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Updated Sep 27, 2022 12:47 PM

As an all-weather bike commuter, mountain lover, and frequent traveler who rarely allows the elements to deter me from my plans, I always carry around a packable rain jacket. Whether I’m on the road for work or off on an outdoor adventure, it never hurts to have rain gear that is effective, breathable, and light enough to carry around all day. The best packable rain jackets compress down to about the size of a large wallet, folding into a pocket or the corner of your bag.

Though I see it ideally as a very dynamic piece of clothing, there are absolutely certain rain jackets better suited specifically for various activities. Depending on your budget, you can find expensive, high-tech jackets loaded with features, and basic, reasonably priced ones. A full list of great packable rain jackets would be very long, so I’ve narrowed and selected the best packable rain jackets.

How we picked the best packable rain jackets

As a person who rides a bicycle everywhere, I’ve been on a perpetual quest for the perfect packable rain jacket for years now. While I think I’ve pretty much found it, there’s always new technology and updated features to try out. You only know if they do what they say they’ll do after you’ve weathered a storm or three wearing them. As it happens, I work in film and television production, so I spend a lot of time working out in the elements, putting my jackets to the test.

The jackets that made our list provided sustained rain and wind protection, while being lightweight enough to pack easily into a pocket or bag. I also considered fit and comfort, especially in the chin guard and hood. Lastly, I looked for special features like a fold-down tail and zippered pockets, which often make a particular jacket stand out from similar designs from other companies.

Things to consider when buying a rain jacket

There’s a surprising amount of technical jargon you should know before picking out a rain jacket. While shopping for one, you’ve likely seen terms like “hardshell,” “softshell,” “taped seams,” and “packable” thrown around a bit, along with claims about how waterproof and breathable a particular garment may be. This isn’t just marketing-driven jargon added to impress. They do really impact how well your jacket can protect you.

If you’re unsure exactly what some of these mean, you’re not alone. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for when looking at rain jackets:

Hardshell or softshell

As with many things in the apparel and gear industries, there is no universal, absolute definition of “softshell” and “hardshell” jackets, but there are common guidelines that most companies follow. Traditionally, softshell jackets are more breathable, while hardshells offer more prolonged water protection, pack down smaller, and weigh less. 

Hardshell jackets have a stiffer, more rigid feel than softshells, and feature a thicker, 3-layer fabric with a waterproof, breathable membrane sandwiched between its inner lining and a “hard” exterior layer. 

Softshell jackets are made from softer, more pliable material. They’re usually stretchier and more breathable than a standard hardshell, which makes them better for moving around.

At this point, many companies have developed new fabrics that blur these lines, providing the best properties of both in a single jacket. For example, Rab’s Proflex fabric offers the weather protection of a hardshell, with the comfort, stretchiness, and feel of a softshell. 

Nearly all of the jackets on this list are hardshell jackets, as they tend to weigh less and pack into smaller sizes.

Waterproof/breathable fabrics

Most modern rain jackets are constructed with fabric made from two or three different layers of material that are fused together, maximizing protection while keeping them light and breathable. For instance, the 3-layer Elite fabric used by Showers Pass consists of an outward-facing fabric with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish, backed with a waterproof-breathable membrane laminate. This membrane is covered with microscopic pores that prevent rain-sized water droplets to pass, while allowing moisture from your body through. On the backside of that membrane, a laminate tricot liner to make sure the jacket feels dry against your skin while adding protection for the membrane layer.

Most 2-layer (or 2.5-layer) materials use a charcoal or cellulose raised print directly on the membrane instead of a liner layer which allows for a more compact and lightweight jacket (by eliminating one layer.) 

Taped seams, including zippers

Stitching garments together creates hundreds of tiny needle holes in the seams—there’s no way around this when sewing. A well-made rain jacket requires the seams to be taped in order to keep water from getting through these minuscule holes. After sewing, manufacturers fuse thermoplastic tape with heat and pressure over the seams to prevent this. These are called taped seams. Without them, water can easily penetrate the seams.

