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Top 10 Backpacking Rain Jackets: 2018 Annual Survey Results

Top 10 Backpacking Rain Jackets

While there are thousands of outdoor rain jackets and hard shells available, most backpackers choose from a small set of common makes and models. If you’re in the market for a new backpacking rain jacket, here are the 10 most popular rain jackets that backpackers actually use today and recommend.

2018 Rain Jacket Survey

We been running surveys on SectionHiker.com for many years to find out about our readers’ gear-selection preferences because we feel that many manufacturers ignore their needs in order to court the higher-volume consumer market.

Backpacking is a remarkably simple hobby, but it’s easy to think otherwise if you pay too much attention to the hype put out by the outdoor news sites and printed magazines competing for gear manufacturers’ and retailers’ advertising revenue. Our reader surveys help us keep SectionHiker’s gear reviews and educational articles real and grounded in reality, rather than focused on the latest bright and shiny object or technology.

In this recent survey, we asked over 700 backpackers to answer the following questions:

  • What are the most popular rain jackets used by backpackers?
  • Would they recommend their rain jacket to their best friend?
  • How frequently do backpackers purchase new rain jackets?

Most Popular Backpacking Rain Jackets

We found that the 40% of the backpackers we surveyed use the following three rain jackets. They’re far and away the most popular choices.

We list the complete list of top ten rain jacket rankings below, including whether they’re available in distinct men’s or women’s models.

Make / ModelPopularityMen'sWomen'sRetail PriceRecommend to Best Friend
Marmot Precip16%YY$10090%
Outdoor Research Helium II13%YY$15991%
Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain Jacket11%YY$2094%
Patagonia Torrentshell5%YY$12984%
Frogg Toggs Xtreme Lite2%Y-$4597%
REI Essential Rain Jacket2%YY$7091%
Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket2%Y-$9996%
Columbia Outdry EX Eco2%YY$19973%
The North Face Venture 22%YY$9976%
REI Drypoint GTX1.5%YY$24990%
Total (Top Ten Jackets)56.5%

The top 10 rain jackets are used by 56.5% of the backpackers in our survey. The remaining 43.5% of those surveyed use a total of 153 other rain jackets from many different manufacturers. As an indication of product loyalty and satisfaction, we asked backpackers if they would recommend their jacket to their best friend.

Rain Jacket Replacement Rate

We also asked backpackers how often they purchase new backpacking rain jackets to replace the ones they currently own.

How often do you buy a new backpacking rain jacket

Our results show that 47.3% of the backpackers we surveyed, or nearly half, replace their rain jackets within 3 years. While that’s good news for rain jacket manufacturers and land fill owners, you have to wonder why the replacement rate is so high. We discuss some possible reasons for this below.

Discussion

There are a few conclusions that one can infer from these survey results.

Low Cost Preference

There’s a notable absence of premium makes and models from manufacturers like Arc’teryx in the top 10 backpacking rain jackets. The 10 most popular rain jackets are predominantly under $200 at retail prices, although you can often purchase them for far less during sales. Backpackers are either highly cost conscious or they have a healthy disregard for the performance claims of premium jacket manufacturers. I think both of these factors are in play in rain jacket product selection.

For example, backpacking brings out the worst in more expensive waterproof/breathable jackets. Shoulder strap and hip belt abrasion causes rapid deterioration of the DWR coatings in those jackets that incorporate a waterproof/breathable membrane. When you add in the fact that wearing a backpack blocks about 50% of the breathable area of a jacket, it’s no wonder that most backpackers perspire heavily when they hike in the rain. Carrying 20+ pounds on your back is exercise, after all. So I’m not surprised that many of the top 10 jackets use proprietary waterproof membranes with lackluster breathability performance, or none at all, since there’s little benefit in paying for more expensive ones.

Recommendation Scores

The backpacking community is closely knit and people commonly take the advice of friends or people whose opinions they trust when making purchase decisions. A common way of measuring brand or product loyalty and customer satisfaction is to ask people whether they’d be willing to recommend and promote it. A score between 90% and 100% is considered very high and favorable, which helps explain why people keep buying the same top three jackets year over year.

