The Best Backpacking Rain Jackets for Thru-Hiking of 2022
Your rain jacket may not be the most thrilling piece of your backpacking kit, but it’s pretty darn important. Sure, it might stay stuffed in your pack during the dry parts of the trail, but once the rainy section hits, you’ll be glad to deploy this critical piece of gear. The best rain jackets for thru-hiking will protect you from the wind and help keep your core warm when the temperature drops. Your ideal rain gear will fit comfortably and have a good balance of features, breathability, and weight.
Best Rain Jackets for Thru-Hiking: Quick Navigation
- Outdoor Research Helium | Most Durable Ultralight
- Montbell Versalite | Best Fully Featured Lightweight Rain Jacket
- Enlightened Equipment Visp |Best Fit and Coverage
- Arc’teryx Zeta SL | Most Stormworthy
- Patagonia Torrentshell | Most Durable
- Zpacks Vertice | Best Ultralight / Most Breathable
- Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite² | Best Budget Rain Jacket
- Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket | Best Permanently Waterproof Jacket
- Marmot PreCip Eco | Best for Beginners
The Best Rain Jackets for Thru-Hiking of 2022
Outdoor Research Helium Men’s | Women’s (Most Durable Ultralight Rain Jacket)
Weight*: 6.3 ounces (men’s) | 5.6 ounces (women’s)
*All weights in this list are based on a size medium unless otherwise specified.
This jacket was perfect for the PCT. It packs down tiny and is incredibly light (I wear an XS and it weighs 5.25 ounces), but at no compromise to the protection it offers. It kept me dry through some gnarly high Sierra thunderstorms and also got the job done through some perpetually wet days in Oregon and Washington. I’m not a big fan/proponent of hiking in rain gear because it gets so hot, but the Helium is very effectively breathable. I won’t be swapping it out for something else on the Colorado Trail this summer. Bonus points for so many color options. –Anne Baker
Materials and Features
Montbell Versalite Men’s | Women’s (Best Fully Featured Lightweight Rain Jacket)
Weight: 6.4 ounces (men’s) | 5.8 ounces (women’s)
Materials and Features
Enlightened Equipment Visp Men’s | Women’s (Best Fit and Coverage)
Weight: 5.95 ounces (men’s) | 5.34 ounces (women’s)
Enlightened Equipment continues to up the cottage-industry apparel game with this sub-six-ounce rain jacket. Reasonably priced, featherlight, and with EE’s option to customize the color, this rain jacket is a thru-hiker’s dream. The Visp is built with three layers, including a soft lining to avoid the clammy rain jacket feel, lightweight 7D ripstop nylon, and an ePTFE membrane for the coveted combo of being waterproof while still breathable. This is one of the lowest denier face fabrics, and while it’s still durable, we recommend keeping an eye on potentially abrasive off-trail areas. The jacket has a longer hem to allow water to drip, a deep hood, and yes… it’s made in the US. –Maggie Slepian
Materials and Features
Arc’Teryx Zeta SL Men’s | Women’s (Most Stormworthy Backpacking Rain Jacket)
Weight: 10.9 ounces (men’s) | 9.5 ounces (women’s)
The Arc’Teryx Zeta SL (superlight) is built with an ultra-tough 40D face fabric and GoreTex Paclite Plus membrane and is a killer combo of durable, packable, and breathable. It is one of the more expensive on the list, and while you’re getting a high-quality piece of gear, you’re also paying in part for the name brand. The jacket does not come with pit zips, so extra sweaty hikers might want to look for another model, but the next-to-skin feel is softer than other comparable jackets. This isn’t the lightest jacket on the list, but for hikers anticipating rough trails and rough weather, the Zeta SL’s rugged durability, resilient waterproofness, and excellent build quality deliver. –Editors
Materials and Features
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Men’s | Women’s (Most Durable Backpacking Rain Jacket)
Weight: 13.9 ounces (men’s) | 12.5 ounces (women’s)
Very reasonably priced and a classic option for thru-hikers, the Torrentshell uses Patagonia’s proprietary H2No Performance membrane, which isn’t quite as breathable as some of the other options out there, but the venting pit zips take some pressure off the membrane. This jacket has a medium fit that’s ideal for layering and an adjustable hood that allows adequate visibility. Be aware that the construction of the hand pockets can allow water to seep in during heavy rain, so if you’re heading to a particularly wet trail, this might not be the best option.
