Choosing a waterproof-breathable rain jacket means dealing with a bit of option paralysis — there are so many choices, and prices range from $100 to $500 (and up)! We’ve dug into individual brands before, like our Marmot rain jacket guide, but what if you’re not sure which brand you want?
Let’s narrow it down to a maximum of $200, which keeps us in the realm of “rain jackets” instead of the high-end ski/mountaineering shells. Think about what’s most important for your new rain jacket; are you looking for the best value, or the lightest available option? With that as your starting point, we’ve broken it down below into what we feel are the best rain jackets for a variety of different preferences.
The Precip has been around forever, still costs just $99 and somehow manages to get better and better every year. It literally invented the “$100 rain jacket” category; before the Precip, your options were an umbrella, a poncho or a cheap vinyl rain jacket that didn’t breathe at all. Trust us: this is waaaay nicer.
So… why buy a Marmot Precip in 2015? Because it’s still the best value out there. Because Marmot just upgraded to NanoPro, which is significantly more breathable than previous generations of waterproof/breathable coatings without sacrificing any of its weatherproof capability. It weighs less than a pound, is packed with useful features like pit zips and a drawstring hem, and comes in dozens of colors; for the vast majority of users, it’s all you’ll ever need at a steal of a price.
The Outdoor Research Helium II jacket is 100% waterproof and weighs 6.4 ounces for a men’s medium. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. It’s the lightest rain jacket we carry; anything lighter than this either isn’t waterproof or isn’t a jacket. The first version was a resounding success; this one is both lighter & more breathable.
The “Helium HD” version may be more versatile, with pit zips and a few additional features, but the Helium II is the one that best fills the needs of the ultralight-oriented user. This isn’t the rain jacket you grab when you’re going to be hiking in the rain for 5 days straight; it’s the one you stuff in the bottom of your pack when the weather looks clear but you know better than to risk it, or leave permanently in your messenger bag so that you’re not caught out in a fluke summer thunder shower.
Most waterproof/breathable jackets require a membrane derived from petroleum products. In the case of the Venture Jacket, The North Face replaces the petroleum with bean-derived castor oil, an environmentally friendly alternative that doesn’t impact the jacket’s performance or longevity.
The eco-friendly construction won it an Editor’s Choice “Green Award” from Backpacker Magazine. What else do you get for $99? Clean lines, plenty of thoughtful features and the quality you’d expect from The North Face. This might be the most stylish and flattering rainwear you can buy; the Women’s Venture Jacket is our best-selling rain jacket right now, in no small part because of the great fit.
It’s not the champion of any specific category here, but if you’re willing to spring an extra $30 over the Venture or Precip jacket our favorite is the Patagonia Torrentshell. What does the extra $30 buy you? In short, visibly higher quality than other affordable rain jackets.
Every aspect of this jacket is built to last: fewer seams, cleaner tape, microfleece lining to protect the collar from delaminating over time, etc. It’s simple, effective, comfortable and durable.
If you want the most durable, longest-lasting rainwear then you want GORE-TEX. While rain jackets with GORE-TEX are bombproof, they’re also by far the most expensive, typically ringing at $300 and up depending on which grade laminate package you prefer.
If you’re willing to skip some of the alpine mountaineering features, though, the Minimalist jacket is right at $199. This GORE-TEX Paclite shell packs down small, and you still get pit zips, zippered hand pockets, a chest pocket and guaranteed GORE-TEX reliability. Tough to beat at this price!
This season, we also have a unique new entrant to this under-$199 market: The North Face’s new FuseForm Dot Matrix Jacket. We’re excited to see The North Face pushing the technology envelope at this price point; check out our North Face Fuseform Q&A for a great interview with a member of the design team!