We live in a Golden Age of water-repellency; before nylon shells and Gore-Tex membranes, humans devised hydrophobic clothing using vinyl, oiled canvas and, before that, cured seal and whale intestines. Now, (thankfully) waterproofing happens at a molecular level with advanced membranes that keep water droplets out but let body vapor (think sweat) through.
The advancements have allowed rain jackets to become lighter, more breathable, packable and no less rain-proof. Rain jacket technology keeps getting better too — today, companies are experimenting with new fabrics to make rain shells softer and more comfortable and adding stretch for increased mobility (and less of that trademark crinkly jacket sound). Style hasn’t fallen by the wayside either. The new class of rain jacket is light enough, durable enough, breathable enough and waterproof enough to handle multi-day treks through misting rain as well as the inevitable deluge during commuting hours.
Keep reading beyond our picks for information on rain jacket materials and an explanation of DWR (durable water repellent).
More Great Rain Jackets
- Best Rain Jacket for Cities: Arc’teryx Sawyer Coat ($475)
- Best Stretch Rain Jacket: Black Diamond Stormline Stretch Rain Shell ($149)
- Best Rain Jacket for Hiking: Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 Gore-Tex Paclite Plus ($300)
- Best Rain Jacket for Running: On Weather Jacket ($240)
- Best Rain Jacket for Bike Commuting: Rapha Commuter Jacket ($135)
- Most Innovative Rain Jacket: Columbia OutDry EX Reign ($150)
- Most Durable Rain Jacket: REI Stormbolt GTX Jacket ($279)
- Best Softshell Rain Jacket: Rab Kinetic 2.0 ($230)
- Best Rain Jacket for Hunting: Sitka Dew Point ($329)
A quick Google search for “best rain jacket” will reveal various lists like this one, and Patagonia’s Torrentshell makes an appearance on nearly all of them. It’s the outdoor brand’s jack-of-all-trades rain shell, with a classic construction that includes hand pockets, an adjustable and stowable hood, and zippered underarm vents for when things get warm.
Patagonia made the latest iteration of the Torrentshell with a three-layer construction — the same that you find on ski outerwear — that includes a recycled nylon face fabric, a waterproof membrane and a soft interior lining. It’s an upgrade over the older 2.5-layer model and one that significantly ups the value ante as Patagonia stuck with its already-low $149 price. Patagonia's Rainshadow rain jacket is similar, but comes at a lower weight and uses a stretchier fabric for $50 more.
Weight: 13.9 ounces
Shell Material: 3.3-oz 50-denier Econl 100% recycled nylon ripstop
Best Breathable Rain Jacket
When The North Face released its Futurelight waterproof fabric technology in late 2019, it only showed up in outerwear made for skiing, snowboarding and other mountain adventures. Now though, the brand is rapidly rolling the tech into everything from hiking footwear to tents. Like other waterproof membranes, Futurelight is impermeable, but thanks to a unique manufacturing process, it’s also remarkably breathable. That makes it the perfect material for a lightweight rain layer, like the new and improved Dryzzle.
Rain jackets tend to become clammy as soon as temperatures rise, so the additional breathability of Futurelight is a welcome upgrade to this TNF classic. We’ve worn the similar pullover version, the Arque Active Trail Futurelight Jacket ($229), through the New York City subway system, which becomes a sauna in the summertime, and had no sweaty issues.
The Dryzzle is a classic rain jacket with an adjustable hood and hem, an exterior chest pocket and two hand pockets.
Weight: 12 ounces
Shell Material: 100% recycled polyester
Best Budget Rain Jacket
Most rain jackets that cost less than $100 use a two-layer construction consisting of a shell fabric with a waterproof laminate bonded to its interior (it's often white and feels plasticky to the touch). These jackets can be good at keeping you dry, though they tend not to be nearly as durable — we've seen some laminates begin to flake away after one or two seasons of hard use.
REI's Rainier Rain Jacket has a 2.5-layer construction, which means that in addition to its recycled ripstop nylon shell and Peak waterproof laminate, it has a light interior lining that makes a protective sandwich that helps this jacket last more than a few seasons. It has lots of other features, too, like a collar separate from the adjustable hood, though it isn't as lightweight or packable as some of the others on this list.
