Gear Guide 2016: Standout Rain Gear
Rain, it happens. The more you pray for sun, the more likely you are to get dumped on. We’re pretty sure it’s a law of backpacking or something. That’s why quality rain gear is indispensable parts of your pack setup. While you’re as likely to find a unicorn as you are to locate a jacket that’s so waterproof it never wets out, the jackets here are all solid options to keep you dry long enough, while still keeping your pack weight down. From heritage pieces to new designs, here are our picks for 2016’s rain gear. All garments tested and reviewed by Appalachian Trials’ thru-hiker gear nerds*. –Editors
Columbia OutDry EX Diamond Shell
Weight: 13.4 ounces
The best part about the OutDry Extreme is that it not only does its job of keeping rain out but it also has small and specific features that add a great touch. This jacket doesn’t cling to you when it gets soaked and when you start sweating. It has great ventilation through the zippers underneath the arms, features a double zipper in the front, has high-quality zippered pockets, lightweight velcro, and a durable feel to the fabric—a lot of thought went into this design. It features the newest technology in rain gear, with the fabric feeling like a cross between a lightweight rain coat and a heavier jacket. Therefore, the one of the downsides is its weight compared to lighter options. Although it does a fairly good job at compressing into a pack, it still occupies more room than a lightweight rain jacket would. Also, this jacket does run a bit big. I enjoyed the extra length but purchasing a smaller size would lower the weight. Lastly, the OutDry Extreme is pricey, making this a downside for some. However, this jacket’s thoughtful design makes it worthy of the cost. —Madison Dragna
Weight: 12.1 ounces
The Torrentshell is my go-to rain jacket for longer treks and/or during cooler seasons. It takes longer to wet out than other rain jackets I’ve tested, is (relatively) lightweight, breathes and ventilates well, and for sporting the Patagonia name, is surprisingly affordable. The Torrentshell is fully featured with Velcro wrist cuffs, adjustable hood, large pit zips, and a pair of hand warmer pockets. It’s a bit heavier and warmer than some of the UL rain jackets on the market today, which means I’m likely leaving it at home during summer treks. Overall though, this is a very well rounded, high performing, affordable jacket. –Zach Davis
Sierra Designs Elite Cagoule
Weight: 8 ounces
Here’s a concept: a rain coat that actually covers your butt, and does more than funnel the water directly down the back of your pants. The Elite Cagoule does just that, intent on achieving the drool-worthy combo of weight and functionality. The coat hangs down like a trench or tunic style, with Velcro flaps along the sides for venting. The hood has a lot of real estate, which means your thru-hiker hairdo is safe from the rain. I went on a wet, early-spring Montana trek with this coat on, and it was really comfortable—cut in a way that doesn’t feel restrictive, but still slim enough to avoid bulk. The only downside is that the coat doesn’t open all the way down the front, so you have to take it off over your head. Aside from that, it’s great. The material is light but tough, with no signs of diminishing waterproofing. As a bonus, the pockets are accessible even with your hip belt on. If you’re into this coat, check out Sierra Design’s matching chaps: their spin on the classic rain pants. —Maggie Slepian
Weight: 17.3 ounces
Being a GORE-TEX Pro Shell, this jacket is first and foremost versatile. I use it frequently as a backcountry skiing shell on winter ascents, and it has proven to be breathable on warmer (warmish: I do live in Colorado now) rainy days with a thin layer underneath. This has been the driest rain layer I’ve ever owned (contenders include Marmot PreCips, GoreTex PacLites, and more). It’s also incredibly durable. After 2500 miles of hiking, 450+ days of paddling (that includes at least 150 miles of carrying kayaks on its shoulders and countless rocks banging/scraping against it) and 100+ days of skiing, this jacket finally began to wear down, causing the zipper to start to separate from the jacket. Marmot is fulfilling my expectations of their customer service by replacing it for free. I also spent a North Carolina spring/summer season in this jacket, and it did very well in high humidity. Despite its weight, I carried this jacket from Maine to Tennessee in 2014, and it will be joining me on the Colorado Trail this year. Its versatility vastly outweighs its weight problem!
To be clear, this is a great jacket, but the brand and model are less important to me than the fact that it’s a GORE-TEX Pro Shell. All of its versatility comes from this one factor. When I upgrade, I may or may not stick with the brand, but I will most certainly shop GORE-TEX Pro.— Daniel UpChurch-Kreykes*, AT Section Hiker
Mountain Hardwear Plasmic Jacket
Weight: 9.6 ounces
I hate a stiff, bulky rain jacket and this jacket frees up my movement while keeping me dry still. If I am forced into rain gear by a cold and wet combo, the Mountain Hardwear Plasmic Rain Jacket makes it a little more bearable. Also, its lightweight and the Super Light version is even lighter! – Carlie Gentry
Outdoor Research Helium II
Weight: 5.5 ounces
The Helium II thankfully (finally) lives up to what one would expect of a rain jacket: a useful piece of equipment that keeps you dry and comfortable in inclement weather. Protected with Pertex Shield, the Helium II is crazy lightweight and built to be waterproof, breathable (thus nixing pit zips), provide wind protection, and pack down to the size of your fist. So far, this rain jacket has held up to rain, snow, and sideways driving sleet. Whatever has fallen from the sky has rolled off the Helium II. As someone who wears glasses, the sturdiness of the rim in the hood has relieved the constant need to wipe off soaked and useless lenses. Minor gripes include the lack of pockets (only one chest pocket), the short length (leaving some base layers exposed unless tucked), and the single drawstring cord that does not always keep the hood snug against my head when wearing a hat. These inconveniences were likely carefully considered when developing this minimalist lightweight jacket. Since grams add up to ounces, ounces add up to pounds, and pounds add up to pain, I’m perfectly happy OR opted to shed the bells and whistles when making this product. With the Helium II, I hold no reservations, or grudges, against tossing my rain jacket into my pack.—Kate Waite
Frogg Toggs Poncho
Weight: 9 ounces
It’s a poncho, so it covers a large portion of my body. I can even slide it over my pack while wearing it. The Frogg Togg’s Ponch also kept me dry and warm, which really surprised me. I wore it on the PCT throughout the desert, where there was 60 mph winds and hail and a few days of rain. It also dried quickly compared to other rain jackets I’ve worn in the past. I would not recommend this though for really cold weather or heavy downpours lasting all day.— Carly Moree
* Daniel hiked the AT after high school, got a stress fracture and had to call it quits. Luckily he met Ashley, and they completed the AT SOBO in 2014; between and after his AT section hikes Daniel has worked around the country as an outdoor educator in all seasons.
Disclosure: many of the pieces in this post were donated for the purpose of review.
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