HOW TO SPOT A GOOD RAIN JACKET?
When buying a rain jacket there are certain factors that will help you select a good rain jacket for hiking.
To help you choose between the mountains of options out there, I have compiled an easy to follow list of things to keep in mind when you go shopping!
There is no such thing as the perfect rain jacket for hiking, but when you think about all the selection criteria below, you will come pretty close to it! When it comes to choosing your next rain jacket, you will need to make a trade off between weight, features and breathability. Keep scrolling to find out more! Or click here to go straight to my top 6 quality lightweight rain jackets on a budget.
Selection criteria for a waterproof hiking jacket:
1. Level of waterproofing
3. Weight & Packability
5. Quality & Price
1. Level of Waterproofing
So the first thing to check is how waterproof the jacket actually is.
For wetter climates you should look for a jacket with a rating of at least 20,000 mm or better. For example, a jacket that is built for 10,000 mm rain will be less waterproof than a 20,000 mm jacket.
The rating is defined by the clothing manufacturer, with testing usually done in-house or by independent laboratories. Because there is no standard testing protocol, results can be different. So, always take the numbers with a grain of salt.
Testing usually involves measuring how high a column of water you can suspend over the fabric before it starts to leak.
Sometimes the waterproof rating is expressed in PSI – 1 PSI is usually equal to 704 mm…you do the maths 😀
A rain jacket with a waterproof rating of more than 20,000 mm can stand heavy rain and high pressure conditions.
How do you find out what the level of waterproofing is?
This might sound like a straight forward question, but often this information is missing when you go shopping for a rain jacket. So what do you do?
1. Always check the label first:
Usually one way to check this is of course the label. However, many rain jackets don’t even display this on their label.
2. Ask the staff:
Then of course the next step would be to ask the staff in the shop. But can you really trust their judgement? If you are in a speciality outdoor shop they would have received training, so yes! But if you are in one of the larger outdoor stores that is more like a department store, you should be careful in what you choose to believe.
3. Google & check reviews online:
Another way of finding out the waterproofing of your jacket is to google the particular brand and model. Most of the time you won’t even find the details online, but for the more specialised brands you will.
5. Blow through the fabric:
Then there is the more casual approach to finding out how waterproof your jacket is: you can hold the sleeve of the jacket over your hand and stretch the fabric so it is tight. Next, you need to blow on the fabric. The more air you feel coming through the fabric, the less waterproof the jacket will be.
Aside from the level of waterproofing, one of the most important features to take into account when buying a rain jacket for hiking is the level of breathability. You want your jacket to be breathable while you are walking in the rain. Otherwise you will get wet yourself.
A lot of rain jackets will advertise themselves as highly breathable. From the cheapest to the more expensive rain jackets, it can be a bit of a gamble. Check out my top recommendations for 2020!
What happens if a rain jacket is not breathable enough for your activity:
You start sweating underneath! This will lead to moisture staying on your body and in the worst case scenario the moisture gets absorbed by your layers underneath. As a result, you will get cold…and stay cold in some cases. Not good!
That is why it is so important to have a breathable rain jacket, especially in wetter climates where you will be wearing it often. You would rely on it to keep you dry on top and underneath!
How do you find out if a rain jacket is breathable?
It used to be that you would find out about the lack of breathability when you are already out on the trail. By then it is obviously too late to return it or buy another jacket. But it doesn’t have to be like that anymore.
Nowadays, there is a breathability rating for waterproof jackets, measuring how much moisture can evaporate through the material. The rating is expressed in either RET or MVTR values. The lower the RET value number, the more breathable the material. In contrast to the MVTR which has higher values for higher breathability.
I know what you are thinking…why does my rain jacket not have a breathability rating?
It’s a shame that these things are not mandatory, but a brand that is well and truly proud of their breathability will be more than happy to share the rating. A good example is the rain gear at Decathlon.
3. weight & packability
Because most of the time we carry everything on our back, the weight and compactness of a rain jacket also needs to be considered.
A good waterproof jacket can easily reach 1kg, but there are good jackets for as low as 200g! Usually the lighter the jacket, the higher the price.
Most newer jackets will pack down into their own pocket or at least into their hood. Anything more will feel bulky and heavy.
Depending on the conditions of your hike, you might benefit from a heavier material that will guarantee a better level of waterproofing or warmth. But if you are hiking in summer, a minimalist rain jacket or poncho will be enough to protect you from showers.
Again, it all depends on your budget and the conditions on the trail, but here are some good lightweight rain jackets that won’t break the bank.
Every jacket will have different features, and not all jackets will have the features you need. Before you buy a jacket, think about the things that you really want to have in a rain jacket. This will not only increase the comfort of your hike, but will also help you think about the conditions your jacket will need to face.
In other words, it will decrease your chances of getting disappointed with your purchase.
It is important to check some critical features for when you are facing heavy rain or long periods of rain:
1. Seam sealing:
Are the seams sealed? Or do you have to waterproof them yourself?
Is there an inner pocket?
Are the pockets large enough for my comfort?
3. Storm flap:
This is the part of the hood that will protect you in heavy rain. Crucial in stormy weather, it is not necessary if you are only facing showers. However, it will add to the comfort of your hike in the rain.
4. Hem and hood adjustments:
Can you adjust the waist, close off the wrists and adjust the hood?
Being able to adjust your rain jacket to changing weather conditions is crucial in wet climates.
For example, if the hood is adjustable, you will be more comfortable in heavy winds because it will stay on your head instead of blowing off all the time.
When you can close off the wrists, you will preserve a lot more warmth in colder weather, and this will also prevent water from seeping in through the sleeves.
5. Pit zips:
Pit zips will improve the breathability of the jacket because it provides the option to have extra ventilation when you are hot. That means that the breathability rating of the jacket can be a bit lower because you can always use the pit zips to let the moisture evaporate.
Jackets with pit zips are usually well made to face any weather conditions.
5. Price and Quality
I guess this one makes sense, but I really wanted to include it in the factors to consider when choosing a rain jacket. The reason for that is that a higher price doesn’t always reflect higher quality.
It is really important to understand what makes a good rain jacket to know a quality gear item when you see it. Also, if you want a good rain jacket, you need to understand the conditions it will need to withstand. Do you only need it to face showers, or do you count on the rain jacket to keep you dry during a full day poor down?
With so many options to choose from, there are quality rain jackets for every budget. Here are my top 6 budget rain jackets.
***Did I miss anything in this article or would you like to add something? Please use the comment section below or send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will see what I can do***