HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST LIGHTWEIGHT RAIN JACKET FOR HIKING
This post is sponsored by REI.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve done my share of hiking in the rain. On the 2017 Bearfoot Theory group trip to Alaska, we spent 7 solid days backpacking in the rain, and boy did I learn a lot. Hiking in the rain and staying warm and dry is a bit of an art, but it all starts with having the right gear. That means a reliable lightweight rain jacket for hiking that will keep you dry in whatever conditions you might face.
Choosing a lightweight rain jacket for hiking can be a bit overwhelming, especially when it comes to decoding the product descriptions (a 3-layer Gore-Tex what?). What’s not fun is wandering through a sea of too many options without a clue of which one to get and leaving empty-handed, or worse, with an expensive, high tech rain jacket you’re not quite sure you even need.
So, to help you get ready for the rainy season, we’re breaking things down. In this blog post, we talk about the materials and technical features of hiking rain jackets to help you determine what you need, and we share the rain jackets that have withstood the test of the trail by the Bearfoot Theory community. We hope the information here helps you get the most for your money while ensuring you stay warm and dry out there on the trail.
Learn how to choose the best lightweight hiking rain jacket to keep you happy on the trail.
Should a hiking rain jacket be waterproof or water-resistant?
If you are investing in a durable and effective rain jacket that will stand up to the wind and rain, you’ll want something that is waterproof. While water-resistant raincoats are good for light wind and rain, they don’t have as many technical elements and the fabric won’t do you much good in a storm. A light windbreaker is a good example of a water-resistant jacket and you can imagine how that would fare if you get caught in an unexpected thunderstorm on the trail (spoiler: not well).
This Patagonia Houdini water-resistant jacket is a great lightweight just-in-case layer that offers protection from light rain. For heavy rain, however, you’d want something beefier.
Is an expensive raincoat worth it?
The price of a raincoat does make a difference because you’ll get higher quality products that have gone through more testing, research, and development to ensure they work well. While a lower or mid-priced hiking raincoat will still get the job done, it often comes at the cost of some comfort, whether that’s a durable Gore-tex outer layer or breathability and ventilation on the inside that will minimize sweating.
Although it’s tough to spend a larger chunk of change on a piece of gear, it’s often worth the money and can save you from having to replace that item multiple times in the future. Think of it as an investment that will last you for years, rather than an overpriced piece of gear. In this case, it’s worth it.
If you’re on a budget, choose a quality mid-priced raincoat – the REI Rainier Rain Jacket is a great option – that has the features you need and use most often. Consider the activities you do most often and choose a lightweight rain jacket that suits your hiking style. Chances are you can resell it if it’s still in good condition and when you need to upgrade you’ll know exactly what to buy.
REI’s Rainier Rain Jacket (women’s / men’s) is a great deal for those on a budget at $50-90. It’s windproof, has sealed seams, a durable waterproof repellent layer AND it compresses down into its own pocket for ultimate packability.
How should a rain jacket for hiking fit?
A hiking rain jacket should fit loose enough that you can add extra layers underneath and have a good range of motion that allows you to move your arms around comfortably. It should also fit snug enough so you don’t have too much extra fabric getting in the way as you are hiking.
What materials are best for a hiking raincoat?
A good raincoat will help keep you dry by wicking away moisture from the outside while also allowing sweat or other water vapors from the inside to evaporate. If you’ve ever been for a hike in the rain, then you might know how uncomfortable and distracting it is to feel wet from the rain while also suffering through that sticky feeling of your jacket clinging to your skin from your sweat.
A lightweight rain jacket for hiking will have extra fabrics and technologies that prevent both of these things from happening – but what do they do and which one should you pick? Here are the most common waterproof fabrics you’ll find when choosing a hiking raincoat.
We often mention Gore-Tex here at Bearfoot Theory because it’s a popular technical fabric that’s commonly used in waterproof outdoor gear. Gore-Tex is a synthetic, waterproof fabric that keeps you dry in the rain or snow. Its lightweight construction makes products with Gore-Tex great for breathability and ventilation so you won’t get overheated when you’re hot on a rainy hike. A raincoat with Gore-Tex is a durable, waterproof option that helps keep you cool and dry.
DWR (Durable Water Repellent)
DWR is an extra coating that gear companies add to hiking raincoats that allow them to literally repel water from the jacket. As water hits the surface of the fabric it beads up and rolls right off rather than getting absorbed or evaporating. DWR definitely keeps you dry, however, it can make a raincoat slightly less breathable. It also requires a bit of upkeep because the finish can wear off over time, so you may need to reapply a new DWR coating every so often. Either way, DWR is a great option for staying dry and often comes at a lower price than Gore-Tex.
