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The Best Rain Jackets for Backpackers

Prices may vary in these five rain jackets, but all of them are guaranteed to keep you dry depending on the conditions.

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From custom fit to winter-worthy, the best rain jackets collected here will fill every niche. You can even help reduce petro-pollutants while you have your Gene Kelly moment.

How to Buy a Rain Jacket for Backpacking

When you’re shopping for your storm armor, make sure to take the following factors into account.

Cut: How long is it? You’ll want seat coverage if you’re expecting heavy, constant rain, but you may want a higher cut for better venting if you’re planning on moving fast or only looking at light showers.

Material: No one likes hefting a heavy jacket on their shoulders. Jackets made of light materials are great for reducing weight, and store more easily when the drops stop. But a jacket with holes all over it won’t keep you dry, and a heavier-duty model will more effectively fend off bramble and sharp rocks.

Breathability: If you’re planning on exerting yourself, make sure your jacket can handle it. Superior waterproofing may stop your shell from wetting out, but it can also make sweat slower to dissipate, and adds to the price tag.

Helly Hansen Vancouver Rain Jacket

helly hansen vancouver best backpacking rain jackets
Helly Hansen Vancouver Rain Jacket

“The Vancouver is like a custom-fit fortress,” says one tester who wore it in sideways, blowing rain while scrambling across rimrock ledges in Hells Canyon. It’s made with tough 70-denier nylon and Helly’s proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane, but it’s the combination of cut and features that makes this jacket so storm-worthy.

Fit is among the best in the test; there’s ample coverage with room for layering, but no bagginess. And you can lock down the Velcro cuffs, tighten the hem drawcord, and cinch the hood snugly around your face to keep water out no matter how wicked the weather is or how high you reach.

Like most shells in this price range, breathability is limited during hard hiking, but the whole jacket is mesh-lined, which prevented the clammy membrane from sticking to testers’ skin. Hand pockets—positioned well above a pack’s hipbelt—can be left open for a modicum of venting.

$130 Buy Helly Hansen Vancouver Rain Jacket Now

Mountain Standard Terrain N’ Rain Shell

Mountain Standard Terrain N’ Rain Shell Jacket best backpacking rain jackets
Mountain Standard Terrain N’ Rain ShellCourtesy

Winter-worthy hardshells can cost north of 500 bucks, so finding a solid performer for half that price can seem too good to be true. No smoke and mirrors here, though: The secret is Mountain Standard’s direct-to-consumer model, which avoids retail markup. Sure, the Terrain N’ Rain skimps on some features a more expensive shell might offer, but it locks out weather on cross-country ski trips and wintry trail runs, and is light enough to wear the rest of the year. This jacket’s premium breathability and mobility come from Polartec NeoShell, a three-layer, air-permeable, stretchy fabric; we skied hard up into the 50s without cooking while wearing it over a baselayer, and its four-way stretch moved with us comfortably. The Terrain N’ Rain isn’t meant for mountaineering or frigid temps—the hood doesn’t accommodate ski helmets, and the cut is too slim to fit over heavyweight puffies—but for aerobic activities in rain, snow, sleet, and high winds, it’s a steal.

The jacket features one chest and two hand pockets (a hipbelt will cover the lower portion, but the pockets are still usable), pit zips, and adjustable cuffs, hem, and hood. Testers loved how the hood’s curved sides help preserve peripheral vision, but it lacks side-adjustment toggles for pulling it tight.

“I never felt like I was sacrificing fit for price with this jacket,” reports a tester. “It has the anatomical tailoring you’d expect from high-dollar shells—nothing sloppy about it.”

$298; 14 oz. Buy Mountain Standard Terrain N’ Rain Shell Now

The North Face Venture Jacket

the north face venture best backpacking rain jackets
The North Face Venture Jacket

If you tried to run a backpacking stove on beans instead of fuel, you’d be eating cold meals in camp. Better idea: The North Face subbed in bean-derived castor oil for petroleum-produced products in the HyVent DT EC membrane on its Venture rain jacket. Result: a shell that works and eliminated the use of an estimated 50,000 pounds of petro-pollutants this year (no small beans there).

After backpacking in the Pacific Northwest with 40°F temps, 10-plus-mph winds, and plenty of rain, our tester posted this score: Venture Jacket 1, Pineapple Express 0. “It’s as waterproof as other shells,” he says, “but the textured interior doesn’t get slimy or clammy.” Testers praised the breathability, which is enhanced by two long pit zips and mesh-lined chest pockets.

The forearms admitted a few drops when one tester was bike commuting in driving rain, and the jacket wetted out—but didn’t leak—under pack straps. Functionally, the castor-oil blend works just like a standard waterproof/breathable: Tiny pores pass perspiration vapor, but don’t admit water. Best part? The price. This is a no-brainer shell, not an eco-niche showpiece. 

$99; 12.4 oz. Buy The North Face Venture Jacket Now

Marmot Zion Waterproof Softshell Jacket

Marmot Zion Waterproof Softshell Jacket

For years, manufacturers have been trying to deliver the superior breathability and supple, stretchy fabric of a softshell, combined with the total waterproofness of a hardshell. The Zion, made with Polartec’s new waterproof/breathable NeoShell fabric and fully seam-taped, moves the needle ever closer to the perfect union.

“I spent three days on the trail in near-constant rain with temps in the 30s and 40s in Washington’s Quinault Rainforest,” says our tester. “I stayed bone dry, and only had a bit of sweat buildup during a 4,000-foot climb in warmer weather (low 50s).” The tester, who tends to overheat easily, says the Zion is as breathable as the best shells he’s used.

Details are equally dialed: Hand pockets sit above a hipbelt and are large enough for skins, and the helmet-compatible hood has a stiff, rain-repelling brim. And while jackets with this much protection tend to be a little constraining, the soft fabric and articulated sleeves enhance mobility. “I used it fly-fishing the Yakima River,” says our tester, “and loved the freedom of movement when I needed to sidearm roll casts under brushy sections.” Downside: weight.

$400; Buy Marmot Zion Waterproof Softshell Jacket Now

Ultimate Direction Ultra Hardshell Jacket

2016 outer shells
Ultimate Direction Ultra Hardshell Jacket

Instead of a membrane, the Ultra relies on a silicone coating for waterproofing. But while “coating” usually spells “sweat factory” for shells, this one maintains breathability through an electrostatic application process that preserves tiny pores on a molecular level. Testers called the breathability good, not great, while backpacking into the 60s in Idaho’s Smoky Mountains, but extra venting options help. Mesh pit vents let body heat escape without the extra weight and cost of zippers (an overhanging flap of fabric keeps drips out). A mesh “tunnel” from the brim to the back of the head helped channel air across the hood and dump steam.

The semi-elastic cuffs sport unique waterproof “mitts” that completely cover the hands, then tuck away cleanly when not in use. “Warm, dry hands in a chilly storm—very nice,” says a tester.

The slim cut is best with just a baselayer. Female testers appreciated how the women’s version gathers a bit at the waist thanks to a short elastic band on the back.

One tester stayed dry during five hours of bushwhacking in nonstop rain. But the ultralight fabric feels a little flimsy. Our samples didn’t suffer any tears, but we were careful to avoid catching the fabric on brush or rocks.

$170; Buy Ultimate Direction Ultra Hardshell Jacket Now

How to Pack for Backcountry Skiing

Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.