Last Updated: February 15, 2019

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Rain Jacket Buyer’s Guide

In a perfect world, every hiking and camping trip would take place during sunny, 70-degree weather. But in reality, bad weather can pop up at any time, and you should always be prepared for the worst. So, no matter where you plan on going for your next adventure, you should always bring along a rain jacket.

A good rain jacket will help keep you dry in bad weather –it may even allow you to salvage a trip that would otherwise be ruined by rain. But rain jackets aren’t just good for keeping you dry, they also provide value in a number of other ways.

We’ll talk about some of these ancillary benefits and explain some of the things to look for when picking out your new rain jacket below.

The Importance of Packing a Rain Jacket

Rain jackets will obviously keep you dry in wet weather, but there are actually several other reasons it is always wise to have one in your daypack (or the glove compartment in your car). We discuss a few of these reasons below:

Rain jackets make a nice outer shell.

It’s always a good idea to wear multiple layers when enjoying the great outdoors. Layers not only trap air between them, which will keep you warmer, they also give you the chance to adjust your temperature as necessary, by adding or removing garments.

It is usually wise to wear water- and wind-proof outer layer (often called a “shell”). This will not only help keep your other layers dry, but it’ll also help prevent the wind from blowing away your precious body heat. A rain jacket often works very well in such applications.

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Staying dry isn’t just about comfort; it’s also about safety.

You’ll always want to be dry while hiking or hanging around camp; nobody likes being wet and miserable when trying to enjoy the outdoors. But staying dry isn’t only important for your comfort, it is also important for your health and safety. No matter what the ambient temperature is, you’ll feel colder if you are wet than if you are dry.

In fact, you can suffer from potentially life-threatening hypothermia when wet, even if the temperature isn’t terribly low. It is possible to become dangerously cold in 60-degree weather if you are wet –particularly if exposed to strong winds. Fortunately, a high-quality rain jacket will help protect you from these dangers.

Rain jackets help protect you from bugs.

Ticks, mosquitoes and biting flies are an ever-present nuisance during the spring, summer and fall. You can (and should) use an effective repellent to keep most of these bugs at bay, but it is also helpful to keep as much of your skin covered as possible. This will not only make it more difficult for these bloodsuckers to find you, but a rain jacket will also serve as a protective barrier for your skin.

A lightweight rain jacket works very well in such applications. Long sleeve shirts and traditional coats are often too hot to use during the warm parts of the year, but you’ll usually find that a rain jacket works well – especially if it is a breathable model, which will allow your sweat to evaporate quickly.

Rain jackets make great windbreakers.

Many places that outdoor adventurers like to visit are exceptionally windy. And while a strong breeze can often help keep you comfortable and provide other benefits (for example, high winds usually reduce the amount of biting bugs flying around you), it can also make you quite chilly.

You can always wear a sweater or jacket when the winds kick up, but these types of garments are often overkilled, and they’ll just cause you to become sweaty and uncomfortable. But a lightweight rain jacket will usually work wonderfully in these situations, as it’ll protect you from the wind, without causing you to overheat.

Who Needs A Rain Jacket?

Just about everyone will benefit from having a rain jacket handy, but some people will clearly have more use for rain-proof outerwear than others. Some of those who should always have a rain jacket at the ready include:

