By Michael Lanza
Shop for a rain jacket for dayhiking, backpacking, trail running, or climbing in the backcountry and you’ll see shells for adults ranging in price from under $100 to over $500 and in weight from less than half a pound to over a pound—with just as huge and confusing a range of opinions on them from reviewers and consumers. Look no further. This review spotlights the five best rain jackets for the backcountry and provides expert tips on how to select the right one for your adventures.
My picks are based on extensive field testing of all of these shells dayhiking, backpacking, trail running, backcountry skiing, and/or hut trekking—and on testing dozens of rain shells while hiking through soaking rains all over the world over a quarter-century of testing and reviewing gear, as the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine for 10 years, and many years for this blog. I’ve learned how to distinguish the mediocre from the excellent.
I think you’ll find one of them is just right for your dayhikes, backpacking trips, and climbing and other outdoor adventures—and you’ll find great deals available on some of them right now (see the links below). Please share your thoughts on any of them or recommend your favorite backcountry rain shell in the comments section at the bottom of this review; I try to respond to all comments.
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Understand the Terminology
Waterproof-breathable means that a membrane or fabric coating allows the moisture built up from sweating to escape through the fabric while it repels precipitation. Membranes generally offer better weather protection, breathability, and durability than a coating. Jackets with coatings are typically less expensive and lighter.
Quality definitely varies a lot. Membranes like Gore-Tex outperform many proprietary waterproof-breathable fabrics from jacket makers. However, some brands, like Outdoor Research and The North Face (see below), have jackets that challenge the performance of the best membranes.
Three different types of construction are used in waterproof-breathable rain shells:
Two-layer consists of a membrane or coating
applied to the inside of a protective, outer fabric layer. The second layer is
a liner that hangs loosely. Two-layer jackets are quiet and relatively
inexpensive, but offer only modest breathability.2.5-layer construction marries a polyurethane
laminate or coating to a durable outer layer, which is backed by a protective
“half layer.” These shells are less breathable and durable than others, and
sometimes more clammy-feeling, but also lighter and less expensive.Three-layer jackets, in which a membrane is
sandwiched between a tough outer fabric and a protective liner, offer the best
weather protection, breathability, and durability.
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The Outdoor Research Microgravity AscentShell Jacket.
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