How To Choose A Rain Jacket

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 Jacket for men and Aspire Jacket for women are an all-time favorite—they're packed GORE-TEX waterproof protection. But the Men's Interstellar Jacket and Women's Interstellar Jacket are great choices, too—they're 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 Men's Interstellar Jacket and Women's Interstellar Jacket with AscentShell technology, or the Optimizer Jacket for him and Optimizer for her, with the GORE Active technology. Both are great for fast and hard activities where you'll need to release sweat - fast.

We also built a Men's Helium Hybrid Jacket and a Women's 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. Still, it's our best option for those who don't let rain get in the way of a workout.

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. We also made the Guardian Jacket for active folks who always seem to be moving, whether it's at a park, on a summit push, or just around town.

The Apollo Jacket and Pants are easy new favorites, too. We like to say they're best for "fun with a chance of showers." I always have at least one stashed in the car for days when the forecast doesn't live up to expectations.

As always, the Men's Foray Jacket and Women's Aspire Jacket are two long-standing best sellers and transition really well from town to trail or trail to pub. 

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 with our Ascentshell technology are great for this, like the Interstellar and Guardian. The Interstellar is definitely the cream-of-the-crop in terms of its light weight and packability (plus - the gear wiz's at Outside Mag voted it their pick for Gear of the Year). On the other hand, the Guardian still has that same stretch and breathability that makes it perfect for moving fast in wet weather.

Now let's get into the nitty gritty. Can you give us a breakdown of the different fabrics Outdoor Research uses in our rain shells, and which ones are better for what?

  • Ventia (Outdoor Research 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 (Outdoor Research 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.