5 of the best lightweight packable rain jackets

Ah, rain jackets. Absolutely essential to any sort of outdoorsy adventure, but utterly useless if all goes well. They’re the clothing equivalent of a first aid kit: Always there, but hopefully never used.

Lightweight packable rain jackets
Each of these jackets weighs about as much as a t-shirt. Maybe two, at most.

So it seems to me that if anything should benefit from the ultralight gear revolution, it should be rain jackets. If they’re meant to be stowed away and deployed only when storms arrive, there’s no reason to make them bulkier and heavier than necessary, and with plenty of super lightweight fabrics available, we should have countless gravity-defying options for super lightweight options all over the place.

But while each and every rain jacket on the planet markets itself as “lightweight,” they mostly fall into the same general range: 13-16 ounces (370-450g), all packing down to a similar size. It’s certainly not bad, but if you’re trying to minimize pack size and reduce weight, you can do a whole lot better.

Luckily for you, I am a scrawny weakling with the structural integrity of a stalk of wheat, and have spent the last decade patrolling the gear repositories of the world for the absolute lightest and most packable, but still highly functional options anywhere to be found. They’re half the weight of existing alternatives, and every bit as useful.

So! Let’s see if they’re right for you:

Super lightweight, packable rain jacket pros and cons

Packable rain jacket, stuffed
When I say “packable,” I really mean it.

Personally, I much prefer the lightweight options that weigh less, pack smaller, and work just as well as their heavyweight brethren. But it’s true that with this reduced weight comes a mild compromise; they won’t be as tough as a regular rain jacket, so you’ll need to handle them a little more carefully. I’ve had mine for years and it still looks brand new, so as long as you don’t go charging into thorn bushes, you should be fine.

Also, because they’re manufactured exclusively by mountaineering companies, they look like mountaineering gear. This might not matter to you so much, but as someone who enjoys traveling, I’ve always pointed out that casually-styled high-tech clothing is the ideal combination for international travel, as it allows you to pack half the gear, rather than packing dedicated hiking clothing alongside casual outfits. It’s great for ultralight travel setups, and allows you to enjoy the benefits of carry-on only travel. But I’m able to let it slide when it comes to outerwear, since there aren’t that many alternatives, and no one seems to mind anyway.

And thus, onward we go: Each item on this list comes in at under 10 ounces (280g), which is half the weight of most competing alternatives, and will handle a rainstorm just as well as anything else. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Updated for 2016! A couple options have been discontinued, while some new ones have shown up. I’ve kept the discontinued ones listed here, since you might be able to find them for a little while, but they’re at the bottom of the list.

1) REI Co-Op Rain Jacket

REI Co-Op Rain Jacket
The REI Co-Op Rain Jacket. Plain and simple, and cheap, too.

This is a downright bargain, streamlined for simplicity, and coming in just under 10 ounces. REI has been adding new items like this to its Co-Op line, which consists of staples items that everyone needs, in lots of colors, with no flashy logos, and basic features.

It has two hand pockets, and that’s it, as far as storage goes. It does an interesting thing with the cuffs, though; it has an internal elastic cuff to block the wind, but has a loosely fitting external cuff that covers your hand, so it doesn’t get rained on as much. Kind of a neat feature, though a little unusual. Oh, and the hood is just a bit small.

  • Pockets: 2 zippered hand pockets
  • Pit zips: No
  • Weight: 9.4 oz (~266g)
  • Price: $80

Get it here.

2) Montbell Versalite Jacket

Montbell Versalite Jacket
The Montbell Versalite Jacket, also appropriately named.

I’ve been a big fan of Montbell ever since I picked up one of their puffy jackets, which has been my go-to winter jacket of choice for half a decade, and a cornerstone of my lightweight winter travel gear setup ever since. The entire rest of their lineup is obscenely light, which is a strategy Montbell pursues with more dedication than most others.

Despite being one of the lightest jackets on this list, this is the only jacket that has underarm zippers, for extra ventilation. It’s incredibly helpful on those long, uphill, backpack-laden, downpour-stricken hikes that’ll happen sooner or later.

Other features include adjustments for the hood, hem, and cuffs, as well as two zippered hand pockets, placed high enough that they’re still usable while wearing a backpack hip belt.

