10 Best Backpacking Rain Jackets

10 Best Backpacking Rain Jackets

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, or Pertex fabrics, the fact is they work poorly for people who cover up their torso with a backpack, shoulder straps, and hip belts. Water vapor can not move across a breathable fabric efficiently under those circumstances.

Here are the 10 top recommended rain jackets for hikers and backpackers.

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

The coating that makes these jackets breathable, called DWR for “durable water repellent”, rubs off with use. 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.

But 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. You’re going to sweat. Think of a rain jacket as part of your larger layering system instead. It’s best use is to keep you warm when it’s raining or the wind is blowing hard, often in combination with a mid or base layer. Perspiring is inevitable. Your goal should be to stay warm and avoid hypothermia.

1. Marmot Precip Eco

Marmot Precip Jacket
The Marmot Precip Eco is by far the most popular backpacking rain jacket because it’s inexpensive, but fully featured with pit zip vents, a fully adjustable hood, velcro-wrist cuffs, and a hem adjustment.  The jacket also has two mesh-lined front pockets which are great to store gloves or a hat and provide additional ventilation. The Precip Eco is made with Marmot’s proprietary waterproof/breathable fabric which gets the job done but will need to be reproofed when the DWR coating wears off. While the Precip Eco is priced at $100, you can usually find it for far less. The Precip Eco is available in men’s, women’s, and youth sizes. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check the latest price at:
Moosejaw | Amazon

2. Outdoor Research Helium II

Outdoor Research Helium II

The Outdoor Research Helium II is one of the lightest weight rain jackets available, which explains its popularity with ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers. While it lacks many features such as side pockets, pit zips, and adjustable wrist cuffs in order to save gear weight, it has an adjustable hood and a drawcord hem to keep the wind from robbing your body heat. The Helium II also has a small chest pocket with a water-resistant zipper, good for carrying a cell phone, and a small inner pocket, which the jacket can be folded into for storage. The jacket is made with Pertex Shield+, a lightweight waterproof/breathable fabric with decent breathability, but it will need to be reproofed when the DWR coating wears off. The Helium II is available in both men’s and women’s sizes. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check the latest price at:
Outdoor Research | REI | Amazon

3. Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain Jacket

Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain Jacket
The Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain Jacket (part of the UL2 rain suit, but also available separately) is an inexpensive, utility jacket favored by many backpackers because it’s so lightweight and inexpensive. It’s made with a non-woven polypropylene fabric that’s permanently waterproof. While the UL2 Rain Jacket does have an adjustable hood, it doesn’t have any pockets or other features that you find on most other rain jackets. The fit is also quite baggy and the material is easily ripped. But it’s easy to repair with duct tape, and for only $20, it’s a surprisingly good value that provides inexpensive rain protection and warmth. Unisex only.

Check the latest price at:
Amazon

4. Patagonia Torrentshell

Patagonia Torrentshell
The Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket is quite similar to the Marmot Precip Eco in terms of features with a fully adjustable hood, pit zips, velcro wrist cuffs, hem pull cord, and side pockets. However, it’s made with a significantly heavier weight 50 denier fabric, which makes it a warmer jacket and a heavier one, coming in at about twice the weight of the Outdoor Research Helium II. The Torrentshell Rain Jacket is made with Patagonia’s proprietary waterproof/breathable fabric which gets the job done but will need to be reproofed when the DWR coating wears off. The jacket is also more expensive than the Precip, which probably explains why it’s less popular.  It is available in men’s and women’s sizes. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check the latest price at:
REI | Patagonia | Amazon

5. Frogg Toggs Xtreme Lite

Frogg Toggs Xtreme Lite
The Frogg Toggs Xtreme Lite is a big step up from the Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain Jacket in terms of styling with a fully adjustable hood, zippered side pockets, velcro wrist closures, and a cord-adjustable waist. It’s also permanently waterproof and far more durable and better fitting than the UL2 rain jacket. While the Xtreme Lite is twice as expensive as the UL2 rain jacket, you can usually get it on Amazon for considerably less than its list price. Available in men’s and a new women’s model. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check the latest price at:
Amazon

6. REI Groundbreaker Rain Jacket

REI Groundbreaker Jacket
The REI Groundbreaker Rain Jacket is a low-price and basic waterproof/breathable jacket with an adjustable hood, velcro wrist cuffs, zippered side pockets, and a drawcord hem. It’s quite durable but still lightweight. It lacks pit-zips like the Marmot Precip Eco and Patagonia Torrentshell Jackets, but it also costs much less. The Groundbreaker Rain jacket is made with REI’s proprietary waterproof/breathable fabric which gets the job done but will need to be reproofed when the DWR coating wears off. This jacket is still a good value for the price. It’s also available in men’s and women’s sizes.

