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 Men's Foray II GORE-TEX Jacket and Women's Aspire II GORE-TEX Jacket are an all-time favorite—they're packed GORE-TEX waterproof protection.

Which jacket is the lightest, most packable—best for emergencies or going ultralight?

The Helium Rain Collection 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?

Best for being ActiveMen's Motive AscentShell Jacket and Women's Motive AscentShell Jacket with AscentShell technology. Both are great for fast and hard activities where you'll need to release sweat - fast.

Best for Fast and Light adventures is the Helium AscentShell Jacket Available for Men and Women. The Helium AscentShell combines two powerful technologies into one hard shell that feels good, protects better, and far surpasses the performance of heavier jackets.

What are the best all-around jackets for traveling—that could double on a hike and in town?

Honestly, the Helium Rain Jacket 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.

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 II GORE-TEX Jacket and Women's Aspire II GORE-TEX Jacket are two long-standing best sellers and transition really well from town to trail or trail to pub. 

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?

  • 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.
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