Weight: 13 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: Peak 2.5-layer waterproof breathable laminate
Shell Material: Bluesign-approved recycled nylon ripstop
Best Rain Jacket for Cities
The sleuth detective in an outdoor-themed film noir flick might don the Sawyer. It’s defining characteristic is its clean style, which stems from a logo-less front and a longer sub-hips length. Even the inside is a gunmetal gray instead of the white that’s traditional in most technical rain jackets. It’s not entirely unbranded though, Arc’teryx’s trademark archaeopteryx fossil is perched on the left shoulder, and “Gore-Tex” falls on the right forearm, perhaps the only two visible markers of the tech supporting this jacket.
Drawing on Arc’teryx’s outdoor expertise, the Sawyer is completely waterproof, seam-sealed and lightweight given its length. It’s the perfect rain jacket for those who spend more time in urban environments than in the mountains.
Weight: 13 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: Gore-Tex 3 layer
Shell Material: nylon
Best Stretch Rain Jacket
Stretch is one of the biggest trends in rain jackets at the moment, and it’s easy to write off as a feature only available on jackets at the upper end of the price spectrum. The Black Diamond Stormline Stretch shatters those preconceived notions. It’s impossibly stretchy, still offers 100-percent waterproofing that you’d expect in a high-end rain jacket and comes in at a price of just $149. Bring your lunch to work for a week or two and you’ll have saved up enough for it.
Beyond price, Black Diamond brings some serious performance to the table with its BD.Dry waterproof breathable membrane. It beads water on par with more expensive jackets on this list, and while other features beyond stretch are sparse, you get far more than you pay for.
Weight: 9.9 ounces
Shell Material: nylon
Best Rain Jacket for Hiking
Like many of the jackets to make our list this year, Mountain Hardwear’s Exposure/2 Gore-Tex Paclite consists of a fabric that’s not only lightweight but also slightly stretchy. Also superseding older jackets is the Exposure/2’s packability. Mountain Hardwear employed Gore-Tex’s Paclite Plus fabric, which combines these qualities with high durability in a two-layer construction.
The Exposure/2 doesn’t come with underarm vents, but its two oversized hand pockets are lined with mesh on the interior and can be left open to allow heat to escape. The jacket also has an exterior chest pocket and an adjustable hood and hem. At only 9.6 ounces, it’s one of the lighter jackets on this list, and perfect for stashing in a backpack when the forecast isn’t confirmed. That factor, along with its durability, makes the Exposure/2 perfect for the trail.
For $100 less, you can also find an excellent minimalist hiking jacket in Outdoor Research's Motive AscentShell ($199). It's slightly heavier at 10.9 ounces, but plenty breathable, and includes some stretch.
Weight: 9.6 ounces
Shell Material: nylon
Best Rain Jacket for Running
We don’t often reach for rain layers during a run — once our bodies warm up, even a little rain isn’t as uncomfortable as a clammy jacket. But for those who lose sleep over a missed training run (or simply hate treadmills), a rain jacket that can handle some movement is an essential. That's why On built its Weather Jacket with a stretchy polyester that's also highly breathable. In addition to its fabric though, the Weather Jacket uses a design that allows for large vents between its upper and lower sections. And if the skies clear up mid-run the entire garment squishes down into a self-contained wad small enough to carry.
For a rain jacket dedicated specifically to trail and distance running, check out Patagonia's Storm Racer Jacket ($249), which uses an innovative design that allows for access to a running vest worn beneath.
Weight: 9.8 ounces
Shell Material: polyester and elastane
Best Rain Jacket for Bike Commuting
Umbrellas aren't an option for those who commute by bike, making a rain jacket all the more essential for journeys to-and-from. Yes, any rain jacket will do, but Rapha included a docket of features that make its Commuter Jacket particularly adept at the task. One is an bike-specific pattern that includes a longer rear to protect from road splatter, and another is reflective detailing that beams back headlights for visibility. The jacket also features a hood small enough to fit beneath a helmet and a zipper slightly offset to minimize skin abrasion.
If you're looking for a rain jacket that's geared toward snow and winter riding, check out Rapha's Classic Winter Gore-Tex Jacket ($370).
