Best Lightweight Rain Jackets: Field-Trialed & Tested [2024 Update]

Equip yourself for any weather with one of the best lightweight rain jackets featured in this guide. With models from Montbell, Patagonia, and more you can venture onto the trails with confidence, regardless of the weather conditions!

Sam Schild Avatar
Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
Last Update:

Unpredictable weather is a common challenge for hikers. A sunny, clear sky can quickly turn into a sudden downpour, turning a pleasant hike into a damp ordeal. Wet clothes not only bring discomfort but can also lead to chills and blisters, hindering your mobility and enjoyment.

In such situations, a comfortable rain jacket becomes essential. It ensures you stay dry, comfortable, and mobile, allowing you to enjoy your hike regardless of the weather conditions.

But what makes one model a better option than other rain jackets?

In this guide, we’ll introduce you to our 12 favorite hiking rain jackets, why we think the Montbell Versalite is the best rain jacket on the market today, and what features you should consider before making your purchase.

Whether you want an affordable rain jacket, high-end rain jackets, a durable hardshell jacket or something lightweight, our list has something for everyone!

My Open Country Store Tee Banner Ad

At a Glance: Quick Recommendations

  • Editor’s Choice:  Montbell Versalite Jacket
    “This highly breathable and waterproof jacket is chock full of features, and it only weighs 6.4 ounces! “
  • Bargain Buy:  Patagonia Torrentshell 3L
    “The Torrentshell is a long-term favorite with hikers everywhere – and with good reason.”
  • Most Versatile:  Arc’teryx Zeta SL
    “A lightweight but very durable shell that offers outstanding weather resistance and looks great, too.”
  • Best Value Ultralight Jacket:  Outdoor Research Helium
    “Lightweight, very packable, and quite affordable, this is ideal for ultralight backpacking on a budget.”
  • Best for Summer Day Trips:  Patagonia Houdini Air
    “At 4.1 ounces, this is a no-brainer backup option for fair-weather hikers.”
  • Best Mobility:  Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 Stretch
    “A technical hardshell and lightweight rain shell all wrapped up in one stretchy package.”
  • Most Breathable:  Enlightened Equipment Visp
    “Low weight and high breathability make this one stand out from the pack.”
  • Best for Alpine Hikes:  Ultimate Direction Ultra
    “This shell has integrated rainproof mittens and is one of the lightest on the list, we think that says a lot.”
  • Best Value Gore-Tex:  REI Co-op Drypoint
    “You could pay almost twice as much for a shell with all the features this has.”
  • Best Budget Shell :  REI Co-op XeroDry Gore-Tex
    “Good thing this has lots of pockets – you’re gonna need them to store all that money you saved buying it!”
  • Best Value:  Marmot Precip Eco
    “This classic, packable shell from Marmot is updated with recycled materials and loads of color options.”
  • Best for Winter Hiking:  Montbell Storm Cruiser
    “The Cruiser excels in high-intensity activities when the weather just plain sucks.”

Which is the best packable rain jacket?

With years of experience testing outdoor gear on the trails, we’ve updated our shortlist to the following best rain jackets of 2024. This year, our testers put over 30 jackets through their paces in various locations, from the Hoh River Trail in the Pacific Northwest to the English Lake District. The list below are their top picks.

  • Montbell Versalite
  • Patagonia Torrentshell 3L
  • Arc’teryx Zeta SL
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
  • Patagonia Houdini Air
  • Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 Stretch
  • Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket
  • Ultimate Direction Ultra
  • REI Co-op Drypoint GTX
  • REI Co-op XeroDry
  • Marmot Precip Eco Jacket
  • Montbell Storm Cruiser Jacket

Montbell Versalite

Editor’s Choice

Weight: 6.4 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: GORE-TEX INFINIUM™ WINDSTOPPER® waterproof-breathable membrane ⸱ HH: 30,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 43,000 g/m²/24hr

The Montbell Versalite is one of the very best rain jackets for backpacking and hiking available. This is why it has earned our Editor’s Choice award for lightweight rain jackets. The Gore-Tex Infinium fabric is ultralight, packable, and ultra-breathable. The Versatile also comes loaded with features, including pit zips, and still weighs less than 7 ounces!

With a four-way adjustable hood, you’ll stay cozy and warm while still being able to see your surroundings. The hook-and-loop tab that adjusts hood brim height doubles as a way to roll up and secure the hood, too. This helps when you’re hiking in light rain – you won’t overheat and the hood also won’t collect water for a total bummer of a surprise when you put it on again.

