No one likes to be cold, soaked, and sweaty. After all, that’s what rain jackets are for, right? Don’t get caught looking like a lost dog in a rainstorm. Use protection! When it comes to choosing a rain jacket, there are so many factors to consider: waterproof vs. water-resistant, breathability, shells, finishes, layers, and of course, features. We’re diving further into each so you know how to choose the best rain jacket for you.
Like any jacket, rain jackets can get pricey, but you’re paying for the research, testing, development, and performance of the jacket (not just for the looks!). So, when your rain poncho or cute ladybug-filled rain jacket fails, it’s time to fork up the money and get a real rain jacket, one that protects you from the elements, one for the big kids.
Waterproof & Water-Resistant
We measure the performance of a rain jacket and whether or not it passes as “waterproof” depending on its water resistance, and how much water the jacket can withstand at a given time. Any jacket has some degree of water resistance, so here’s what you should look out for:
Waterproof / Breathable: The best of both worlds. Breathable rain jackets move sweat away from your skin while also keeping you dry.
Waterproof / Non-Breathable: Non-breathable rain jackets may keep the rain out, but they are ineffective and don’t perform well in windy conditions. They also cost much less than breathable waterproof jackets.
Water-Resistant: Water-resistant rain jackets are breathable, but they can only handle light rain for a brief time. Windbreakers are an example of a jacket that is water-resistant.
Windproof & Wind-Resistant
Just like how waterproof jackets are tested, a jacket that passes as windproof depends on how much wind resistance the jacket has. A jacket becomes windproof when it can withstand the wind at 60+ mph.
*Any waterproof jacket is also windproof.
Wind-resistant jackets are essentially the same as water-resistant jackets. They’re lightweight and might keep you a little dry, but they’re not meant to protect you from any kind of storm.
Can a jacket that protects you from the rain really be THAT breathable? The answer is yes! Breathability is a big factor when it comes to rain jackets.
Breathability is paramount in outerwear and various outdoor clothing so you can stay comfortable while working harder in a greater range of conditions, and who doesn’t want that?
If you’re one to get sweaty, especially with a jacket on, you’re going to want to make sure to get one that’s breathable to keep your skin dry and comfortable.
Breathability is essentially the ability for a fabric to allow moisture or sweat vapor to be passed through the material (in this case a jacket). This is partially because the warm air inside the jacket tends to be attracted to the cold dry air outside.
If you can’t find a breathable rain jacket that suits your style, you could also purchase one with vents to allow some breathability through the mesh zones. (see jacket features)
Types of Jackets
Soft Shells integrate the insulating layer with a water resistant shell. While these offer greater breathability, they also offer less protection against rain, the wind, and cold conditions.
Hard Shells are essentially alternatives for breathable waterproof gear. They aren’t insulated and the fabrics are much stiffer than those in soft shells.
Hybrid Shells are just as they sound: a combination between a soft and a hard shell. In these jackets, you’ll typically see the more durable wind and waterproof fabrics (like hard shells) on the front, while a less durable, more flexible, and softer fabric (like soft shells) lines the sides, arms, and back.
Insulated Shells are typically filled with synthetic or down fill to keep you warm. While these tend to be “puffy” jackets, they also tend to be waterproof and breathable, but only if it’s seam-sealed.
This design combines a rain jacket with a fleece or insulated shell that zips inside the rain jacket to keep you both warm and dry. If you don’t need the insulating layer, simply unzip it and go with just the outer shell. After all, that’s why they call it a 3-in-1.
There are three types of construction used in rainwear: 2-layer, 2.5-layer, and 3-layer.
- 2-layer is when a membrane or coating is applied inside the outer layer’s fabric to form one piece of material. Next, a loose liner is added on the inside to protect the coating. This design is typically preferred for urban and travel rainwear. It’s also the quietest material, so you won’t be that annoying noisy person swishing past everyone.
- 2.5 layer is the lightest of the three designs. This design uses a durable, lightweight outer fabric as it’s the first layer, while the second is a coating applied inside the first layer. Next, a “half” layer is laid over the second layer to protect the coating, creating 2.5 layers altogether. While these jackets aren’t very durable, they’re actually fairly lightweight and affordable.
- 3-layer is the most durable and breathable of the three designs. With a coating squeezed tightly between a face fabric and a liner, this construction was made for the harshest backcountry conditions (but they will come at a premium price).
Best In: Breathability, Durability, and Waterproof Performance.
Durable Water Repellent (DWR) Finish
Most outerwear, especially waterproof and breathable rainwear have added durable water repellent finishes. DWR is a coating that is added to fabrics to make them water repellent. Without a DWR, a rain jacket’s exterior typically becomes heavy and waterlogged, leaving the fabric sagging and clinging to your skin. If a jacket’s outer layer is water repellent, rain and precipitation just rolls right off, keeping you dry and comfortable in the long run.
Pro Tip: DWR’s performance is inhibited by dirt, oil, and repeated launderings. If your DWR is wearing, you can re-apply via a spray-on or wash in DWR revival product.
A jacket’s features are totally based on your preferences.
*A jacket must be completely seam taped in order for it to be fully waterproof.
- Zippers typically require a rubber coating or storm flap to keep water from seeping through.
- Pockets - Where are the pockets located? Do you have what you will need?
- Vents (especially pit vents) are a must on even the most breathable rain jackets. Some jackets also have mesh liners in torso pockets that double as additional vents so you can keep cool and comfortable.
- Hoods typically have brims and adjustments on the sides and back to keep water out. Some jackets also feature removable hoods or hoods that zip into the collar; which is best for you?
- Packability is one of the most important things to consider. This requires rain jackets to consist of a lightweight, nonbulky fabric so it’s easier to pack and travel with.
Best Rain Jackets
Explore Washington’s Chain Lakes with complete confidence in the outwear when the donning this waterproof and windproof rain jacket that merges a stretch-woven shell and Gore-Tex membrane with a soft, knit interior to deliver exceptional warmth and comfort through the most intense storms. Pit-zips add ventilation.
Only a handful of extra space is needed in your pack to stash this ultralight, weatherproof rain jacket for extra weather protection when storms are on the horizon. A Relaxed Fit and an adjustable hood leave room for extra layers.