Membrane/Laminate: "waterproof membrane"
Shell Material: n/a
Most Innovative Rain Jacket
Compared to other rain jackets, Columbia’s OutDry EX Reign immediately looks different. That’s because OutDry Extreme, one of Columbia’s proprietary waterproofing technologies, is constructed differently than Gore-Tex, Dermizax or other commonly used barriers. Instead of layering the waterproof membrane between a liner and a shell, Columbia put it on the outside, where it’s exposed directly to the weather.
That construction has multiple consequences: the fabric-lined interior wicks and is left soft; the exterior feels more like a classic, slicker-style raincoat that won’t wet out (when a coat’s shell fabric gets saturated). It also means that the seams are taped on the outside, which adds to the jacket’s unique look. It also has two large pockets and underarm zips for venting. The OutDry EX Reign doesn’t follow the most recent trend in rain jackets — it doesn’t have any stretch — but it’s still comfortable, breathes quite well and is impenetrable to rain.
Weight: 22 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: OutDry Extreme
Shell Material: nylon
Most Durable Rain Jacket
If you’re a serious outdoorsman, it can be easy to dismiss REI’s in-house brand as just that, an in-house brand. But much like Costco’s Kirkland brand, there’s a lot to love. For one, the Stormbolt is incredibly durable. I posit that you could rub it up against a rock face a few too many times and still come away with a jacket that looks and performs as if it were new. It brings a Gore-Tex three-layer construction to the table, which is the gold standard for waterproofing.
The fit allows for layering underneath, which adds to the jacket’s versatility and allows it to be used as a ski shell in winter. If you’re an REI member, there isn’t much of a reason to look elsewhere. Add to your dividend and save for something on your wish list.
Weight: 15 ounces
Shell Material: nylon
Best Softshell Rain Jacket
If you're still wary of whether a softshell rain jacket can indeed keep you dry outside, Rab's Kinetic 2.0 will be the one to convince you. Its recycled outer fabric feels almost t-shirt-like, but wear it in a downpour (we did) and watch water bead right off. That fabric enables lots of stretch and breathability, too, which makes this jacket great for faster-paced activities. We also liked the elasticized hood liner, which makes a snug fit so that when you turn your head, you don't wind up staring at the inside of your coat (it helps when you're looking for traffic before crossing a road or merging on a bike). The Kinetic 2.0 doesn't have many features beyond that — most notably, two oversized, harness-compatible pockets.
Weight: 11.9 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: PU membrane
Shell Material: recycled polyester
Best Rain Jacket for Hunting
Stalking game often requires straying off-trail, where brushing up against moisture-laden vegetation can leave you as doused as standing in a storm. Waterproofing is essential; it doesn't have to be overly bright or bulky, though. Sitka built the Dew Point as such with Gore-Tex's three-layer fabric equipped with a C-Knit backing that keeps it soft instead of sticky. The jacket is more minimal than a lot of other hunting rain gear — it weighs 12.5 ounces — but it still has pack-friendly zippered pockets, pit zips for venting and an adjustable hood.
Weight: 12.5 ounces
Shell Material: ripstop nylon
What You Should Know About Rain Jackets
Rain Jacket Materials, Explained
The outer textile of most three-layer shells is made of a rugged nylon or polyester that’s coated with Durable Water Repellent (DWR). The inner membrane is a microporous fabric, typically made of ePTFE or Polyurethane that acts as the shell’s primary waterproof and breathable layer. It’s the secret sauce. The backer textile is a thin layer, usually gauze, that’s laminated to the back of the membrane, which eliminates the need for a liner.
While the waterproof and breathable technologies are all generally related in the way they function, several brands have proprietary technologies, among them Gore-Tex, Polartec NeoShell, eVent, Schoeller and Dermizax NX. Discerning one technology from another can be difficult, in part because the technology is kept under lock and key, but also because the technology requires an understanding of terms like “phase change” and how things work on a molecular level. To repair a ripped rain jacket, read our guide.
When you’re buying a rain jacket or any outerwear for that matter, you’ll often come across the initials DWR, which stand for durable water repellent. DWR is a coating applied to fabrics that lets them shed fluids, and it’s commonly used in conjunction with waterproof membranes. DWR works by making the surface of the exterior fabric spiky at a microscopic level, which forces water and other liquids into rounder, beaded forms. That helps them roll off the garment instead of saturating it. DWR isn’t permanent, but it can easily be revived. To re-waterproof your rain jacket, read our guide.