Fit, including hood

When trying on a rain jacket, look for a Goldilocks fit—not too loose, but not too tight. If it’s snug, the jacket won’t make for an effective top layer over other outerwear like a hoodie or another, not-so-waterproof jacket. If it’s too loose and bulky, the jacket could hinder your mobility. 

For most of us, a just-right fit is slightly larger than that of an average jacket. It won’t ride up over your waist when you raise your arms. You also want the sleeves to be long enough to come well over your wrists so they don’t pull up too high when you reach to grab something.

We prefer a rain jacket with a hood because in cold, inclement weather, keeping your head warm and dry goes a long way in keeping you from feeling like a drowned rat. And a hood keeps the water from getting under your neck and trickling down your back. A well-designed hood has a small visor built in to keep rain out of your eyes and a way to cinch it so that it fits closely to your head. You don’t want to just see the side of the hood every time you turn your head (plus it can be dangerous). If you regularly partake in an activity like climbing or cycling where a helmet is a good idea, make sure the hood will fit over it.

Packability

By definition, a packable rain jacket should fold or roll up into a very small size that makes it easy to carry around. Many of the jackets on this list stuff into their own chest or hand pocket, though that isn’t a requirement. As long as you can shove it into the last, small, available space in your backpack, that counts as packable. If your jacket doesn’t crumple into its own pocket, you can buy a lightweight “stuff sack” just for that purpose.

The best packable rain jackets: Reviews & Recommendations

I have a few favorite packable rain jackets that I use regularly depending on what I’m doing and where I’m going. I found them through working and traveling, using them in all kinds of situations. Many of those jackets made their way onto this list, along with some specialty shells for traveling, cycling, hiking, and other adventures.

Best overall: Showers Pass Refuge Jacket – (Men’s Version)

Showers Pass

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Showers Pass Refuge jacket possesses all the features we want for almost any adventure we dream up.

Specs 

  • Weight: 19 oz (size M)
  • Material: 3-layer Elite waterproof hardshell
  • Price: $295

Pros

  • Fully seam taped
  • Removable hood that fits over a helmet
  • Multiple zippered pockets
  • All outward-facing zippers are waterproof

Cons 

  • Expensive
  • No stuff sack

The Showers Pass Refuge jacket is my go-to for stormy bike commutes, long-distance hiking trips, and wandering around cities in the rain. I seem to find myself caught in unpredictable adverse weather on a pretty regular basis, so I look for rain jackets with special features that make walking around in a storm almost feel enjoyable. 

Most rain jackets, no matter what they’re made from, will eventually allow water through if submitted to a relentless heavy rain that lasts for more than a few hours. The Refuge jacket is effective for all-day light or moderate rain or about three hours of a heavy downpour. When I say downpour, I mean the kind of rain that makes it difficult to see what is right in front of you; the kind that if possible you might want to take shelter from until it’s passed. 

Its enormous zippered side pockets easily accommodate my Galaxy S21, the reinforced shoulder area is suited for backpack straps, and the hood fits comfortably over a helmet—and stays there while cycling thanks to a drawstring cincher. The Refuge also has a dropdown tail, which comes in handy while biking, or scoping a place to sit during or after a storm. Add in reflective details, core vents, and secure wrist cinchers to keep the wind out and it’s pretty much the perfect all-around packable rain jacket. 

The purchase of a Showers Pass Refuge jacket even supports their “enjoy all the elements” campaign, an initiative dedicated to providing programs and education to get more people outside. 

Best for hiking: Rab Kinetic Alpine 2.0 Jacket – (Women’s Version)

Rab

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: Rab’s Kinetic Alpine 2.0 is the only fully waterproof jacket we’ve found that, because of the stretchiness in the fabric, doesn’t hinder your movement at all, no matter what you may be climbing.