  • Pockets: 2 zippered hand pockets
  • Pit zips: Yes
  • Weight: 6.7 oz (~190g)
  • Price: $150

Get it here.

3) Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket
The appropriately-named Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket.

Another just-a-chest-pocket option. Napoleon would be so very proud.

The Outdoor Research Helium II includes an adjustable hood and hem, and elastic cuffs, and is another streamlined, simplified, just-the-basics packable rain jacket. The single chest pocket is what some people prefer, as it’s more easily accessible when wearing a backpack with a hip belt than hand pockets would be.

Outdoor Research also makes an upgraded version called the Helium HD, which adds hand pockets and pit zips, and still comes in under 10 oz, and would be great for those who want those extra features.

  • Pockets: 1 zippered chest pocket
  • Pit zips: No
  • Weight: 6.4 oz (~180g)
  • Price: $150

Get it here.

4) Marmot Essence Jacket

Marmot Essence Jacket
The Marmot Essence, featuring just the essentials. Obviously.

You’ll soon come to realize that Marmot is leading the charge in super lightweight rain jackets. Gear manufacturers of the world, take note.

The Essence jacket uses a different fabric that’s claimed to be even more breathable, and also manages to be even lighter than the aforementioned Mica.

The Essence features just a single chest pocket; personally, I much prefer hand pockets, so I have somewhere to put my hands when it’s raining, but some people prefer the chest pocket, which is more easily accessible when you’re wearing a backpack with a hip belt. Take your pick.

It also differs in that it has elastic cuffs, which I think work nicely, and 360° reflectivity, for greater visibility, which may or may not be what you prefer. Other features include an adjustable hood and hem. Very basic, very light, and very useful.

  • Pockets: 1 zippered chest pocket
  • Pit zips: No
  • Weight: 6 oz (~170g)
  • Price: $200

Get it here.

5) Arcteryx Norvan Jacket

Arcteryx Norvan Jacket
The Arcteryx Norvan Jacket. Pricy, but good.

Arcteryx always seems to have fifty different jackets at any given time, but this ultralight one is actually quite new. It trims weight with basic features, such as elastic cuffs and hood, but adds some reflective elements to increase visibility if you’re cycling or jogging.

It has no hand pockets, though; just a single internal pocket for storing small items. It’s intended for running, which is probably why it skips the hand pockets, since runners wouldn’t use them. But it does have underarm vents, which, in the version I’ve seen, are permanently slightly-open.

  • Pockets: 1 internal
  • Pit zips: Yes
  • Weight: 7.5 oz (~212g)
  • Price: $325

Get it here.

6) Marmot Mica Jacket

Marmot Mica Rain Jacket
The Marmot Mica, my current ultralight rain jacket.

(Discontinued)

This is the one for me. I somehow managed to snag it on sale for $82 a few years back, and pretty much never bothered shopping for anything ever again. It’s got everything I’d want in a lightweight rain jacket, and nothing I don’t.

With two hand pockets and pretty much nothing else, it’s a basic, streamlined, lightweight, packable rain shell, with very little else going on. I much prefer this sort of simplicity when it comes to outerwear, particularly when traveling, as it doesn’t look like a fluorescent construction worker safety uniform, like plenty of other jackets so often do. It looks about as classy as a technical rain shell can get, especially in medium grey. The fabric is also a lot quieter than others, which is a nice bonus.

It includes an adjustable hood, hem, and cuffs, and does a nice job of covering my face in heavy rain. It works as advertised, and breathes quite nicely, though the lack of pit zips mean you’ll eventually want to remove it, though I’ve been quite happy with its performance. For a variety of reasons, from the price, to the capabilities, to the basic-but-just-enough features, I’d just replace it immediately with the same thing if I ever lost it.

Two things I’d change, though: The main zipper pull is just a cord, but would be a little easier to grab if it had the metal pull like the hand pockets also do; and I’d add elastic to the cuffs, which currently have none, so they’d be easier to get on and off when adjusted snugly.

  • Pockets: 2 zippered hand pockets (one of them doubles as a stuff sack)
  • Pit zips: No
  • Weight: 7 oz (~200g)
  • Price: $150

Get it for men here. For ladies, it’s known as the Crystalline.