It also explains why savvy manufacturers (should) avoid retiring successful product lines or names, even when they significantly alter the design of existing models. A good name is a terrible thing to waste, even if it makes product changes less transparent for consumers.

Replacement Frequency

Close to half of the backpackers we surveyed replace their rain jackets every three years. There are a great many reasons to replace a rain jacket ranging from normal wear and tear to deterioration of DWR coatings. We didn’t collect data about the reasons why backpackers buy new ones so frequently, but it’s interesting to see how frequently they do. We plan to delve into this more in future surveys.

Consistency with 2017 Rain Jacket Survey

The results of the 2018 rain jacket survey (n= 728) are consistent with our findings in the 2017 survey (n=322), although more reliable because we had over twice as many respondents. We also screened out respondents who said they did do not backpack, something we did not do as carefully in the 2017 survey. While the percentages of products used differ, the top three jackets: the Marmot Precip, Outdoor Research Helium II, and Frogg Toggs Ultralight 2, are the same in both years.

Rain Jackets (2017)% OwnedMSRP (USD)Satisfaction 1-5
Marmot Precip Jacket28.8$100.004.07
Frogg Toggs UL Suit13.2$24.994.10
Outdoor Research Helium II8.14$159.004.04
Patagonia Torrentshell2.7%129.003.44
North Face Venture2.4%99.003.60
Marmot Essence2.4%199.953.43
Columbia Watertight II1.4%90.004.00
Mountain Hardwear Plasmic1.4%139.953.80
Columbia Pournation1.4%90.003.75
Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket1.4%99.004.00

About this Survey

This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=728 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant because backpackers were not randomly selected to participate from a pre-screened population.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for formulating questions and recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the most popular rain jackets carried by backpackers.

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24 comments

  1. I really think that a breatheable rain jacket that actually repels water over a period of time has to be one of the biggest scams there is. Everyone can tell me the reason why it works, but through in the field, it fails. Along with Gore tex boots saying they are water proof. I have heard salesperson saying to customers that a particular brand is waterproof because of this membrane. How did this happen where everyone is drinking the kool aid? What a waste.

  2. I have an Outdoor Research Foray, an older Gortex Hagloffs jacket and a Snugpac poncho, but my go to this summer was a White Sierra jacket I got for $25. Light weight non breathable and cheap. Did the trick and if it wears I’ll get a new one. I heard about it in the comments of an article in this blog this summer.

    • I’ve been using a White Sierra Trabagon jacket for 7 years. I have a M for 3 season use and a L to go over insulation as a winter shell. No pit zips but I don’t hike in rain gear unless I need the heat retention anyway. I reapply DWR as needed.

  3. When I replace a rain jacket (usually every 2-3 years), I have never bought the same brand again. I’m always looking for one that keeps me dryer, both inside and out, is fairly lightweight, and is within an affordable price range for me. I have owned the top 3 on your list, and I currently own the Columbia Outdry EX Featherweight (not the Eco). So far it meets my requirements better than any others I’ve tried.

    • Do you ever restore the DWR on the one you currently own before replacing it?

      • Yes, I’ve tried that on almost all of them with Nikwax or a reasonable facsimile thereof. It works well for awhile, but then I start needing to reapply it so often I give up and buy a different jacket. Oh, darn! Not new gear!

      • Yeah factory applied DWR layers are more durable than consumer applied ones, at least until they wear off.
        My theory, which you’ve substantiated (sort of), is that people buy new rain coats when that factory DWR wears off.
        They built planned obsolescence into the product. What a con job….