Check the latest price at:
REI

7. Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket

Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket

The Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket is a fully-featured rain jacket with an adjustable hood, pit zips, velcro wrist cuffs, interior and exterior pockets and a drawcord hem. It’s made with a permanently waterproof fabric (available in silnylon or PU coated silnylon), so you’ll never need to restore a DWR layer because it doesn’t have one. Lightheart Gear is a cottage manufacturer that sews all of their jackets, so you can request custom alternations when you order it. It’s also available in a nice variety of colors. The sizing is unisex. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check the latest price at:
Lightheart Gear

8. Columbia OutDry EX Eco

Columbia OutDry Ex ECO
The Columbia Outdry EX Eco is a waterproof/breathable jacket that doesn’t have an external DWR coating, so you never need to reproof it. It’s a fully-featured rain jacket with an adjustable hood, two big mesh-backed side pockets, velcro wrist cuffs, and elastic hem adjusters, but it does not have pit zips. The breathability of the EX Eco is pretty impressive compared to Gore-tex, but the jacket is relatively heavy and warm. The EX Eco is a good choice if having a waterproof/breathable jacket is your top priority and gear weight is less important. It is available in men’s and women’s sizes, as well as in a new black color. Read the SectionHiker review.

Check the latest price at:
Columbia | Campsaver | Amazon

9. The North Face Venture 2

The North Face Venture 2
The North Face Venture 2 is a fully-featured rain jacket that is comparable to the Marmot Precip Eco, although it is made with heavier weight, more durable fabrics like the Patagonia Torrentshell. It has a fully adjustable hood, pit zips, velcro wrist cuffs, zippered side pockets, and a drawcord hem adjustment. The Venture 2 is made with The North Face’s DryVent proprietary waterproof/breathable fabric which gets the job done but will need to be reproofed when the DWR coating wears off. This jacket is still a good value for the price and fairly lightweight. It’s also available in men’s and women’s sizes. Read the SectionHiker Review. 

Check the latest price at:
REI | The North Face | Amazon

10. REI Drypoint GTX

REI Drypoint GTX
The REI DryPoint is the most expensive rain jacket in the top 10 because it’s made with Gore-tex, and not a less expensive knock-off waterproof-breathable fabric. The DryPoint is fully featured with an adjustable hood, velcro wrist cuffs, and a drawcord hem. It also has hip belt compatible side pockets, which are highly desirable for backpackers since you can use them without having to undo your hip belt. The side pockets also act as core vents, much like pit zips, but lower down on your torso. These work very well, but you have to pay a premium for them. Like all waterproof/breathable jackets, the DryPoint has a DWR coating that will need to be reproofed when it wears off. It is available in men’s and women’s sizes.

Check the latest price at:
REI

HOW TO BUY A BACKPACKING RAIN JACKET

What are the most important features to look for on a hiking and backpacking rain jacket?

Adjustable Hoods

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.

Zippered Pockets

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.

Venting Capabilities

When you have to hike in cool wet weather, you want to limit the amount you perspire by actively managing your warmth level. They 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.

Breathability Ratings

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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2 comments

  1. My jacket of choice is the Outdry Caldorado shell that weighs 6.7 ozs in an xlarge!!!!..Best part of this jacket is that it just doesnt wet out. NO dwr coating, its two-layer with the membrane on the outside instead of sandwiched between two other layers like all other jackets…this was invented by Columbia with other products like Goretex shakedry immitating Outdry.

    Ive worn this shell during all-day haevy rains on my AT thru-hikes and never got wet from water seeping tru however, like ALL jackets worn under a backpack, I did get somewhat damp from sweat as no fabric yet will breathe well enuff to, say, keep you dry from sweat climbing sassafrass mountain in a pouring rain in the summer…lol. Its too bad that Outdry doesnt get the fredit it should within the thruhiking community. Ive tried dozens of so-called waterproof-breatheable jackets and Outdry, so far, is the one that works the best…

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