Best lightweight waterproof jackets for walker

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Thanks to the changeable British climate, a good quality lightweight rain jacket is an essential item for any hillwalking or hiking excursion.

The UK tends to experience wet and fairly mild winters and warm, wet summers, so there is a high chance that are you are going to experience a downpour or drizzle – even if the weather looks bright when you set out.

The weather conditions in the great outdoors are also prone to change quickly, so packing a lightweight rain jacket is vital for health and safety, as you can feel the cold quite quickly if you’re soaked through.

Most lightweight rain jackets are at the more breathable end of the spectrum, with relatively short-term rain protection, but we’ve included a couple of seriously waterproof ones below for long wet walks, too.

Whether you’re searching for a lightweight rain jacket for weekend walks, easy rambles or more challenging multi-day hikes, our team of walking experts have put a selection of the best rain jackets available to the test.

If you are considering upgrading your hiking kit, take a look at our review guides of the best walking trousers and best walking gloves.

What to look for in a lightweight rain jacket

You’re shopping for a lightweight rain jacket – other than price, we think these are the most important things to look out for:

Waterproof fabric – obviously!
Breathable fabric – this helps prevent overheating
Low weight – ideally less than about 400g
A compact design – something you can scrunch up and stick in a corner of your pack
A great hood, with a peak to protect your eyes from rain
Closable vents to let cool air in when you need it
At least one pocket large enough for an Ordnance Survey map

Is waterproof or breathable better in a rain jacket?

The ups and downs of the British landscape pose a challenge for rain jacket designers. Some of these demands are imposed by changes in your body temperature – others by the conditions, including the weather.

Scaling hills, you work up a sweat. This demands a breathable fabric that will release the humid air trapped beneath your jacket.

Then you reach the summit ; now your priority is a windproof fabric that will keep out that chill wind. This underlines the rather obvious point that conditions can change rapidly on walks, as you move between different environments.

The key to your comfort is well how the jacket manages moisture during these transitions, both outside and inside. Completely waterproof fabrics seal out water – but seal in air. Take old-school materials such as oilskins. While the summer rain bounces off them, beneath, trapped air heats up – and you end up soaked with sweat. You might has well have gone without your jacket in the first place.

Breathable fabrics

The invention of breathable waterproof fabrics changed the game; Gore-Tex was one of the first, introduced in 1969. These allow warm, moist air to escape outwards, through the fabric – even as they repel water coming from the other direction.

While the new breathable fabrics were a huge step forward, no one has yet invented a fabric that is both perfectly waterproof and perfectly breathable.

Most manufacturers will admit that there tends to be a trade-off: crudely, a fabric is either:

1. Super-waterproof but less breathable, so they get a little stuffy when you warm up; fabrics like this serve you better in cold weather, or on low-intensity activities during wet summer days.

2.  More breathable, to keep you feeling cool, but less waterproof, so they will repel rain for a limited time. These work best in typical summer conditions – when light rain or sharp showers threaten, for example – or during intense exercise in cooler weather.

So without further ado, we’ll crack on with our review round-up of the best lightweight rain jackets currently available…

Best lightweight rain jackets
Helly Hansen, Odin 3D Air Shell jacket

Price £300

Buy men’s Odin 3D Air Shell jacket from Helly Hansen

Buy women’s Odin 3D Air Shell jacket from Helly Hansen


Weight: 376g

Fabric: 2.75 layer
Maker’s waterproof rating: 
Maker’s breathability rating: 
Vents: Front-opening zip vents from hem to chest; open vents across the upper back.  
Hood: Excellent, close-fitting hood with dual-adjustment and a prominent. peak
Pockets: Two hip pockets, one chest pocket. 

Form follows function very pleasingly in this stylish and capable-looking jacket, new to the market in 2020.

The details are beautifully done. The hood is close-fitting with a big peak, and even the partially elasticated cuffs are cleverly cut.

It’s extremely compact and pleasantly light.

