4 Qualities to Look for in a Lightweight, Packable Rain Jacket

If you hike, spend a lot of time in the outdoors, or just get annoyed by rain…now is the time to upgrade to a lightweight, packable rain jacket. Textiles and fabrics are part of the technological revolution of the last 20 years, so outdoor gear has improved beyond recognition. The old, plastic rain poncho is no longer the only lightweight option for protection from rain, snow, sleet and mist. The new, lightweight, packable rain jacket is an affordable option.

Newer rain jackets are designed to optimize comfort, provide 100% water resistance, and can be rolled up to fit tiny spaces. These features make a rain jacket far superior to klunkly umbrella or cheap poncho any day of the week.  We’ve broken down what you should be looking for when you decide to upgrade to a decent piece of rain gear.

1. Comfort

A hiker in a rain jacket looks out over the water.

The most important feature in any piece of outdoor clothing is how comfortable it is. A lightweight, packable rain jacket that keeps water off but feels wrong will get pushed into the back of your closet and donated to the local thrift store ten years down the road. Rain jackets provide several comfortable features: stretchiness, breathability and ventilation. 

The comfort of having a stretchable jacket with some give should not be underestimated if you are an active person. Being able to move around without feeling you are constrained is highly prized, and more flexible materials tend to cost a bit more. The Rebel Stretch Shell from Red Ledge offers premium material without sacrificing on comfort and flexibility, making it a perfect option for hikers, runners, and hardcore outdoor enthusiasts looking for the right solution to their rain gear needs.

The best rain jackets are also made from breathable materials, which insulates from cold but ensures you won’t heat up too much when hiking or exercising outside. Check the breathability reviews because this feature is perhaps the most likely to determine how comfortable you’ll be in your rain jacket.

Lightweight, packable rain jackets will include ventilation features such as zippers and snaps to allow for air flow. This is entirely different from breathability, and the better designs include high ratings for both.

2. Versatility

A man in a rain jacket holds his hood and watches the weather.

A lightweight, packable rain jacket should be adaptable to conditions—so features such as removable or stuffable hood and multiple pockets are important. Even with hood, these jackets scrunch down to tiny sizes and usually include clever, built-in features to bundle up the jacket into its own self-contained bag. Red Ledge's Thunderlight jacket offers optimal stowability in a provided stuff sack, or into the left pocket, while still being fully waterproof, taped seams and all! 

3. Weight

A hiker in rain gear stands among the Swiss alps.

The lighter the better, and there are generally trade-offs here with cost, features, and fabric. The more durable fabrics can be heavier and you will pay a bit more for the ultra lightweight rain jacket experience. Whether you're backpacking the Swiss Alps or packing for an Alaskan Cruise, the lighter your jacket, the easier it will be to pack away while still keeping it with you throughout your trip. 

4. Durability

A shot of a hiker in a rain jacket.

This feature is highly dependent on how you’ll use this jacket. If it’s mainly for hiking, trips to the store, and outdoor full day sightseeing then durability is a lower priority. If you are using it for rock climbing, mountain biking or other activities where the jacket can take a fall—you’ll want to put a premium on a durable, lightweight, packable rain jacket. 

These high-tech rain jackets combine plenty of features and specs, so do your research before you commit. Ratings and reviews, along with specs, should guide your decision once you know what’s on the market.