Update: Looks like this one’s discontinued. Sad times…

7) Mountain Hardwear Super Light Plasmic Jacket

Mountain Hardwear Super Light Plasmic Jacket
The Mountain Hardwear Super Light Plasmic Jacket. A mouth-full, but not a pack-full.

(Discontinued)

Minor note: Mountain Hardwear makes a bunch of jackets with the word Plasmic in the title, so make sure you get the one that also says Super Light. Or not. The others are pretty cool too.

This one is the lightest of the lineup, and uses the trick of placing its hand pockets higher than a hip belt, so you can use them while wearing a pack. Since they’re mesh lined, they can also fulfill the function of pit zips, though to a lesser degree.

It includes the standard rain jacket adjustments, but doesn’t load it with any features besides the basics. Extra points for subtle colors options, too.

  • Pockets: 2 zippered hand pockets
  • Pit zips: No
  • Weight: 7.7 oz (~220g)
  • Price: $200

Looks like this one’s discounted as well…check out the regular Plasmic Jacket in the meantime, which is just a few ounces heavier.

Alternate plan: Get an umbrella

Somewhere in Croatia. I'm gonna say...Zagreb.
Too bad it can’t double as transportation, Mary Poppins style.

For all the technical wizardry on display in an ultralight rain shell, nothing beats the breathability of a good ol’ fashioned umbrella. And while they do have downsides, it’s a dirt-cheap alternative that’s perfectly functional.

On the upside, it’ll protect your legs, breathe better, and let you take pictures, or open up a map, without worrying about water damage. They’ll protect your backpack too, meaning you can skip the rain cover.

On the downside, they’re sensitive to strong wind, require one hand at all times to operate, and you’ll probably also want some sort of jacket anyway.

It’s just worth taking into consideration that you don’t need to get a high-tech rain jacket, and this is a good place to cut corners if you’re looking to keep the budget to a minimum. I generally prefer jackets, but it’s easy to see how the umbrella alternative could be great too.

Oh, and in either case, you’ll have a ready-to-go answer for those people who ask “what do you do when it rains?”

Keep right on going, dammit.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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38 Comments on “5 of the best lightweight packable rain jackets”

  1. Nice list here… but I still prefer the Arc’teryx Squamish. Not 100% rain proof, but handles rain in most situations as long as it’s not super windy. 5.5oz and costs $150. Feels more durable than most in this class.

    1. I like ultralight wind shells too, as I tend to overheat no matter what I’m wearing, so the extra breathability on soft shells or wind shells is nice. It also makes something of a nice combination when used with an umbrella for more serious rain, which means you don’t have to switch from one to the other.

    2. The linked site for the Montbell has this in the description:
      “a combined weight of less than 11 ounces”
      Whatever “combined weight” means.

      Then the specs go on to say 6.7 oz. That’s a pretty big difference! With all the pockets and hood adjustment and pit zips, I’m worried that the 11 oz is the accurate number. Anybody have one of these who can comment on the actual weight?

    3. A year later…. It’s pretty easy to make a super-light windbreaker. Problem is, I need something to go over my down insulating layer. And if the down gets wet, things don’t go well. I’d rather add 1-2 ounces to keep my insulation dry. Does Arc’teryx make an ultralight waterproof layer like those mentioned here? Their stuff fits me the best, certainly.

  2. Nice article. I’d add the Patagonia Torrenshell jacket. I bought one for my wife and it has served her quite well. I’d buy one for myself but I have more rain shells than I can count.

  3. Very good post, and a very interesting site overall! I recently stumbled over it and found out that here is a lot of interesting reading.

    About rain clothes, in my latest hiking trips in the Swedish forest I have used Frogg Toggs DriDucks. Very lightweight (jacket 170g, pants 130g) and very breathable and very cheap. I found out the material is so breathable so the jacket works perfect as a wind jacket also. So, I can skip the wind jacket in my packing list and save the (small) weight. Downside? The material is fragile, other hikers say. But it has hold up for me this far. It is not so fashionable either. But works for me:
    http://www.froggtoggsraingear.com/DriDucks.shtm

  4. Aether makes some awesome stuff (I have the Union Bicycle Jacket). It’s expensive but fits your “great function plus (rather than instead of) great form” requirements. Another one to join the list with Bluffworks, Icebreaker, Outlier, and Mission Workshop. Rapha too, but again they’re even more expensive. Ideally, all of this stuff lasts so long that you’re comparing buying 1 thing once with buying 1 thing just to replace it regularly ad infinitum.