The latest version of this classic rain jacket, the Torrentshell 3L, has been updated with three-layer construction. This makes the new jacket more breathable, more durable, but also heavier and more expensive, than previous 2.5-layer incarnations. At 14 ounces for a men’s medium, the Torrentshell is pushing the envelope in terms of how much weight a typical thru-hiker is willing to heft. But this jacket is famously comfortable, reasonably priced, and you shouldn’t need to baby it the way you would a paper-thin UL rain jacket. –Editors
Materials and Features
Zpacks Vertice Men’s | Women’s (Best Quality Ultralight)
Weight: 5.6 ounces (men’s) | 5.6 ounces (women’s)
A sub-six-ounce rain jacket that has pit zips, a chest pocket, and superb breathability? What the what? This jacket is on the more expensive end of the spectrum, but it’s significantly lighter than similarly priced offerings. At just 5.6 ounces for a men’s medium, it’s also the lightest jacket on this list—but while most ultralight rain jackets sacrifice features or durability (or both) in the name of shaving grams, the Vertice has classic features like pit zips and doesn’t feel like a paper bag when you put it on. —Editors
Materials and Features
The jacket is made with Zpacks’ proprietary Vertice fabric. This three-layer, ultralight material consists of a soft tricot inner lining, a scant 7d nylon face fabric with DWR finish, and a waterproof-breathable membrane in between. Per their website, Zpacks says the jacket “is thick enough to withstand light brush and abrasion,” but 7d nylon is still a very thin fabric so be prepared to baby your rain gear at least a little bit.
Have we mentioned the pit zips yet in relation to this jacket? Yes? OK well just to reiterate, there are pit zips and we’re excited about that fact. And waterproof zippers. The Vertice also features a deep, adjustable hood, an elasticized hem, and shock cord adjustable cuffs. The whole jacket can pack into its own roomy chest pocket, which is also carefully placed so that you can easily access it while strapped into your backpack.
Pros: Lightweight; breathable; packable; pit zips; chest pocket; adjustable cuffs and hood
Cons: Expensive; 7d face fabric is not the most durable
Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite² Men’s | Women’s (Best Budget Rain Jacket)
Weight: 5.8 oz (men’s small according to our reviewer)
They’re far from the fanciest rain jackets on the trail, but in a fashion environment dominated by ragged soccer shorts and thrift store shirts, insanely budget-friendly Frogg Toggs fit right in. They don’t have pit zips, waterproof zippers, or even pockets, but they’re waterproof enough to do the job, and the price is right. They aren’t very durable and can snag easily on sharp rocks and branches, but they’re perhaps not as delicate as popular opinion would have you believe: with a little extra care and a willingness to resort to occasional duct tape repair jobs, we’ve had a single set of ‘Toggs last some 1300 miles. (It’s worth noting that the Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite², despite being made of the same material as the jacket, somehow seem even more delicate and are very prone to ripping). —Kelly Floro
Materials and Features
Unlike most rain jackets, Frogg Toggs don’t rely on DWR as the first layer of defense against precipitation, which means you won’t experience the wet-out problems common with DWR jackets, and you won’t have to worry about periodically reapplying. Frogg Toggs can last over a thousand miles if you baby them, but they are fairly delicate and can easily snag or develop holes where your pack rubs the material, so you’ll have to baby them. Frogg Toggs have standard zippers, an adjustable (but floppy) hood, elastic cuffs, and no pockets. They do run large and the fit is fairly bulky.
Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket (Unisex | Best Permanently Waterproof Jacket)
Weight: 6 oz
Breathable rain jackets are great, but let’s face it: despite their best efforts, you’ll still end up drenched in sweat after a few hours. Breathable rain jackets also rely on a DWR finish on the face fabric to keep from wetting out, and that finish will eventually wear out and have to be reapplied. It’s hard not to feel, at times, like expensive “breathable” waterproof gear ends up being not really breathable and not really waterproof. So why bother with all that?