But the standout win with this jacket is the plentiful ventilation. There are open vents across the upper back, and two more huge vents at the front, adjustable via zips that reach from hem to chest. These front vents are useful in dry conditions – but I found that they let in moisture during heavy rain.

Helly Hansen make excellent waterproof jackets – and they rate the waterproofing of the Odin Airshell very highly – in fact they rank it alongside their best three-layer fabrics.

I found that while it copes very well with light precipitation, within half an hour of carrying a 6kg pack in heavy rain I got distinctly damp damp beneath the shoulder straps.

So for me this remains a jacket for relatively moderate weather challenges – albeit an excellent one. And adaptable to cycling – especially with the bright orange (‘mango’) colour.  JP

VERDICT: A stylish, well ventilated jacket to stash in your pack for summer for light rain or showers; or pull on for high-intensity activities in cooler weather. 8/10

Patagonia, Torrentshell 3L Pullover

Price: £140

Buy men’s Torrentshell 3L Pullover from Patagonia

Buy women’s Torrentshell 3L Pullover (with full-length zip)

Patagonia’s Torrentshell Pullover jacket

Weight: 394 g
Fabric: three-layer, with recycled face fabric
Maker’s waterproof rating: water column 20,000 mm
Maker’s breathability rating: MVTR 5,000 grams/sq m/day
Vents: None

Hood:dual adjustment

Pockets: one central chest pocket – no hip pockets

Patagonia is rightly famed for style – and sure enough Torrentshell boasts some rugged, retro good looks, in a wide range of modish colours.

But there’s some substance to this jacket, too: decent technical and eco credentials. This is a durable, effectively waterproof three-layer fabric. The face – that is, the top fabric layer, to which the other layers are bonded – is both recycled and Fair-Trade sewn.

And all for £130 – that’s a pretty good price.

On top of that, the hood is excellent – close-fitting and with a good peak that holds its shape; although the elasticated cuffs are a step down from Velcro fastenings. A single central chest pocket doubles up as a stuff sack in which you can pack the jacket.

The snag for summer use is that the Torretshell Pullover has neither vents, nor a high breathability rating. That makes it a little muggy to wear when the weather is damp and mild.  JP

VERDICT: Stylish, rugged and good value, best suited to mild or cooler weather. 7/10
Montane Element Stretch Jacket

Price: £190

Buy men’s Element Stretch jacket from Montane

Buy women’s Element Stretch jacket from Montane

Weight: 405 g
Fabric: Aqua Pro Stretch, a durable 3-Layer fabric
Maker’s waterproof rating: water column 10,000mm
Maker’s breathability rating: MVTR 20,000g/sq m/24hrs 
Vents: None 
Hood: dual adjustment; wired peak
Pockets: two at the hips

The waterproofing rating on this jacket by Northumberland-based Montane is solid – but a little lower than some jackets on test.

But the big selling point of the Element Stretch is the extremely breathable fabric – which reduces your chances of  getting hot and damp beneath the jacket – because you are less likely to warm up in the first place.

While additional vents would have added even more flexibility, that breathability does nevertheless gives the jacket some welcome versatility. On mild to warm days when showers threaten, warm air beneath your jacket will escape through the fabric. But it’s also great for colder days out doing more active pursuits – speed walking, cycling. (The slim fit leaves enough room for a base layer or micro fleece – anything bulkier would be a squeeze; the slightly stretchy fabric allows freedom of movement.)

If there’s a sudden squall, the hood is outstanding, with a good peak and a close fit around the face to keep out wind and rain.

