The Best Backpacking Rain Jackets for Thru-Hiking in 2024
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 backpacking 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 Backpacking 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 Beta | 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 Backpacking Rain Jackets for Thru-Hiking in 2024
Outdoor Research Helium Men’s | Women’s (Most Durable Ultralight Rain Jacket)
MSRP: $170 – $180
Weight*: 6.3 ounces (men’s) | 6.3 ounces (women’s)
*All weights in this list are based on a size medium unless otherwise specified.
The intrepid Anne Baker found this jacket perfect for her thru-hikes of the PCT and Colorado Trail. It’s lightweight, packable, and reasonably breathable, yet still functional in heavy rains and persistent damp conditions.
The pocket configuration has been updated in the latest version of this classic UL rain jacket. Previously, the jacket featured one zippered chest pocket and no hand pockets; the men’s version is still that way, but the women’s version now has two zippered hand pockets and no chest pocket. Unclear why only the women’s version got this treatment, as it seems like a clear upgrade: the new pockets offer a lot more storage than the old chest pocket and only raise the total weight of the garment by a few grams.
Materials and Features
The OR Helium is made of 2.5-layer Pertex Shield 30D ripstop nylon. It has waterproof zippers, reflective details, elastic cuffs, and a drawcord hem. The women’s version has zippered two hand pockets, while the men’s has a single zippered chest pocket for small items. The fit is roomy enough to layer underneath without being bulky.
Pros: Good weight-to-durability ratio; decent breathability; no-frills; lots of color options; 30D nylon among the toughest on this list.
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
This jacket is constructed of two-layer Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper with a 10d Ballistic Airlight abrasion-resistant ripstop nylon face fabric. There is a protective coating on the inside to protect the membrane from dirt and body oils. Gore-Tex Infinium Windstopper is considered water-resistant, not waterproof, but the addition of DWR on the face fabric and fully taped seams make this jacket more than adequate for light to moderate rain.
The Versalite has two side pockets, generous 16.5-inch-long pit zips, a water-resistant zipper, reflective details, and an adjustable hood, cuffs, and hemline. The arms are slightly articulated to improve ease of movement. The Versalite is cut from a single, continuous piece of fabric to minimize seams, improving the jacket’s waterproofness and durability.
Pros: Long pit zips; side pockets; minimal seams; lightweight; breathable.
Enlightened Equipment Visp (Best Fit and Coverage)
Weight: 6.4 ounces
“Enlightened Equipment continues to up the cottage-industry apparel game with this sub-seven-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 deep hood and a longer hem to allow water to drip.” – Maggie Slepian
Materials and Feature
After being out of stock for nearly two years due to supply chain issues, the Visp is finally back.
Pros: Pit zips; one of the lightest jackets on this list; extra-long sleeves; deep hood; droptail hem; waterproof zippers; relaxed fit for layering and mobility.
Arc’teryx Beta Jacket Men’s | Women’s (Most Stormworthy Backpacking Rain Jacket)
Weight: 10.6 ounces (men’s) | 9.5 ounces (women’s)
The Beta is a three-layer jacket with durable 30D Gore-tex and a Gore C-Knit interior backing. The backing is supposed to make the jacket lighter, quieter, and more breathable.
The Beta is undoubtedly the most expensive jacket 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 is far from the lightest jacket on the list, but for hikers anticipating rough trails and rough weather, the Beta delivers with rugged durability, resilient waterproofness, and excellent build quality.
Materials and Features
Pros: 3L Gore-tex fabric is among the most durable on this list; long-lasting DWR; gusseted underarms and anatomical shaping improves mobility and fit; taped seams make jacket even more waterproof.
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Men’s | Women’s (Most Durable Backpacking Rain Jacket)
Weight: 14.1 ounces (men’s) | 12.4 ounces (women’s)
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 and 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.
Materials and Features
Pros: 50D face fabric is most durable on this list; comfortable; pit zips; brimmed hood; adjustable cuffs and hem.
Zpacks Vertice Men’s | Women’s (Best Quality Ultralight)
Weight: 5.6 ounces (men’s) | 5.4 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.
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 Hawaiian shirts, Frogg Toggs fit right in — and they’re insanely budget-friendly. 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, The Trek’s Kelly Floro had a single set of ‘Toggs last some 1300 miles. (It’s worth noting that the Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite² pants, despite being made of the same material as the jacket, somehow seem even more delicate and are very prone to ripping).
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.
Pros: Very inexpensive; can last an entire thru-hike or longer if you baby them; easily replaceable online or at Wal-Mart; no DWR.
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 “waterproof-breathable” 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 extra-long pit zips to help with ventilation. The brand used to make its distinctive rain jackets from silnylon, but LightHeart now favors more waterproof silpoly (the fuschia color is still silnylon). The Trek’s Kelly Floro reviewed this jacket back in 2022, and not much has changed with it since then (including, delightfully, the price).
The price-to-weight ratio of this jacket (a scant six ounces for only $125) 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.
Materials and Features
Pros: Brimmed hood; two hand pockets and two waterproof internal pockets; silpoly more waterproof than silnylon; large size range (XS – XXXL); no DWR to fuss about reapplying; amazing price-to-weight ratio; customizable sleeve length.
Marmot PreCip Eco Men’s | Women’s (Best Rain Jacket for Beginner Backpackers)
Weight: 10.1 ounces (men’s) | 8.7 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 rain jacket that won’t break the bank.
Materials and Features
Pros: Relatively inexpensive; pit zips; hand pockets; adjustable hood, cuffs, and hem; stowable brimmed hood; lined chin guard.
What to Look for in the Best Backpacking Rain Jackets for Thru-Hiking
Your rain jacket shouldn’t weigh more than 12 – 14 ounces. Really, something closer to 8 – 10 ounces is ideal. Less than 8 ounces = an ultralighter’s dream.
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.
A growing movement in the cottage UL industry now favors inherently waterproof silpoly and silnylon rain jacket construction. Silpoly and silnylon rain jackets aren’t breathable, but they typically have extra ventilation features like pit zips to offset the stuffiness. And because they’re made with just a single layer of fabric, they’re often lighter than traditional waterproof-breathable garments.
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.
READ NEXT – Do You Really Need Rain Pants for Backpacking?
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.
More From This Series
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 backpacking rain jackets for thru-hiking aren’t just our opinions: they’re based on years of feedback from the thru-hiking community.
Featured image: Graphic design by Chris Helm.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.