The best rain jackets for surprise downpours, hiking, and the slopes

Stay dry. But breathe.

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Whether you’re an urban commuter just trying to get to the subway in the drizzle, or an outdoorsy soul who loves to flee to the mountains to hike or ski, a good rain jacket is an essential piece in your closet.

Of course, there are lots of waterproof, breathable rain jackets out there, and their prices and attributes vary. You can find a good item for around $100 or even less, but you can also empty your wallet on a specialized shell that costs north of $500.

The core piece of tech in most of these jackets is the waterproof, breathable membrane: a layer like Gore-Tex that has microscopic pores small enough to keep water droplets out, but large enough to let your sweat escape.

Shells come with different features. Their physical weight, the presence or absence of pit zips and pockets, and the various number of layers they use (the standard is three) are all elements that can affect the price.

Here’s our breakdown of what to look for, either for yourself or as a nifty gift.

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If you want a solid jacket for a hike in the woods, or just as an all-round go-to item, you can’t go wrong with the Marmot PreCip Eco. It’s about as affordable as rain jackets come, and it gives you what you need: protection from the element, pit zips to open or close, and a hood that can disappear right into the collar with a roll. You can find lighter jackets out there—and it’s a little crinkly—but this item is absolutely a great value and solid choice. Weight: .6 pounds. Price: $100

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Spend a little more money, and you can grab a jacket that’s lighter and, in my opinion, a touch more comfortable. This item lacks features that the Marmot has (no pit zips, no pockets for your hands) but makes up for it otherwise: The chest pocket is a good place for your wallet, and it’s simply a nice, sleek item to have on your back. Weight: .4 pounds. Price: $119

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Like the Gore Infinium jacket below, this item isn’t water-proof—it’s water-resistant. The nylon has a durable water repellent coating on it, and a combination of merino wool and polyester in specific sections give the garment more texture and warmth. But even if it’s not designed to be bomb-proof in a heavy downpour, this piece is a good, feather-light item to throw on if it’s damp or drizzling. Weight: .3 pounds. Price: $125

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The Convey Tour is designed specifically for hiking trips. Carry this shell towards the top of your backpack so you’re prepared if it starts raining; with the hood up you can trek for hours in rain, snow, and maybe hail unscathed. If you get hot, open the long zippers under your armpits to breathe a little. Weight: .7 pounds. Price: $249.

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If you’re going for a jog in the rain, you’ll want the lightest possible garment so your sweat passes right through it. The North Face’s newest tech is called FutureLight; they created the membrane in it by spraying polyurethane through thousands of little nozzles. The jacket feels soft, stretchy, and light, but it completely lacks pockets except for one in the back for a wallet or set of keys. Weight: .6-ish pounds. Price: $280

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This water-resistant jacket has an awesome “I’m a time traveler from the future” vibe to it. The somewhat shiny outer membrane feels a little plastic-y—but not in a bad way—and the inside is warm, soft polyester. In other words, it’s a shell that’s designed to keep you toasty if it’s chilly and cause any drizzle to bead up on its surface. Two pockets and a cozy hood round it out. The fabric around the sleeves is highly tapered, so it will likely have trouble stretching over a big watch if you wear one. Weight: .7 pounds. Price: $300

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Jackson Hole company Stio intends the Raymer to be the ultimate shell for playing hard in the mountains. It’s designed for heavy exertion in the snow, like huffing and puffing up a hill with skins on the bottom of your skis, nordic skiing, or splashing through powder. Open the vents on the side if you get hot—and stay epic. Weight: 1.1 pounds. Price: $399

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This is a heavy-duty shell designed to be worn over other layers as you ski. What sets it apart are distinctive patches of uber-stretchy material (called Gore-Tex fabric with Stretch Technology) behind the arms and below the hood. Those sections expand, accordion-like, to help the jacket fit snugly over your body—but they also give when you pull your arms forward and together. That works out swimmingly; jackets perform best when they fit you well but don’t limit your movement, either. Side zippers and three pockets come in handy, too. Weight: 1.3 pounds. Price: $599

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Rob Verger Avatar

Rob Verger

Technology Editor

Rob Verger is the former Technology Editor at Popular Science. His expertise is in covering aviation, transportation, and military tech. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, a video producer with Reuters.