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Best Ultralight Rain Jackets for Thru Hiking 2021



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The Best Ultralight Rain Jackets are getting better in 2021. In this Lightweight Rain Jacket Review I take a look at the best rain jackets for backpacking in 2021.

I compare the weight, durability, breathability, waterproofness and design.

Best Lightweight Rain Jackets 2021

How to choose a Lightweight Rain Jacket

There are 5 things you must take into consideration when purchasing a new Lightweight Rain Jacket.

  • They must be waterproof, of course.
  • They must have a quality DWR Coating, this is super important.
  • They must be breathable, the more the better.
  • They must be packable, the smaller the better.
  • They must be lightweight, preferably ultralight.

Water Resistance of a Rain Jacket

The waterproof rating for a rain jacket is often called the Hydrostatic head, rated in millimetres (mm). It refers to to the amount of water pressure needed to leak through the rain jacket material.

A rain jacket with a hydrostatic head rating of 20000mm is the equivalent of placing a cylinder of water 25mm (1 inch) round on a jacket and filling it with 20000mm of water before it will leak through.

For a lightweight rain jacket to be waterproof while wearing a backpack it is generally accepted that it must be rated at 15000mm or above. Only rain jackets being worn in the city and not in the backcountry should be rated lower such as 5000mm.

How important is a DWR Coating

A DWR Coating, also known as Durable Water Repellency Coating is arguably the most important feature needed for a rain jacket.

Without this chemical coating on the outside of the lightweight rain jacket the water will not bead and run off the surface of the jacket.

Think of it as similar to the way water runs off the surface of a car after it has a layer of wax applied.

Without a quality DWR Coating the rain jacket will ‘Wet Out’. The water will sit on the surface of the jacket instead of beading and running off the jacket.

When the jacket ‘Wets Out’ it will not allow the waterproof and breathable membrane to allow the transfer of moisture from the inside of the jacket to the outside.

This leads to a build up of moisture inside the rain jacket and the feeling of clamminess. Some hikers will think the jacket is no longer waterproof when in fact, it is just the sweat and build up of moisture inside the jacket.

This feeling is made worse if hiking uphill as the build up of moisture is not able to transfer through the fabric anymore. It can be prevented by reapplying a new chemical layer of DWR, but more about that later.

Many years ago rain jackets used the non environmentally friendly C8 DWR coating. It was long lasting, durable and did an amazing job at repelling the water for a very long time.

When the C6 environmentally friendly DWR coating was developed it was much better for the environment but honestly, it was not as durable and long lasting as the old C8. As a result, the DWR coating on all new jackets need to be reapplied more often to keep the jacket waterproof and prevent ‘Wetting Out’.

Fortunately, it is possible to add a new chemical coating of DWR by using products such as Nikwax to make the jacket breathable again.

In conclusion, the DWR Coating is incredibly important to the function of the rain jacket and easily fixed. The video below will help explain how more.

Best Breathable Rain Jackets

The best breathable Rain Jackets are not only lightweight but allows moisture generated from exercise to pass through the fabric out to the atmosphere. Not all breathable rain jackets are the same.

Breathability is measured by the amount of moisture that transfers through the fabric in grams per square meter of fabric (g/m2) in 24 hours. The minimum standard of breathability of a high quality rain jacket is 15000g/m2. The highly breathable rain jacket will allow 15000 grams of water vapour to pass through a square metre of fabric in a 24 hours period.

Rain jacket Breathability is one of the key features to staying warm and dry when hiking. In combination with a good DWR Coating the jacket will serve any hiker in the backcountry. The higher the breathability rating the better.

Best Features in a Lightweight Rain Jacket

What features are important on the best lightweight rain jacket for backpacking? Apart from the obvious ability to keep the hiker dry there are some things that set one jacket apart from another. There are 4 important features to consider when purchasing a high quality rain jacket:

  • Pockets
  • Hood
  • Waist Cinch Cord
  • Pit Zips

Rain Jacket Pockets

Pockets are great feature but they add a bit of weight to the rain jacket. Most ultralight rain jackets do not have hand pockets, usually, the chest pocket is as complicated as it gets. Having used a jacket without hand pockets for many years I don’t feel they are important, other feel they are super important.

Most jackets pack into an internal pocket for storage, some have a stuff sac and some roll into the hood for storage when not in use. The compressed pack size of the jacket when not in use is important for an ultralight hiker.

Rain Jacket Hood

It should make sense that a hood be designed to keep the water off the head and prevent it running inside the jacket. Hooded rain jackets come in so many designs with some that are simple elastic that pull the hood tight over the head.

Rain Jackets with cinch cord and toggles prevent wind or water from entering the body around the head and neck much better than simple elastic hoods. When things turn nasty and the wind is blowing hard with sideways rain the toggles or cinch chord are worth the extra weight.