The athletic design is a pleasingly simple. There’s no chest pocket, but a pair of hip pockets are just about big enough for an OS map – with a brief struggle.  JP

VERDICT: Pleasant fabric, neat and stylish design, great hood – all it lacks is vents. Venting options would be a good addition. 8/10

Jack Wolfskin, JWP Shell

Price: £130

Buy men’s JWP Shell from Jack Wolfskin

Buy women’s JWP Shell from Jack Wolfskin

Weight: 400g
Fabric: ECO Texapore Ecosphere Stretch 2L
Maker’s waterproof rating: water column 20,000 mm*
Maker’s breathability rating: MVTR 15,000 g/m²/24h** 
Vents: None 
Hood: Single adjustment
Pockets: Two at the hips

This jacket has a simple and quietly stylish appearance. There’s a back to basics approach: there are no vents, and just two hand pockets (neither large enough for an OS map).

The hood has only a single adjustment; but while this is generally a recipe for a poor fit, for its type this is one of the best-fitting we’ve tried. The peak is good and the fit around the face pretty close.

But the story of this jacket is all about the fabric. Unlike many of the other jackets on test, it’s made without the use of harmful PFC chemicals. And it’s also made from recycled polyester.

How does it perform technically? Both waterproofing and breathability ratings are pretty high. It’s stretchy to allow freedom of movement.

It’s lined throughout with mesh, to keep skin away from the slippery inner surface of the fabric. I’m not a huge fan of mesh linings: they add, effectively, an insulating layer, and this and the lack of vents combine to make it a little warm on the move in summer.  JP

VERDICT: A good choice for eco-conscious walkers: fine-looking and technically sound, but feels a little warm in summer weather. 7/10

How waterproof? 

It’s notoriously difficult to say precisely how waterproof or breathable a jacket is. Throughout, we’ve referred to the manufacturers’ lab tests for comparison. We’ve done so in the knowledge that such comparisons can be misleading – as brands differ in the methods they use to test.

Differing conditions can make comparisons tricky, too.

But we’ll keep trying these jackets in real-life conditions as we get more wet weather this summer and autumn, and update our reviews as we go. 

Kathmandu, Aysen jacket

Price: £309.99

Buy men’s Aysen jacket from Kathmandu

Buy women’s Aysen jacket from Kathmandu

Weight: 420 g
Fabric: Gore-Tex PacLite Plus 
Maker’s waterproof rating: water column 28,000mm
Maker’s breathability rating: nine on the RET scale (Resistance to Evaporative Heat Transfer): suitable for general outdoor use.*
Vents: underarm

This is an excellent design for serious hikers, offering some great weather-protection in a lightweight package.

Pull on the Aysen and you immediately notice the low hem, which gives you extra coverage around the hips in exposed places. The waist can be cinched to keep the fit close; and a very good hood has an effective peak and a close fit around the face.

Despite these appearances, it’s worth noting that this is meant to be a back-up jacket to protect you from relatively short spells of wet weather. So you shouldn’t expect the Gore-Tex Paclite Plus fabric to perform for hours in heavy rain.

Breathability should cope with most conditions walkers might face: it may get muggy on uphill stretches when you are working harder – but there are big underarm vents allow cool air in. (Speed walkers and cyclists might want something more breathable.)

The chest pockets are huge and very useful – being large enough for OS maps. With no hip pockets, a backpack harness fits comfortably. But backpackers note: the fabric is not intended to use with loads weighing more than 10kg – expect rain to soak though if you do.  JP

VERDICT: An outstanding design for walking with a daypack in unpredictable weather. 9/10

Berghaus, Deluge vented waterproof jacket

Price: £120

Buy men’s Deluge vented waterproof jacket from Berghaus

Buy women’s Deluge vented waterproof jacket from Berghaus

Weight: 378g
Fabric: Hydroshell 2.5-layer
Maker’s waterproof rating: 10,000mm
Maker’s breathability rating: MVTR 8,000g/m2/24hrs
Vents: underarm
Hood: Dual adjustment
Pockets: two hand pockets

For a back-up waterproof during summer walks, this jacket offers a great balance of features.

The waterproofing and breathability of Berghaus’s own Hydroshell fabric are both solid, if lower than some on test. But in compensation it has an excellent hood, with a good peak and a close fit. And long underarm vents to let in cool air when you overheat. Cuffs are adjustable, and the slightly dropped rear hem will suit cyclists.