With an MVTR of 43,000, this waterproof jacket is seriously breathable, so you won’t overheat when hiking hard. It also comes with all the right features: hook and loop wrist cuffs, hip-belt-compatible chest pockets, and an internal hem adjuster.

With all these features for less than 7 ounces, Montbell hit the bull’s eye with this one.

  • PROs

    • Very breathable
    • Very waterproof
    • Surprisingly competitive price
    • Pit zips
    • Comes with a stuff sack
    • Has 2 chest pockets
  • CONs

    • Not the most durable
    • Doesn’t pack into its own pocket

Bottom-Line: Weighing less than 7 ounces and full of features, this is our favorite lightweight and breathable rain jacket.

Patagonia Torrentshell 3L

Bargain Buy

Weight: 14.1 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: Waterproof/breathable H2No® Performance Standard 3-layer ⸱ HH: 20,000mm ⸱ MVTR: 12,000 g/m2/24h

The Patagonia Torrentshell is our top pick for hikers who want solid weather protection at an affordable price, even if that means carrying a few extra ounces in weight.

At 14.1 ounces, this is the heaviest jacket we tested. Nevertheless, we decided to include it on our list as an alternative for buyers put off by the lofty price tags associated with lighter models.

The Torrentshell’s 3-layer construction combines a H2No waterproof membrane sandwiched between tough, 50-denier face fabric and a tricot liner. In layman’s terms, this means you get robust waterproofing, well-above-average ruggedness, and soft fabric against the skin.

Unlike many lower-cost jackets, which all too often feel like flappy trash bags with arms, the Torrentshell has a trim, tailored-feeling and athletic fit that leaves very little fabric to flail in the wind. There’s also a drawcord hood and drawcord hem that let you quickly fine-tune the fit when you’re on the move. The face fabric is a little crinkly and noisy, but this isn’t a major shortcoming and a pair of pit zips can help you dump heat whenever needed.

The Torrentshell isn’t the most breathable jacket we tested, so isn’t the best option if you’ll be hiking hard and fast. However, its reliable waterproofing and reasonable pricing make it an attractive choice if you don’t want to splurge on an ultralight performance jacket.

What Others Thought

  • Ben Applebaum-Bauch and Ian Nicholson, Outdoor Gear Lab: “Great for those on a budget.”
  • John Ellings, Switchback Travel: “…offers excellent protection and durability.”
  • Adventure Alan & Co: “….(costs) literally hundreds of dollars less than most 3-layer hardshell rain jackets with the same features.”
  • PROs

    • Fairly priced
    • Solid waterproofing
    • Trim fit
    • Pit zips
    • PFC-free
  • CONs

    • A little short on breathability

Bottom-Line: Less breathable than other options on our list and not the lightest jacket out there, but perfect for buyers keen to keep costs to a minimum without compromising on stormworthiness.

Arc’teryx Zeta SL

Most Versatile

Weight: 10.9 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: Gore-Tex New PacLite Plus ⸱ HH: 28,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 15,000 g/m²/24hr

The Zeta SL (click here for women’s version, a contender for the best women’s rain jacket) performed well across every category we tested, so we had to give it the award for most versatile rain jacket.

This jacket stands out in durability, waterproofing, and fit.

It’s made with 40d ripstop nylon face fabric – the thickest face fabric used in any of the jackets we reviewed. Even though the fabric is so thick, it is still reasonably light.

The Zeta SL has a trim fit, yet it doesn’t sacrifice mobility. The articulated fit and gusseted underarms ensure there’s plenty of freedom of movement without leaving excess fabric to flap around in the wind. it has just enough room to ensure maximum mobility.

Our testers were also impressed by the Zeta SL’s hood, even though it’s not helmet-compatible. It can be adjusted at multiple points, has a stout brim, and doesn’t block peripheral vision tightened snug around your head. The soft chin guard also prevents chafing.

Yes, this jacket is pretty pricey (it’s the most expensive on this list), but we think it’s worth the price. With the Zeta SL, you’ll get great performance across all categories and you’ll look good into the bargain. One of the most well-rounded rain jackets out there.

