A reliable rain jacket can keep you dry in even the heaviest downpours, whether camping, commuting, or just doing errands around the city. We put several highly regarded jackets from companies like Arc’teryx, The North Face, and Patagonia through a range of tests to see which was the best regarding waterproofing, breathability, durability, and other criteria.
Having some background knowledge of raincoats before making a purchase is helpful. The first thing that needs to be established is the material used to create these jackets. For quite some time, manufacturers have worked to perfect waterproof, breathable, and plush fabrics to create wearable rain gear. A plastic poncho will suffice if all you need is rain protection, but a ventilated rain jacket is better if you do more than stand around.
You’ve probably seen GORE-TEX, the most well-known of these materials, in countless brands and goods, such as coats, shoes, and gloves. The North Face and Patagonia, for example, are two companies that have developed their own variants of waterproof materials that are identical to the ones mentioned above. Since the pores in these materials are too large for water droplets to get through but small enough for vapor and air to escape, they are waterproof and breathable.
The name and description of rain jackets typically include references to a layering structure with a porous membrane that contributes to the jacket’s waterproofness. Depending on the number of layers, a jacket may have two, 2.5, or three layers. A two-layer jacket consists of merely an outer layer and a waterproof membrane; a 2.5-layer jacket is similar but also includes an additional layer of printed or sprayed material to protect the membrane.
The outside material, the membrane, and an additional layer make up the three layers of a jacket. A three-layer jacket is the most durable and watertight option; the extra layer prevents the internal membrane from getting dirty or clogged with oils from your skin, which can reduce breathability. All three options have their own unique weight and feel. Every jacket we examined had at least 2.5 layers.
A durable water repellent, or DWR, is another essential feature of a waterproof jacket. The raincoat’s exterior is treated with this coating, which causes water to bead up and roll off. DWR coatings wear off with time, allowing water to soak through to the outside layer of your jacket. The core membrane will still protect you from moisture, but the outer layer will now be less breathable and more likely to absorb any sweat you produce. A DWR coating wears off over time, but renewing with a solution like Nikwax is simple.
Waterproofness ratings are typically expressed in millimeters, which may be challenging to visualize. This is because waterproofness is measured using the static-column test, which involves placing the fabric at the bottom of a 1-inch-diameter tube and filling it with water until it leaks. The greater the millimeter number, the more watertight the materials are; the higher the water column may be until the materials collapse, and water gets through.
Besides the obvious considerations of waterproofing and breathability, you may also want to consider other factors. There should be enough pockets for the daily commute, a storm hood for when you are caught in a downpour while hiking, minimal bulk and pack size for the backpacking trip, and a helmet-compatible hood for the climbing or biking adventure.
After a couple of months of evaluation, one raincoat stood out from the competition more than the others.
The King: Patagonia Torrentshell 3L
When compared to other coats, the Patagonia Torrentshell was the clear winner. Extremely waterproof, it will keep you dry even in the heaviest downpours. Also, it is highly breathable, long-lasting, and backed by Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee.
The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L is the best raincoat on the market, whether you’re a hiker or need something to wear on your daily commute.
Instead of waiting for regular, heavy rain to test the jackets’ waterproofing, we took each one for a spin in the bathtub for 15 minutes. On average, a shower will release 2.3 gallons of water every minute, a relatively accurate representation of heavy downpours.
Although some of the other jackets we tested were worse and let a lot of water in through the neck (see below), Patagonia managed to keep us dry during our indoor monsoon, with only a relatively small amount of water seeping in from the split at the neck when we’d look up, and from the cuffs when we’d raise our arms. The Torrentshell’s three-layer H2No Performance Standard shell is responsible for keeping us dry; it proved to be as reliable as GORE-TEX, the most widely used and respected waterproof technology in the outdoor business.
Patagonia’s DWR (durable water repellent) coating performed admirably, making raindrops bead and roll off the shell instead of soaking inside the jacket (which happened with a few of the other jackets we tested). Furthermore, we could simply rattle the Torrentshell off following our test, so you will never again have to wear a wet jacket to the office.
When we turned the full force of the shower’s stream on the Torrentshell’s zippers, not a drop of water made its way in. The Torrentshell prevents your smartphone and other belongings from getting soaked, contrary to most jackets we tested. This is because the Torrentshell has fully waterproofed zippers, while the others we tried did not.
Patagonia’s hood was the only area that only partially passed the waterproofness test. The Torrentshell’s storm hood was smaller and less rigid than the other coats. The hood would droop ever-so-slightly under the weight of the shower’s powerful spray, resulting in the occasional face-soaking. In our opinion, the Arc’teryx Beta LT had the best hood because it stayed in place as we showered and diverted water away from our heads.
You can fit a Patagonia Torrentshell into its own pocket, making it a highly packable rain jacket (just less compact than the small Outdoor Research Helium). Furthermore, it was one of the most breathable coats we tried. With this jacket, you won’t become as hot and sticky as you would in other jackets, no matter if you’re hiking through the mountains or rushing to get to work. Also, if you start to sweat, you can quickly and easily release the excess heat through the vents in the pits.