  5. When I bought my Mont-bell rain jacket in 1990 it was not alone, in the then newly arising market of Gore-Tex and Gore-Tex-like biking gear, in its “function and beauty” design. The jacket has since seen at least a hundred thousand miles of rain riding — and probably for ninety-nine thousand of those miles it hasn’t been rainproof…ha! Unlike these new jackets that use dark or neutral colors, jackets at the time, when “functional jackets” were only designed for riders who were not concerned with an “acceptable” social statement, were neon in color (my Mont-bell was at one time neon green). And then there is the removable hood, which is an an item that is no longer available anywhere…and I’ve used that hood as much as I’ve used the jacket, so it leads me to believe that the absolute lack of removable-hoods from modern rain gear has to do with dudes and dudetes not wanting to be “uncool”….otherwise all rain jackets would have a removable hood, and thus said dudes and dudetes could simply leave it off if it was too uncool: but companies have to provide “correct” product for their markets, and thus a hood is now left out of the “picture”. If anybody knows of a company making jackets in any color besides suicidal dark blues, blacks, dark reds, etc., ect. (or the standard “yellow”) and that have a removable hood “and” packs nicely into the backside pocket, please let me know. I’ve looked now for almost ten years.

  6. I love my Marmot Crystalline rain jacket. It’s my backpacking jacket whether I’m out on a hiking trail or on vacation in a populated area. I have to say my favorite thing to say to people who ask me what I do when it rains is to get really upset and say, “Oh my God, you’re right! I didn’t think about that, I’m going to melt!!”

    1. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are just horrified by the mere notion of small droplets of water falling from the sky. Particularly if they live somewhere where it happens regularly, and whose citizens have numerous methods of solving this problem…

  7. I went with a scottevest for the pockets which is rain-resistant, and a cheap umbrella that fits in a pocket until I need it. Works a treat.

    I’ll happily wear construction yellow and reflective stripes WHEN I’M AT A CONSTRUCTION SITE (sometimes my day job), for regular use I like a more subdued look, without going all ninja stealth mode.

    1. I too use a scottevest as my “rain” jacket. Tropical model in black which looks reasonably classy with khaki pants. It isn’t a true all-weather jacket, but it’s good enough for a cloud forest drizzle or an occasional rain shower. Because it’s essentially just a mesh-lined synthetic shell it dries out quickly.

      The ridiculous quantity of inside zipping pockets is useful too. Good for keeping cash, electronic gadgets, and important papers on my person and not in my backpack while in transit. Bonus: Don’t pack it, WEAR it! No space needed in my backpack unless the weather gets hot. Even on a stuffy plane, though, the sleeves zip off…

  8. Thanks for all the great info on this and your other posts, it’s been really helpful in preparing for my first backpacking trip this summer!

    Rain jacket question – do these jackets (and other rain jackets in general) work well as windbreakers also? Or are they totally different things?

    Thanks!

  9. I would love to find a semi-fashionable non blob looking poncho that would cover me down to my knees with a backpack on and fold into my pocket.

  10. I rather like OMM waterproofs, especially their gelanots material.
    Very stretchy, pliable material,and incredibly waterproof as well.
    Wore my new Phantom Hoody, in this years Snowdonia Marathon, where it rained heavily for most of the race.
    Kept me comfortable, and dry, and saving weight as well, at only 184gms in weight.

    1. I like soft shell pants, since they’ll give you a good blend of rain resistance and comfort, and they won’t feel weird or make funny noises the way rain pants will. It’s easier to remove a rain jacket when you walk inside than it is to remove your rain pants, and soft shells offer enough rain resistance that they’re fine for urban settings. For outdoorsy activities you’d want something more protective, but I mostly use this sort of gear for travel, rather than hiking, so I stick with soft shells and things like that.