What Others Thought

  • Michael Lanza, The Big Outside: “…strikes a balance between performance, low weight, and packability in a rain shell ideal for backpackers and dayhikers.”
  • Dave Collins, Clever Hiker: “…a very well-balanced jacket for backpackers looking to shave weight but still stay dry in nasty conditions.”
  • PROs

    • Highly waterproof
    • Articulated design
    • Durable 40d face fabric
    • Adjustable cuffs and hood
  • CONs

    • Expensive
    • No pit zips
    • No chest pocket

Bottom-Line: A durable, highly waterproof, and great-fitting jacket. It performs well enough all-around to justify its high price.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket

Best Value Ultralight Jacket

Weight: 6.3 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: Pertex® Shield Diamond Fuse 2.5 layer ⸱ HH: 20,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 20,000 g/m²/24hr

The Outdoor Research Helium (click here for women’s version) is an ultralight rain jacket without a huge price tag. This is one of the lightest rain jackets we tested and the least expensive in the sub-7-ounce category.

In testing, it held up well in storms and breathed surprisingly well. A few of our testers even remarked that it worked well as a wind-blocker when needed. While not as stormproof as some of the Gore-Tex models on our list, its combo of a solid waterproof rating, high MVTR, and minimal heft make it a great just-in-case or summer rain jacket.

The Helium also excels in packability, packing away into its own chest pocket ready when not in use and taking up hardly any room in your backpack.

The Helium isn’t as durable as some other jackets on our list, or as breathable. And, it only has one pocket. But, this is a minimalist model made for ultralight hikers, backpackers, trail runners, and climbers. And when you’re counting grams while trying to save cash for ramen noodles, who cares about pockets?

What Others Thought

  • John Ellings, Switchback Travel: “…a true ultralight shell at a very reasonable price.”
  • Philip Werner, Section Hiker: “…a good choice for warmer weather trips where gear weight is a priority.”
  • Michael Lanza, The Big Outside:”…excellent performance for a shell weighing under 12 ounces.”
  • PROs

    • Lightweight
    • Packable
    • Affordable
    • Lots of color choices
    • Waterproof zippers
  • CONs

    • Not very breathable
    • Only 1 pocket
    • Non-adjustable cuffs

Bottom-Line: The best ultralight rain jacket on a budget: this is the least-expensive sub-7-ounce waterproof rain jacket you’re going to find that’s still reasonably durable.

Patagonia Houdini Air

Best for Summer Day Trips

Weight: 4.1 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: DWR coated ⸱ HH: N/A ⸱ MVTR: N/A

Okay, the Houdini Air is not quite a waterproof shell. But, it is on the more weather-resistant end of the wind jacket spectrum and weighs next to nothing. There are certainly more outright weather-resistant options in this review, but we decided to include this one since it’s so darn light and offers reasonable rain protection.

The Houdini Air does a good job in light rain and is the perfect jacket to throw in your pack on a nice summer day just in case. It packs down so small you’ll have more of an issue finding it in your pack than feeling the weight on your back.

The thin nylon shell fabric with durable water-repellent coating will be just enough to protect you from quick showers. And, the inside of that fabric is textured, so if you’re working hard it won’t give you that clammy next-to-skin feel.

What Others Thought

  • Trey French, Treeline Review: “…perfectly balances packability and lightweight alongside durability and wind resistance in most situations.”
  • REI: “…a one-quiver wonder for fickle-weather adventures.”
  • Dave Wilkinson, Switchback Travel: “…perfectly serviceable for fending off light precipitation, but it’s not built for heavy or sustained storms.”
  • PROs

    • Ultralight
    • Packable
    • Comfortable
    • Stylish
  • CONs

    • Not fully waterproof

Bottom-Line: This isn’t a backpacking rain jacket per se, but will give you a surprising amount of protection from an unforeseen shower or two. Being so light, you have no reason not to throw it in your pack.

Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 Stretch

Best Mobility

Weight: 13.7 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: GORE-TEX Paclite stretch fabric ⸱ HH: 28,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 15,000 g/m²/24hr

The Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 Stretch is a great rain jacket for hikers and backpackers who prioritize comfort and mobility. It its somewhere between a standard rain jacket and a technical hardshell, and most of our testers agreed that it delivers the best of both worlds.

Sure, it could be more breathable and lacks pit zips, but the 2.5-layer GORE-TEX Paclite material does a decent job regulating heat. And while not as durable as a true hardshell, the Exposure/2 is leaps and bounds ahead of some of even the best ultralight rain jackets on this list in terms of toughness.

The Exposure/2 is a solid hiking rain jacket. For activities like backcountry skiing or winter mountaineering, you’d be better off with a true three-layer hardshell. But for those who want one rain jacket to do it all, this is a great option.