  • Campers– Campers should always have a rain jacket in their pack. This will help keep you dry when pitching a tent in the rain or having to answer nature’s call during a downpour.
  • Hikers– It’s usually a good idea to pack lightly when going for a hike, but you should always bring a few items, including a cell phone, trekking poles and a water bottle. But a rain jacket should also be considered part of your standard hiking kit. You don’t want to get caught unprepared on the trail if it starts to rain.
  • Kayakers– You’ll likely get a little damp while kayaking down your favorite river, so many kayakers don’t see the point in bringing a rain jacket. However, if it starts raining and you find yourself needing to exit the river and wait out the weather, you’ll be glad you brought a rain jacket to keep you dry. Just make sure to store it in your dry bag so it is ready for use when you need it.
  • Bicyclers– It isn’t always fun to ride your bike in the rain – your tires may slip and slide all over the place, and your brakes will usually stop working very well too. But while you may not decide to go for a ride when it is already raining, it is entirely possible that it will start raining while you are already cruising around. A good rain jacket will help keep you dry and warm while you pedal your way back to shelter.
  • Anglers– Serious anglers know that fishing in the rain is often very productive, but you have to stay comfortable while on the water, so you can focus on the task at hand. A high-quality rain jacket will help immensely in this respect. Just be sure to select a tight-fitting jacket, as bulky coats can make it tricky to cast and reel in your catch.
  • BirdWatchers – Casual bird watchers will often stay home during wet weather, but the most dedicated avian enthusiasts know that you can often observe interesting and unusual behaviors when it rains. But if you want to remain comfortable while checking out the local birds, you’ll need to stay dry while doing so. Just be sure to select a dark or earth-toned model, as bright colors may spook the birds.
  • Walkers– Casual and exercise-minded walkers should always have a rain jacket at the ready, even if your treks don’t take you far from home. It doesn’t take long to become drenched in heavy rains, which can make walking a mere block or two miserable. The trick is to find a rain jacket that is very lightweight and easy to pack in your pocket.
  • Students and Professionals – Rain jackets aren’t only helpful when you’re in the wilderness, miles from civilization – they’re also helpful during normal, day-to-day life. For example, if your regular trip to work or school includes any outdoor time, you’ll want to bring a rain jacket to help keep you dry during the journey.
  • Outdoor Workers – If your job requires you to spend lots of time outdoors, a high-quality rain jacket is imperative. Keeping your clothes and body dry is the only way to ensure you can remain comfortable, thereby allowing you to focus on the work at hand.

Different Types of Rain Gear

Once you understand that a rain jacket is a vital piece of equipment for outdoor adventurers, it is time to begin selecting the best one for your needs. Rain gear comes in three basic styles, so you’ll want to start by deciding on the right style for your needs.

We’ll discuss the three basic styles of rain gear below and point out the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.

Ponchos

Ponchos are loose-fitting garments that typically feature a hood and a body-covering “cape” that shields you from the rain. Some have dedicated arm openings, while others fit more like a skirt worn around your neck. Most ponchos are made of relatively thin material and they’re often intended for very short-term or emergency use. However, a few manufacturers market durable ponchos made from thick materials.

Ponchos can provide value, and they’re certainly better than nothing when it rains. However, they’re rarely the first choice for experienced outdoor adventurers. Ponchos are often bulky, they snag every twig and branch in the forest, and they don’t provide the kind of coverage that most rain jackets do.

It isn’t a bad idea to have an emergency poncho in your pack as a back-up, but these types of ponchos generally aren’t very effective for keeping you dry while camping, hiking or otherwise spending time in wilderness areas.

Rubber Coats

Some rain jackets are made from rubber, plastic or rubberized fabric – picture the proverbial yellow raincoat young children often wear. These types of rain garments are often extremely waterproof, and they’ll keep you dry in a monsoon. In fact, these types of coats are often worn by commercial fishermen and fisherwomen working in rough seas.

However, for a variety of reasons, these types of coats are rarely a good choice for those trying to enjoy the great outdoors. For starters, these types of coats are typically quite heavy, which causes problems for weight-conscious hikers and campers. They’re also bulky, which makes it hard to wear them with a pack, and it also makes it difficult to move around while wearing one.

Like ponchos, rubberized raincoats have their uses, and they are better than nothing when you’re caught in bad weather. But they are a poor choice for most people trying to enjoy their local trail or campground.

