There are so many rain jacket options available online and at hiking retailers that buying gear can be both time-consuming and confusing.   Manufacturers have exaggerated claims about the protection and breathability from their waterproof materials like GORE-TEX, Entrant, HyVent, Ripstop, PreClip,  Omni-Tech, etc.; the list goes on. And the price of rain protection ranges from $1 to over $500.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before making a decision on what to buy:

  • How much will you be wearing a rain jacket? Are you hiking once or twice a week? Or are you going on a one-time vacation with no plans for future walking?
  • How much protection do you want?  Will you be hiking in heavy downpours for several hours, or are your walks more likely to be short downpours and light drizzles?
  • How much convenience do you want? Are you able to take your backpack off and on to get your jacket out? Or would you rather throw a poncho on top of you and your pack?

All outerwear will eventually leak given enough water, time and pressure. The only full protection is rubber, but if you hike in a rubber raincoat you’ll be wet in no time from your own perspiration. So the challenge is to find the right balance between protection from the rain, the ability to vent perspiration and ease of use.

A long, well-fitting jacket with a brimmed hood will give you the best protection from the rain. Armpit zippers and side vents will help with ventilation and taped seams, adjustable cuffs, good pocket closures and a tight hood seal around your face will protect you in a downpour. Ignore the manufacturers’ claims of breathability because your perspiration is likely to overwhelm any breathable fabric.

A poncho can be purchased at any dollar store and although the plastic will protect you and your pack from the rain, the wind will whip up the openings and you’ll get wet. Ponchos are super-convenient though, because they’re easy to get on and off without taking off your backpack.  If you’re a DIY’er have a look at the ParCho; the pattern is available from Quest Outfitters and you make it yourself. I’m a poncho-lover so I’m making one; more reports on that later. Also check out The Packa online; it’s a jacket that also fits over your backpack I haven’t tried one so I’m curious to hear your reviews.

In choosing your rainwear, consider that it can have many other uses, such as a lunch dropsheet, a windjacket, a clean place to sit, an extra jacket at night, or even protection on wet rides at a waterpark.

One final thing to consider is cost. If you’re new to hiking or you don’t get out on the trails often, I wouldn’t spend more than $100.