  11. Just stumbled across this, and was hoping for a review of the Uniqlo entrant. Super light, well cut, hand pockets, and rolls into a tiny tube. At $40, is much less than even the REI option, though I wonder what the tradeoffs are.

    1. I think you’re talking about their Lightweight Pocketable Parka, which is not waterproof. It would be find as a wind layer, but not for rain.

      1. The Uniqlo Pocketable Parka might not be waterproof, but it IS water-resistant/water-repellant. I’ve worn it in a light rain with no problems and since I’ve never worn it in a downpour, I just did a little experiment by pouring a glass of water over one of the sleeves and the water just rolled off.

  12. Looks like some sellers have a 2016 edition of the Mica. I wonder if you had a chance to try it, and what you think of it.

    1. Looks identical, as far as I can tell from the photos. I do love it, although I might also look around for a heavier, more durable alternative with underarm zippers for venting. I get overheated way too quickly, and they’re nice to have.

  13. NO mention of the Marmot PreCip which received very good reviews for many years?

    Recently bought one on sale and it already paid itself off.

    It’s relatively roomy enough that I can wear a mid-weight fleece underneath for winter as I’ll test whether or not it’ll keep me warm in colder weather. Any rougher weather conditions and I’ll switch over to my hard shell Arcteryx jacket but the PreCip will be my go-to jacket for rainy days :)

    1. I was focusing just on the ultralight models here, but the PreCip is a great light/midweight option that’s quite reliable. Marmot is pretty good as far as outdoorsy gear goes, although my personal tendency is to seek out the non-outdoorsy-looking options from some of the newer, more casual companies.

  14. My good lady and I needed new waterproof jackets when I inadvertently left ours in a hotel in Serbia while we were travelling around the Balkans.
    By sheer chance, we stumbled upon a clothes shop in Ohrid Macedaonia (LC Waikiki) and decided to investigate.
    We now have 2 fully waterproof (tested in torrential rain) fully lined, fully adjustable (hood, cuffs and hem) subtle (black outer with a blue lining) fairly lightweight (11oz) jackets for the princely sum of about £20 each.
    3 years on, and these jackets are still going strong.

    1. Yeah, there are plenty of low-cost brands out there, such as Columbia, that offer more affordable versions of the higher-end brands. Occasionally I’ll get picky just because I want something specific, but it’s not so important to spend too much on these things if you don’t want to.

  15. No Pit zips , NO GO! 5 of 7 listed NO GO.
    The NF Venture 7 & Marmot PreCip have PitZips, both >$100
    I know you’re mostly about travel and somewhat about fashion.
    But in a outdoor>fashion – fitting under some ‘headgear’ (cycling/climbing/snowsport/etc helmutt) can be a consideration…
    NF Venture – soft cap OK – helmet, not so much… but nice, light, 4hr+ rain proof Jac.
    Marmot Precip – hard hat OK … more jac, a bit more weight, also rainproof…
    I likie both… I carry the Venture when I want to appease the rain gods and prefer the day to remain dry… LOL!
    don;t know bout fashion – try not to look in the mirror – too depressing… LOL!

    1. Personally, I agree with you on the underarm zippers. No rain jacket is breathable enough, and even if it does breathe, I’d rather just not sweat so much in the first place. But most of the ultralight rain jackets just don’t use them, as they’re going for simple and light, rather than full-featured. It’s not so bad to use maybe a 12-14 ounce rain jacket with underarm zippers, as you can wear it more often, instead of having to pack it in the bag when it’s too warm.

  16. My perfect jacket wouldn’t have pit zips. It would have pit slashes. No zipper! Just an opening for ventilation. It would be a compromise – not to large, and not to small. Just enough to dump the damp heat, and not large enough to let the wind in (if you’re cold, keep our ams down!). Zips seem to be too bulky, heavy and balky to be worth it. Just give me an opening that weighs nothing. I’ll hold my arms out when I need to cool down, I’ll hold my arms down when I want to stay warmer.

    1. I’ve seen a few alternative solutions, like torso zips that go up and down your sides, and so on. Until we get a major development in something super-breathable, vents of some kind are kind of a necessity, unless you’re standing still, like an attendant standing outside who doesn’t need to vent any heat.

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