The toggles and cinch chord add weight and the ultralight rain jackets that use simple elastic on the hoods will be much lighter.

Rain Jacket Waist Cinch Cord

Cinch cord on the bottom of the jacket is used to restrict the amount of cold air entering the jacket from the weight and providing the best fit. Not all jackets have this feature. Some jackets use simple elastic stitched into the jacket to provide a tight fit around the waist or hood.

The cinch cord does add a small amount of weight and cost to the jacket but for the most part this is considered well worth it.

Best Ultralight Rain Jackets with Pit Zips

Pit zips are the under arm zips on lightweight rain jackets used to shed heat quickly. Rain jackets with pit zips are great to reduce the build up of heat and sweat when active. In most cases they are a great idea but there are down sides of pit zips.

Pit zips on rain jackets can fail quicker due the fact that they are in a very high wear area. They also they add weight and cost to the rain jacket. Some jackets such as the Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 Stretch prevent this by having the vent zips on the chest, away from the high wear area under the arms.

Ultralight Rain Jackets Review 2021

Enlightened Equipment Visp Jacket Review

The Enlightened Equipment Visp Jacket is one of the lightest, most breathable and most waterproof lightweight jackets available at the moment.

With its excellent protection against both rain and wind, it is best suited for ultralight thru hikers. This would be the best thru hiking rain jacket for someone hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or similar long distance trail.

It’s constructed with three layer ultralight 7D ripstop nylon. This is a paper thin breathable yet waterproof ePTFE membrane. It is soft to the touch, comfortable and weighs around 5 ounces or 142 grams.

Being such a thin material is will be more prone to getting holes while hiking in the backcountry. If going off trail or on trails with lots of sharps sticks I would avoid this jacket in preference to a heavier duty.

With a claimed breathability rating of 75000 g/m2/24hour this is the most breathable jacket in this review. There is also an option to have a rain jacket with pit zips, although there is additional cost and weight, worst of all, the wait time to have this custom feature can be very long.

It has a waterproof rating of 20,000mm which is more than enough for any backpacking rain jacket.

Overall, Enlightened Equipment’s Visp Rain Jacket is one of the best ultralight rain jackets for thru hiking. With class leading light weight, best in class breathability and the option of pit zips for better ventilation there is little to dislike about this rain jacket. Sizes run a bit big and there can be a long wait for any custom work such as optional pit zips.

Total Weight – 5oz / 142 grams (without Pit Zips)
Outer fabric –
7Denier Ripstop Nylon with ePTFE membrane
Breathability – 75000 g/m2/24hour
Waterproof rating – 20000mm
Pockets – 2 hand pockets
Stuff Sac – No
Pros – Very Lightweight, very breathable, optional pit zips
Cons –  Expensive, long wait for customization such as pit zips.

Compare Prices : Enlightened Equipment Website

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket Review

The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket is the updated version of the very successful Helium 2. I used the Helium 2 to thru hike the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail so I know and love it well, but is this new jacket an improvement!

The upgraded OR Helium weighs in at only 6.6oz / 187 grams. This makes it one of the best ultralight rain jackets for thru hiking and backpacking.

The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket is a minimalistic jacket with no hand pockets and a small chest pocket just big enough for smaller sized phone or other items that the hiker wants to keep dry. The small chest pocket also doubles as the storage sack for the jacket.

I like the elastic cuffs, waist drawcord and everything about the hood. It comes in a range of colours including my favourite, Bright Orange. A great colour for a lightweight rain jacket for cycling in dull weather!

The Helium Rain Jacket is quite breathable but I always seem to want more breathability than any jacket seems capable of providing. Having said that, I’m a big fan of the Pertex Shield Pro outer material. The Durable Water Repellent Coating (DWR) seems to be just as good as the previous model, which was ok but not outstanding.

Overall, the Helium Rain Jacket can get a bit sticky after a while, specially when climbing up steep trails in wet weather. The jacket has no pit zips to vent the heat but that helps keep the overall weight down.

The upgraded 2.5 layer Pertex Shield Pro is 30 Denier and uses Diamond Fuse technology which essentially is an upgraded ripstop that is said to be 5 times stronger than the previous model.

Overall, the Outdoor Research Helium is one of the best lightweight rain jackets for the Appalachian Trail due to the increased durability of the material and resistance to the abuse from the sharp sticks and branches that exist on many sections of the trail.

