We've all been there: Psyched for our next trip, shopping for the gear we'll need—but not quite sure which jacket to pick. Typing in the word waterproof and scrolling through the options, it's easy to get bogged down with choice paralysis. There are so many options, from super lightweight to more hardcore—and a whole rainbow of bells and whistles in between. So we chatted with our product manager Alex Lauver to help us suss out which of the Outdoor Research rain jackets are best for what kinds of activities. Here, he breaks it down, with details that will help you choose the right shell, whether you're headed for a month of backpacking in Alaska—or Paris.
What's the first thing someone should ask themselves when they're rain jacket shopping?
Most consumers start at budget, but I’d think it should be performance level: waterproof and breathability needs. What kind of activity will you be doing: high-exertion or not? Will you be in constant rain, or will it be an emergency option?
So, as far as activity and climate, which jacket gives the most hardcore protection, for prolonged downpours?
For general versatility, the Foray/Aspire are an awesome choice—they're Gore-Tex. But the Realm Jacket is a great choice, too—it's stretchy and so comfortable!
Which jacket is the lightest, most packable—best for emergencies or going ultralight?
The Helium! EVERYONE should own one! Being a Pacific Northwest brand, this a required piece of gear on any activity for us.
Which jacket is the best for high-exertion activities where you'll need it to be breathable or vented?
Something from our active collection: The Realm with the Ascentshell technology, or the Axiom or Clairvoyant with the Gore Active technology. All three are great. We also built a Helium Hybrid jacket specifically for trail running, but it’s not 100% waterproof because it's got the breathable Ferrosi fabric panels, in areas where you'd need less protection.
What are the best all-around jackets for traveling—that could double on a hike and in town?
Honestly, the Helium goes everywhere with me for the weight and packability. I took it to Europe twice last year and it goes to Asia with me every time. And we have a great traveler version for her, which is a bit longer and more cosmopolitan looking. The Foray/Aspire is a long standing best seller and transitions really well from town to trail or trail to pub. And for the price and versatility, the Valley and Horizon jackets are great options, too.
Are there any other factors we haven't talked about in choosing a rain shell?
A big trend in the market today is stretch. That relates to comfort in many ways as much as waterproof and breathability ratings. If you’re spending significant time in it, you might as well be comfortable! The jackets in our Ascentshell technology are great for this, like the Realm.
Now let's get into the nitty gritty. Can you give us a breakdown of the different fabrics OR uses in our rain shells, and which ones are better for what?
Ventia (OR proprietary technology)—This option is budget friendly, great for all-around versatility but not the most durable option for extreme activities compared to other options.
Ascentshell (OR proprietary technology)—This is an electrospun, air-permeable membrane that breathes faster than traditional membranes and features stretch in all versions. It's fantastic value for the high performance.
Pertex—These fabrics offer a wide range of options and performance levels. They're super lightweight and packable.
- Gore-Tex—This is the most durable option and long-standing expert brand in this space. So these products might be high-priced, but they're top of the line.