Whether you’re hiking up mountains, through canyons, or along steep, exposed ridgelines, a good jacket is an essential piece of hiking gear. Conditions on the trail can change quickly and it’s always important to be prepared. Getting cold and wet can be uncomfortable and annoying but it can also be downright dangerous! Even in the desert, temperatures can change fast and if you’re not prepared, hypothermia can set in before you know it. To stay safe and comfortable in the great outdoors you’re going to need a good hiking jacket.
What kind of jacket you need will depend largely on where you plan to be hiking and while heavy, insulated jackets certainly have their place, we’re going to leave those for another article. In this article we will focus on the jack-of-all-trades jacket for hiking: the waterproof rain jacket. These jackets will help keep water and wind out and help keep some heat in when the weather starts to drop. Because these jackets can be used as a waterproof shell over one or more insulating layers, they are truly one of the most versatile pieces of gear that money can buy. So while we talk about these jackets as being “rain jackets”, we’re asking you to think bigger. Think of the jackets on our list as the shell that will hold everything else together and keep you warm, dry, and comfortable regardless of what the weather is like.
So what features should you look for in a good hiking jacket?
Waterproof yet breathable.
Waterproofing and breathability are probably the most important features of a good hiking jacket and you definitely want your jacket to be both waterproof and breathable. If you’ve ever worn a rubber rain jacket for any length of time you know that as you sweat moisture quickly builds up inside of the jacket, turning your body into a swamp. Avoid this problem by looking for a hiking jacket that keeps water out but also allows any water that does make its way in to dry quickly. Materials like Gore-Tex are great for this purpose.
Weight and packability.
Unless you know for a fact that you will want to wear your jacket for the entirety of your hike, look for a jacket that will pack down really small so that it can easily be stowed in your backpack when you’re not using it. And as with most hiking gear, the lighter your jacket is, the better! Whether you’re covering many miles on a long backpacking trip or just heading out for a couple hours with family, you don’t want to carry any more weight than you need to!
Fit and maneuverability.
Remember that you are going to be wearing this jacket as you scramble over rocks and trees so you want to be sure that you can move freely in it! If you can’t comfortably raise your arms or twist yourself into a pretzel, get a bigger size or look for a better fitting jacket. It’s also important to keep in mind that there’s a good chance that you’ll want to wear multiple layers under your shell. You don’t want your jacket to be so big that it gets caught on branches and other things but you do want to make sure that you can wear a couple layers underneath it.
Bells and whistles.
While the ability to keep you dry and warm is the most important thing to look for in a good hiking shell, there are other little features that you might appreciate as well. Zippered pit vents will help you dial in your temperature while large, zippered pockets will help keep your stuff safe and dry. Stowable hoods, cinchable waists, and built in stuff sacks are just a few of the features that might sweeten the pot a bit.
Now that we’ve talked about the features to look for in a good jacket for hiking, lets talk about some of our favorites!
Best Hiking Jackets for Men
The Marmot Precip might be the undisputed king of rain shells and there’s good reason for it. This jacket is light, packable, comfortable, and very reasonably priced. The Precip Dry Touch technology makes this jacket both waterproof and breathable and the fully taped seams provide extra protection against the elements. Velcro on the back of the Precip’s hood allows you to customize the hood’s fit or roll it up entirely when your head doesn’t need protection. The slanted chest pockets can be easily accessed even with a pack on and the entire jacket rolls up into an attached pocket for easy, space-saving storage in your backpack. This jacket is designed to easily accommodate insulating layers so it will take you deep into the cool weather hiking season with ease. There is a reason that the Precip has been at the top of the hiking jacket pack for a long time – it’s got everything you need to stay warm and dry in the backcountry at a really great price.
Columbia has a long history of offering solid outdoor apparel for a really good price and the Watertight II is no exception. This jacket uses Columbia’s Omni-Tech technology to provide waterproof, breathable protection that will keep you dry and comfortable no matter what Mother Nature has in store. With an adjustable elastic band around the bottom, you can dial in the waist for a perfect fit. The jacket’s well-designed hood extends past your face to keep it dry while an adjustable stormshield inside the hood helps to keep it securely on your head while also keeping the elements out. This jacket is super lightweight and easy to pack so it’s perfect for throwing in your pack just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. While this jacket does feature a soft mesh lining, you’ll want to be sure to pack additional insulating layers if you expect the temperature to really drop. This is a great little jacket that is designed to keep you comfortable and dry on even the rainiest of days on the trail!
The Resolve by North Face is a lightweight, breathable, seam-sealed jacket that is designed to keep you nice and dry when the weather turns boggy. And while this jacket does not feature insulation, it is extremely windproof so it will help keep you warm if the weather gets breezy. This jacket features two zippered pockets with flaps to help keep the water out and a hood that can be stored well out of the way when you’re not using it. This is the perfect jacket for shoulder season adventures when you’re not quite sure what the weather will do. Roll it up and toss it in your bag before you head out and know that if things start to get cold and wet you’ll be ready to take on the elements! As with all the jackets on our list, this jacket can easily be worn over fleece, down, or other insulating layers to help keep heat in when the weather is chilly.
If you’re looking for an ultralight rain jacket to stuff in your backpack in case of an unanticipated storm, look no further than the Helium II by Outdoor Research. Weighing in at just 6.4 ounces, this baby is so light that you’ll forget you have it with you… until you need it. This Helium II is a light rain shell that features an adjustable hood, fully sealed seems, and elastic cuffs and draw cord to help keep water and icy breezes out. To make things even easier, this jacket stuffs into its own zippered pocket for easy packing. While this jacket may not be the cheapest on our list, it gives you all the bells and whistles for a fraction of the weight of its competitors. If your goal is to truly cut weight from your pack while staying warm and dry, the Helium II should be at the top of your rain jacket list.
Helly Hansen was founded in Norway where people know a thing or two about dealing with wet weather and this jacket shows it! This jacket was built to handle the wettest of conditions and to do it at a really great price. The Voss features a stowaway hood with an adjustable drawcord hem for a dialed in fit. This jacket’s polyurethane fabric has a laminated knit backing for odor and mildew prevention and cozy comfort. And this company stands by their products. All Helly Hansen outerwear is covered by a lifetime warranty so you can rest assured that your new jacket will last as long as you do out on the trail! The only downside of this jacket is that it is not as breathable as some of our other options but for such a great price and so many other fantastic features, that might be a fair tradeoff!
With so many great rain jacket options out there it can be hard to pick the perfect one. We hope this article has given you some things to think about and helped to narrow down your list. Happy trails!