Specs

  • Weight: 13.8 oz (Size L)
  • Material: Recycled polyester with 3-layer membrane
  • Price: $280

Pros

  • 2-way front zipper
  • Zippered inner chest pocket
  • Stretch woven Proflex panels in hips, arms, shoulders, & hood

Cons 

  • Expensive

True to its name, the Rab Kinetic Alpine jacket has been designed thoughtfully and specifically for climbing mountains. Described by the company as a “breakthrough in technology,” the softshell jacket is made from a proprietary material called “Proflex”—a stretchy and breathable waterproof fabric that’s perfect for propelling yourself up the side of a rocky and/or snowy cliff. It’s also engineered to handle scrapes against rough surfaces, like stone or bark, without ripping. I’m rather clumsy and routinely utilize sturdy trees and rock faces to steady myself on both inclines and descents. Despite this, my Kinetic Alpine 2 has yet to suffer any significant damage. 

At the same time, it’s also one of the few rain jackets I’ve worn where I’ve actually forgotten that I had it on. There’s no restriction to movement, even when stretching to reach the next tree root on the way up a muddy embankment. Its hood is also among the most comfortable I’ve ever worn, with a wide chin guard.

All the pockets are equipped with waterproof zippers; the inner chest one being the perfect place to stash small valuables like a credit card, ID, and lip balm (Chapstick definitely classifies as valuable in dry mountain environments). Last, but not least, it comes with a stuff sack for easy stowing in your pack.  

Best for travel: Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket – (Men’s version)

Patagonia

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L packs neatly into its own pocket and can withstand a wide variety of adverse weather situations.

Specs 

  • Weight: 12.5 oz. (Size M)
  • Material: Ripstop nylon with 3-layer H2No Performance shell
  • Price: $149

Pros

  • Pit zip ventilation
  • Self-stuffs into hand warmer pocket
  • Fair Trade Certified
  • Contains recyclable materials

Cons 

  • The recycled nylon fabric gets noisy
  • Small hood may not fit over helmets

For travel, especially across several destinations, Patagonia’s Torrentshell 3L rain jacket has everything you need. It packs into one of the two hand warmer pockets, has pit zips and a comfortable roomy chin guard, and stands up well to rain, wind, and snow. It comes in a variety of stylish colors if you want to deviate from basic black, grey, or white. 

The Torrentshell 3L is also both Fair Trade Certified and made from recycled materials that meet the bluesign criteria. Bluesign technologies, based in Switzerland, focuses on sustainability in the entire textile manufacturing chain to guide brands in creating products with as little negative environmental impact as possible.

One thing to keep in mind: The recyclable nylon fabric of this jacket can be weirdly noisy. It isn’t excessive, but you may not be able to quietly slip on your rain gear to slip out for an early morning hike. 

Best for cycling: Gore Wear C5 Gore-Tex Shakedry 1985

GORE WEAR

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Gore Wear C5 Gore-Tex Shakedry 1985 jacket is the lightest and most packable jacket we found, making it perfect for weight and watt-obsessed cyclists (while also leaving room for more snacks in your back pockets).

Specs 

  • Weight: 3.4 oz. (Size L)
  • Material: Gore-Tex
  • Price: $250 – $300

Pros

Cons 

  • Expensive
  • Really just for cycling

While I don’t consider myself a full-on “roadie” when it comes to cycling, I do my fair share of cycling club road rides around New York City. There are tons of cyclists in the city, many of whom embark on lengthy rides around the New York Tri-State area on weekends. When the rain comes out, so does the Gore-Tex Shakedry.

At a mere 3.4 ounces, its ultralight weight and form-fitting, which is very important for competitive cyclists looking who don’t want drag from their clothes. The Gore-Tex “Shakedry” material is so thin that it’s almost transparent, but is also somehow waterproof and windproof. The Shakedry fabric repels water beads that land on the fabric surface without letting any moisture through. When the rain stops, you can simply shake it dry with a sharp flap and put it back in your cycling jersey pocket.