What Others Thought

  • Katie Kommer, The Trek: “…a great rain jacket…my favorite morning and wind-breaking layer.”
  • Hayley Helms and Kyle Porter, Gear Patrol: “…perfect for stashing in a backpack when the forecast isn’t confirmed.”
  • Jack Cramer, Outdoor Gear Lab: “…a great rain jacket, but we don’t feel like its performance is high enough for technical hardshell applications.”
  • PROs

    • One of the most comfortable rain jackets out there
    • Great fit
    • Hipbelt-compatible pockets
    • Doubles as a technical hardshell
    • Helmet-compatible hood
    • High waterproof rating
  • CONs

    • Heavier than most ultralight rain jackets
    • Hood could be better
    • A bit clammy in higher temps

Bottom-Line: Half technical hardshell and half lightweight rain jacket – what’s not to love?

Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket

Most Breathable

Weight: 5.4 oz.  ⸱ Waterproofing: 3-layer 7D ripstop nylon ⸱ HH: 20,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 75,000 g/m²/24hr

The Enlightened Equipment Visp is an ultralight 3-layer waterproof-breathable rain shell that’s ideal for those who like to travel fast and light. It’s breathable enough that it can be used as a wind shell and is the lightest model on our list that comes with pit zips.

The Visp uses a 20,000mm waterproof and breathable membrane with 7d nylon ripstop face fabric. Though highly breathable, our testers didn’t think it’s twice as breathable as any other item on this list – that 75,000 g/m²/24hr breathability rating is certainly a result of extremely controlled laboratory settings! Nevertheless, it performed well in higher temps and when working up a sweat.

This rain shell could be more waterproof, though, and you’ll want to reapply a DWR coating regularly to keep it from wetting out. There’s also no chest pocket and the fabric is too skinny to guarantee longevity. But for under six ounces with pit zips, this seems like a small price to pay.

What Others Thought

  • Adventure Alan & Co: “A great ultralight option that has plenty of breathability and still keeps you dry.”
  • Philip Werner, Section Hiker: “…has a surprisingly rich feature set despite its light weight.”
  • Andrew Marshall, Backpacking Light: “…made with high-performance fabrics at a low weight, and at a reasonable price.”
  • PROs

    • Really light
    • One of the most breathable jackets out there
    • Comes with pit zips
    • Doubles as a wind-stopper
    • Affordable
    • Hood compatible with climbing or bike helmet
  • CONs

    • 7d ripstop nylon face fabric isn’t the most durable
    • Could be more stormproof
    • No chest pocket

Bottom-Line: One of the lightest, most breathable jackets available and surprisingly affordable.

Ultimate Direction Ultra

Best for Alpine Hikes

Weight: 6.6 oz. ⸱Waterproofing: 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable laminate ⸱ HH: 30,000mm ⸱MVTR: 30,000 g/m²/24hr

The Ultimate Direction Ultra is a featherlight waterproof-breathable rain jacket deisgned for trail running, backpacking, and fast-and-light hiking.

This ultralight, ultra-packable backpacking rain jacket comes full of features that make it well-suited for those high-alpine pursuits when you don’t know what the weather will do next.

The Ultra is highly breathable and waterproof, but what makes it stand out is its array of well-designed features. Firstly, it has peristaltic underarm vents. This is most certainly over-fancy marketing jargon, but in real-world testing, we can assure you these permanently open-pit vents work.

This ultralight running rain jacket also has stowable waterproof mitts. When it gets cold, wet, or both, just pull the mitts out and over your hands to keep them warm. Our testers unanimously loved this feature, which could save you having to carry a pair gloves in warmer weather.

What Others Thought

  • Philip Werner, Section Hiker: “…a lightweight rain jacket than can serve double duty as a wind shirt.”
  • Claire Maxted, Advnture: “We really like this jacket and love the Flip Mitts feature.”
  • PROs

    • Peristaltic pit vents
    • Stowable waterproof mitts
    • Very breathable
    • Packable
    • Lightweight
  • CONs

    • Thinner fabric needs to be babied
    • No storm flaps on zippers

Bottom-Line: With stowable flip mitts, peristaltic pit vents, and loads of other features, it’s no wonder this ultralight and ultra-breathable jacket is so popular with ultrarunners.

REI Co-op Drypoint GTX

Best Value GORE-TEX Jacket

Weight: 10.5 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: Gore-Tex Active ⸱ HH: 28,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 25,000 g/m²/24hr

The REI Drypoint GTX is a lightweight, highly functional, and cozy shell that offers great value to hikers who want robust weather protection without paying through the nose. With its 3-layer Gore-Tex construction, this is technically a hardshell, but it’s still light enough to be considered in the rain jacket class.