There are a few other materials that major outdoor brands are using, such as DryVent, eVent, etc, often with proprietary technology, but Gore-tex and DWR are the most commonly used across all major rain jacket brands.
See, hiking in the rain can be fun!
Read more tips for staying dry & comfortable while hiking in the rain
Why do hiking raincoats have multiple layers?
Most raincoats have a 2, 2.5 or 3 layer construction to them that sandwiches the several different layers or membranes of fabric together to create a jacket. Here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of the 3 kinds that will help you navigate the product description and the price when you are choosing a hiking raincoat.
Midweight 2 Layer Rain Jacket
The midweight 2 layer raincoat is a more budget-friendly option that usually costs under $100. It’s the least technical version and has a mesh liner, so they tend to be breathable, but don’t have as solid of waterproofing. It’s good for wearing around town and shorter hikes where it might rain. (Example: North Face Resolve Rain Jacket)
Midweight 2.5 Layer Rain Jacket
The mid-range 2.5 layer raincoat is a better waterproof option and slightly less breathable than a 2 layer. However, it’s a good choice for longer rainy hikes and backpacking trips. These rain jackets are lightweight and compact with more technical features like pit zips and DWR. 2.5 layer rain jackets can cost over $100. (Example: Patagonia Torrentshell)
3 Layer Rain Jacket
The most durable and technical option is the 3 layer raincoat, also known as a hardshell, which offers ultimate protection, often in a lightweight package. This is a great option for backcountry and harsh climates and can cost $200-$300+. (Example: REI Drypoint GTX Rain Jacket Women’s / Men’s )
Important Features of a Hiking Raincoat
Having a good hood to protect your face and eyes from the elements is an important feature of a hiking rain jacket. Look for one that is adjustable and has a brim to shield your eyes from wind and rain.
This is a MUST for me with any rain jacket I buy. When there is too much humidity in the air for just your hiking raincoat to do the trick, strategically placed vents, especially around the armpits, will be your new best friends. Pit vents release warm air, and some even have vents in the hood or the pocket linings.
If you find yourself out in gale force wind and rain, or even something a little less intense, adjustable drawcords in the hem or waist of your raincoat will cinch in the fabric to help keep the elements out.
It might not seem like an important feature, but because most raincoats have their fair share of zippers this means there are more places for moisture to seep into. Bonded seams on the zippers will help keep the rain out, and things like laminated zippers and a zipper garage (a small flap of fabric to cover the zipper when zipped) will keep you dry.
The Best Hiking Raincoats: Bearfoot Theory Recommendations
Kristen’s Pick: Arc’teryx Beta AR Raincoat
A durable raincoat is top of my list for big gear purchases that matter. I’ve previously worn the North Face Venture 2 Raincoat which is made with a Gore-Tex Paclite membrane and will keep you dry in heavy downpours. It’s got a fully adjustable hood, pit zips, and it’s totally windproof.
Recently though, the raincoat I’ve been sporting is the Arc’teryx Beta AR rain jacket and in my opinion, you just can’t beat it. This is what I wore in Alaska, as well as on my recent Bearfoot Theory Group Trip in Olympic National Park. I never felt clammy, damp, or cold wearing it.
While Acr’teryx is one of the pricier outerwear brands, I scored mine on the REI Sale rack, so keep your eyes peeled. Another good place to search for Arc’teryx gear is the Used Gear Section on REI’s website. Acr’teryx products also come with a “lifetime of the product” warranty, which means it’s the only rain jacket you’ll have to buy for a very long time.
Shop REI’s Previously Owned & Used Gear Deals
Kim’s Pick: Outdoor Research Helium II Raincoat
Weighing only 5.5 ounces, this is the lightest of lightweight rain jackets for hiking that we love. Kim packed the Outdoor Research Helium II Raincoat (Women’s) / (Men’s) on her Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. It has no-frills elastic cuffs and packs into its own pocket. It’s built with some of the highest technology with Pertex Shield+ 2.5-layer nylon.
Katherine has the Marmot PreCip Raincoat. She bought it on sale at REI after one of their employees recommended it as an inexpensive, effective rain jacket. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles — which is what she likes about it — just the important stuff: pit zips, a drawcord at the hood and hem, plus, a waterproof outer layer that keeps her dry and not sticky on the inside! It’s ol’ reliable.