This jacket is not recommended for use with a backpack, as the straps could damage the fabric. If you prefer your cycle with a motor (and don’t need to worry so much about weight), take a look at some rain gear for motorcycle riders which is sturdier and heavier.

Best lightweight: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket – (Women’s version)

Outdoor Research

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: At only 6.3 ounces, the Outdoor Research jacket is half the weight of most all comparable competitors, but still delivers top-of-the-line wind and rain protection.

Specs 

  • Weight: 6.3 oz. (Size L)
  • Material: Nylon with 2.5 layer Pertex Shield
  • Price: $159

Pros

  • Very light
  • Breathable
  • Current version has updated fabric that is 7x more tear resistant than previously

Cons 

  • Only one pocket (chest)
  • May not withstand heavy rain

If you very specifically want the lightest everyday rain jacket possible, consider the Helium by Outdoor Research. It’s much lighter than most of the jackets on our list but still performs well against light rain and wind. Because of the low weight, it’s a popular jacket amongst thru-hikers and long-distance backpackers who count ounces as fastidiously as enthusiast road cyclists.

Between its weight and the fact that it packs into its chest pocket, the Helium is a great everyday carry jacket. On the other hand, that chest pocket is its only pocket, so it offers limited storage.

Best budget: Marmot Precip Eco Jacket – (Men’s version)

MARMOT

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: For around $100, the Marmot Precip Eco is one of the most popular (and effective) jackets we see out on the trail.

Specs 

  • Weight: 9 oz. (Size M)
  • Material: Recycled nylon with 2.5-layer Nanopro
  • Price: $100

Pros

  • Pit zips
  • Stuffs into own pocket
  • Good quality for price

Cons 

  • Runs small

Marmot consistently manufactures quality outdoor gear and sells it for reasonable prices. The Precip Eco jacket may lack some of the advanced bells and whistles found in our top picks, but it performs well and costs less than our top picks. A lightweight jacket that packs easily into one of the pockets, the Precip Eco feels roomy in the shoulders to give you a full range of movement while hoisting your pack on and off. The hood also packs into the collar, which is useful for climbers and cyclists.

While it runs a bit small and has a hood with a narrow chin guard, you’re getting a garment that feels very close to the best of the best, without spending quite so much money.

FAQs

Q: What does a packable rain jacket mean?

Packable rain jackets are defined by the ability to fold or roll down into a very small size and stuffed into either their own pockets or small carrying sacks. They tend to be lightweight jackets made to protect you from wind and rain when you plan to go out in less-than-ideal weather.

Q: Can you repair rain jackets?

You can repair a rain jacket with tenacious tape, a one-sided vinyl tape made for patching waterproof fabrics, including jackets and tents. Available by the roll, or in pre-cut patches, you simply cut a piece to cover the tear plus an inch on all sides. For added strength apply a patch on both the inside and outside of the jacket over the tear. Press down from the center out and wait 24 hours if possible before wearing.

Many camping and outdoor-focused jacket manufacturers, including Patagonia and Showers Pass, also offer repair services for their products.

Q: How much does a packable rain jacket cost?

A good packable rain jacket can cost anywhere from $60 to $800, all depending on how many features you want. Keep in mind that the most expensive gear on the spectrum is made for scaling mountains and other extremely harsh conditions. A well-made, technically minded jacket should suffice for most people, and that usually costs between $100-$300

Q: Where do I recycle my rain jacket?

The best and easiest way to recycle your rain jacket is to give it away or donate it to an organization that resells or donates used clothing. Many waterproof jackets have coatings or have undergone treatments that make them impossible to recycle through conventional means. That said, some manufacturers, such as Patagonia, accept all their products for recycling.

Final thoughts on the best packable rain jackets

All of these jackets are solid, quality garments that will keep you dry when the skies open up. Finding a rain jacket that is waterproof, comfortable, lightweight, and breathable makes every kind of outdoor activity more fun and comfortable in bad weather, from cycling and climbing to a leisurely walk around the neighborhood.