The weather protection you’ll get with this one is impressive. It will keep you dry in even the heaviest downpours without even a hint of clamminess. Gore-Tex Active is the most breathable fabric made by the company, so you’ll be able to wear the Drypoint while hiking with a fully loaded pack without overheating.

The Drypoint doesn’t come with pit zips, but the front hipbelt-compatible pockets double as vents. Complete with a solid, fully adjustable hood, the Drypoint comes with just the right amount of features to be functional. And, it does this while keeping the price affordable.

What Others Thought

  • Maggie Slepian, The Trek: “…lightweight and comfortable to wear while moving for extended periods of time.”
  • Ian Nicholson, Outdoor Gear Lab: “…an excellent jacket for hiking or backpacking.”
  • PROs

    • Breathable
    • Stormproof waterproof membrane
    • Affordable for Gore-Tex
  • CONs

    • No pit zips
    • No packable features

Bottom-Line: You’re not going to find a more capable hardshell in this price range.

REI Co-op XeroDry

Best Budget Rain Jacket

Weight: 12.5 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: 2-layer GORE-TEX  ⸱ HH: 28,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 15,000 g/m²/24hr

The XeroDry GTX is one of the best value Gore-Tex rain shells you’ll find anywhere. This shell provides exceptional waterproofing and breathability at a steep discount compared to other Gore-Tex Paclite offerings available. While you can find a lighter or more breathable shell, it would be difficult to buy a more versatile one for even close to this price.

The XeroDry comes with 3 pockets, and the hand pockets double as vents. It has a fully adjustable hood that allows you to maintain your peripheral vision while hiking.

It does have some downsides, though. We would’ve liked to see pit zips, but at least there is some ventilation via the chest pocket and hand pockets. We also found, however, that the interior can get a little clammy and it tends to wet out faster than more expensive 3-layer Gore-Tex models.

Given the price, however, it’s hard to quibble with these small shortcomings.

What Others Thought

  • Rebecca Yaguda, Switchback Travel: “REI’s Gore-Tex-equipped rain shell is yet another great value from the brand.”
  • Kurt Spurlock, The Wise Adventurer: “…an industry leader when it comes to value.”
  • PROs

    • Incredible price for Gore-Tex
    • Good weather protection
    • Waterproof-breathable fabric
    • Well designed hood
    • Weight
    • Packability
  • CONs

    • Breathability
    • No pit zips

Bottom-Line: One of the best budget rain jackets out there. Has the same features as many more expensive shells.

Marmot Precip Eco Jacket

Best Value Rain Jacket

Weight: 10.6 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: NanoPro™ Eco 100% Recycled Nylon Ripstop ⸱ HH: 10,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 17,500 g/m²/24hr

The Precip Eco is an inexpensive rain jacket that’s great to stash in your pack when there is a chance of showers.

Weighing in at 10.6 ounces and packable into its own pocket, the Precip is a lightweight and highly portable jacket. Marmot has made the Precip for close to 20 years, but they’ve updated it to include 100% recycled ripstop nylon in the construction, so it’s a more durable option than some of the lighter models we tested.

This is the perfect jacket for travel or moderate day hikes when you don’t expect a biblical downpour. It’s not the most breathable, but it does have pit zips.

While there are certainly more functional waterproof jackets out there, for the price this is hard to beat.

What Others Thought

  • Ian Nicholson, Outdoor Gear Lab: “…packs quite a punch for its price tag.”
  • Philip Werner, Section Hiker: “…inexpensive but fully featured and suitable for year-round hiking and backpacking.”
  • Amanda Jameson, Treeline Review: “…a reliable standby hiking rain jacket available in relatively inclusive sizing.”
  • PROs

    • Pit zips
    • Lots of color choices
    • Lightweight
    • Packable
    • Great Value
  • CONs

    • Not very breathable
    • Baggy fit

Bottom-Line: A far more functional and protective option than most jackets in this price range.

Montbell Storm Cruiser Jacket

Best for Winter Hiking

Weight: 10 oz. ⸱ Waterproofing: 3-layer GORE® C-KNIT Backer Technology, 20-denier Ballistic ripstop nylon with DWR finish ⸱ HH: 50,000 mm ⸱ MVTR: 35,000 g/m²/24hr

The Montbell Storm Cruiser is lightweight, full of features, and offers great storm resistance. Using Gore-Tex with a C-knit backer, this is one of the most breathable and waterproof jackets on this list and ideal for winter adventures.