Fabric Rain Jackets

Fabric rain jackets are typically made from synthetic fibers and then treated with a water-repelling sealant, which keeps them from absorbing water. These types of rain jackets vary widely in terms of quality. Cheap ones may keep you dry for a half hour, but they’ll eventually begin soaking up water; high-quality rain jackets, on the other hand, will keep you bone-dry and cozy no matter how long the rains last.

Fabric rain jackets, when well-made, are very comfortable to wear and they are usually easy to wear with backpacks or day packs. Some are even easy to compress to a small size, which makes them easy to pack and carry with you. These types of jackets usually come with a hood to keep your head and neck dry, and the best also come with multiple pockets, which give you places to store often-needed items.

Fabric-based rain jackets are usually the best type of rain gear for hikers, campers, cyclers and others who spend lots of time outdoors. But it is imperative that you select a well-made model to enjoy all of the benefits these garments provide.

Things to Look for When Picking a Rain Jacket

There is a big difference between a high-quality rain jacket and a low-quality model. The former will keep you dry and warm while fitting well, but the latter will allow water to seep through, soaking your clothes and leaving you miserable. Good rain jackets also fit better, last longer and offer more helpful features than their low-quality counterparts.

Fortunately, it is usually pretty easy to identify the best rain jackets – just look for one that provides most of the following characteristics and features.

Effective Waterproofing

Obviously, rain jackets are only valuable if they keep you dry, so it is imperative that you select one that has been made from high-quality fabric and treated with an effective waterproofing agent. Most of the best rain jackets are made from nylon, and those that are also covered in a sufficiently thick layer of a waterproofing material – such as Drac-Tech – will usually keep you dry as a bone.

 

What is Waterproofing?!

You’ll find most jackets pitch their efficacy using broad claims such as “100% waterproof”. Although the claim isn’t faulty, there is much more that goes into how a jacket is rated for its water prevention. Most waterproof attire is rated using mm. For example, a jacket rated 9,000mm Waterproof is able to withstand a 9,000mm column of water for up to 1 minute before any liquid will penetrate.

Waterproof RatingResistanceWeather
0-1,499mmSomewhat ResistantLight Flurries/Sun Showers
1,500mm-4,999mmWater ResistantLight Showers/Average Rain
5,000mm-8,999mmWaterproofModerate Rain
9,000mm+Highly WaterproofHeavier Rain

Leak-Proof Seams

It is also important to stick to rain jackets that feature water-tight seams, which will prevent water from seeping in through places in which two pieces of fabric meet. Manufacturers attempt to protect the seams in several different ways, but the most effective way to do so is through the use of water-proof tape. Taped seams are generally as water-proof as any other portion of a rain jacket.

Draw Cords on the Hood and Hem

Aside from the seams, there are several other places in which water can enter a raincoat – most notably the hood and the bottom portion of the jacket (an area called the hem).If these portions of the jacket don’t fit snuggly, they can allow you to become sopping wet in a short time. To avoid these problems, look for rain jackets that feature draw cords, so the hood and hem can be cinched tightly.

Tight-Fitting Wrists

Water can also enter a raincoat near the wrists, especially if you are working in a downpour. You don’t want drawcords around the wrists of a rain jacket, as they may become snagged on things and represent a safety hazard. However, the best rain jackets typically feature elastic bunching around the wrists, to help prevent water from sneaking up the sleeves.

High-Quality Zippers

High-quality zippers are very effective closures for most garments, and they’re especially helpful for rain jackets. Zippers enable you to seal up the jacket and they’re easy to use. However, you must be sure to avoid poor-quality jackets that feature sub-standard zippers, as these will likely become damaged or jammed, thereby exposing you to rain (or, if they become stuck in the “closed” position, you may have difficulty taking the jacket off).

No-Slip Zipper Pulls

It can often be difficult to grip metal zipper pulls when your fingers are wet, and low temperatures can make it even harder to do so.  Accordingly, you’ll want to select a jacket that has rubberized zipper pulls, which will make it easy to adjust your jacket no matter how numb and slippery your fingers are.

