If you’re anything like me, you love to pack light. Nothing is worse than slogging around an oversized backpack, filled to the brim with far more clothing and accessories than a traveller ought to lug around.
One of the quickest places to shed a few ounces in your luggage is with your outerwear. And although you’re unlikely to privilege weight over comfort and warmth when embarking on a winter adventure in Patagonia or Alaska, some of our favourite destinations like Taiwan and Bali are the perfect places to test the theory out with an ultralight rain jacket!
Whether you’re looking for featherlight emergency shells or ultralight waterproof jackets, you’ll find something worthy of taking a place inside your backpack in this comprehensive list of the best lightweight rain jackets of 2020 for men & women…
Table of Contents
- Best lightweight rain jackets for men of 2020: 6 top reviews
- Best lightweight rain jackets for women of 2020: 6 top reviews
- Discontinued ultralight waterproof jackets (2017 and before)
- How to choose a lightweight rain jacket: A quick buyer’s guide
Best lightweight rain jackets for men of 2020: 6 top reviews
In a rush? Here’s a quick comparison of the best lightweight & ultralight men’s rain jackets of 2020…
Outdoor Research Men’s Helium II
Weight: 6.4 oz.
Best Uses: Light hiking, emergency shell
Weighing in at just 6.4 ounces, the Outdoor Research Men’s Helium II isn’t just one of the lightest rain jackets on the list, but one of the best overall. When we say that you won’t notice carrying this jacket, we absolutely mean it. The Helium II packs down to the size of protein bar; it’s not just small enough to stuff into a tiny corner of one of these travel daypacks, but into the front pocket of your hiking pants!
The excellent waterproofing of the Helium II comes courtesy of the 2.5-layer Pertex® Shield+ shell. Fully-taped seams and YKK® AquaGuard® jolt the impermeability up a notch.
Although the Outdoor Research Helium II is ultralight and breathable, it still functions best as an emergency shell to combat a sudden downpour. The lack of pit-zips for manual ventilation, omitted presumably to stick to its lightweight reputation, means that the jacket doesn’t hold up as well in hot and humid conditions. Look to other ultralight options like the Arc’teryx Norvan SL Hoody for something a little airier.
Arc’teryx Men’s Norvan SL Hoody
Weight: 4.2 oz.
Best Uses: Trail running, jogging, hiking
You don’t have to be a trail runner to get some serious mileage out of the Arc’teryx Men’s Norvan SL Hoody. Rockin’ out a barely-registrable 4.2 ounces and highly compressible, this truly minimalist jacket is a travellers dream.
The Norvan SL Hoody depends on Gore-Tex’s latest technology, a permanent beading surface that’s both superbly waterproof and surprisingly breathable. It’s designed for sporty travellers who love to spike along the trails with a little more fury than your average hiker.
In hot and humid weather, the Arc’teryx Norvan SL Hoody shines and will become one of your go-to pieces of travel gear. The Venturi-style ventilation replaces the more common pit-zips, doing an impeccable job of cooling you down when the sweat starts to ramp up.
For many situations, though, the Norvan SL Hoody is a little less jacket than you’ll need. Planning a fall trip to Central Europe? The cool autumn winds of the Alps or High Tatras will leave you chilled to the bone without other provisions in place.
You could, of course, just layer-up. But that’s not the point of this jacket. The Arc’teryx Norvan SL Hoody is meant for active travellers who are obsessed with packing light. And in this role, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the best.
Patagonia Men’s Storm Racer
Weight: 6 oz.
Best Uses: Active travel, hiking, cycling
When travelling lightweight in comfort (and with a little style) is a priority, you’d be doing yourself an injustice to not give the Patagonia Men’s Storm Racer a hard look. Built with a Featherweight H2No® Performance Standard nylon ripstop, this ultralight waterproof jacket weighs in at just 6 ounces to place it among the lightest picks in this guide.
Despite its feather-like weight, the Patagonia Storm Racer doesn’t lack in the performance department. The three-layer construction pairs a breathable waterproof membrane and DWR-treated shell combo along with a tricot backer that’s soft and doesn’t cling to or chafe the skin. When not needed, the jacket stuffs into its own chest pocket for extreme packability that’ll put a smile on the face of the most ardent minimalist travellers.
Like many other lightweight waterproof jackets though, the Patagonia Men’s Storm Racer functions better as a shell than for all-day wear in moderate to severe wet conditions. In a bid to eliminate bulk, the jacket also lacks adjustable cuffs and hems, hampering the ability to fully customize the fit.
