Best rain jackets of 2021
Whether you’re camping, commuting or just running errands around town, a trusty rain jacket can keep you protected from even the worst downpours. We tested 14 top-rated jackets from popular brands like The North Face, Patagonia and Arc’teryx for their waterproofness, breathability, durability and so much more to find the best option out there. And after more than three months of testing, there was one rain jacket that stood out above the rest.
The Patagonia Torrentshell outperformed all the other jackets we tested in key areas. It’s ridiculously waterproof and will keep you bone-dry in the worst rain, not to mention it’s extremely breathable, durable and comes with Patagonia’s lifetime Ironclad Guarantee.
Whether you’re an avid hiker or just need protection from the rain during your commute, the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L is the one rain jacket you should buy.
Since we couldn’t rely on frequent heavy rainstorms to test the waterproofness of our jackets, we hopped in the shower for 10 minutes with each jacket to see if we would stay dry. It turns out showers, which on average dump 2.1 gallons per minute, are surprisingly good at simulating some pretty extreme rainfall.
During our indoor monsoon, the Patagonia kept us completely dry, with only a tiny bit of water trickling in from the gap at the neck when we’d look up, and from the cuffs when we’d raise our arms (which was typical of all the jackets we tested, although some were worse and let tons of water in through the neck — more on that below). The Torrentshell’s three-layer H2No Performance Standard shell is what we have to thank for keeping us dry, and it held up just as well as GORE-TEX, probably the most well-known and trusted waterproof material in the outdoor industry.
The Patagonia’s durable water repellent (DWR) coating worked perfectly, causing any water that hit the shell to bead and run right off, preventing water from soaking into the jacket and pooling (which happened with a few of the other jackets we tested). Plus, since the water runs right off, we were able to easily shake the Torrentshell dry after our test, meaning you’ll never have to walk into work with a drenched jacket again.
All of the Torrentshell’s zippers are protected by a flap that didn’t allow a drop of water through, even when we pointed the shower’s stream directly onto them. So unlike most of the jackets we tested — which didn’t have fully waterproofed zippers, allowing water to slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) leak through both the main zipper and the pockets — the Torrentshell protects your phone and other items from getting waterlogged.
The only aspect of the waterproofness test where the Patagonia fell a bit short was its hood. While many of the other jackets had super-sturdy storm hoods, the Torrentshell’s wasn’t as large or stiff. The heavy stream from the shower caused the hood to bend a little bit, so the water would sometimes run down our face. To compare, the Arc’teryx Beta LT had our favorite hood, which maintained its shape in the shower and kept the water far from our face.
The Patagonia Torrentshell is super packable (though not as packable as the teeny tiny Outdoor Research Helium — more on that below) and stuffs into its own pocket. It was also one of the more breathable jackets we tested. So whether you’re hiking through the backcountry or running late for work, you won’t feel as hot and muggy as with other jackets. Plus, its pit vents mean there’s an easy way to dump heat if you’re starting to build up a sweat.
While some of the other jackets we tested felt sticky, clammy or even itchy against our bare skin, the Torrentshell had one of the most comfortable interior materials, behind only The North Face’s Dryzzle and the Arc’teryx Beta LT. It also proved quite durable, and only got a couple light marks when we rubbed it against our brick building. However, if you do some rough adventuring and your jacket does get damaged, it’s backed by Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee, which means you can send it in and get it repaired (in most cases for free) at any time.
Outdoor gear isn’t always the most eye-pleasing, which is why we love the Torrentshell’s many color options. There are 11 available at Backcountry and 12 at Patagonia in men’s, and nine colors at Backcountry and 13 at Patagonia available in women’s. Plus, it comes in six sizes from XS to XXL in men’s and seven sizes from XXS to XXL in women’s.
Rain jackets are a surprisingly complicated subject, so it’s good to know a little bit about what you’re getting into when buying one. The first thing to know is what these jackets are made out of. For years brands have been innovating waterproof materials that are also breathable and soft so they’re comfortable to wear. If all you want is protection from the rain, you can easily use a plastic poncho, but if you want to move around and not immediately start sweating, you’ll want to opt for a breathable rain jacket.
The most famous of these materials is GORE-TEX, which you’ve probably seen used in tons of brands and products, including coats, shoes and even gloves. But other brands, such as Patagonia and The North Face, have created their own versions of waterproof fabrics that work in the same basic way. These fabrics are waterproof and breathable at the same time because they have tiny little pores that are so small that water droplets can’t get through, but big enough so the air and vapor from your body can escape.
