The more carefully you choose your hiking apparel, the more comfortable you’ll be on the trail. Jackets, as your outer-most layer, will be your first line defense from rain, wind and even scrapes from stray vegetation.
While style might be your main consideration around town, your hiking clothes need to be carefully scrutinized for function, and jackets are no exception. Manufacturers are constantly developing new, ever more technologically advanced textiles, cuts and extra features, designed to ensure maximum comfort.
The modern day hiking jackets are waterproof, lightweight and breathable, without sacrificing protection or affordability. To decide on the best hiking jacket for you, it’s necessary to think about where and for what activities you will be using it.
A warm weather rain shell will suit rainforest walks, but won’t stand up to the rigors of a snowy mountain climb, for example. We will be looking at shells for a range of occasions, from summer rains to alpine climates; day-hikes to backpacking and mountaineering expeditions.
Important Features to Look for
What you will want depends largely on the conditions you expect to face when you’re out on the trail. If your destination is a tropical rainforest, you will definitely need waterproofing and breathability, but warmth and layering ability won’t be a priority.
Conversely, snowcapped mountain treks will require a durable fabric that will help keep warmth in and can be comfortably layered with snug undergarments. Keep your eyes out for:
- Waterproofing: It’s almost unavoidable, every hiker will get caught in the rain at some point. It’s never a nice experience to be wet and facing hours left of your trip, with little chance of drying out.
This is where waterproof rain jackets come to the rescue – but just how waterproof are they? There are range of options out there with varying degrees of efficacy, from water-resistant materials that will hold up for short, light rains to 3L fully waterproof jackets which won’t allow a drop of rain to touch you.
Be aware of the difference between “water resistant” and “waterproof” jackets:
- Water-resistant jackets have a waterproof coating, such as a Durable Water Repellency (DWR) treatment. Water will bead-up upon landing, then run off, down the fabric.
While these jackets will eventually succumb to the rain and wear out faster than fully waterproof ones, they are generally more budget-friendly and will serve you will as a short term investment in moderate rains.
- Fully waterproof jackets have been constructed with sealed seams and waterproof membranes in specially designed textiles.
Even the stitching in your garment can be an opening for unwanted water seepage, so the process of heat-sealing or taping the seams can make sure that the jacket is completely impermeable to rain. Textiles which provide waterproofing come in several types:
- 3-Layer: Consists of an outer waterproof layer which has been DWR treated, a waterproof breathable membrane in the middle and a protective lining to prevent wear from sweat, dirt and so on. The 3 layers are bonded together. This technique provides maximum waterproofing and breathability.
- 5-Layer: Also features a DWR treated exterior layer and middle membrane, but it has an interior coating which is usually sprayed on, therefore counting as half a layer. This process makes for lighter weight jackets, but tends to lack breathability.
- 2-Layer: Comprises the external coated layer and the bonded membrane, plus a separate lining of mesh or a similar material. The lining can add bulk and weight, but these jackets are comfortable and often seen in streetwear as well as technical gear. These were the original waterproof technology and still have old school appeal due to their affordability and simple effectiveness.
Every brand will have a different technology and an equivalent buzzword for their waterproofing textiles, but whatever material your jacket is made from, rain will often slip in through the little open crannies like loose cuffs, hood and neckline.
Look for adjustable or elasticized options here, as they can be fine-tuned to close any gaps between you and the material. Drawstring hems and tails can also be closed to prevent water or mud splashback getting up under the jacket. Zips are notorious for letting in unwanted leaks; look for covered or water-resistant zippers if you are wary of heavy downpours.
- Breathability: You can still sweat while working out in rainy or cold weather and you don’t want a jacket that will keep rain outside while keeping sweat inside.
The breathable membranes often constructed into waterproof textiles are made of tiny pores which allow moisture out without letting it in, but not every jacket will have this feature (or have an effective version of it).
Water-resistant jackets are typically less breathable, but this will be reflected in price. Many jackets also feature vents or underarm zips which can be opened to promote air circulation and prevent internal humidly, as well as releasing heat.
- Durability: The amount of durability you need will depend on where you intend to wear your jacket and how much wear you expect to sustain. If you just want something to keep off the rain, durable material may not be a priority for you, but even so, look out for fabric that won’t rip easily.
