The 5 Best Rain Jackets for the Backcountry
By Michael Lanza
Shop for a rain jacket for the backcountry and you’ll see shells for adults ranging from under $100 to over $600, and 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. I’m going to make the choice simple for you.
I’ve tested dozens of rain shells while hiking through soaking rains all over the world over the past two decades; I’ve learned how to distinguish the mediocre from the excellent. Here are my picks for the five best rain jackets for backcountry adventures.
These top-performing shells range in price from $275 to $549, with great deals available right now on some of them (see the links below). I think you’ll find one of them is just right for your dayhikes, backpacking trips, and climbing and other outdoor adventures.
I’d love to read your thoughts on them or other jackets you like in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
How do I choose a rain jacket for the backcountry? I follow four simple criteria:
• Don’t spend more than necessary for what you’re doing—i.e., your activity level (how much you sweat) and where you go (how much rain you’ll see). Think about how often you’ll actually wear that jacket.
• There’s no reason a three-season shell should weigh much more than a pound, period.
• At a bare minimum, any shell, whatever the price, should fit you, shed steady rain, have a hood that keeps precipitation off your face, and breathe at least well enough that you’re not just as wet from perspiring in it as you would be not wearing it. Otherwise, you’re wasting your money.
• If you’re spending upwards of $300 or more, don’t settle for anything less than a jacket with great fit and exactly the performance and features you want.
With those criteria in mind, I’ve put together this list of the five best jackets I’ve tested and reviewed at this blog.
The 5 Best Rain Jackets For the Backcountry
Arc’teryx Zeta LT Jacket
$425, 12 oz.
When you really need a high-performance rain shell for ultimate comfort and functionality in consistently wet and challenging conditions, the Zeta LT nails it, as it did for me in very wet weather from Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains to Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies. From its superior weather protection and breathability, to the new C-KNIT technology from Gore-Tex making the jacket more supple and quieter than traditional hard shells, this one’s a winner for hard-core users.
Read my complete review of the Arc’teryx Zeta LT Jacket.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s Arc’teryx Zeta LT Jacket at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or a women’s Zeta LT Jacket at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com.
Never get cold again (well, almost never). See my “5 Tips For Staying Warm and Dry on the Trail”
and “10 Smarter Ways to Think About Your Layering System.”
Marmot Crux Jacket
$275, 7.5 oz.
If keeping the weight and bulk of everything you carry is priority one, but you still need protection from the elements, Marmot’s Crux is hard to beat. I tested this wispy shell in inclement weather from the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop to New Zealand’s Kepler Track in notoriously wet Fiordland National Park. It comes up short of the other shells on this list in breathability. But if you often carry a rain shell “just in case” and can live with that shortcoming, you’ll appreciate its low weight and packability a lot.
Read my complete review of the Marmot Crux Jacket.
For high-speed workouts in damp weather, get a breathable, ultralight wind shell. See my reviews of the best.
Montane Featherlite Shell Jacket
$399, 11 oz.
Hiking for hours at a stretch with a pack in one of the rainiest places on the planet—New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park—I stayed dry and comfortable in the Featherlite Shell Jacket, thanks to the eVent DV Storm membrane, which eVent says is more breathable and lighter than its original membrane (itself pretty darn good). If you’re dishing out dollars for top performance, put this on your short list.
Read my complete review of the Montane Featherlite Shell Jacket.
BUY IT NOW You can support The Big Outside by clicking this link to purchase your Montane Featherlite Shell Jacket at moosejaw.com.
Outdoor Research Realm Jacket
$279, 10.5 oz.
On a four-day, spring ascent of The Mountaineers Route on California’s Mount Whitney, OR’s proprietary AscentShell fabric proved very breathable when I carried a pack weighing over 40 pounds to our high camp at 12,000 feet, as the alpine sun created a solar oven with the snow-covered ground and a biting wind ripped through every few minutes. With four-season versatility, exceptional breathability, and technical features in a shell weighing 10 ounces at a reasonable price, the Outdoor Research Realm Jacket is an exceptional value.
Read my complete review of the Outdoor Research Realm Jacket.
BUY IT NOW You can support The Big Outside by clicking this link to purchase your Outdoor Research Realm Jacket at backcountry.com.
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Patagonia Pluma Jacket
$549, 14 oz.
Rain fell for two straight days as we trekked the Tour du Mont Blanc, while the temperature remained stuck in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit. On the grinding ascent of nearly 3,000 feet to the Grand Col de Ferret at 8,323-foot (2537m), we hiked straight into a wind-driven tempest. Still, I stayed dry and comfortable in the Pluma. A legitimate, four-season shell made with Gore-Tex Pro fabric, it has it all: superior weather protection, good breathability and ventilation, and a fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood, while still weighing in under a pound.
Read my complete review of the Patagonia Pluma Jacket.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s or women’s Patagonia Pluma Jacket at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or the men’s at patagonia.com or the women’s at patagonia.com.
See all of my rain jacket reviews and all of my reviews of ultralight wind shells, water-resistant, lightweight jackets well suited to aerobic activities outdoors, and all of my reviews of outdoor apparel, backpacking gear, and hiking gear at The Big Outside.
Need a rain shell for a kid to use in the backcountry? See my review of the functional and well-priced Marmot Boy’s and Girl’s Precip Jacket.
Tell me what you think.
I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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