This porous membrane is key to this waterproofness, and also part of the layering system that you’ll see in the names and descriptions of rain jackets. There are two-layer, 2.5-layer and three-layer jackets, which tell you about the build of the jacket. A two-layer jacket basically just has the outer material with the waterproof membrane on the inside, a 2.5 has the same construction but with a sprayed or printed material on the inside to protect the membrane. Finally, a three-layer jacket has its outer material, the waterproof membrane and a whole other layer on the inside. There are differences in terms of the weight and feel between all three, but if you’re looking at waterproofness and durability, nothing beats a three-layer jacket because that extra material completely protects the internal membrane so dirt and oils from your skin can’t clog the pores and make it less breathable. All jackets we tested were either 2.5 or three layers.
The other key to waterproofness is a jacket’s durable water repellent, or DWR. This is a coating that is applied to the outside of a rain jacket so the water will bead up and run right off. DWR coatings stop working after a while, which will lead to the outer layer of your jacket soaking up water. The internal membrane will still keep you dry, but since that outer layer is filled with water it will be harder for your sweat vapor to escape, making your jacket less breathable. However, you can easily reapply your DWR coating with products such as Nikwax.
You’ll often see ratings for waterproofness with the measurement of millimeters, which can be a little confusing. Waterproofness is denoted this way because it’s rated using the static-column test, which puts the material at the bottom of a 1-inch-diameter tube, which is then filled with water until the material leaks. The millimeter measurement is how tall this water column can get before the materials fail and water gets through; the higher the number, the more waterproof it is.
Other than waterproofness and breathability, you’ll want to look for different features depending on what you plan on doing. Lots of pockets help with a commute, a storm hood is great if you get caught in a storm on a hike, weight and packability are essential for backpackers and if you’re a climber or biker, you’ll want a helmet-compatible hood.
To find the best rain jacket, we tested everything from waterproofness and breathability to fit, feel and packability. We broke up our tests into three categories: performance, durability and versatility so we could compare the different features of each jacket against the others directly. Here’s a full breakdown of all the tests we ran.
- Waterproofness: We wore each jacket in the shower for 10 minutes, with all zippers closed and the hood up. We spun around and focused the shower stream on different parts of the jackets, such as the zippers, shoulders and hood. After 10 minutes we took off the jacket and took note of how wet our shirt underneath got and where. We also put tissues in all the pockets of the jacket and saw if they got wet at all during the shower.
- Breathability: We wore each jacket and rode a Peloton bike for 10 minutes, keeping a consistent, light output. We judged how hot or sweaty we got and how soon into our ride we felt muggy.
- Fit, feel and stretch: We tried on each jacket multiple times and stretched to see if there were any restrictive areas. We wore the jacket and judged its length as well as how roomy it was in both the torso and arms. We also wore each jacket on our bare arms and judged how comfortable each felt against our skin.
- Weight: We weighed each jacket on a kitchen scale.
- Rub test: We rubbed the shoulder and arm of each jacket against a brick building five times. We took note of any scuffs, scratches or wear and tear to the material.
- Zip test: We zipped the main zipper up and down 50 times and took note of how many times it snagged or if it broke. We also paid attention to any deterioration throughout our testing process.
- Washability: We followed the wash instructions for each jacket and judged if it shrank or deteriorated in any way.
- Warranty: We researched the warranty for each jacket.
- Pockets and extra attributes: We counted any extra features, such as pit vents, helmet compatibility, pockets and more.
- Packability: We packed each jacket (into its own pocket if possible) and compared to see which ones got the smallest.
- Sizing and colors: We counted how many sizes and colors were available for each jacket in both men’s and women’s versions.
Arc’teryx Beta LT ($399; arcteryx.com)
This jacket was fantastic, but it fell just a bit short in a few tests. The fact that it didn’t blow the other jackets out of the water paired with the highest price tag in our testing pool, this jacket is a tough purchase to justify. Like we said earlier, it had our favorite hood we tested, plus its waterproofness and breathability performance was stellar. Its zippers, however, are only water-resistant, not waterproof, and both our shirt and the tissues in our pockets got a bit wet. You can save a lot of money and get a slightly better jacket with the Patagonia Torrentshell.
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket ($159; outdoorresearch.com)
This jacket was another one of our favorites, and while it didn’t score extremely high, it was solidly waterproof and breathable. The interior of the jacket is a bit sticky and felt clammy against our skin, but if you’re an avid hiker or backpacker, the Helium’s extreme packability just might be enough to sell you. It was the lightest jacket we weighed, coming in at only 6.26 ounces. For reference, the next lightest was about 7.5 ounces and the next after that was nearly 10 ounces. On top of that, the Helium stuffs down into its sole chest pocket into a tiny package that’s about the size of our hand. So if you’re searching for the lightest jacket that you can throw in your backpack for a thru-hike and don’t care as much about comfort or durability, the Helium is a great choice.