While stats aren’t the be-all-and-end all, the Storm Cruiser’s high HH and MVTR piqued our interest. In testing, we found it lived up to the numbers, keeping the first of our testers (yours truly) dry in a biblical downpour on the Hoh River Trail and the second happy through a week-long hiking trip in northern Scotland, where pelting precipitation is the norm rather than the exception.

The Storm Cruiser’s textured backing doesn’t feel clammy against your bare skin and the pit zips come in handy when you crank up the pace, too. And if the sun is shining, this jacket packs down into the tiny included stuff sack. If you want to keep it on for some extra warmth, you can roll down the hood and keep it out of the way with the hook-and-loop tab.

Unlike other lightweight shells, this one can take the abuse of constant use, too. It uses 20d outer fabric, which is much thicker than some lightweight jackets.

This is one of the more expensive options you’ll find on this list. But, we think it’s worth the price if you’re looking for a reliable and durable shell for winter hiking.

What Others Thought

  • Philip Werner, Section Hiker: “…loaded with features but still exceptionally lightweight and affordable.”
  • Mac, Halfway Anywhere:”…a high-performance rain jacket with all the features you need for a successful time in the wet outdoors.”
  • PROs

    • Stormproof
    • Ultra-breathable
    • Pit zips
    • Packable
    • Lightweight
  • CONs

    • Expensive
    • Crinkly fabric can be loud
    • No chest pocket

Bottom-Line: Though this premium rain jacket is expensive, we think it’s worth the price for a dependable shell designed for active pursuits. 

Lightweight Rain Jacket Comparison Table

Product NameWaterproofingHH (mm)MVTR (g/m²/24hr)Weight
Montbell VersaliteGORE-TEX INFINIUM™ WINDSTOPPER®30,00043,0006.4 oz.
Patagonia Torrentshell 3LWaterproof/breathable H2No® Performance Standard 3-layer20,00012,00014.1 oz.
Arc’teryx Zeta SLGore-Tex New PacLite Plus28,00015,00010.9 oz.
Outdoor Research Helium Rain JacketPertex® Shield Diamond Fuse 2.5 layer20,00020,0006.3 oz.
Patagonia Houdini AirDWR coatedN/AN/A4.1 oz.
Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 StretchGORE-TEX Paclite stretch fabric28,00015,00013.7 oz.
Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket3-layer 7D ripstop nylon20,00075,0005.4 oz.
Ultimate Direction Ultra2.5-layer waterproof/breathable laminate30,00030,0006.6 oz.
REI Co-Op Drypoint GTXGore-Tex Active28,00025,00010.5 oz.
REI Co-Op XeroDry2-layer GORE-TEX28,00015,00012.5 oz.
Marmot Precip Eco JacketNanoPro™ Eco 100% Recycled Nylon Ripstop10,00017,50010.6 oz.
Montbell Storm Cruiser Jacket3-layer GORE® C-KNIT Backer Technology, 20-denier Ballistic ripstop nylon with DWR finish50,00035,00010 oz.

Top Choices by Category

Most waterproof: Montbell Versalite, Montbell Storm Cruiser, and Ultimate Direction Ultra
Best for breathability: Enlightened Equipment Visp, Montbell Versalite, and Montbell Storm Cruiser
Lightest: Patagonia Houdini Air, Enlightened Equipment Visp, Outdoor Research Helium, Montbell Versalite, and Ultimate Direction Ultra

How to Choose a Rain Jacket?

When searching for the perfect rain jacket, there’s a lot to consider. In truth, however, you just have to figure out what you want your jacket to do for you, then find the jacket that does all those things within your budget. 

If you’re going backpacking on the Appalachian Trail during the rainy season you’ll probably want a more durable rain jacket with high levels of waterproofing. On the other hand, if you’re going out in the California desert you can probably get away with a more lightweight, minimalist shell since you likely won’t be needing it much. 

We’ve broken down some considerations below.

  • Waterproofing
  • Breathability
  • Ventilation
  • Mobility
  • Weight & Packability
  • Durability
  • Features


A rain jacket’s most important job is to keep you dry. No matter what the activity, that’s why you wear it. You can have the most breathable or lightest rain jacket in the world, but if it doesn’t keep you dry then what’s the point?

