Every time I slip on a rain jacket, I give thanks that we no longer have to wrap ourselves in smelly seal skin or bulky rubber slickers to stay dry. Advances in weatherproof textiles and apparel design mean that rain jackets today are more comfortable and watertight than ever before. But depending on the climate and your level of activity, sorting through different styles, technologies, and waterproofing ratings can be confusing.
To help, I tested more than 20 waterproof rain jackets through the long, wet Pacific Northwestern winters. I also consulted Amber Williams, a consumer science educator and lecturer in textile science and pattern making at Utah State University’s outdoor product design department, for advice on how to pick the best rain jackets. My conclusion: You don’t really need to spend much more than $100 to stay dry. But if you, too, spend hours in the rain every day, innovative new fabrics can immeasurably add to your comfort.
Updated March 2020: We added new picks, like the Rains Ultralight, and removed older ones.
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It’s difficult to read anything about rain jackets without coming across the Danish outerwear company Rains. Its minimalist designs are modeled on the classic rubber raincoat, with a traditional polyurethane coating on durable polyester fabric.
Technical rain jacket manufacturers tend to shy away from polyurethane because it feels, well, rubbery. But the material is durable, long-lasting, windproof, and waterproof. Unlike modern durable water repellents (DWR), polyurethane rain jackets have a fluorinate-free manufacturing process. It doesn’t release carcinogenic perfluorocarbons into the waste stream when it’s made, and the jacket’s not going to release PFCs into your favorite creeks when you’re traipsing around the woods.
Rains has been able to mitigate that thick, rubbery feel in its Ultralight rain jackets, which were released in February 2020. The tester I wore was light and flexible, with an adjustable hood and a waterproof front zip. The hand pockets use waterproof zippers, and the seams are ultrasonically welded, which is a process Rains claims is much more durable and environmentally friendly than seam tape.
I wouldn’t consider it a technical jacket. It has seams across the tops of the shoulders under backpack straps, it doesn’t have an adjustable hem, and polyurethane is a lot less breathable than some of the other fabrics I tested. But if you don’t need a jacket with a lot of bells and whistles, the Ultralight won’t stick out as a technical rain jacket if you wear it to work. It’s also environmentally friendly.