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Top 10 Backpacking Rain Jackets: 2018 Annual Survey Results

While there are thousands of outdoor rain jackets and hard shells available, most backpackers choose from a small set of common makes and models. If you’re in the market for a new backpacking rain jacket, here are the 10 most popular rain jackets that backpackers actually use today and recommend.

2018 Rain Jacket Survey

We been running surveys on SectionHiker.com for many years to find out about our readers’ gear-selection preferences because we feel that many manufacturers ignore their needs in order to court the higher-volume consumer market.

Backpacking is a remarkably simple hobby, but it’s easy to think otherwise if you pay too much attention to the hype put out by the outdoor news sites and printed magazines competing for gear manufacturers’ and retailers’ advertising revenue. Our reader surveys help us keep SectionHiker’s gear reviews and educational articles real and grounded in reality, rather than focused on the latest bright and shiny object or technology.

In this recent survey, we asked over 700 backpackers to answer the following questions:

  • What are the most popular rain jackets used by backpackers?
  • Would they recommend their rain jacket to their best friend?
  • How frequently do backpackers purchase new rain jackets?

Most Popular Backpacking Rain Jackets

We found that the 40% of the backpackers we surveyed use the following three rain jackets. They’re far and away the most popular choices.

We list the complete list of top ten rain jacket rankings below, including whether they’re available in distinct men’s or women’s models.

The top 10 rain jackets are used by 56.5% of the backpackers in our survey. The remaining 43.5% of those surveyed use a total of 153 other rain jackets from many different manufacturers. As an indication of product loyalty and satisfaction, we asked backpackers if they would recommend their jacket to their best friend.

Rain Jacket Replacement Rate

We also asked backpackers how often they purchase new backpacking rain jackets to replace the ones they currently own.

How often do you buy a new backpacking rain jacket

Our results show that 47.3% of the backpackers we surveyed, or nearly half, replace their rain jackets within 3 years. While that’s good news for rain jacket manufacturers and land fill owners, you have to wonder why the replacement rate is so high. We discuss some possible reasons for this below.

Discussion

There are a few conclusions that one can infer from these survey results.

Low Cost Preference

There’s a notable absence of premium makes and models from manufacturers like Arc’teryx in the top 10 backpacking rain jackets. The 10 most popular rain jackets are predominantly under $200 at retail prices, although you can often purchase them for far less during sales. Backpackers are either highly cost conscious or they have a healthy disregard for the performance claims of premium jacket manufacturers. I think both of these factors are in play in rain jacket product selection.

For example, backpacking brings out the worst in more expensive waterproof/breathable jackets. Shoulder strap and hip belt abrasion causes rapid deterioration of the DWR coatings in those jackets that incorporate a waterproof/breathable membrane. When you add in the fact that wearing a backpack blocks about 50% of the breathable area of a jacket, it’s no wonder that most backpackers perspire heavily when they hike in the rain. Carrying 20+ pounds on your back is exercise, after all. So I’m not surprised that many of the top 10 jackets use proprietary waterproof membranes with lackluster breathability performance, or none at all, since there’s little benefit in paying for more expensive ones.

Recommendation Scores

The backpacking community is closely knit and people commonly take the advice of friends or people whose opinions they trust when making purchase decisions. A common way of measuring brand or product loyalty and customer satisfaction is to ask people whether they’d be willing to recommend and promote it. A score between 90% and 100% is considered very high and favorable, which helps explain why people keep buying the same top three jackets year over year.

It also explains why savvy manufacturers (should) avoid retiring successful product lines or names, even when they significantly alter the design of existing models. A good name is a terrible thing to waste, even if it makes product changes less transparent for consumers.

Replacement Frequency

Close to half of the backpackers we surveyed replace their rain jackets every three years. There are a great many reasons to replace a rain jacket ranging from normal wear and tear to deterioration of DWR coatings. We didn’t collect data about the reasons why backpackers buy new ones so frequently, but it’s interesting to see how frequently they do. We plan to delve into this more in future surveys.

Consistency with 2017 Rain Jacket Survey

The results of the 2018 rain jacket survey (n= 728) are consistent with our findings in the 2017 survey (n=322), although more reliable because we had over twice as many respondents. We also screened out respondents who said they did do not backpack, something we did not do as carefully in the 2017 survey. While the percentages of products used differ, the top three jackets: the Marmot Precip, Outdoor Research Helium II, and Frogg Toggs Ultralight 2, are the same in both years.