If your jacket ends up with a tear after snagging on a stray branch, it will certainly be less effective at protecting you from the weather.
Backpackers or mountaineers should look for tougher materials with reinforcements on areas that wear out quickly, like the shoulders and hips.
- Flexibility of movement: Again, how much you need depends on your intentions. Trail runners may need extra mobility compared to someone going for a day hike.
Mountaineers should certainly look of for a jacket which won’t get in the way or encumber their movements. Bulkiness should be avoided in favor of streamline fits that will move easily.
Also consider features what allow fit adjustment, like drawstrings or elasticized cuffs, which will somewhat tailor the garment to your body shape.
- Lightweight and Packable: Nobody likes to be weighted down by unnecessarily heavy equipment. Choose light materials which fold down easily. The packed size can make a real difference when backpacking, and many jackets can fold into their own pockets or hoods to allow for easy stowing. Rain shells are generally a lightweight option which can be layered over other garments for warmth or worn over a light shirt to keep you cool.
Product Reviews: Our Top Picks
Now that you have had a chance to think about which features you will need the most, let’s have a look at some available options. Some of these options are minimalist, while others are designed for tough slogs in harsh climates. Just remember that your best hiking rain jacket depends on your climate and purpose.
Columbia Men’s Pouration Jacket
Specific Features: 100% Omni-Tech Full-Dull Rip-Stop nylon; 100% polyester fine mesh liner; fully seam sealed; breathable OutDry technology; stow-away hood; water resistant zippered pocket; packable into pocket; draw cord adjustable hem and drop tail; underarm vents.
Best Use: Rainy conditions, mild to moderate weather, layered over a sweater, hiking, backpacking, streetwear.
Description: Columbia’s Pouration Jacket is a great all-round outdoor windbreaker. It provides waterproofing, breathability, lightweight protection, while also being budget-friendly,= compared to many other jackets on the market.
It can double as streetwear with its sleek, understated design, while being protective enough for rugged conditions. It doesn’t provide much warmth for cold climates but keeps wind out and layers well over other garments while keeping you dry.
The OutDry membrane sheds water while seam sealing adds extra waterproofing. The adaptability of this jacket stands-out. With an adjustable hem and drop tail, stowable hood, and tall collar, you have the ability to tailor it to your individual needs as they differ during a single trip.
Underarm vents add breathability for when you start to sweat, as does a mesh liner which helps to prevent that sticky feeling. This lightweight jacket stows into its pocket, adding to overall versatility.
Overall, this is a functional jacket that adapts well to a wide range of conditions without breaking the bank.
Columbia Men’s Sleeker Jacket
Specific Features: 100% Omni-Tech Rip-Stop nylon; 100% polyester lining; full seam sealing; adjustable hood, cuffs and drop tail hem; Light Rail Zipper system on pockets.
Best Use: Rainy conditions, mild to moderate weather, layered over a jacket, hiking.
Description: Columbia’s on fire in the jacket arena, with two options in our top picks. The Sleeker Jacket, like the Pouration Jacket, features Omni-Tech material for breathability and waterproofing.
It keeps water out, even in rainstorm conditions and the adjustable hood keeps your head comfortably dry.
Breathability is somewhat limited as it is only partially mesh-lined and also lacks vents, meaning that your arms can get a bit clammy on longer or more strenuous trips.
Layering over a light sweater mitigates uncomfortable stickiness and may be necessary in winter weather, given that this is a shell designed to keep out rain and wind, not cold.
Unlike the Pouration Jacket, this one has hand pockets, with LightRail Zipper technology, which basically means that the zips are less visible than normal zips.
Overall, this is a lightweight, streamlined jacket which fulfills its purpose of protecting you from the rain with minimal weight and a reasonable price tag. A solid option if you’re looking for a simple, relatively no-frills jacket to keep you dry on walks or moderate hikes.
Related: This jacket also has a brightly-colored women’s version. Ladies who may prefer a more toned-down look might consider trying out the smaller men’s sizes, as the color options are more understated and both the men’s and women’s options have a similar slim fit.
