Best Waterproof Jackets

Updated July 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

22 Models Considered
5 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
202 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best waterproof jackets

Last Updated July 2019

Whether you need a jacket for hiking in light rain or commuting in a downpour, a waterproof jacket can save you the discomfort of soggy clothes. Like all outdoor jackets, waterproof ones vary in their materials, breathability, and insulation.

Most waterproof jackets fall into the category of “hard shell” jackets, meaning that they are fully waterproof and have a somewhat stiff outer layer. “Soft shell” jackets are designed to be worn over other insulating clothing or even as an additional layer under a hard shell jacket. Some waterproof jackets include additional insulated layers. The degree of waterproofing doesn’t vary much from one jacket to the next, but other factors like breathability and packability can.

A good waterproof jacket can be a modest investment, so it’s important to find the right one for you and your activities. Our buying guide explains the varieties of waterproof jackets available and their common features. We’ve also selected several that we think stand out from the rest.

There are waterproof jackets designed for men and for women, but unisex designs are very popular.

Key considerations

Choosing a waterproof jacket means considering how much mobility you need and where you’ll wear it and for how long. Though the effectiveness of the waterproofing doesn’t vary much from one jacket or brand to the next, the breathability of jackets does vary considerably. It may seem counterintuitive that when you’re wearing something designed to not let moisture in, you also need a jacket that allows water vapor to escape so you don’t get sweaty.

Waterproofing

This isn’t likely an aspect you should worry too much about. Any waterproof jacket will keep the water out. However, there are varying levels of waterproofing measured according to industry standards.

Fabrics are tested by placing a tube of water against the material, flipping the tube so its mouth is pointing downward, and measuring the volume at which water begins to permeate the fabric. A rating of 5,000 millimeters indicates the minimum waterproof rating, but some jackets may be rated for up to 20,000 millimeters. These jackets, of course, come with a higher price tag, but if you expect to be out in downpours for long periods, you won’t regret shelling out a bit extra to stay dry.

Layers

Waterproof jackets are constructed of either 2, 2.5, or 3 layers.

2-layers: These jackets have an outer layer of fabric attached to a membrane. There is also an inner liner which isn’t attached to the outer layer — you can pinch both fabrics and pull them apart. This space between layers can provide extra insulation and aid breathability. These mid-priced jackets are well suited to casual wear.

2.5-layers: The name may seem like a misnomer since to the untrained eye there’s only one layer. In reality, there are three layers sandwiched together: an outer fabric, a waterproof coating, and a protective inside layer. These jackets tend to be lightweight and low priced, but they aren’t as durable as other options.

3-layers: These jackets are the most expensive and rugged. An outer fabric liner holds a waterproof membrane snugly in place with the inner liner. These jackets are the best option for hiking and other outdoor activities.

Breathability

The second most important quality in a waterproof jacket is breathability. If a jacket is prone to trapping moisture, you’re soon going to become sweaty, uncomfortable, and possibly cold. Despite the supposed impermeability of the waterproof layers, it’s possible to allow air to pass through the fabric via microscopic holes. While there is no industry standard for breathability, some companies measure it by testing how many grams of water vapor can permeate a square meter of the fabric in 24 hours. The highest rating is around 20,000 grams.

DID YOU KNOW?

Most waterproof jackets are coated with durable water repellent, or DWR. This substance causes water to bead up and roll off the fabric. You might need to reapply DWR occasionally.

Waterproof jacket features

As with most outdoor wear, waterproof jackets vary greatly in design and additional features.

Fit

A waterproof jacket should fit somewhat loosely, allowing you to add layers underneath if necessary. At the same time, it should be snug enough around the cuffs and hem that water can’t get in when the rain is really coming down. Many waterproof jackets are adjustable and have cinch cords in key places so you can keep out water and cold air.