Rain Jackets (2017) % Owned MSRP (USD) Satisfaction 1-5
Marmot Precip Jacket 28.8 $100.00 4.07
Frogg Toggs UL Suit 13.2 $24.99 4.10
Outdoor Research Helium II 8.14 $159.00 4.04
Patagonia Torrentshell 2.7 %129.00 3.44
North Face Venture 2.4 %99.00 3.60
Marmot Essence 2.4 %199.95 3.43
Columbia Watertight II 1.4 %90.00 4.00
Mountain Hardwear Plasmic 1.4 %139.95 3.80
Columbia Pournation 1.4 %90.00 3.75
Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket 1.4 %99.00 4.00

About this Survey

This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=728 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant because backpackers were not randomly selected to participate from a pre-screened population.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for formulating questions and recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the most popular rain jackets carried by backpackers.

If you’d like to notified of future surveys and gear raffles, sign up for our weekly newsletter in order to be notified when they occur. Not sure you want to subscribe? Check out some recent newsletter issues to see what they’re like.

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Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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Outdoor Research Panorama Point Rain Jacket Review

Water Resistance

Breathability

Comfort & Mobility

Hood Adjustability

Temperature Regulation

Weight

Durability

Packed Size

Lightweight Stretch-Fabric Rain Jacket

The Panorama Point Rain Jacket has built-in mechanical stretch for added comfort. It is loaded with great features that make it an excellent jacket for year-round use.

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The Outdoor Research Panorama Point is a lightweight rain jacket that can be used year-round for hiking, backpacking, and all of your recreational pursuits. That’s actually harder to come by than you think. While there are lots of lightweight rain jackets that you can use for three season wear, few have the additional venting and temperature regulation features required for serious winter hiking and backpacking. This jacket’s outer shell also has some stretch to it which makes it very comfortable to wear and surprisingly quiet.  If you can only afford to buy one jacket for year-round use, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that’s this fully featured and affordable.

Specs at a Glance

While the Panorama Point is made with OR’s proprietary waterproof/breathable laminate, I wouldn’t get too excited about that aspect of this jacket. Most Gore-tex knock-offs have pretty lackluster performance (and OR doesn’t publish specs for theirs.)  Companies use them to reduce the cost of jackets and because a breathable layer is considered a check-box feature with consumers, regardless of its effectiveness.

What I like about Outdoor Research rain jackets and winter hard shells, which I’m been using for over a decade, is that they usually put pit-zips or even longer torso-zips on their rain jackets, even when they have a breathable membrane. Venting is the most effective way to dump the excess body heat that leads to perspiration, as well as the built-up water vapor that’s generated when you sweat. I’ve never had much faith in the laboratory-tested breathability claims made by any manufacturer and their applicability for field use. All of the rain jackets and winter shells I use when I’m not testing gear have pit zips and torso-zips for that reason. Your mileage in 100% humidity may vary.

Jacket Features

The Panorama Point Jacket is loaded with all of the features that are you want on a jacket that can span four-season use.

  • a fully adjustable hood including neck toggles and a volume reducer
  • hood wire brim
  • pit zips
  • velcro wrist cuffs
  • chest pocket and two side pockets
  • hem cinch
  • two-way zipper

Fully Adjustable Hood

The Panorama Point’s hood has neck toggles and a rear volume reducer so you can cinch the front to prevent heat loss, block wind, and reduce the volume to fit your head. I consider these must-have features on any rain jacket that you intend to use for hiking and backpacking. Your head generates a lot of heat when you hike and it’s important to retain it when you’re cold or vent it when you’re two warm. You can’t do that if you can’t cinch it down tight and prevent the wind from whistling through, or if the hood is sized for a helmet, which is a common problem on winter shells, and too big for your head.

The Panorama Point has a fully adjustable hood including neck toggles, wire brim, and rear volume adjuster
The Panorama Point has a fully adjustable hood including neck toggles, wire brim, and rear volume adjuster.

Wire brim

Hoods with wire brims are great because you can reshape them easily. They also help prevent rain from dripping onto your face or glasses. If you have a jacket without a brim or one with just a fabric brim, you’ll probably need to carry a ball cap to keep rain off your face, which is just added weight to carry.

