Whether you’re a hiker, a biker, or a travel enthusiast, you probably know that your rain jacket is an important piece of gear. Even city dwellers know that getting caught in a rainstorm without the proper attire can turn a good day into a very bad one. Needless to say, if you don’t have the option to conveniently duck indoors until the storm stops, you’re going to want a shell that will stave off the worst of the weather.
In warm summer weather, outdoor enthusiasts seeking the ideal rain jacket prioritize breathability, flexibility, and water resistance. However, opinions on the best choice vary, depending on the planned activities and expectations from the rain jacket. For example, those embarking on a backcountry hiking trip for the entire summer might require greater durability compared to individuals going on weekend excursions.
This being said, it’s important to understand what types of rain jackets are out there and what their purposes are. First, we’ll overview some of features and variables that are essential to understand when searching for the perfect shell, then we’ll take a look at some of the best rain jackets currently on the market in three price ranges.
Soft Shell vs. Hard Shell Rain Jackets
Generally speaking, soft shell jackets are designed for colder temperatures for use in activities that require a lot of flexibility and breathability, such as skiing. However, some climbers and hikers may prefer the warmth and breathability of the soft shell in the winter months. That being said, one con of the soft shell jacket is that many are considered water-resistant rather than waterproof. While some soft shell jackets have a waterproof laminate, this extra attribute negates the breathability associated with soft-shell fabric. The Apex Bionic Softshell jacket from North Face is a particularly good option. Plus, you can’t go wrong with the two-tone color scheme.
Most summer (or warmer weather) adventure enthusiasts will opt for a hard shell. Even if you use a soft shell during the winter months, an affordable hard shell will be more convenient (lighter weight and more packable) for moderate weather trips. Waterproof hard shells consist of a tightly woven face fabric laminated to a waterproof/breathable (WP/BR) membrane or sprayed with a WP/BR coating. They are also often windproof and suitable for year-round use. These shells are highly versatile and, with proper layering, can accommodate just about any activity in any weather. The Arcteryx Alpha Rain Jacket is a fantastic hard shall option if you can swing the almost $400 price. We’d recommend investing in this if you’re planning on doing some serious heavy duty mucking about in torrential downpours.
Waterproof vs. Water Resistant Rain Jackets
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an important distinction to make. A waterproof jacket features either a laminate made with waterproof technology, such as GoreTex, eVent, or Dry.Q, or is sprayed with a microporous coating like HyVent.
On the other hand, water resistant jackets delay rain from getting in, but they don’t prevent it. Water-resistant jackets are only appropriate for scenarios when you’re up against a light mist or shower.
Waterproof Coatings vs. Waterproof Laminates
Waterproof/breathable technologies come in two main varieties: laminated membranes or waterproof coatings. Laminated membranes are often made of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) and are bonded to the underside of a garment’s face fabric.
Meanwhile, a waterproof coating, usually made from polyurethane, is like an ultra-thin liquid varnish spread on the interior of the face fabric.
Each technology has its pros and cons. For starters, coating technology is often more affordable than that of laminated membranes. Coatings provide even, lightweight waterproof coverage. On the other hand, laminates offer better breathability and durability, while offering the same waterproof shield. Of course, there is a price to pay (up to several hundred dollars) for the enhanced features of the laminated membrane.
Breathable vs. Non-breathable Rain Jackets
The mistake you don’t want to make is taking your non-breathable casual wear rain jacket on your trek through the wilderness. While these jackets prevent rain from getting in, they also don’t allow any sweat vapor out – meaning you’ll likely be pretty wet even if the rain is kept at bay. Moreover, most casual wear jackets don’t allow for much movement. Stick to waterproof/breathable fabrics (either of the two technologies mentioned above) for any sort of activity or long-term wear.
Best Rain Jackets for Athletes: Budget Breakdown
When deciding on the best rain jackets, Determine the factors that are most important for your summer rain gear and start from there. Here are some of the best rain jackets (all hard shells) in a few different price ranges to use as a foundation for your reference.
The Most Affordable Rain Jackets (under $100)
If you’re on a budget, don’t fret. It’s possible to get a good rain jacket for the summer months for $100 or less. Our top pick is the Marmot PreCip Jacket, which retails for $99. It’s available in both men and women’s styles, and utilizes 2.5 layer NanoPro coating to keep you dry. This jacket has lots of cool features, including many pockets and the ability to stuff into one of its own pockets.
Another option for an affordable rain shell is The North Face Altimont Rain Jacket, which sells for just $60. The Altimont is super light weight with a nylon face and polyurethane coating. It serves as a windbreaker, but it won’t be too warm to wear on a hot summer day. It also comes in fun, bright colors, which add to its summer appeal.
Moderately Priced Rain Jackets between $100 – $199
The Mountain Hardwear Plasmic Jacket is a steal considering its high-tech features. Utilizing Dry. Q laminate and an inner layer called EVAP to wick moisture toward the membrane, this shell out-performs others in its class and feels really comfortable on your skin, no matter what activity you engage in. At only 10.2 ounces, its a lightweight and worthwhile addition to your gear.
Our Scandinavian friends have another answer to the mid-level rain jacket quest: The Helly Hensen Vancouver Rain Jacket. Helly Hensen uses its trademark Helly Tech Performance membrane to keep moisture out and away from your skin. However, what takes this jacket a step above the rest is its sleek and attractive design, complete with full amenities like an anti-chafe chin guard and a bottom-hem cinch cord.
High End Rain Jacket Recommendations ($200 and Over)
If outdoor adventure is your passion and you’re willing and able to spend the big bucks on high-quality rain gear, there are a few rain jackets in this class that really stand out.
At the lower end of the high-end spectrum, the Marmot Essence ($200) is a minimalist’s dream. This 5.8 oz jacket uses NanoPro Membrain™ technology as a laminate, which is incredibly air permeable while maintaining its steadfast waterproof quality. In accordance with its sleek shape, the jacket has just one chest pocket and uses integrated cooling vents rather than pit zips for ventilation.
For durability, optimum breathability, and complete waterproofing in one minimalist package, the Patagoina M10 is your best bet. It’s worthy of its $379 retail price for avid outdoors(wo)man, particularly alpine or rock climbers. The M10 is made of a 3-layer nylon ripstop and features a waterproof barrier and sonically welded seams. A microfleece-lined neck and chin serve to keep moisture out while offering you the upmost in comfort.