The Torrentshell featured among the most pleasant materials, ranking third behind The North Face’s Dryzzle and the Arc’teryx Beta LT among the jackets we tested. It was also reasonably sturdy, showing only a few faint scuffs after rubbing against our brick house. But suppose you do some difficult trekking and your jacket is damaged. In that case, you can mail it in and get it patched (free or very cheap) at any time, thanks to Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee.
Since outdoor gear isn’t known for its aesthetic value, we appreciate Torrentshell’s numerous available hues. Backcountry has 11 styles, Patagonia has 12, and both stores stock women’s sizes and colors in a total of 21 options. Not only that, but it’s available in seven different sizes for ladies and six different sizes for men (ranging from extra small to extra extra large).
Other options we evaluated
The Stormline received the highest grade and was the most flexible jacket we tried. The outside and interior both seemed soft and airy. A small amount of moisture did find its way into the pockets, but overall it was water-resistant. The Stormline is a fantastic option if you need an easily bent and shaped jacket to fit your needs. Still, it was ultimately outperformed by the other jackets we evaluated.
Despite being one of the more inexpensive jackets we evaluated, it performed admirably across the board. Overall, it was a great jacket and did a great job of keeping water out and letting air in. It didn’t perform as well as the Torrentshell, primarily due to its gooey interior. Still, the Rainier is a great budget option if you’re in the market for a jacket.
While it didn’t receive the highest marks, this jacket was still one of our top picks because of its reliable waterproofing and breathability. Even though the Helium’s lining was slightly sticky and felt damp on our skin, its amazing packability made us consider purchasing it for our next hiking or backpacking trip. A mere 6.26 ounces made this the lightest jacket we measured. For comparison’s sake, the next lightest weighed in at around 7.5 ounces, and the next lightest following that was almost 10 ounces.
Furthermore, the Helium can be compressed to the dimensions of our hand and stored in its single chest pocket. So, the Helium is an attractive option if you’re looking for the most petite jacket you can put in your bag for a thru-hike, and don’t worry as much about convenience or durability.
Another item with good scores was this jacket from REI Co-op, but unfortunately, it did not do quite as well as the other option and hence did not win. Unfortunately, there is just one color option, and supplies are limited because it is a discontinued product. It’s a great jacket, but even at the steep discount, it’s still more pricey than our top pick.
This jacket was almost perfect except for a few tests where it performed poorly. Given that it didn’t perform very well relative to the other coats we tested and had the highest price tag, this coat is difficult to recommend. In addition to having the best hood we tried, it also performed exceptionally well in terms of being waterproof and breathable.
We got a bit wet in it, and so did our sweater and the wipes in our pockets because its zippers are water-resistant but not waterproof. With the Patagonia Torrentshell, you may save substantial money and receive a somewhat superior jacket.
Dryzzle, a jacket made by The North Face, is equipped with the company’s cutting-edge Futurelight waterproofing technology. Like GORE-TEX and Patagonia’s H2No, this membrane ensures total protection from the elements while letting air pass through. The inside and outside of The North Face’s jacket made a strong impression on us. Although it was a fantastic jacket, it didn’t stand out from the others we tried.
The Dryzzle’s subpar DWR finish on the jacket was our primary complaint. This jacket was less successful than others we tested in beading water as soon as it made contact with it. There were apparent droplets where the water had seeped through the surface. Despite being one of the highest-scoring jackets, we can’t recommend it because of its subpar DWR coating and higher price than the winner.
The lack of breathability, poor durability in our rub test, and the fact that it is the only coat we evaluated that can’t be dried in the dryer all contributed to our conclusion that this jacket is not worth your time or money. The tissues we stashed away in its pockets didn’t get drenched to the same extent as they would have in other jackets, but the hood isn’t the most sturdy, and the pockets don’t zip securely.
The L.L.Bean jacket was the heaviest of the ones we tested, but it has many pockets, so you can bring everything you need when you head outside. Those pockets, on the other hand, are not watertight in the slightest. We tried putting tissues in its pockets, but they all came out soaked.
Arc’teryx’s Zeta SL was another top-performing jacket, placing near the best. It’s highly watertight and air-permeable, and the inside is reasonably pleasant. Like the previous Arc’teryx jacket we tried, this one also has water-resistant rather than waterproof zippers. It’s frustrating that a $300 jacket has fewer bells and whistles than the Torrentshell.
Like the other Columbia jacket, this one had a faulty hood that let water seep into the neck. It’s cumbersome, can’t be easily transported, provides a poor comfort level, and could be more breathable.
After a disastrous performance in a waterproofness test, Outdoor Research’s Microgravity was eliminated from consideration. Once again, the pockets were Microgravity’s demise; in this case, so much water leaked out of the pockets that our clothes got soaked. We couldn’t get over how irritating the internal material was, so there’s no way we could spend $250 on this coat.
This jacket rated poorly overall because it performed badly in our waterproof test. Thanks to the hood’s design, the water ran off our faces and into the jacket. Since we couldn’t turn our heads freely like we could with previous jackets, we had to keep our focus fixed on the floor. We finished the test with a drenched shirt. Although it is exceptionally lightweight, the Outdoor Research Helium ($159) is the better option if you need a jacket that you can easily pack away.
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