Lightheart Gear’s single-layer silpoly rain jacket is specifically non-breathable, but it’s fully and permanently waterproof, and it has pit zips to help with ventilation. The brand used to make their distinctive rain jackets from silnylon, but they’re currently phasing that material out in favor of more waterproof silpoly. The price-to-weight ratio of this jacket (a scant six ounces for only $110) is superb, thanks to this jacket’s straightforward, minimalist construction. If you’re intrigued by the single-layer rain jacket concept, Antigravity Gear makes a similar garment out of rugged 70D silnylon that’s also worth a look. -Editors
Materials and Features
Marmot PreCip Eco Men’s | Women’s (Best Rain Jacket for Beginner Backpackers)
Weight: 10.1 ounces (men’s) | 8.3 ounces (women’s)
The iconic Marmot PreCip is a thru-hiker favorite for a reason. It packs a lot of functionality into an affordable, 10-ounce package. And while it doesn’t win out in any one category—it’s neither the cheapest, nor the lightest, nor the best-performing—it performs at least moderately well in all categories and provides a nice balance of weight, price, and features. It’s ideal for newbie backpackers who would like to learn the ropes with a thoughtfully designed rainjacket that won’t break the bank. -Editors
Materials and Features
What to Look for in the Best Rain Jackets for Thru-Hiking
Your rain jacket shouldn’t weigh more than 12-14 ounces. Eight-10 ounces is ideal.
Your backpacking rain jacket should be a medium fit. You want to comfortably layer underneath it without sacrificing mobility, but it shouldn’t feel so big that it bunches up. Because this can be used as another layer to protect against cold, you don’t want to have to work harder to keep that microclimate warm. Look for a longer model with a drop waist to help rain runoff in the back, and also in case you want to sit down. At the very least, the jacket should be long enough that it doesn’t ride up under a hip belt.
The two main types of waterproofing are a PU laminate and an ePTFE membrane. Rain jackets built with a PU laminate are less expensive, but won’t be as breathable. Gore-Tex was the original user of the ePTFE membrane, which is waterproof and breathable. If you have the budget, look for mentions of GTX, eVent, or proprietary branding that utilizes ePTFE.
If possible, look for a jacket that uses a PFC-free DWR treatment. Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are industry-standard in durable water repellent (DWR) finishes, but they’re also toxic and persist for tens to hundreds of years in the environment.
Pit zips: Good for dumping heat while wearing it on the move, but not totally necessary.
Drawcord waist: Protect from splashing and keep your other layers (sort of) dry.
Adjustable cuffs: Same as the drawcord waist. Nothing’s worse than reaching up and having water pour down your sleeves. Look for elastic or Velcro closures.
Hood fit: This one can be tricky. You want the hood to be fitted and deep enough (with a brim) so the rain doesn’t sneak in, but you also don’t want to lose your peripheral vision. Make sure you can tighten the hood enough to turn your head and have the hood turn with you, not turn your head and be staring at the inside of the hood.
Sealed pockets: We don’t recommend keeping anything of value in your rain jacket pockets, but make sure the model has waterproof zippers… at the very least highly water-resistant.
The Best Thru-Hiking Rain Jackets: FAQs
Do I need rain pants for backpacking?
Not necessarily. Rain pants are deathly uncomfortable and inconvenient to put on / take off. As a result, many thru-hikers find that their rain pants sit untouched in the bottom of their packs until they finally get sick of the dead weight and mail them home. For light rain protection, a rain kilt is a more breathable alternative to pants.
You do want to carry rain pants if you anticipate potential cold weather, such as on winter backpacking trips, exposed high elevation trips where the weather can change on a dime, and early-season thru-hikes. In these scenarios, you’ll value the extra warmth and protection rain pants provide, because cold + wet = hypothermia, and you definitely don’t want that.
Can a hiking umbrella replace my rain jacket?