Pit Zips

The Panorama Point has 11″ long pit zips under the arms with two-way zippers. They’re easy to reach and adjust while wearing the jacket and do a good job at dumping excess heat without letting in additional moisture when it’s raining.

Velcro wrist cuffs

The arms have velcro wrist cuffs that you can cinch closed to prevent heat loss. You have a lot of blood flowing through the wrist that’s close to the surface of your skin, so preventing cold air from reaching it is an important way to keep your hands warm. They also prevent cold rain from dripping down your arm and wetting your mid-layer.

The Panorama Point has velcro wrist closures for warmth management
The Panorama Point has velcro wrist closures for warmth management.

Pockets

The jacket has three zippered pockets, all lined with mesh. The chest pocket is large enough to hold a smartphone (or GPS). In fact, it has an interior sleeve to hold a phone, so it won’t fall out when you open the pocket (awesome feature!). There are also two huge side pockets and the left pocket has a key fob w/ clip sewn into the seam. Unfortunately, the side pockets are not hip belt compatible and will be covered if you’re wearing a backpack.

Hem cinch

The jacket has an elastic hem cinch which is good for trapping heat in cold and windy weather, and to help prevent spindrift from blowing up under your jacket in powder.

The 11" pit zip help dump excess heat and reduce perspiration
The 11″ pit zip help dump excess heat and reduce perspiration.

Two-way Zipper

A two-way zipper is another highly desirable feature, particularly on a winter shell, because it give you the ability to rapidly vent excess heat and even wear your jacket like a cape, for maximum ventilation.

External Fabric, DWR, and Waterproofing

The OR Panorama Point is made with a 40 denier ripstop that has some stretch built into in, making the jacket very quiet and comfortable when you need to scramble. The external fabric has a very soft hand but still has a very good DWR coating on it to shed rain. However, if you wear it with a backpack, you should expect the DWR coating to rub off rather quickly around the shoulders and waist due to shoulder strap and hip belt abrasion.

You have two options, you can restore the DWR coating periodically (every 30-60 uses) with a product like Nikwax TX Direct Spray-on. It’s good to wash jackets like these periodically, like every 3-6 months, which is a convenient time to reapply the DWR. You can even wash it in, in the washing machine, with Nikwax TX-Direct Wash-in, which is even more effective and more convenient.

What’s DWR? It stands for durable water-repellent and is a chemical coating they cover the outside of waterproof/breathable rain jackets with to make rain bead up when it hits the jacket and roll off. This prevents the outer fabric from getting soaked through, which in turn, blocks the breathable membrane from releasing water vapor.

If the outer fabric of the jacket becomes soaked and you’ll probably experience more internal condensation build-up inside the jacket than you would normally. But the breathable membrane in the Panorama Point is waterproof, so rain water won’t seep into the jacket even if if the external fabric is saturated in normal circumstances. If you get a rain jacket that’s permanently waterproof and made with silnylon or polyurethane, you still have to deal with internal condensation buildup, so there’s ultimately no way around the issue.

Recommendation

The Outdoor Research Panorama Point Jacket is a comfortable and well featured rain jacket that can serve double duty as a winter shell. It is full featured with all of the capabilities that you’d expect in a technical shell but at a fraction of the price because it uses OR’s proprietary breathable layer and not more expensive Gore-tex. If you believe in manufacturer’s breathability claims, go buy a more expensive jacket. But if you’ve never been able to detect any noticeable difference, or you beat the crap out of your rain jackets by wearing shoulder straps and hip belts (ie backpacks), the Panorama Point will provide as much value as a more expensive jacket. Outdoor Research makes the best hiking rain gear in my experience and the Panorama Point is another good one.

See Also:

Compare 6 Prices

Last updated: 2018-09-25 16:42:43

Disclosure: OR provided the author with a jacket for this review.

Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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AntiGravityGear Ultralight Rain Jacket Review

The AntiGravityGear Ultralight Rain Jacket is a silnylon rain jacket with 17″ pits zips, an adjustable hood, velcro wrist cuffs, and waterproof zippers. Weighing 7.1 oz in a size XL, the sizing is generous, making it easy to layer with other garments. I’ve worn this jacket for hiking and backpacking in heavy rain and it’s quite comfortable and waterproof.