REI Co-op Men’s Essential Rain Jacket
Weight: 8.8 oz.
Best Uses: Backpacking, travel
An update on a simple classic, the REI Co-op Essential Rain Jacket gives you everything you need—and nothing you don’t—to deliver an all-around performer that’s light on the wallet. The breathable 2.5-layer construction battles both wind and rain to keep you dry in the harshest of travel conditions.
Despite the light weight, the REI Co-op Essential doesn’t dispense with important features like drawcord hem or adjustable cuffs. Combined with the fully-sealed seams and zipper, nasty weather is kept out as well as any jacket on our list.
As expected at the lower price point, the REI Co-op Men’s Essential Rain Jacket isn’t among the best performers in terms of breathability. It’s naturally more well suited for cooler temperatures than for hot, wet & humid summer days.
Montane Men’s Minimus Stretch
Weight: 9.0 oz
Best Uses: Backpacking, hiking, climbing
Designed for those who feel more at home in the mountain air, the Montane Men’s Minimus Stretch is a lightweight and packable rain jacket that’s the perfection companion for your weekend hiking or climbing trips. At the heart of the jacket is Montane’s Pertex Shield+, a 2.5-layer fabric that’s as at home in a downpour as on a cool, windy cliffside.
Travellers who can’t stop moving will dig the Minimus Stretch. The breathable, stretchable fabric and articulated design doesn’t restrict your movement as other coats might. Active travellers are further driven to love this jacket with its peaked hood that opens up large enough to fit a helmet yet cinches small enough to shield your face from the elements.
Unlike the ultralight competitors, the Montane Minimus Stretch features two hand pockets and an external chest pocket, both protected by YKK AquaGuard zippers for full waterproofing. The adjustable hem and cuffs go one step further in keeping you shielded from the elements.
Truthfully, in spite of carrying a couple extra ounces and taking up slightly more room in your daypack than other models, there’s little to dislike about this jacket. It’s an all-around performer that’s one of the most versatile choices on the list.
Endura Men’s MTR Emergency Shell
Weight: 5.6 oz
Best Uses: Emergency shell for hiking and cycling
Featherlight can’t even begin to describe the airy Endura Men’s MTR Emergency Shell. At just 5.6 ounces, this is the second-most ultralight rain jacket in our mix. It’s so compressible and packable, you won’t even need to lug around a daypack. The shell can stuff easily into a pair of cargo pants or a fleece jacket, keeping you prepared should the weather take a quick turn for the worst.
Designed primarily for cyclists, the MTR Emergency Shell dispenses with common rain jacket features like pockets, pit-zips and cinches in favour of lighter and more compressible materials. The athletic fit supports the whims of active travellers who don’t want to let a little rain stop them from hitting the trail or the streets.
Although it does an excellent job of repelling moisture, the fabric isn’t the most breathable among our top picks. Naturally, the extremely light materials also drop the Endura MTR Emergency Shell’s a notch. But there are no qualms here; the name says it all. Use this shell as a reliable “just-in-case” travel accessory rather than an all-around travel rain jacket.
Best lightweight rain jackets for women of 2020: 6 top reviews
In a rush? Here’s a quick comparison of the best lightweight & ultralight women’s rain jackets of 2020…
Outdoor Research Women’s Helium II
Weight: 5.5 oz
Best Uses: Emergency shell for hiking
At a feathery and airy 5.5 ounces, the Outdoor Research Women’s Helium II is one of the lightest women’s rain jackets and among the true “stuff-it-and-forget-about-it” items in your rain gear collection.
You’ll hardly even notice carting around the Helium II. Compressed, the jacket jams down to a size comparable to your mobile phone and can be clipped to your harness with the attached web loop.
Even with its intense packability and cloud-like weight, the water-repelling prowess of the Helium II is worthy of a thumbs-up. The jacket sports a stretchy Pertex Shield DS fabric that’s not just effective at knocking off the elements but promotes a full range of movement. All the seams are fully sealed as are the zippers, protected with the popular YKK® AquaGuard® waterproofing technology.
To keep the Helium II as light as possible Outdoor Research stripped it of several common rain jacket features. Don’t expect frills like hand pockets or a hood visor to divert rain from your face. For extra storage space while maintaining a light weight, you’ll need to move towards the slightly heavier jackets in our recommendations.
Rab Women’s Kinetic Plus
Weight: 8.5 oz
Best Uses: Active travel, hiking, climbing
We’re fine with the couple added ounces that push the Rab Women’s Kinetic Plus out of ultralight territory. What the jacket lacks in featherlight qualities it more than makes up for in the durability boost over it’s airier sisters.