    • If you don’t mind the weight – and are mainly going for day walks, then Paramo (Nikwax “biological analogy”) clothing is pretty good for temperatures say within ten degrees Fahrenheit of freezing (I’m British, so tend to use metric, but equally, that covers much of UK late autumn, winter and early spring conditions – and I’m sure similar coastal North American conditions. I got my waterproof trousers in I 1992, and have had to reproof them regularly, but they are still what I wear if its going to be either raining all day, or there is a chance of that. I got a jacket then too, and it still works, but prefer the cut of a smock that I “only” bought in about 2005. Functionally, they are more like non-membrane softshells that happen to keep you dry than waterproofs – including their additional warmth.

  4. My first jacket was a Cabela’s model that had lots of pockets. I used it a few years until it just turned into a coffee filter when raining. I tried a DWR treatment but that didn’t seem to help much–probably from user error on applying the treatment.

    I got my next one, an OR Celestial, eleven years ago. It weighed about half as much as the Cabela’s jacket. Now, it’s mostly composed of Tenacious Tape. With all the worn spots and pinholes, it wets through very quickly but I love it and still use it as a shell when rain isn’t likely. I may still try a DWR treatment on it. I certainly won’t have any worse results than I did on the Cabela’s jacket.

    I bought a GoLite model but never used it because it was a little too large and the hood wasn’t nearly as user friendly as the Celestial. I didn’t get to return it because GoLite went under. I may put it up on FleaBay because it’s in pristine condition.

    I bought a Marmot Precip to replace the Celestial but haven’t gotten to use it much backpacking although I use it for daily life in rainy weather.

    If I get independently wealthy, I may try that Lightheart Gear one that Philip likes so much.

  5. Philip I always had the precip and I thought your review of the OR panorama point jacket was interesting, putting the OR jacket against this list what do you think?

    • The Precip is an excellent value for the money (especially if you get it on sale) and significantly less expensive. Feature and weigh-wise they’re nearly equivalent and you could use both for 4 season use, although I think the Panorama Point is way more comfortable and has a few small features that I happen to like better. The PP is a great jacket if you can get it on sale (it was recently down around $110). At that price, I’d grab it. But I’m not sure if it’d be worth replacing a perfectly good Precip if it’s working fine for you now. I used a Precip for many years myself and it was fine. I ended up giving it to a Long Trail caretaker when his rain jacket got stolen and I upgraded to a OR rain jacket.

      • Just read Grandpa’s comment above. The OR Jacket I bought after my Precip was the OR Celestial and it was just awesome. Superlight and made with Goretex Paclite. It eventually fell apart, but OR replaced mine on their guarantee with an OR Foray, which I still have and have used in winter for many years. It’s pretty beat on though and covered with Tenancious tape.

      • I use a precip jacket for summer, and precip overtrousers for summer and also cycle commuting if it’s really foul (25-mile/1000ft round trip isn’t much fun in sleet)

  6. A while ago, over a period of maybe five or six years, i’d buy previous-year-model Precips on sale for $70 or so. As with the first, after the inner coating on the second one cracked and flaked off, i gave up on them. That, and they were never quite long enough for me (size large, and i’m just over six feet). I did get the Precip pants last year for winter use as they have the full-length side zippers. Inner coating is intact, so far.

    I use the lightweight Frog Toggs for keeping tree spray off me in my landscaping work and consider them disposable. They snag and tear at the sight of a branch. Duct taping the holes as they appear, i’m lucky to get one growing season out of a set. Would never think of taking them on the trail.

    I’ve got a motley assortment of rain jackets and pants i’ve bought off the markdown rack — Columbia, Patagonia, Helly Hansen. Honestly, the performance is about the same for all of them. They keep the rain off, but don’t really breathe. Basically, they do what one would expect.

    My go-to for backpacking is an REI branded jacket and pants made of the e-vent material. Had them for about four years. Not sure of the model name. They don’t appear to leak, and kinda sorta “breathe” if i’m not totally hoofing. The fabric is fairly sturdy, and with pockets, and pit and ankle zips, they’re not the lightest, but they fit me well and i like them. In addition to belt loops, the pants have adjustable hook-and-loop tabs on the waist, so the fit easily accommodates different layers underneath.