Total Weight – 6.3oz / 178grams
Outer fabric –
30 Denier 2.5-layer waterproof Pertex Shield
Breathability – Not specified but I believe it is 20000 g/m2/24hour
Waterproof rating – Hydrostatic Head rating 15000mm
Pockets – 1 Chest Pocket only
Stuff Sac – Stuffs into chest pocket
Pros – Ultralight, Reasonable price, small pack size, upgraded tear resistant fabric.
Cons –  No hand pockets or pit zips, Not as breathable as other jackets in this review

Compare Prices: Amazon | REI | | Campsaver | Moosejaw

Outdoor Research Helium 2 Review

The Outdoor Research Helium 2 proved to be one of the most popular and best rain jackets for thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

A lightweight and waterproof Rain Jacket that doubles as a wind jacket makes it a popular choice.

In fact, I used this jacket for Thru Hiking Triple Crown while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail and also the Te Araroa Trail New Zealand! More than 8000 miles of use!

The Pertex Shield fabric is not only lightweight but great as a wind jacket or in torrential rain. I wish this jacket had a better DWR coating. It is not as good as I would like so I needed to reapply the coating many times over the years. My complaint about the quality of DWR coatings in recent years in common to almost all rain jackets in this review, not just this one.

At only 6.4oz it is one of the lightest on the market and the fact that this jacket has proved so popular over the years is testament to it’s quality and the trust many hikers like myself have placed in the jacket to keep me dry over thousands of miles of trails over the years.

This jacket is getting harder to find as it is now discontinued in favour of the upgraded Outdoor Research Helium. If you can still find one on clearance you will get a bargain priced rain jacket that would be one of the best lightweight rain jackets for the Pacific Crest Trail or any long distance hiking trail. If you are looking for a cheap, lightweight and high quality rain jacket then look no further. Check out the links below to retailers that still may have them in stock at a very cheap price, but hurry, once they are gone, they are gone.

Total Weight – 6.4oz / 180 grams
Outer fabric –
30D (denier) Pertex Shield
Breathability – Not specified but I believe it is 20000 g/m2/24hour
Waterproof rating – Hydrostatic Head 20000mm
Pockets – 1 chest pocket
Stuff Sac – No, the chest pocket doubles as a stiff sac
Pros – Lightweight, packs up small and very very cheap right now
Cons –  Becoming difficult to find as it is now on clearance due to the new model. The DWR coating could be better.

Compare Prices: Amazon | REI | | Campsaver | Moosejaw

Marmot PreCip Eco Rain Jacket Review

The Marmot PreCip rain jacket has been around since about 1999. This latest upgraded gives the Marmot Precip an eco friendly conscience.

The Marmot PreCip Eco Rain Jacket is made from recycled nylon face fabric, and uses a PFC-free DWR.

The Marmot PreCip Eco Rain Jacket costs less than $100 at some retailers which makes it one of the cheapest rain jacket for hiking, only the Outdoor Research Helium 2 is close in the quality vs price category. For those on a budget and wanting something environmentally friendly it ticks all the boxes.

This 2.5-layer rain jacket is not the most breathable rain jacket in this review and hikers will wish it was a little more breathable during hikes with long uphill climbs. To address this the Marmot Precip Eco Rain Jacket has pit zips to vent heat and there is mesh lining for the hand pockets.

The Pit Zips and mesh pockets do a good job at regulating body heat and transferring moisture outside when needed.

Weighing in at 10.5oz / 293g, it is just light enough for backpacking, multi-day hikes and cycling. Thru hikers and ultralight hikers will look elsewhere as there are better options for the weight.

The fixed hood is adjustable with velcro tabs so you can easily wear it over a baseball cap or a hooded down jacket. It also has two cord adjustments so you can quickly cinch it closer to your face to keep the rainwater out.

The Marmot’s built-in “Angel-wing movement” design. When you reach overhead the sleeves will not want to move all the way up the lengths of the arms. A well thought out feature that appears to work well.

For the price, this is the one of the best budget rain rain jacket in the market right now. If you are in the market for a rain jacket that is environmentally friendly and are a fan of circular economy, you can’t go wrong with the Marmot PreCip Eco Rain Jacket.

Total Weight – 10.5oz / 293 g
Outer fabric –
100% Recycled Nylon Ripstop NanoPro Eco
Breathability – 17000 g/m2/24hour
Waterproof rating – 10000mm
Pockets – 2 hand pockets, 1 chest pocket and pit zips
Stuff Sac – Stuffs into the lefthand side pocket
Pros – Pit zips and mesh pockets to vent heat, environmentally friendly, 14 colours to choose from, cheap
Cons –  Breathable but could be better, not ultralight

Compare Prices: Amazon | REI | | Campsaver | Moosejaw

Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket Review

The Zeta SL Jacket is manufactured with GORE-TEX Paclite Plus fabrics with the usual waterproof zippers and two hand pockets and a nice adjustable hood.

Weighing almost 11 ounces / 310 grams, this jacket is more than twice as heavy as the Enlightened Equipment Visp making it slightly heavy for those looking to buy the best ultralight rain jacket. It may not be ultralight but this jacket just works.