As the name implies, the Kinetic Plus is adept at getting moving. The lightweight softshell sports Rab’s Proflex™ fabric, designed for maximum motion. A flexible waterproof membrane delivers top-notch performance without hindering the jacket’s movement. It’s remarkably breathable, too. Active travellers will love the jacket’s ability to glide across climatic changes without feeling too cool or too sticky.
Where the Rab Kinetic Plus feels most at home is on the trail and on the mountainside. This is one of the best women’s rain jackets for hiking thanks to both its versatility and durability. When the weather takes a turn for the worst, you can trust the YKK® AquaGuard® VISLON® front zipper and YKK® AquaGuard® A-line pockets to keep you and your belongings dry.
Patagonia Women’s Storm Racer
Weight: 5.5 oz
Best Uses: Active travel, hiking, climbing
Living true to its name for active travellers, the Patagonia Women’s Storm Racer excels when push comes to shove and the elements turn from your favour. This 3-layer beauty is built for peak performance, slotting in among the most breathable lightweight rain jackets of these picks.
Besides its feathery-light 5.5 ounces, wearers will love the Storm Racer’s airy and comfortable feel. A soft tricot backer avoids leaving you with a sticky feeling when you’re pushing the pedal to the metal on the hiking trails or on a rainy walk in the city. The elastic cuffs and hem—designed minimally to keep the weight down—seal out the wetness when the weather takes a quick turn for the worst.
Although it’s an absolute gem in a pinch, the Patagonia Women’s Storm Racer isn’t necessarily the best choice for all-day wear as its been known to lose its effectiveness in prolonged heavy rains. Nonetheless, with its extreme packability (it actually folds into its own chest pocket), there’s hardly a better choice out there for quick minimalist rain protection.
Arc’teryx Women’s Beta SL
Weight: 9.9 oz
Best Uses: Emergency shell for trekking
Even at just 9.9 ounces, the Arc’teryx Women’s Beta SL barely made the cut-off for our top lightweight women’s jacket. That’s not to say it doesn’t deserve to be here.
What the Beta SL adds in a tiny bit of extra weight it more than makes up for in function. The jacket’s Gore-Tex Paclite waterproofing works wonders for repelling nasty elements while remaining super compressible. It features a trim fit, designed specifically for women, that drops gussets in the underarms to extend the coat’s range of motion.
While the performance of the Arc’teryx Beta SL can’t be questioned, it shares one common weakness with many lightweight rain jackets: durability. The mini-ripstop fabric is more robust than most in its weight class, but can’t be counted upon for serious backwoods hiking where disaster is just a brush-up with spiky pine branch away. Stuff the Beta SL in your daypack for emergency rain protection though, and you don’t be disappointed.
Mountain Hardwear Women’s Stretch Ozonic
Weight: 8.4 oz
Best Uses: General travel, outdoor activities
If you’re convinced that there’s always a trade-off between great performance and style, you should take a look at the Mountain Hardwear Women’s Stretch Ozonic. The jacket’s unique stretch fabric slims down the often bulky look of high-performance rain jackets, creating a stylish fit that better suits the needs of active travellers.
The Stretch Ozonic features a 2.5-layer fabric protected with Mountain Hardwear’s own Dry.Q™ Active technology. Moisture is further sealed out with Aquaguard® VISLON® treated zippers. Unlike other lightweight jackets, the hood on the Stretch Ozonic features a structured brim that deflects water from your face.
Even with its proficiency in keeping water out, the fabric is fairly breathable and enhanced by the underarm pit-zip ventilation. While its not the coolest or breeziest lightweight rain jacket, it fares well in warm weather. For trip to exceedingly hot and humid places though, the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic might leave you a little sticky.
Mountain Hardwear Women’s Plasmic Ion
Weight: 10.0 oz
Best Uses: Backwoods hiking
The heaviest pick among our lightweight women’s rain jackets, the Mountain Hardwear Women’s Plasmic Ion is built for hardcore travellers that need a little more durability than the ultralight offerings are able to put forward.
Better tear-resistance is set forth with 2.5-layer construction featuring a tough 70-denier face fabric. Dry.Q™ EVAP technology seals water out while faithfully allowing sweat vapour to escape. The pockets, protected with Aquaguard® VISLON® zippers, are similarly waterproof, protecting your belongingd from nasty weather.
