How to Pick the Best Rain Jacket for Hiking

In hiking conditions with changeable weather, it is easier than ever to pack light weight rain gear. The best rain jacket for hiking depends on your needs, but new fabrics and features will allow you to choose several features and still bring home a high quality, affordable jacket that is likely to last a lifetime.

Best Rain Jacket for Hiking in Summer

A woman hikes during the summer wearing the best rain jacket for hiking.

During summer months, a light jacket is plenty for most climates and terrain. But department store windbreakers don’t always provide enough waterproofing for downpours. We recommend going for a hooded rain jacket with pockets that packs into its own bag. Such designs are nearly universal, often under $50, and sufficient for sudden storms. 

The Thunderlight jacket, for example, comes with incredible $38 price tag, and includes breathable but waterproof fabric and taped inseams for extra waterproofing. This nylon jacket is also a windbreaker and comes in eight sizes plus an amazing array of colors. It’s possible to get a more affordable rain jacket for summer, and recommend choosing one just for this season because you can get away with a lightweight, affordable model that’s easy to toss into your day pack.

Best Rain Jacket for Hiking in Spring/Fall

A hiker walks through the forest.

If you live in a temperate climate, you can usually get away with using your summer rain jacket in spring and autumn, but for most of us a sturdier jacket is necessary in cooler months. Since three rain jackets seems a bit obsessive (not to mention expensive), we recommend one lightweight (summer) and one shell that can use moderate to thick insulation. 

In some areas, spring and fall bring rapid temperature changes, and removable insulation is the way to go. This is also a great option if you do more than hiking, and are using the jacket for mountain biking, road biking or motorcycling.

With the right jacket, you can even find multiple insulation layers – thus using one jacket for summer (no insulation), cooler temps (light insulation) and even winter (thinsulate or other high-tech insulating material). 

Best Winter Rain Jacket

A woman hikes through the woods in the winter.

If you love hiking in winter when the crowds thin out, the best rain jacket for hiking is one that includes a jacket and pants. But for the jacket alone, choose one that covers somewhat below the waist and is durable, waterproof, hooded and relatively lightweight. Multiple rain jackets fit this bill, but for hiking you’ll want to choose a jacket that is lighter weight, covers below the waist, has reasonable (or removable) insulation, and includes a little stretch in the fabric.

Features to look for in a winter jacket include high quality shell (such as GoreTex) and excellent insulating properties (such as Thinsulate). Seam taping and water-resistant zippers are a must, as are pockets that can protect gear and hands. Any water in a colder climate can cause problems, so keeping 100% of the rain and sleet out is your goal.

High quality winter rain jackets should also include at least one inner pocket, draw cords to cinch up the neck area, high collars, and zip-up hood. These features may seem like icing on the cake, but for a few bucks more they make the jacket far more usable in extreme conditions. While winter jackets can be breathable, some also include pit zippers for venting.

For hiking, whether in summer, cooler months or midwinter – we recommend jackets that stretch. Higher end models can include 4-way stretch, which makes movement far easier. A restrictive jacket may get pushed to the back of your closet and left behind, and the best rain jacket for hiking is one you’ll look forward to taking out the door.

Looking for your year-round solution? Check out Red Ledge's Free Rein Jacket, Bering Sea tested and approved, perfect for all weathers and conditions!