Materials

Like the design, the materials in waterproof jackets can vary greatly, and the variety can be intimidating. Nylon, polyester, and polyurethane are the most common materials for fabrics and laminates. The number of synthetic fabrics and laminates is seemingly limitless, so it isn’t worthwhile to get into the specifics of each material here.  What’s more important is the distinction between laminates and coatings. Laminates are generally more expensive due to their superior waterproofing and durability. Coatings are lighter and less expensive.

Extras

Hood: A detachable or easily adjustable hood allows you to quickly adapt to the weather conditions. It’s rare to find a waterproof jacket without a hood, because covering your head can prevent water from getting inside your jacket.

Vents: In addition to using highly breathable materials, some waterproof jackets have vents as an extra measure. Sometimes called “pit zips,” these are under the arms and provide an easy way to ventilate the jacket.

Packable design: Some waterproof jackets are packable, meaning they can be folded down into a very small size and stuffed in a backpack or purse. You probably won’t want to wear your waterproof jacket all the time, in which case a packable design is very convenient.

While they might be referred to as “jackets” or “shells,” their purpose is the same: to keep you dry and comfortable when you’re out in wet weather.

Waterproof jacket prices

Inexpensive: Most waterproof jackets that cost $20 to $60 feature a shell with no insulation and are designed for light rain. The light weight makes them easy to carry and pack away when not in use. While these jackets may not be the most durable, they get the job done and can be easily worn over other layers.

Mid-range: If you spend $60 to $100, you’ll find jackets that have 2 or 2.5 layers. These may be only a shell, or they may have a small amount of insulation. Jackets in this range are designed for daily wear or light hikes.

Expensive: High-end waterproof jackets that cost $100 to $300 are usually 3-layer jackets with excellent waterproofing and breathability. Their durability makes them perfect for activities like hiking, mountain biking, or skiing.

EXPERT TIP

There is really no “best” waterproof jacket. You should choose your jacket based on what activities you’ll do when wearing it and how often you’ll wear it.


Staff  | BestReviews

Layering tips

Choosing what you wear under your waterproof jacket can be just as important as the jacket itself.

  • Wear synthetics against your skin. The layer against your skin is the most important because its job is to pull moisture from your skin. Synthetic materials like nylon work well for this.
  • Avoid cotton. The fabric is highly absorbent and will trap moisture against your skin. This can be dangerous if conditions are cold.
  • Consider polyester fleece or microfleece for a middle layer. The key to finding a good middle layer is balancing insulation with breathability.

Other products we considered

Though we think our top recommendations are the best waterproof jackets available, there are a few other options we want to cover briefly. For a basic waterproof jacket from a trusted brand, consider the The North Face Men’s Venture Jacket, which is lightweight in design but highly waterproof. No waterproof rating is listed by the manufacturer, but customers swear by the function of this jacket in extremely heavy downpours. If you’re on a budget, there is the Baleaf Unisex Rain Jacket, which is great for day-to-day wear and brief periods outside. Though it isn’t as breathable as some other jackets, the design makes it easy to pack in your backpack or purse when you don’t need it. The pockets, reflective logo, and light weight make it a good jacket to wear while jogging or running.

All waterproof jackets prevent water from getting through, but some may perform better than others in extreme conditions.

FAQ

Q. Why is my jacket suddenly absorbing water?
A.
It means that your jacket probably needs to be cleaned. Oil and other substances in the fabric are retaining water that would otherwise bounce off. You should also reapply a coating of durable water repellent (DWR).

Q. How should waterproof jackets be washed?
A.
Many waterproof jackets are machine washable, but you might need to use a special detergent designed specifically to avoid damaging waterproof materials.

Q. How should I dry my rain jacket after it’s been soaked?
A.
All you need to do is hang it up or lay it flat, in direct sunlight if possible to accelerate drying. As with any clothing product, you should check the manufacturer’s recommendations. Whatever method it suggests for drying your jacket after cleaning should work after a storm as well.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Peter
    Peter
    Writer
  • Stacey
    Stacey
    Writer

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