Water beading up on the outside of a black rain jacket
The fabric of a rain jacket’s main job is to keep you dry

There are many different waterproof fabrics and treatments used in rain jacket construction, and we’ll go through some of the most common below. But first, we want to touch on the method used to rate the waterproofing qualities of a fabric, Hydrostatic Head

Hydrostatic Head 

Hydrostatic head is the standard way of measuring how waterproof a fabric is. The measurement is given in millimeters and measures how high a column of water on the fabric can be before the water starts to penetrate the fabric. This is pretty technical, I know. Think of it this way: the higher the number, the more waterproof the fabric will be. 

Generally, fabrics in the range of 16,000-20,000 mm (EE Visp, Marmot Precip Eco, OR Helium) tend to be adequate for all but the most torrential downpours. Above 20,000 mm (Montbell Storm Cruiser, Arc’teryx Zata SL, Montbell Versatile, REI Drypoint, REI XeroDry, MH Exposure/2, Ultimate Direction Ultra) is only necessary for extremely heavy rain – think extended heavy rainfall with strong winds. 

DWR-Coated Fabrics

DWR (durable water repellent) is a treatment applied to the outside of rain gear during manufacturing. This makes the water bead up when rain lands on your jacket and allows it to shed that moisture, thus preventing saturation. 

If your garment doesn’t shed moisture adequately, it will feel colder, heavier, and won’t be as waterproof until it dries. Both nylon and polyester are hydrophobic, but if they aren’t DWR-treated the jacket will eventually “wet out”.

Water beading on material surface due to DWR treatment
Water beading on the material surface due to DWR treatment

DWR-coated fabrics do require some maintenance. They need regular cleaning with tech wash to help refresh the DWR coating. You’ll also want to apply a new DWR coating to your breathable rain jacket when it starts to saturate with water. DWR sprays are best for this because they only deposit the waterproof coating on the outside of the jacket. 


Breathability is important when working hard in stormy weather. The more active you’ll be, the more you’ll need breathability. What’s the point in keeping you dry from wet conditions only to make you soaked in your own sweat? Breathability allows your jacket to “dump heat” as your body warms up during exercise. It’s as simple as that. 

Man sitting on cliff edge in rain jacket holding climbing ropes
Breathability of a fabric is important when doing high output activities such as climbing

Breathability ratings are often determined by material manufacturers. These ratings, called moisture vapor transmission rates (MVTR), are measured in grams per square meter over 24 hours (g/m²/24hr). Basically, MVTR attempts to measure how much moisture can pass through a fabric. 

What really matters here is real-world application, so it’s best to read these numbers skeptically. They will give you a general sense of how breathable a fabric is, though. The higher the number, the more breathable a fabric will likely be.

There are some extremely high MVTR ratings on some of these jackets. You’ll see ratings ranging from 15,000 (Zeta SL, REI XeroDry) to 75,000 (Enlightened Equipment Visp) here. But what is most important are real-world results, not lab tests. 

For high-output activities, look for breathability from 20,000 to 30,000+ g/m²/24hr. For general hiking, 12,500 to 20,000 g/m²/24 hr should be sufficient.


Ventilation is often considered in conjunction with breathability. Because, when your body builds up heat, you can open your jacket for mechanical venting. This is a 100% reliable way to cool off when you’re working hard. 

Ventilation comes in the form of armpit zips, side zippers, core vents, mesh pockets, the main zipper, or other various ventilation holes built into a jacket. They’re all useful to increase airflow and cool you down. And they allow some moisture to escape so that the breathable membrane won’t have to work as hard. 

Woman wearing red rain jacket with hands in air looking over a lake
Ventilation is important to avoid excessive sweating

Pit zips, which can be used even when it’s raining, will allow more moisture and heat to escape than any other type of ventilation.


Mobility refers to how easy it is to move around in a jacket. When hiking, mobility isn’t as critical a consideration as it is for climbing, but it’s still important for general comfort. 

Look for rain jackets with mobility-enhancing features like articulated arms, underarm gussets, and an adjustable hem and hood. Stretch fabric like that used in the MH Exposure/2 is the crème de la crème. If you’re in between sizes we recommend sizing up, then you’ll have room to move and options for layering underneath your outer shell.

Weight & Packability

Lightweight wet-weather clothing is important since you’ll be carrying it on your back when it isn’t raining. We tested products ranging from 4.1 to 14.1 ounces in this roundup. So while nothing in this review is particularly heavy, there is still a wide range in weight represented. 

If you’re backpacking, alpine climbing, or riding your bike across the country, weight should be one of your primary concerns. 

