How To Choose A Rain Jacket – Buying Guide
Since not all rain jackets are the same, there are some factors that you should consider before getting one for yourself. Some are heavy-duty constructions that are meant to hold up absolutely everything you throw at them, while others are very lightweight shells for the weight counters out there.
Also, there are a ton of differences in quality, material, and function to consider that all add up to a daunting array of options, so how should you decide? We, at Globo Surf, have itemized a list of criteria so that you know exactly what to look for when looking for strengths and weaknesses. Let’s jump straight in!
The material of your rain jacket is an important consideration since it will determine the overall quality of your coat, as well as how warm and long-lasting it will be during rough conditions. Look for well-known brands that use top-tier materials to ensure that the jacket meets high-performance standards. More specifically, consider the material of the shell, lining, and filling. The material can be made of synthetic or natural fibers. Make sure that any material is treated to be water-resistant or waterproof.
The exterior shell should be waterproof to combat the snow and rain. Quality shell fabrics may include materials like HyVent or GoreTex, which are all-weather resistant and waterproof. Remember that both are expensive fabrics and may not be an option for budget-conscious adventurers.
The lining of your jacket should be made of soft materials that can also be synthetic or natural fibers. Polyester, fleece, and cotton make excellent liners because they are durable, lightweight, and provide ventilation. The most important aspect of the lining is that it is comfortable because it will be close to your skin and it will touch-sensitive areas such as the neck and wrists.
Most people confuse size with fit. The fit of a jacket will most often be determined by the size. While you can’t usually choose the fit of a jacket, you can definitely choose the size. Men’s and women’s rain jackets have different sizes, meaning that it is important to determine how the jacket is sized and whether it is gender-specific so that you can choose the best size option.
Most rain jackets you will find online have their own sizing chart, which is a good way to estimate what size jacket you will need. Rain jacket reviews can also be a great source of information on whether a jacket fits true to its size or runs too large or too small.
Once you have chosen a rain jacket, you must consider how the jacket will fit. There are form-fitting and spacious designs that cater to a wide variety of outdoor activities. The fit of a jacket can be difficult to balance since you want a jacket that is snug, but not so tight that it is restrictive. You will also need some room to move, but you don’t want the fit to be loose that the jacket is baggy.
The fit of the jacket may also be dependent on the activity. If you are staying in the city, a looser fit may be more comfortable and appropriate, but for high-energy adventurers, too much fabric will feel bulky.
The fit will also differ between men’s and women’s jackets. Women have typically smaller bodies than men, so the fit of the jacket needs to be tailored to shorter torsos and narrower waists. Men’s jackets need to fit broad shoulders and longer torsos. If you are concerned about how a jacket will fit, consider reading winter jacket reviews. Other buyers will often indicate whether the fit is true to size or if you need to size up or down.
Depending on the style rain jackets have, they can be made from a number of layers. This is the way a rain jacket resists moisture from entering yet also lets sweat and hot air vent out – a combination of fabric layers. You will see this referenced in every performance-oriented rain jacket on the market, typically seen as 2L, 2.5L or 3L. We will break down the pros and cons of each style:
2 layer jackets are the most basic, typically requiring a mesh liner to protect the jacket’s inner coating. They are not very breathable and the mesh bulk adds up, making 2 layer jackets best for casual use. You will often find them in entry-level styles.
2.5 layer jackets have a very thin interior fabric attached to their waterproof/breathable laminate or coating. The benefit of this interior finish is that the mesh found in 2 layer jackets is no longer necessary. Breathability, as well as compressibility increases and weight, decreases with this style, making it quite a popular option for hikers, backpackers, and climbers. One downside is that the interior fabric isn’t as soft to the touch as a true 3 layer, but there are certain models which do great.
3 layer jackets incorporate three separate pieces of fabric, with the actual waterproof and breathable membrane in the middle and more substantial fabric on the interior. This adds a bit more bulk than a 2.5 layer or a 2 layer jacket, but highly increases durability and further improves moisture-wicking and next-to-skin feel. Jumping to a 3 layer jacket also involves a significant increase in price, and most often there are big-name designs, such as Gore-Tex or eVent.
Truth be told, no piece of outdoor gear offers total protection from outside moisture, but most rain jackets today are listed as being either water-resistant or waterproof. Many light rain jackets, windbreakers, and soft shells are water-resistant, meaning that they shed water in light to modest precipitation but aren’t completely waterproof under extended exposure. Certain waterproof jackets also have a built-in laminate layer such as Gore-Tex or a coating that essentially blocks outside moisture from entering under most conditions. Additionally, they have waterproof taping along the seams on the interior of the jacket
You may notice a waterproof rating listed on some outdoor gear websites, represented by a number from 0 to 20,000mm or more. This is the amount of water in a 1-inch diameter vertical tube that the material can withstand without leaking. The tried-and-true method is the standard three-layer system in which the waterproofing is sandwiched between two protective and durable layers. These tend to be the most effective, and, therefore, the most expensive options on the market, with excellent moisture protection and breathability to keep you comfortable at the same time.