Style-wise, the jacket looks OK; you might say it favours the technical over the aesthetic. But the hood is a little boxy when up, and the shape a little narrow in the chest. JP

VERDICT: Great value for a back-up warm-weather waterproof that can cope with sharp showers. 7/10

Mountain Hardwear, Exposure 2

Price: £199.99

Buy men’s Exposure 2 jacket from Mountain Hardwear

Buy women’s Exposure 2 jacket from Mountain Hardwear

Weight: 257 g
Fabric: Gore-Tex Paclite Plus 2.5-layer 
Maker’s waterproof rating: water column 28,000mm.
Maker’s breathability rating: nine on the RET scale (Resistance to Evaporative Heat Transfer): suitable for general outdoor use.* 
Vents: None
Hood: Single adjustment
Pockets: Two huge hip pockets, one external chest pocket

The Exposure 2 is made from one of Paclite Plus, the new lightweight fabric from US outdoor fabric-maker Gore. They say its performance ranks with its top-of-the-range fabrics such as Gore-Tex Pro, with a very high waterproof rating. Even so, it’s not designed for long days in pelting rain – it’s a lightweight go-to to pull on when the weather turns.

So what makes Paclite Plus different? Some waterproof linings are rubbery to the touch – which can make them catch on your clothing as you pull them on… Paclite Plus has a smoother lining, which helps it slide off your other clothing layers as you take it on and off.  The lining is also more durable – making the seal more likely to stay true over time. It’s not as breathable as plain Paclite, though: Gore recommend it for hiking but say it’s less suitable for speed hiking or cycling.

Paclite Plus impresses in this garment: it has been bonded to a very lightweight face fabric, which makes it really compact, too. Efforts have been made to keep the overall weight down: there’s only one drawcord adjustment on the hem, for example, to shave off a few more grams. This does give the jacket a lopsided look when cinched in tight, requiring you to fiddle around straightening it – but will appeal to ultralight hikers out there.

It’s another decent-looking jacket, too, with a simple chest pocket and two huge hip pockets big enough for OS maps.

For me the big snag is the hood. It has a reasonably effective peak, but with only one cord to adjust, the fit is loose and open around the neck… so not ideally suited to driving rain or cold winds. JP

VERDICT: Lightweight, compact and waterproof – but hood fit is disappointing. 7/10

*You might want a more breathable fabric, rated six or less, if you are going to do more active pursuits such as speed walking, or of four or less if you want to use it for love mountain biking or running.

Snow Peak, Wanderlust 2.5L

Price: £450

Buy Wanderlust 2.5L from Snow Peak

Weight: 380 g
Fabric: 100% nylon ripstop 2.5L 

Maker’s waterproof rating: water column 20,000mm

Maker’s breathability rating: moisture permeability 8,000g / sq m
Vents: long underarm zips
Hood: dual adjustment. Stiffened peak.
Pockets: Two small chest, two hip, one large rear

Founded by mountaineer Yukio Yamai in 1958, Japanese company Snow Peak make supremely stylish outdoor clothing and camping gear.

This unisex jacket looks great, with an unusual, slightly smock-like shape. But it is also technically very good. The 2.5-layer fabric has a high waterproof rating, and there are long underarm vents to let cool air in when you warm up. A low rear hem is good for cyclists.

The hood is excellent – it can be adjusted for a pretty close around the face to keep out driving rain, and the peak is one of the best on test.

There are four neat and smallish front pockets – two at the hip and two at the chest. There’s also a large back pocket, into which the whole jacket can be stuffed. The pocket was missing on the factory sample I tried, but appears to be large enough for an OS map, which is convenient enough if you are travelling without a pack.  JP

VERDICT: Stylish, with an excellent functional design. If only it was more affordable! 9/10


• REVIEWS by Joe Pontin, BBC Countryfile Magazine features editor

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