Specs at a Glance

  • Fabric: 40d silnylon, coated with PU inside and out
  • Hydrostatic head: 30,000 mm
  • Weight: 7.1 oz in size XL
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Available colors: Blaze orange, pewter, blue steel, black
  • Price: $99

The nice thing about silnylon rain jackets is that they’re permanently waterproof and very low maintenance, compared to waterproof/breathable jackets that have an external DWR coating which needs to be restored periodically with a product like Nikwax or Grangers.  Silnylon is not “breathable” however, so silnylon rain coats typically come with pits zips to vent perspiration and internal condensation, something that many people would argue is far more effective than so-called breathable laminates. Silnylon rain jacks are also substantially less expensive, because they’re so much simpler to sew and manufacture.

Still, there’s actually more to the AntiGravityGear UL Rain Jacket than meets the eye. The silnylon has a PU coating on the inside and outside, giving it a hydrostatic head of 30,000 mm, which is *really* waterproof. While the seams of the jacket are not taped, they are stitched, folded and stitched again for reinforcement, then stitched a third time with a 40d silnylon tape trim, which encapsulates the seams and makes them effectively waterproof.

The AntiGravityGear UL Rain jacket is oversized so you can layer under it

When it comes to breathability, the AntiGravityGear UL rain jacket relies on its pit zips to vent moisture. A full 17″ in length, the pit zips are quite long, making them more like the torso-zips that Outdoor Research offers on their high-end mountaineering shells. These help vent the front and back of your torso in addition to your armpits, making them even more effective when you’re working hard and perspiring heavily.

If you’re a day hiker or backpacker, temperature regulation features are more important than breathability, because the purpose of a rain jacket is to keep you warm across a wide range of weather conditions. Staying dry is a nice-to-have, in terms of importance, since most rain jackets are quickly overwhelmed by perspiration and internal condensation when it’s raining, no matter how “breathable” or expensive they are.

Velcro and elastic wrist cuffs let you regulate hand warmth
Velcro and elastic wrist cuffs let you regulate hand warmth

A good backpacking rain jacket should provide a range of features to help you vent excess heat or protect sensitive areas of your body from getting chilled, particularly those near major veins and arteries near the surface of your skin. For example, the AntiGravityGear rain jacket has velcro and elastic cuffs at the wrists that you can tighten if you want to prevent heat loss or release if you want to vent excess heat. It has elastic hem adjusters to prevent cold wind from blowing up the bottom of your jacket and elastic neck toggles so you can adjust the size of the hood opening to prevent warm air heated by your torso from escaping through the hood.

The AntiGravityGear Rain Jacket hood does not have a brim built into the hood so you need to wear a hat in order to keep rain off your glasses and face
The AntiGravityGear Rain Jacket hood does not have a brim built into the hood so you need to wear a hat in order to keep rain off your glasses and face.

There are a few things missing from the jacket however, that make it less than perfect. There isn’t a brim on the hood or a volume adjuster to reduce its size for people with smaller heads. It’d also be nice to have an internal pocket or two for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or electronics that you want access to even if it’s raining.

Comparison with the Lightheart Gear Rain Jacket

LightHeart Gear also makes a silnylon rain jacket which I’m quite familiar with because I’ve been using it for past few years (see the SectionHiker Review). Both it and the AntiGravityGear are good rain jackets but there are some differences between the two. For example, the LightHeart Gear rain jacket has a fabric brim built into its hood. It also has 2 internal and 2 external pockets for storing gloves, snacks, and keeping your hands warm. These are very handy for hiking in all day rain because they eliminate the need to stop and dig around in your pack for food or fresh gloves. The LightHeart Gear rain jacket is also more fitted than the AntiGravityGear rain jacket, which runs broader across the chest.

Both jackets have long pit zips and appear to use the same seam construction technique, but the waterproof zippers on the AntiGravityGear jacket are sturdier and easier to use than the regular zippers on the LightHeart Gear rain jacket. The silnylon on the AntiGravityGear rain jacket also has a substantially higher hydrostatic head, although its debatable whether the difference makes that much of a difference in your ability to stay warm or regulate your body temperature, even in all-day rain.

Disclosure: AntiGravityGear provided the author with a rain jacket for this review.

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REI Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants Review

REI’s Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants are a surprisingly good value compared to name brand rain pants which cost two to four times as much.