If there’s any downside to the Plasmic Ion, it’s the hood. Although it cinches up to protect your face, the hood lacks a visor, presumably one of the elements chopped away to cut down on the coat’s weight. With it’s abrasion-resistant face fabric though, the Plasmic Ion is still one of the best choices for backwoods explorers facing tougher-than-normal conditions.
Discontinued ultralight waterproof jackets (2017 and before)
Marmot Men’s Essence
Weight: 6.3 oz
Best Uses: Trail running, hiking, climbing
There’s hardly a more fitting name for the Marmot Men’s Essence. Stripped down to the bare essentials without sacrificing its ability to repel wind and water, this jacket weighs in at just 6.3 ounces making it one of the lightest in the pack.
At the core of the Essence is Marmot’s own Stretch NanoPro™ Membrain® nylon ripstop fabric. All the seams are fully taped to ramp up the waterproofing and keep you dry in rough conditions. Built-in ventilation helps the jacket perform better in warmer conditions than its watertight construction would normally allow.
If there was any question who the Essence was designed for, the Angel-Wing Movement, allowing for a full-range of motion, points towards its true masters: active travellers, whether trail runners or hikers. Affixed with full 360-degree reflectivity and a helmet-compatible hood, the Marmot Essence even appeals to alpinists in need of a featherweight shell.
Like some of the other ultralight men’s rain jackets, plummeting temperatures will require some extra layers to stay toasty. There are no hand-warming pockets on the Marmot Essence, relying on just one chest pocket with a water-resistant zipper in a bid to keep the jacket as light as possible.
The North Face Men’s HyperAir GTX
Weight: 7.2 oz
Best Uses: All-around sports & travel rain jacket
It might be ever-so slightly heavier than some of our other recommendations, but The North Face Men’s HyperAir GTX performs with the best of its ultralight buddies. The jacket’s high quality hinges on its Gore-Tex Active shell with its unique SHAKEDRY™ technology that keeps rain and wind at bay while allowing sweat to escape.
What’s special about Gore-Tex Active is that it doesn’t require a face fabric. The membrane itself provides the protection and is the outer layer that faces the elements. Not only does this enable the HyperAir GTX to stay ultra-lightweight, but stack it up among the most breathable jackets on the market.
There is a downside. Lighter weight and extreme breathability, as it often does, comes at the price of durability. The North Face HyperAir GTX is not the jacket for rough backwoods hiking. Brushing up against a spruce tree or taking a fall into gravel could mean hundreds up the creek.
It is however an impeccable choice for trail running or more urban adventures. Articulated sleeves allow for a full range of motion as you frolic in the rain. There’s even a media-compatible internal pocket to slip your headphones through while keeping your iPod dry.
Marmot Men’s Mica
Weight: 7.0 oz
Best Uses: Minimalist travel, hiking
Like all the best ultralight rain jackets for men, the Marmot Men’s Mica dispenses with all the frills you’d find in more robust shells to focus a single goal: to be as light as possible. And at just 7 ounces, we’d have to say that Marmot did a stand up job.
The Mica wields Marmot’s own MemBrain® Strata™ fabric. It’s highly breathable and waterproof, featuring fully-taped seams and water-resistant zipper to propel water from where it should not be. For travellers obsessed with saving space, the Mica packs into a tight package, securing itself safely into its own pocket for extreme portability.
An extra dash of rain protection is provided by an adjustable hood, hem and Velcro-laden wrist cuffs. Running around or performing intense activities in rain is a breeze with the full-motion capabilities of Marmot’s unique Angel-Wing Movement technology. For a lightweight jacket, the nylon ripstop face fabric is surprisingly durable, certainly less anxiety-ridden than chancing it to thin, but expensive, waterproof membranes without a protective outer layer.
Marmot Women’s Essence
Weight: 5.0 oz
Best Uses: Active travel, trail running
Tonight we crown a new featherlight champ: the Marmot Women’s Essence. Coming in at an unbelievable 5 ounces, this jacket punches well above its weight and is the best choice for anyone needing to shed a little poundage in their carry-on luggage.
Marmot went to town applying its NanoPro® MemBrain® fabric to its most ultralight women’s rain jacket to date. Not only is it waterproof and breathable, but stretchy with a slimmer athletic fit. Combined with Angel Wing Movement, the design of the Marmot Essence is never limiting; you’ll always be able to carry on with whatever travel throws at you, whether that’s bolting down a trail or taking pictures in the city.
To cut down its weight, the Essence naturally dispenses with a few features like handwarmer pockets. We hardly see that as a deal breaker considering the slew of other bonuses like a moldable hood visor, side ventilation and drawcord hem to seal out moisture. (Oh, and let’s not forget the extreme lightweight and packability!)