The actual method of waterproofing can vary greatly. Many companies have their own propriety method, such as Columbia’s OutDry or Marmot’s NanoPro, and the truth is that most work extremely well. Remember that water is incredibly persistent and can sometimes seep through with prolonged exposure, meaning that not all jackets are immune. Reference the reviews and remember that established adventure brands are the best bet. Another avenue for water to find its way under your coat is poor feature design.
Almost nothing is worse than slipping into a rain jacket and later finding out that you are just as wet from your own humidity and sweat, you might just as well rinse off in the rain! The trick for jacket manufacturers is to develop a material that keeps rain and dampness out, yet allows moisture and vapor to escape. This is called breathability.
The general leader in the breathability department is Gore-Tex. It has been applied to a wide variety of gear, including snow boots and pants, and it is generally a fairly safe option. Other companies also work to combine waterproofing with breathability, including Columbia’s OutDry and Marmot’s NanoPro.
An important note to consider is that ultra-light raincoats typically do not include extraordinary breathability. They are usually focusing on trimming weight wherever they can, cutting out all non-essentials, and breathability often does not make the cut. Also, they are quite pricier.
Putting ultra-light options aside, the better the coat you opt for from an established brand, the better the breathability will be. You don’t only benefit from just a cool ride by choosing high-quality items. You should focus on superior products from reputable brands since you are more likely to buy your best rain jacket there.
Hiking, backpacking, climbing, and other backcountry pursuits require a jacket that is lightweight but can also handle a sustained downpour. The differences in weight are significant. For example, the Outdoor Research Helium weighs only 6 ounces, while cheaper jackets or those with more features can weigh closer to a pound. Those extra ounces in a pack can really add up, making an ultra-light shell a good option.
In general, heavy-duty jackets will weigh a lot more than the ultra-light shells out there. For standard day-to-day use, this is not an issue, where a few ounces won’t keep you from getting to work on time. However, in outdoor sports, weight is everything. In ultra-light distance hikes or extreme trail running and marathons, every single ounce counts and must earn its place. A feather-light shell that still keeps the rain at bay and packs down to a small size is very valuable.
Depending on your intended activity, keep an eye on jacket weight. Nevertheless, weights are continuing to drop as fabric and membrane technologies become more advanced, and at the extreme end are sub-5 ounce trial-running jackets.
Rain jackets often don’t offer as much variation in features as some other types of outdoor gear, but there are certain differences between models. Many ultra-light and trail-running jackets remove pockets to cut down on weight, while other models sport them in abundance. Some rain jackets offer pit zips and/or full side vents, while basic models do not.
Pockets are the most notable omissions in using an ultra-light shell for daily use. Most shells go without hand pockets, instead opting for a chest pocket for storage. On the other hand, more feature-rich shells, such as hiking options, hit a better sweet spot for the everyday user. You often get two hand pockets and a chest pocket, all the better for little things you need to carry around on a daily basis like a phone or wallet.
Hoods can be a big consideration when shopping for a rain jacket. If you plan to climb in your rain jacket, look for one with a helmet-compatible hood. They can reach over the top of most climbing helmets for added weather protection. For example, jackets with large hoods are a great choice for climbers, while for normal hiking, it’s often prudent to avoid this feature. This is because a large hood will require a lot of cinching down, causing the fabrics to bunch up.
The adjustability of the hood is also key. When the wind is blowing, you want a hood that conforms to your head, while retaining enough structure around the sides and the bill that you can still see out. Cord wraps around the sides of your head keep the hood on your head even in really windy conditions.
Pit and side zips are used to dump out some hot air rather quickly. In creating a waterproof jacket specifically designed to keep moisture out, there are some natural restrictions on the air being held inside. By opening up the jacket under the arms, you can release a lot of air without sacrificing the jacket’s waterproof design. The underarm zippers often extend all the way down to the hems on either side. Fully unzipped, the jacket becomes a poncho.
Waist adjustments are a cinch system at the hem. To make the best seal possible, waist adjustments are typically done with a cord and toggle and they’re very user-friendly. You will see one side cinch on ultra-lights when the manufacturer is trying to cut some weight. The single cinch does mean if you really have to tighten the jacket, it will pull a bit to one side. This is often negligible and worth the weight savings. Heavier rain jackets have cinches on each side for a more even fit.
The truth is that, if you want a jacket with a high level of quality, you will probably need to pay for it. The jackets with top-tier durability, waterproofing, breathability, and other features will undoubtedly set you back a pretty penny. Jackets are a big investment, and people want the most value for an affordable price.
The jackets with the highest quality will have a variety of features, making them more valuable and worth the investment price. The quality of your jacket will depend mostly on your budget and how much you are willing to spend.