Hiking umbrellas pull double duty by shielding you from both rain and sun, and they’re well-ventilated and comfortable compared to stuffy, sweat-inducing rain jackets. On the flip side, they don’t perform well in high winds or on overgrown trails and won’t provide much protection against cold weather or swirling mist. On warm-weather hikes where you don’t anticipate a lot of rain, using an umbrella as standalone rain gear is a great way to save weight and stay comfortable. In more humid and/or colder environments, most hikers stick with traditional rain gear and, at most, carry an umbrella as a supplement to their rain jackets.
Should I use a poncho or a rain jacket for backpacking?
Compared to rain jackets, ponchos get a decent amount of airflow through the giant hole at the bottom and can be worn over top of your backpack. This maximizes your protection and potentially saves you the weight of a separate pack cover (or the weight of a rain-sodden pack if you opt for an internal pack liner). That said, it’s not all roses. At the end of the day, ponchos are heavier than rain jackets, they don’t perform well in windy conditions, and all that bulky material (and no zipper) makes them unwieldy. Rain jackets are definitely the more popular choice, and we tend to agree in the name of sheer comfort and convenience.
Can’t pick between the two? The Packa is a poncho-jacket hybrid with a front zipper and pit zips that’s specifically designed to fit over your backpack. It’s also marvelously sexy. Trust us.
How do waterproof-breathable rain jackets work?
Waterproof-breathable jackets typically feature a microporous waterproof membrane protected from abrasion by an external face fabric with a durable water-repellant (DWR) coating and from damaging dirt and body oils by an interior liner. The membrane’s micropores are large enough to allow water vapor to escape from inside the jacket but small enough to prevent liquid water droplets from penetrating.
These layers can be laminated together to form one unit (three-layer jackets), the face fabric and membrane can be laminated together as one unit while the interior liner remains separate (two-layer), or the face fabric and membrane can be laminated together with a protective coating painted on the inside of the jacket in lieu of a liner (2.5-layer). 2.5-layer jackets are typically the lightest, while three-layer jackets are the most breathable and durable. Two-layer jackets are usually the heaviest and the least suited to backpacking, but they’re also inexpensive.
Why does my rain jacket get wet inside?
When your rain jacket “wets out,” it’s not because the jacket’s waterproofness has failed and rain is getting through from the outside. Usually, it’s from condensation and sweat that form inside the jacket. Normally, a breathable jacket’s microporous waterproof membrane allows this internal water vapor to escape, but if the DWR coating on the outside of the fabric fails, the external face fabric becomes saturated and prevents the jacket from breathing properly. Condensation and sweat build up inside, leaving you wet and clammy. Fortunately, DWR treatment can be reapplied to breathe new life (heh) into your rain gear.
How can I avoid sweating in my rain jacket?
Wear less underneath to stay cool and look for a breathable rain jacket with ventilation features like pit zips. Don’t wear the jacket in warm, rainy conditions while you’re actively hiking: save it for cold weather or rest periods when staying warm is more of a challenge. Take off your hiking shirt before donning your rain jacket so that the shirt will remain dry and sweat-free when the storm passes. Re-up the DWR treatment on your jacket periodically so that it can breathe effectively. And, at the end of the day, accept that virtually all rain jackets will make you sweat if you try to hike in them. Contrary to popular belief, the primary function of rain gear isn’t to keep you dry: it’s to keep you warm, because, again, cold + wet = hypothermia.
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Why should you trust us?
Because we’re so incredibly intelligent, of course! Attractive, too. (Not to mention extremely humble).
But if that isn’t enough to impress you, there’s also the fact that everyone who contributed to this article is an experienced thru-hiker with thousands of on-trail miles under their belt. We’re gear nerds who love putting our equipment to the test on trails long and short, and we’ve tested dozens of rain jackets in pursuit of drier backcountry days.
Moreover, we do our best to stay plugged into the trail community’s gear preferences (we are definitely those obnoxious people on-trail who always want to know what everyone else is packing). That means our picks for the best rain jackets for thru-hiking aren’t just our opinions: they’re based on years of feedback from the thru-hiking community.
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