I’m a big fan of REI’s clothing because it’s affordable, good quality, and virtually indistinguishable from the other name brand products they sell. This includes their Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants (the latest update has been renamed “Essential Rain Pants”) which are a steal at $60/pair (often available for less), and are available for both men and women. A comparable pair of Arc’teryx Rain Pants costs $199 or four times as much and provides very little added value, other than the fact that they use branded “Gore-Tex” and not REI’s knock-off waterproof/breathable membrane.

Some people don’t like rain pants or don’t need them and I get that. Personally, I wear them as much for wind protection as rain protection and view them as an important thermal layer, even if I sweat under them in warmer weather. I’d rather be warm and damp, than shivering on the brink of hyperthermia and soaking wet. I also frequently wear my rain pants for winter hiking and prefer having a pair that I can use year-round.

When choosing rain pants, there are a few things I always look for:

  • Price
  • Features
    • Does the draw string wrap around the entire waist or is it sewn in?
    • Can I pull on the rain pants and take them off without removing my shoes?
    • Are the ankle cuff openings adjustable?
    • Are they available in shorter and longer lengths?
    • Are the legs reasonably slim and not overly baggy?
    • Are they quiet when worn?
    • Do they have any external pockets?
    • How good is the breathable membrane/factory DWR?
  • Weight

Price

REI’s Rain Pants are almost half the price of other value-oriented rain pants like Marmot’s Precip Rain Pants ($100), Patagonia’s Torrentshell Rain Pants ($99), or Outdoor Research’s Helium Rain Pants ($119). I destroy 2-3 pairs of rain pants per year, so I always look for less expensive ones that won’t break the bank if I happen to rip them up.

Large zippered ankle openings let you put on and take off the rain pants without taking off boots or shoes
Large zippered ankle openings let you put on and take off the rain pants without taking off boots or shoes

Features

REI’s Rain Pants have a draw string waist band that wraps around your entire waist, so it won’t pull out like draw cords that are sewn in and impossible to replace without sewing when they come out. God I hate when that happens!

They have ankle zippers with a large enough opening that you can pull them over your hiking boots or hiking shoes without having to take them off. The pants have an adjustable velcro cuff so you can snug them around your ankles, with a protective flap to prevent the zippers from leaking, and a heavy-duty YKK snag-resistant zipper. I not a big fan rain pants with full zippers down the sides, because they tend to be very baggy, and the zipper takes a lot of fiddling to stay closed if it runs all the way up through the waist band.

The size range is great with 6 sizes in men’s (XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL) and 6 sizes in the women’s pants (XXS, XS, S, M, L, and XL). Equally important is length, since I prefer shorter rain pants over longer ones, so I don’t trip over them In addition to the regular 31-32″ length, REI’s Rain Pants are available in SHORT (2.5 inches shorter) and TALL lengths (2.5 inches longer), so you can dial in the type of fit your prefer.

The pant legs of REI’s Rain Pants are reasonably slim, but flair a bit below the knees and ankles for better range of motion. I think they run a bit long and that you’d be better getting them in a shorter length.  They also have one zippered side pocket lined with mesh that’s super convenient for carrying car keys and can serve as a stuff pocket for the pants. The exterior fabric is surprisingly quiet when worn, while the interior is lined with a while colored nylon backer. The interior seams are all taped for waterproofness, while the factory DWR and breathability is perfectly adequate for occasional use.

Weight

At 12.4 oz in a men’s size large, REI’s Rain Pains are on the heavy side, weighing about twice as much as ultralight waterproof/breathable rain pants…that cost 2-3 times as much. That’s often the tradeoff, with opting for a less expensive pair of rain pants. If your intended use is for day hiking or wearing these on a commute on rainy days, the weight of the pants is far less important than if you plan to backpack 2000 miles with them. Even then, the durability of a heavier pant can trump a lighter weight one. It just depends on what your priorities are.

Waist drawstring runs all the way around the pants for better durability
Waist drawstring runs all the way around the pants for better durability

Wrap Up

REI makes a few pairs of pants that I think are excellent values if you’re looking for less expensive technical wear. In addition to these Rain Pants, I’d recommend checking out their Soft Shell Cycling Pants for cold weather riding and their Activator Soft-Shell winter hiking pants. They’re often on sale during the off-season and you can pick up great bargains on them.

See Also

Compare 4 Prices

Last updated: 2018-07-17 14:40:09

REI provided rain pants for this review.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.