People walking up a hill in rain gear
The ideal weight of a rain jacket will vary depending on the activity you plan to do in it

While weight savings are important, you shouldn’t skimp on protection. What’s the point of carrying waterproof gear all that time if it doesn’t do what you need it to do when needed?

The lightest model in our review is the Patagonia Houdini Air (4.1 oz.), which relies on a DWR coating for weather resistance. The lightest of the rain shells is the Outdoor Research Helium, which weighs 6.3 oz and offers good enough waterproofing for 3-season hiking.

Packability refers to how small your jacket scrunches up when packed in your backpack. For multi-day backpacking trips, this is more important than for day hikes. Ideally, you want a jacket that packs into its own pocket or a small stuff sack and takes up as little room as possible. The smaller your jacket, the more room you’ll have for other goodies! 


Durability is especially important for hikes with a lot of bushwhacking or scrambling, or for other high-abrasion activities. So, if you’re going to be putting your jacket through a lot of abuse, get a durable one. Generally, this means jackets made with 20d or thicker ripstop outer fabric. 

Wearing a rain jacket with a backpack often will cause the outer fabric to wear out faster on top of your shoulders. And the DWR will wear off quickest where the backpack rubs, too.

Man standing in rain with rain jacket on and holding the straps of his backpack
The outer fabric and any DWR coating will wear out more quickly anywhere a backpack rubs against your jacket

The most durable jacket we tested was the Montbell Storm Cruiser, which is made with 20d ballistic ripstop nylon. This fabric is tough enough to deal with serious abuse and should last the best part of a hiking career with proper care. The least durable was the Patagonia Houdini Air, which is unlikely to survive too many clashes with rock or branches unscathed.


Last but not least is features: a catch-all category of everything you’ll want to look for in a rain jacket. This includes pockets, hood adjustability, closures, and chin protectors. 


Zippered hand pockets have a high utility, but many of the best ultralight rain jackets don’t have them. They do add weight, after all. Consider if you use the pockets on a rain jacket while hiking. If you don’t, you can go without them and save some weight. If you do, look for water-resistant zippers to ensure no rain sneaks in when you’re not using them. 

Often, hand pockets aren’t accessible if using a backpack with a hip belt. Even worse, the zipper pull might dig into your hips under your hip belt. Many of the ultralight jackets on this list are hip-belt compatible, but not all of them. 

Hood Adjustability

Make sure your hood has a cinch cord that wraps around the crown of the head. Ideally, it will have at least 2 adjustment points, but 3 is better. You want a hood that’s fully adjustable to ensure it doesn’t block your peripheral vision. 

Man in the rain holding his hood up so he can see
Ideally get a hood that has a built-in wired peak

Look for a good bill (aka ‘wired peak’), too. It will keep water from dripping onto your face. 

Closures (Cuffs, Waist, Neck)

Closures will ultimately dictate how well you can batten down the hatches with a jacket. Because when it’s pouring down, you’ll want to tighten your sleeves, hood, and waist hem to stay as dry as possible. And when things warm up, you can release those hatches to let in a little air. For this reason, adjustable closures (adjustable hem, neck, and cuffs) are the way to go.

Chin protector

Finally, does the jacket you’re considering have a chin protector and wicking fabric? Because if it doesn’t you might end up with some chafing on your chin!

Best Rain Jackets: The Verdict

Looking for a true all-rounder that won’t weigh down your pack when not in use? If so, the ultralight Montbell Versatile’s our top pick.

Need a reliable rain-blocker that won’t break the bank? The tried-and-true REI Co-op XeroDry and Groundbreaker are solid options if breathability isn’t a high priority.

Using your jackets for high-output hiking, trail running, or ski-touring? If so, the ultra-breathable Enlightened Equipment Visp is the shell for you!

We hope you enjoyed our guide to the best lightweight jackets for hiking and backpacking. 

What did you think of our recommendations? Leave a comment below if you have any questions or if we missed your favorite! As always feel free to share this article with friends and family looking to upgrade their hiking wardrobe.

Last update on 2024-04-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

My Open Country Store Tee Banner Ad
Sam Schild Avatar

Sam Schild spends most of his time outside. On any given day he's either backpacking, bikepacking, trail running, or thinking about the next time he’ll get out there.

He has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the Colorado Trail, among countless other shorter trips. He has logged over 10,000 miles bike touring all over the United States, too.

When he’s not out on a trail somewhere, you can find him cruising on his bike or drinking coffee on a patio in Denver, Colorado.

Email - Linkedin - Instagram - Personal Website

Leave a Comment