  7. Great article! I agree with everyone about the waterproof breathable jackets, pants and boots being next to useless when the factory DWR wears off. We just spent a wet week backpacking with new OR Helium 2 and Realm jackets and they both wetted out after 2 hours in heavy rain. The Realm last hours longer and was much more breathable than the Helium 2.

    We treated my old Zamberlan and my wife’s new Scrapa nubuck and suede boots with Kiwi silicone spray with good results so now we are going to try and silicone spray our older Gore-tex XCR jackets and thin Patagonia Houdini shells.

  8. Good WPB lightweight rain parkas are EXPENSIVE! (Look at REI’s Drypoint GRTX listed here.)
    Have two WPB rain suits, a Cabela’s Rainy River Paclite GTX and an REI eVent suit. Naturally the eVent is more breathable but the Paclite GTX is noticeably more windproof in cold, high winds.

    BUT… both suits were purchased as individual pieces on SALE B/C I was willing to wait for four sales. I care for them like they were precious material as indeed they are since the replacement costs would be very high.

  9. After researching and reading about the Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket and the AntiGravityGear Ultralight Rain Jacket I purchased the AntiGravityGear model. It performed very well in heavy rain and some snow on the PCT mid September 2018. Passed many thru-hikers, headed northbound, soaked to the bone wearing the usual “breathable” rain jackets. The hood issue, mentioned in some reviews, is not really a problem. Highly recommend the AntiGravityGear Ultralight rain jacket. Customer service was awesome as well.

  10. For light rain and/or warmer temperatures I use a precip and like it. For heavy rain and/or colder temperatures I use an army surplus poncho. It is heavier but reliable rain gear with better ventilation. Perhaps ponchos are not light enough for most backpackers?

  11. Guys, I go a different direction when hiking in the rain. I use Driducks poncho to keep my pack
    And myself dry. There are no problems of condensation with the poncho. I am still working on
    Keeping my legs warm and dry though.
    Oh and the poncho has added use, a extra blanket to cover your sleeping system at night. Disposable and cheap but I hiked the Colorado Trail with just one.

  12. Some years ago, my brother and his family hiked the Milford Track in New Zealand. Lots of rich folks were there (my brother was definitely not part of that demographic!) sporting several hundred dollar Gore-Tex rain jackets. The bearers of those goods complained long and loud about being wet and miserable all the time. My brother said his son stayed drier with a four dollar Walmart poncho than any of those people in their fancy wet-through Gore-Tex.

  13. Wish I could have been part of that survey, I would have rated OR Helium II as worthless as well as the companies support. I’ve used OR gear since the early 90s with next to no problems so when I was looking for a jacket for my 2018 AT thru-hike attempt I went with them since the jacket came with high user ratings. Guess I got a bad one though. Right from the start I had to exchange it for a larger size due to tightness across the shoulders. I then had nothing but trouble with keeping it in place, kept wanting to slide off my back, not to mention the hood is worthless trying to just while hiking. After realizing that the AT rain storms were way worse then I expected I stopped wearing it during the rain while hiking and just used it in camp to keep warm. However the 10-12 times i did wear it was enough to cause the coating to start coming off, so much for any rain protection now. After I got home I contacted OR about the coating and their response was “the Helium II was not intended for that kind of use” WTH does that mean? A rain jacket that can’t be worn in the rain? I’m now stuck with a jacket that’s worthless and I’m not about to use any gear from OR again after their lack of support.

  14. Owned two on the list (Torrentshell and Venture) and tried others (one from EMS) and none of them ever truly deliver on breathability. They all wet out from the inside due when hiking or climbing. At the end of the day, I’ve found that virtually all rain jackets are rather poor at keeping anything dry unless you’re stationary and in camp. alas… Has anyone tried the Paramo directional stuff? They seem to use a different tech that aims to keep hikers dry while on the move. Curious to know how folks have found that to be true.

  15. I have an EMS jacket I bought on sale a bunch of years back that is supposed to be breathable; the inside of the jacket ends up soaked with my wicked sweat. I’m tempted to just go to a cheap poncho to keep myself and my pack dry.

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