The North Face Women’s HyperAir GTX
Weight: 6.7 oz
Best Uses: Active travel, trail running
We’ve always loved The North Face rain jackets, even if they weren’t the most lightweight on the market. All that changed, however, when they released The North Face Women’s HyperAir GTX.
What’s most impressive is that the HyperAir GTX achieved its minimalist weight without stripping away too many essential features. This ultralight waterproof jacket features a Gore-Tex Active shell that repels rain and wind without getting sticky underneath. The secret of the HyperAir GTX lies in eliminating the face fabric, an unusual feat that saves several ounces while increasing breathability.
Even if airiness were in question, pit-zips further enhance the jacket’s ventilation. To protect from the harshest of elements, the cuffs and hem adjust to seal in warmth and keep out moisture. There’s even a set of watertight hand pockets, usually one of the first features to dispense with in a bid to drop a couple extra ounces.
How to choose a lightweight rain jacket: A quick buyer’s guide
If you live to pack light, you’ll absolutely love swapping out your regular rain gear for an ultralight rain jacket!
Nearly every major rain jacket manufacturer—whether its The North Face, Arc’teryx, Outdoor Research, Mountain Hardwear or Marmot—has tinkered with lightweight designs that weigh in at less than 10 ounces. Some of the lightest even push the limits to half of that!
Why should you buy an ultralight waterproof jacket
It goes without saying that main advantage of an ultralight rain jacket is to lighten the load. In fact, the best lightweight rain jackets are so light, you’ll barely even notice you’re carrying them. And in a time of ever-increasing baggage handling fees and a lust for cool new travel gear that pushes your daypack to its limit, that’s a huge bonus.
These coats are not just super light but ridiculously packable, some scrunching up so small that they can fit in the front pocket of your pants.
For those unpleasant emergency afternoon showers that we’ve all no doubt experienced on the road, these hardly-noticeable life-savers might end up being one of your smartest travel accessory purchases ever!
Why should you NOT buy an ultralight rain jacket
While carrying around a jacket that can balance on your pinky and stuff into your back pocket is pretty rad, you have to remember that there are certain trade-offs. Keeping the weight down to a minimum means fewer features and less durable fabrics. Ultralight jackets are meant to keep you dry in a pinch, not endure tough conditions like serious backwoods hiking in all-day rain.
Features of lightweight waterproof jackets
Fabrics & Materials
Textiles might seem less-than-exciting, but top outerwear brands like Arc’teryx, The North Face, Outdoor Research and Marmot are far from boring. Their dedication to creating materials that keep you sheltered from harsh elements borders on obsessive. Each is constantly refining their products and pushing their technologies further.
Every year, better jackets emerge onto the scene. The quality today is far superior to even just five years ago. Fabrics are always becoming more durable and more watertight, all while adhering to a quest to shave off a couple ounces here and there.
In general, rain jacket shells feature three basic components:
- face fabric (outer layer)
- waterproof membrane (middle layer)
- lining (inner layer)
You’ll also notice when purchasing that rain gear is listed as having different “layers”:
- 3-Layer: Features a face fabric treated with a durable waterproof repellant (DWR) along with a waterproof membrane. The third layer is generally made of a thin polyurethane (PU) that keeps skin oils and sweat away from the membrane and allows it to remain breathable. Generally, 3-layer jackets are more expensive than 2.5- or 2-layer ones.
- 2.5-Layer: The most common type of construction in most ultra-light jackets. Similar to a 3-layer except the third layer is “painted” directly on the membrane. 2.5-layer jackets tend to breathe less than 3-layer ones.
- 2-Layer: Not as common among lightweight coats, 2-layer construction often features a light mesh inner layer instead of a polyurethane. These tend to be less expensive, heavier and harder to pack.
One of the most important advances in rain jacket technology has been improved breathability. Since this is such a hot topic among travel & hiking enthusiasts, this is probably the perfect place to tackle the biggest misconception about waterproof jackets: better breathability does not mean complete breathability.
Even if you pick the highest tech rain jacket on the market, you’ll still get warm from the inside of your jacket if you’re: a) in a warm climate; or b) exerting yourself.
Even so, when you’re looking for an ultralight waterproof coat, you’ll want to check to see how good that breathability is.
In hotter weather, a top-notch 3-layer jacket, for example, will likely outperform a cheap 2-layer one in terms of comfort. Keep this in mind before you settle on your choice!