The North Face Dryzzle Futurelight Jacket ($230; thenorthface.com)
The North Face’s Dryzzle jacket features the brand’s latest waterproof technology, Futurelight. This membrane is just like GORE-TEX and Patagonia’s H2No, promising extreme waterproofing while maintaining breathability. We were quite impressed with The North Face’s jacket, especially the feel of the jacket both inside and out. However, it didn’t quite separate itself from other great jackets we tested. Our biggest gripe with the Dryzzle was the quality of the DWR coating on the jacket. When water hit this jacket it didn’t immediately bead up and shed like many other jackets we tested. In some places we could see visible spots where the water was soaking into the outer layer. It was one of our highest-scoring jackets, but with a lackluster DWR coating and a higher price tag than our winner we just can’t recommend it.
REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket ($89.95; rei.com)
This jacket is one of the cheapest we tested but surprised us with its solid scores throughout our testing process. It was solidly waterproof, decently breathable and an overall fantastic jacket. It didn’t score quite as high as the Torrentshell, mostly due to its sticky interior, but if you’re looking for a cheap jacket, the Rainier is a fantastic option.
Arc’teryx Zeta SL ($299; arcteryx.com)
The Zeta SL from Arc’teryx was another high-scoring jacket, coming in right around the top. It’s super waterproof and breathable, and its interior feels relatively comfortable. However, like the other Arc’teryx jacket we tested, its zippers aren’t fully waterproof, only water-resistant. It also doesn’t have as many extra features as the Torrentshell, which was a little disappointing for a $300 jacket.
REI Co-op Drypoint GTX ($173.93, originally $249; rei.com)
This jacket from REI Co-op was another high scorer but just didn’t do well enough to edge out the competition. It’s also a discontinued item, so it’s only available in one color and stock will eventually run out. Even at a massively discounted price it’s more expensive than our winner, so while it’s a solid jacket, there are better options out there.
Black Diamond Stormline ($149; rei.com)
The Stormline was the stretchiest jacket we tested and had quite a high score. It’s nice and light, and felt nice both on the outside and inside. It was mostly waterproof, with just a tiny bit of water getting into the pockets. If you need an extremely stretchy and malleable jacket, the Stormline would be a great pick for you, but overall it couldn’t beat out the other coats we tested.
Marmot Minimalist ($189; marmot.com)
This jacket was one of the more breathable jackets we tested, but its pockets — like many others — weren’t waterproof. A bit of water got into the two side pockets, and the tissue inside the chest pocket got completely soaked. It didn’t stand out for any particular reason, but it’s still a solid rain jacket. Just don’t put your phone in its pockets.
Outdoor Research Microgravity (starting at $149.40; outdoorresearch.com)
The Microgravity from Outdoor Research fell out of contention after a poor waterproofness test. Again, the pockets were its downfall, and in the Microgravity’s case, so much water came through all of its pockets that our shirt got wet underneath. The interior material also felt quite itchy, so we just can’t justify spending $250 on this jacket.
L.L.Bean H2Off ($189; llbean.com)
The L.L.Bean was the heaviest jacket we tested, but it does have tons of pockets to carry everything you need when you go out. However, those pockets are nowhere close to being waterproof. Every tissue we put in its pockets came out drenched.
Columbia OutDry Ex Nanolite Shell ($300; columbia.com)
This jacket did not score very well, mainly due to a poor waterproofness test. Its hood channeled the water down our face and right into the jacket itself. We had to look directly at the ground to keep the water out, and couldn’t move our head like we could with other jackets. At the end of our test our shirt was completely soaked. It is incredibly light, but if you’re looking for a packable jacket, go for the $159 Outdoor Research Helium instead.
Columbia OutDry Ex Reign ($150; columbia.com)
This jacket had the same hood issue as the other Columbia coat, and water ran right down into the neck of the jacket. It’s heavy, not portable, doesn’t feel comfortable on the inside and isn’t very breathable either.
Helly-Hansen Moss Hooded Raincoat (starting at $65; amazon.com)
This jacket didn’t impress us much, as it wasn’t very breathable, didn’t hold up well in our rub test and is the only jacket we tested that you can’t throw in the dryer. It was decently waterproof, but its hood is a little flimsy and its pockets don’t zip close, although the tissues we put in there didn’t get as wet as some other jackets.
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: