If you've ever been on a backpacking trip where it started raining midway through and you spent three days soaked to the bone, you know how important it is to bring a good rain coat. That said, you'll need a different style of jacket for backpacking than you would for regular hiking. While day-trekking coats can be thick and heavy with plenty of extra features, the best rain jackets for backpacking need to be less cumbersome. There are two distinguishing factors that set them apart:
First, they need to be lightweight. This may seem obvious, but it's hard to overstate how important it is that your jacket not weigh too much. Every ounce counts when you're backpacking — especially on longer, more technical trips that require a lot of gear. You want a jacket that forgoes some of bells and whistles in favor of a more minimalist design.
Secondly, they need to be compact. Unless you're trekking through the Amazon rainforest, you're probably not going to wear your jacket the whole time. That means that it will spend part of the trip in your backpack, so it needs to be able to pack down tightly and not take up too much space. It's also helpful if it comes with a carrying pouch or stuff sack.
With those factors in mind, check out this list of the best backpacking rain jackets. I've tried several of them out myself and researched the others in depth, so they are all vouched for.
1. The Overall Best Rain Jacket
Eddie Bauer Women's Cloud Cap Lightweight Rain Jacket
I have this Eddie Bauer rain jacket, and I can personally attest that it's a great option for backpacking. I haven't taken it deep into the wilderness myself, but it has all of the qualities you'd want for a backcountry trek: it's super lightweight, ultra-compact, and free of excess bulk. The sturdy nylon is thick and abrasion-resistant, while the DWR coating keeps it waterproof, even in the toughest downpours. On top of the fully waterproof zipper (which cuts weight by eliminating the need for a storm flap), it has breathable "pit zips" to offer extra ventilation on steep inclines. Offered in a wide range of sizes (including tall and petite), it's also considerably cheaper than most comparable jackets.
- Available sizes: X-Small to XX-Large
2. The Most Lightweight Rain Jacket
Outdoor Research Women's Helium II Jacket
I've also tried this Outdoor Research rain jacket, and it's literally the lightest, most compact jacket I've ever worn. It's also surprisingly soft. Designed with a built-in pocket stuff sack, it's great for wilderness backpacking trips as well as for travel backpacking where you don't want to lug around a full-sized jacket. It's definitely just a shell (it doesn't have any extra pouches, zippers, or liners), however, that's perfect if you don't want the extra weight. The only drawback is that it doesn't have hand pockets. Like the Eddie Bauer pick, it comes in a variety of sizes and colors.
- Available sizes: X-Small to X-Large
3. The Warmest Rain Jacket
The North Face Women's Thermoball Triclimate Jacket
If you're backpacking in colder climates, this three-in-one North Face rain jacket is a wonderful choice. With a fully removable, insulated liner, you can wear the two pieces together for protection from rain and cold, or separately as either a rain shell or puffy jacket. Since you'll likely be taking both of these items on a cold-weather backpacking trip, anyway, it's a great choice for its compact design.
The shell is made from a robust material called DryVent that's fully waterproof while also being stretchy and breathable. Meanwhile, the interior is constructed with ThermoBall, a soft, puffy jacket-style material that's cozy and insulating. It has an adjustable hood and is 100 percent machine-washable, too.
- Available sizes: X-Small to XX-Large
4. The Best Investment
Fjallraven Women's Keb Eco-Shell Jacket
This Fjallraven coat is one of the more durable, high quality rain jackets you can find. Although it's a bit pricier, you will have it practically forever, so it's worth the investment if you go backpacking a lot. It's built from a strong, imported polyester that's woven into a fabric called Eco-Shell, which offers stretch and durability. On top of that, it's waterproof and fully abrasion-resistant. "I love this jacket," wrote one reviewer. "It's the exact jacket I wanted. The material is excellent. The chest pockets are handy. I've worn it for weeks now and can verify - it does keep you dry!"
- Available sizes: XX-Small - X-Large
5. The Best Poncho-Style Rain Jacket
November Rain Lightweight Waterproof Poncho
If you're someone who prefers poncho-style jackets over traditional rain coats (or if you simply like to maintain a little style on the trail), this one from November Rain is lightweight, functional, and free-flowing. It has a large, detachable hood that can fit over thick hats, and it comes with a handy travel pouch that's easy to toss in your bag.
This one isn't made specifically for outdoor trekking, so it doesn't have the ultra-light, performance features that some of my other picks do; however, it does feature strong polyester and durable, heat-sealed seams. It comes in 12 colors and patterns and, as a bonus, the company donates 10 percent of its profits to charity. The only drawback is that it doesn't perform well in high winds (one reviewer noted that it flops around a lot), so it may not be a good choice for backpacking in gusty climates.
- Available sizes: One size
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