Marmot Men’s Crux Jacket
Specific Features: NanoPro Membrain material; 2.5 layer lamination; seam taped; helmet compatible hood; PitZips water-resistant zippers; zippered pack pockets; internal pocket; asymmetric cuffs with Velcro; elastic draw-cord hem; angel-wing movement.
Best Use: Mild to severe rains, hiking, mountain hiking, backpacking.
Description: The Crux Jacket from Marmot provides an excellent combination of waterproofing and breathability.
Its 2.5-layer NanoPro Membrain is an air-permeable material which protects effectively against even severe and long-lasting rains, while doubling a breathable membrane with millions of micro-pores for air circulation.
Mesh pockets function as additional heat vents, ensuring a cool and comfortable hike even in mild weather. Water resistant zippers and full seam sealing give extra protection against water.
This is a good jacket for hikes in warm or cool weather, and would work well on mountain trips, with the helmet-compatible hood being an extra feature for mountaineers.
The shoulders and hips have additional Duralite reinforcements to prevent damage in those quick-to-wear-out areas, and to give extra durability when carrying a heavy pack. It folds down small and fits easily into a pack, while being comfortable and lightweight when you need it.
Possibly the best backpacking rain jacket around, the long-lasting waterproofing of this jacket makes it perfect for longer trips, and more generally, it does a good job when it comes to protecting you from the elements.
Related: If you’re a Marmot fan but don’t need anything as heavy-duty, perhaps consider their Precip Jacket. It is a waterproof windbreaker, but without the extra reinforcements of the Crux Jacket. The Precip Jacket is a feature-rich option which is well suited to light and warmer weather hiking.
Dynafit Transalper Dyna Shell 3L Jacket
Specific Features: 100% Polyamide shell, 100% Polyurethane membrane; taped seams; autolocked zipper; stowable in hood; 22.000 mm water column; Bluesign approved textile.
Best Use: Mild-severe rains; lightweight hiking and backpacking, mountain hiking, trail running.
Description: The Transalper Dyna Shell 3L is just about the ultimate in lightweight waterproofing. The shell is made of a polyamide material with 3 layers, plus a DWR (durable water repellent) finish to make this a truly waterproof jacket.
You’d never guess it had 3 layers, judging by how light and flexible this jacket feels – until you get caught in a rainstorm, that is! Taped seams and a waterproofed zipper keep out moisture, and the elasticized hem, cuff and hood protect your extremities from getting wet even during long haul trips in rainy weather.
Designed for trail running, this jacket gets points for breathability too; angled underarm vents help air circulation, keeping you relatively cool without letting water in. Stowable in its hood, this jacket makes a great lightweight option that you can throw into your pack without worrying about weight.
If you think this jacket has good features, but are still undecided, you might be interested to know that it’s also Bluesign approved. Bluesign is an international environmental standard for textile production which aims to reduce chemicals and water usage in manufacturing and generally make sure products are as environmentally sound as possible.
Related: Dynafit also offers a Transalper Dyna Shell 3 for women. The men’s and women’s options both have a similar cut and functionality. The only difference is the color options: the men’s jacket comes in blue, while the women’s is pink, and both genders have an orange option as well.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite Jacket
Specific Features: 100% nylon rip-stop; water resistant 15D face fabric; stows in its own pocket; single zippered chest pocket; stow-away hood; elastic binding on the hood.
Best Use: Trail running, cross-training, hiking, cycling, camping, rainy weather, ultralight backpacking, mild to moderate rain and wind.
Description: The Ghost Lite Jacket from Mountain Hardwear feels, as its name would suggest, like you’re barely wearing anything.
A shell designed for the needs of runner and cross-trainers, it is also great for hiking, camping or any outdoor pursuit which when you want something lightweight and easy to manage in mild to moderate weather conditions.
This jacket fares well in modest rain and wind, keeping you dry as the water runs off the nylon material. It won’t provide much protection against really torrential downpours, as it doesn’t have seam sealing or an extra coating on the fabric.
If you are looking for something to keep you dry in relatively mild climates, however, this is a good choice. It layers well in cold weather, and can be comfortably worn on its own over a t-shirt. It isn’t overly breathable, but it traps air inside to keep chills out.