Lightweight

No matter how you like to enjoy the outdoors, it is important to avoid purchasing a heavy rain jacket. Whether you are hiking, camping or simply making a living outside, you won’t want to lug around a heavy raincoat while doing so. Instead, opt for an ultra lightweight rain jacket, which won’t slow you down.

Easy to Pack and Store

A rain jacket won’t do you much good if it is hanging up in your closet when it starts raining. But this is surely where your jacket will be if you don’t select a model that is easy to fold up and store in your pack. In fact, the very best rain jackets for outdoor enthusiasts often collapse into a self-contained stuff sack. This not only makes it easy to fit the rain jacket in your pack, but it also ensures that it’ll be protected when not in use.

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Sizing Tips: Making Sure Your Rain Jacket Fits Like a Glove

A poorly fitting rain jacket may keep you dry, but you’ll likely grow frustrated as you fight to keep it on your body properly. For that matter, if you select a rain jacket that is too small, you may not be able to use it at all.

Accordingly, you’ll want to be very careful to select the proper size – particularly if you are ordering your rain jacket from an online vendor. This can be quite difficult when buying from some outlets, as they only classify their garments vaguely, and don’t provide specific measurements.

Instead, try to stick to vendors who provide specific measurements for their apparel. Minimally, you’ll want to look for jackets that include the following measurements:

  • Chest Circumference
  • Waist Circumference
  • Sleeve Length
  • Wrist Circumference

It’s also important to measure your body carefully to ensure you obtain a good fit. The best way to do so is with the help of a friend and a tape measure. However, if you don’t have a tape measure, just take your measurements by marking the various lengths and circumferences with a shoelace or string, and then measure the string length with a ruler.

Be sure to record your measurements in the appropriate units. Many U.S.-based manufacturers use imperial units, but rain jackets made in Europe or Asia typically feature metric measurements. You can always convert imperial units to metric units or vice versa, but most globally minded manufacturers provide the measurements in both types of units.

Caring for Your New Rain Jacket

Once you’ve spent your hard-earned money on a rain jacket, you’ll want to be sure that it lasts as long as possible. In fact, if you start with a quality jacket and take good care of it, it’ll likely outlast most of your other gear. Just follow the tips explained below to ensure that your jacket lasts for years.

  • Follow all care instruction provided by the manufacturer. Most jackets will feature a tag near the neck that includes the care instructions for the garment. Some jackets must be hand-washed, while others are safe to throw in the washer and dryer. In either case, just be sure to follow the instructions to the letter and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring your jacket holds up to years of use.
  • Dry your jacket thoroughly before storing. Once the rains have passed (or you’ve ventured indoors) it is important to dry your jacket before folding it back up and stuffing it into one of your pockets. Start by zipping all the zippers and fastening any snaps or buttons. Then, shake the jacket vigorously and hang it in a warm, dry place.
  • Use care to avoid causing punctures or rips in the jacket. A ripped rain jacket ceases being very effective at keeping you dry, so it is important to avoid creating holes in the garment. Do so by moving carefully through dense vegetation and trying to avoid thorns. It’s also wise to avoid storing sharp items in the pockets of the jacket.
  • Wash and dry the jacket after each use. Because rain jackets often become wet, they can provide a great place for molds and bacteria to grow. Drying the jacket after it gets wet will help, but you’ll have better success ridding it of these organisms by washing it in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Mend any rips or tears immediately. Eventually, even the best-cared-for rain jacket will suffer damage. If left untended, these types of damage will grow and reduce the performance of the garment. So, patch or mend any fabric rips, and replace any broken closures or hardware promptly, to keep the jacket in the best condition possible.

***

A rain jacket is a vital component of your outdoor gear, but you must be sure to select a model that is effective, comfortable and easy-to-use. But if you choose one that satisfies the criteria discussed earlier and you’re careful to order the correct size, you’ll certainly end up with a rain jacket that keeps you dry and comfortable during your next outdoor adventure.