It has a descent DWR coating, superior waterproof rating and is quite breathable but like all the other rain jackets it can get a bit clammy over time. With no pit zips to vent excess heat and moisture.

Overall, this is a great jacket for backpacking and hiking but for those wanting an ultralight rain jacket, this may not be the best jacket. There is a huge colour choice with enough colours to keep anyone happy.

Total Weight – 10.9oz / 310 grams
Outer fabric –
40 Denier Ripstop 2 layer Goretex Paclite Plus
Breathability – 15000 g/m2/24hour
Waterproof rating – 28000mm
Pockets – 2 hand pockets
Stuff Sac – No
Pros – Lightweight Rain Jacket, Large colour choice,
Cons –  Very Expensive, wish it was more breathable

Compare Prices : Amazon | REI | | Campsaver | MEC Canada

Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 Stretch Rain Jacket Review

The Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 rain jacket is the heaviest rain jacket in this review at 12.5oz / 354grams.

Made with Gore-Tex Paclite Stretch it has a different feel to all the other jackets except maybe the the Patagonia Rainshadow Stretch.

The Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 stretch rain jacket has side zips to vent heat buildup during a strenuous climb. Being made of Gore-Tex Paclite is is quite breathable but not as much as some of the other lightweight rain jackets. It will get sweaty inside after a while.

The Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 stretch rain jacket is not the lightest jacket but it is waterproof in torrential rain and breathable. If you are looking for something different from a traditional hardshell raincoat that has a stretchy fit then this might be a great jacket.

Overall, I think this would be a much better jacket to take traveling anywhere in the world and just put it on when taking the trekking trip in Nepal or walking the wet and windy streets of London in winter.

Total Weight – 12.5oz / 353 grams
Outer fabric –
Gor-Tex Paclite Stretch Fabric
Breathability – 15000 g/m2/24hour
Waterproof rating – Hydrostatic Head rating 28000mm
Pockets – Chest pocket only
Stuff Sac – None
Pros – Good stretchy fabric, Side Zips
Cons –  A bit heavy, not as breathable as I would like.

Compare Prices: Amazon | REI | | Campsaver

Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket

The Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket is unlike most hardshell rain jacket, the Patagonia rain shadow jacket has a unique stretch feature that enables it to stand out amongst the other jackets. 

The Stretch Rainshadow jacket is a 3 layer rain jacket made from a material called H2No. The shell fabric is made from ECONYL, a 100 % recycled nylon stretch fabric. The material also has a decent DWR coating.

The Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket is the heaviest jacket in this review at 14 ounces / 397g. Although it is not that heavy, the ultralight hiker will not be interested in this jacket as there are much better options for the weight. But the extra weight comes in the form of pit zips, hand pockets that actually are in a place that can be used when carrying a pack and a hood that fits well.

The Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket is breathability but like all the jackets in this review it can get clammy after a while. To prevent that clammy feeling the rain jacket pit zips vent a lot of heat and help air flow to prevent excessive sweat inside the jacket. Overall, it vents heat and moisture well.

Patagonia Rainshadow Jacket is a stretchy, durable and comfortable rain jackets. It ticks all the boxes as being a great jacket, I just wish it was a bit lighter. If it was, it would be the perfect jacket. If you care about the environment and want a fair trade certified jacket made from recycled materials then this could be the perfect choice.

Total Weight – 14oz / 397 grams
Outer fabric –
30 Denier 3 layer Ripstop Nylon called H2No
Breathability – 15000 g/m2/24hour
Waterproof rating – 15000mm
Pockets – Chest Pocket, 2 hand pockets
Stuff Sac – Chest pocket is used as the stuff sac
Pros – Pit zips, durable material, nice hand pockets
Cons –  I wish it was a bit lighter

Compare Prices : Patagonia Website | | REI | MEC-Canada | Macpac

Best Ultralight Rain Jackets for Thru Hiking

All the best ultralight rain jackets in this review could be improved, whether it be shaving off a couple of ounces in weight, having a better DWR coating or they could be cheaper.

A couple of the jackets stood out from the pack like the Enlightened Equipment Visp and Outdoor Research Helium. All of these are ultralight, very packable and full of everything a lightweight thru hiker would need.

For those who want the most environmentally friendly rain jackets the choice is clearly either the Patagonia Rainshadow or the Marmot Precip Eco.

The best budget option is the Outdoor Research Helium 2 which is discontinued or the Marmot Precip Eco, both of which can be purchased for below $100.

Overall, my choice of the Best Ultralight Rain Jacket 2021 is the Enlightened Equipment Visp with Pit Zips.

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My Current Lightweight Gear List

The Best Hiking Gear at the Best Prices :
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Nemo | VasqueSea to Summit | Enlightened Equipment | | Macpac | MEC Canada
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Best lightweight rain jacket review

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