’s waterproof but not breathable since you’re going to get wet inside anyway. While heavier, many waterproof/breathable jackets are better quality than non-breathable ones with more features, including taped seams. They’re often warmer too. Whatever you decide, pay close attention to the features of the jackets you’re comparing. We think the most important rain jacket features are three-way adjustable hoods, pit zips, zippered pockets, and taped seams, followed by velcro wrist cuffs and hem adjusters.
If you do buy a waterproof/breathable jacket that is coated with a chemical DWR layer (durable water repellent) that makes water bead when it hits the fabric and roll off. The downside of this design is that the DWR coating rubs off with use. When this happens your jacket will remain waterproof, but it will cease to be breathable at all. When that happens, most backpackers buy a new jacket, on average every 2-3 years, instead of trying to restore the DWR coating with a product like Nikwax TX Direct. Alternatively, many hikers and backpacks buy rain jackets that are made with non-breathable fabrics. Many of those rain jackets have pit-zips and other venting features to help reduce internal sweat build up when it rains instead of breathability.
1. Marmot Precip Eco
|View at REI||View at Amazon|
2. REI Rainier Rain Jacket
The REI Rainier Rain Jacket is nearly identical to the Marmot Precip. It includes pits zips, a three-way adjustable hood, hook and loop wrist cuffs, and zippered side pockets, which are highly desirable on rain jackets intended for hikers and backpackers. The Rainier has two zippered pockets, both lined with mesh. Both pockets are enormous and can hold lots of gloves, hats, or snacks. They can also be used as a stuff pocket to store the jacket when not in use. Read the SectionHiker review.
3. Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain Jacket
4. Frogg Toggs Xtreme Lite
5. Compass 360 Ultrapak Ultra-Lite Rain Jacket
6. REI Trailmade Rain Jacket
7. Columbia EvaPOURation Omni-Tech Jacket
|View at REI||View at Amazon|
8. Warbonnet Stash Jacket
9. Sea-to-Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Tarp Poncho
10. Columbia Watertight II Rain Jacket
HOW TO BUY A BACKPACKING RAIN JACKET
What are the most important features to look for on a hiking and backpacking rain jacket?
When choosing a rain jacket make sure the hood is NOT helmet-compatible, unless you have a huge Godzilla-sized head. Unfortunately, many rain jackets are intended for skiers and climbers who wear protective helmets. What you should look for is a fully adjustable hood with a rear volume adjustment so you can shrink the hood size to fit your head, side pulls so you can adjust the size of the face opening, a wire or shapeable brim to shield your eyes from wind and snow, and a high collar that covers your neck and mouth. All of these features will help protect your face from the cold and wind and help you stay warmer.
You can’t have too many rain jacket pockets. They’re great for carrying spare gloves, hats, and keeping navigation tools in easy reach. They’re also good for keeping snacks close at hand so you can eat while you hike. I view rain jacket pockets as an extension of my backpack because the extra storage cuts down on the number of times I have to stop to get clothes or food out of my pack.
When you have to hike in cool wet weather, you want to limit the amount you perspire by actively managing your warmth level. The key to doing this involves venting excess warmth by removing or venting layers. A good rain jacket should provide several ways for you to dump excess heat without having to take it off completely. Here are some of the most important features to look for when comparing different jackets.
- Adjustable Hook and Loop (Velcro) Wrist Closures: These help regulate the body heat at your wrists where the blood flows close to the surface of your skin. They can be worn under gloves or over them depending on your preference and the glove type.
- Two way-front zipper: If you pull the bottom half up, you can dump a lot of excess torso heat, poncho-style.
- Hem drawcord: Cinch it closed to keep the wind from blowing up between your legs and robbing your torso heat.
What should you look for in terms of breathability ratings when looking at hiking rain jackets? For inexpensive rain jackets, the best you can hope for is 10,000 (g/m^2/d) MVTR (movable water vapor transmission rate), which is pretty lackluster. Most of the manufacturers listed above don’t publish the MVTRs for their jackets, because they’re not that competitive with more expensive garments,
But to be honest, I don’t trust the breathability ratings published by manufacturers because they’re measured in ideal laboratory conditions that have little to do with actual use. Pit zips and active venting trump breathability claims any day. If you get too hot, venting your rain jacket is going to cool and dry you off far more quickly than waiting for water vapor to move across a breathable membrane while your zipper is closed.
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