This is a good jacket in both spring and autumn, serving well in both mild cold, and warm rains. It stows away small in its own pocket, making it extremely transportable, especially when you don’t want to carry a lot of extra stuff. This is a good choice when you want that little bit of extra protection but don’t expect any really extreme weather.
It is a good multi-weather jacket for sports training and trips where you are packing ultra light and want a barely-there jacket you can quickly slip into (or out off) whenever it suits you.
Montane Alpine Pro Jacket
Specific Features: 3-Layer Gore-Tex Pro; fully sealed seams; adjustable, stowable and helmet compatible hood; zippered pockets
Best Use: Snowy weather, skiing, mountaineering, mountain sports, alpine hiking, snow sports, backpacking.
Description: The name of the Montane Alpine Pro Jacket tells you everything you need to know: it is designed to keep you warm and dry in alpine ad winter climates.
If you are looking for something to keep you protected through winter, without the added bulk and weight that takes the appeal out of most cold-weather clothing, this might be the choice for you.
The first technical outdoor clothing brand to obtain a license for Gore-Tex in 10 years, Montane has released its new line to a generally great reception.
The time tested Gore-Tex material is as lightweight, waterproof and durable as we have come to expect, with the addition of Montane’s precise construction standards. The stitch count is 50% higher than the industry standard, creating smooth seams which are unlikely to rip apart any time soon.
This jacket has been designed for intense activities, especially mountain sports. It has a helmet-compatible hood which doesn’t restrict movement and has the bonus of a stiff peak to keep rain and snow out of your eyes.
While waterproof materials don’t have the best reputation for breathability, the Montane has countered this well with the inclusion of underarm vents to avoid overheating even when you are pushing yourself hard on the mountain.
This well constructed, lightweight jacket will comfortably take you anywhere from a local walk in the snow, to skiing in the Alps, all the way to an intense mountain climbing expedition.
Related: Why not check out the other options in Montane’s new Gore-Tex range? The Endurance Pro Jacket is a turbo-charged option designed to take abuse in extremely tough mountain conditions, with an adjustable climbing hood and extra reinforcements on high-wear areas. The Spine Jacket and Surge Jacket are mellower choices for hiking or running.
Bergans Of Norway Torfinnstind Jacket
Specific Features: 2 combined soft shell fabrics; 4 way stretch; mesh pockets; adjustable Velcro cuffs; one-hand elastic drawstring at hem; reflective details; articulated elbows.
Best Use: Skiing, snowshoeing, winter sports, hiking, mountaineering, fall and winter weather.
Description: Nobody understands winter wear better than the Scandinavians, and the Torfinnstind Jacket is a great example of fine Norwegian design. This is waterproof winter jacket, suitable for snowy climes, as well as rain.
We usually associate winter garments with weight: heavy fabrics, lots of layers and extra padding for insulation, but the Torfinnstind Jacket has brought an end clothes that take away your ability to move.
This lightweight jacket can be packed small, making it perfect for trips with unpredictable weather, or when you want to limit your luggage size.
To allow for unrestricted mobility during winter sports, this jacket has been constructed for maximum flexibility, thanks to the soft shell stretch fabric and articulated elbows.
Climate control has been well executed, with the jacket coping well in both a wide range of temperatures, especially as you can still work up a sweat hiking or skiing in the winter. It layers well for those really chilly times, while the mesh pockets allow you to release heat and wick moisture to avoid overheating on warmer days or an intense workout.
While the Torfinnstind jacket is one of the more expensive options around, the quality of materials and design, as well as good versatility make this a good long-term investment.
Related: There is also a Women’s Torfinnstind Jacket available. It has the same functionality as the men’s line, but with a more feminine cut and color scheme, including pink and purple.
The right jacket is the one which keeps you comfortable and dry; whether you need an alpine jacket or a thin shell is as personal as your outdoor preferences. There is no shortage of special features, cutting-edge technologies or new designs for every imaginable situation.
Narrow the field by thinking about your own climate and the intensity of your hikes, which should dictate your requirements in terms of weight, breathability and waterproofing.
We’ve presented jackets for a range of climates, but do you think we’ve missed something? If your favorite jacket isn’t here, leave a comment and tell us about it.