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.
Best OverallPatagonia Granite Crest Jacket Read More
BEST UPGRADE PICKThe North Face Dryzzle FUTURELIGHT Jacket Read More
Best Budget PickREI Rainier Rain Jacket Read More
Best Rain Jacket for RunningSmartwool Merino Sport Ultralite Anorak SmartWool Read More
Best Environmentally-Friendly Rain JacketTentree Nimbus Short Rain Jacket Read More
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 stands for durable water repellent. DWR is a coating applied to fabrics that let 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.
Keep reading beyond our picks for information on rain jacket materials.
Testing a rain jacket is inherently weather-dependent: as the name suggests, you've got to have a little rain for true testing to take place. Lucky for you, our testers are strategically located across the greater U.S. and tested these rain-defenders in a variety of conditions, from the streets of New York City to the hiking trails of coastal California and everywhere in between.
We tested these jackets during springtime showers, torrential fall downpours and the occasional unexpected sprinkle. We concentrated on materials, weight and fit as our parameters and come up with this list of capable, style-forward options that leave your dad's raincoat in the dust. Here are our top picks.