Last updated: 16/10/2022

Summary

  • Rain jackets are designed to protect you and your clothes from wetness and wind. This is achieved by making them out of a water-repellent fabric so that no raindrop finds its way inside.
  • Fabrics can be made water repellent in two different ways. With the help of a coating on the material or by processing a membrane.
  • Coatings are cheaper and therefore intended for sporadic use. Membranes, on the other hand, are more expensive, but very breathable and better suited to sporting activities.

The Best Rain Jacket: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a rain jacket

What are the advantages of a rain jacket over an umbrella?

For light drizzle and short distances, an umbrella is definitely justified. But at the latest when a storm is coming, everyone will be glad to have a high-quality rain jacket. Rain jackets provide reliable protection even in strong gusts of wind. Moreover, you have your hands free and the rainproof jacket often has a pocket to protect electronic devices from the rain. Umbrellas, on the other hand, have to be held in the hand and usually fold over in strong winds. So if you want to reach your destination dry in wind and weather, a rain jacket is the right choice.

A rain jacket offers you reliable protection against wind and rain. They have the advantage that they also protect you against gusts of wind, which often cause umbrellas to bend. (Picture source: pixabay.com / Webster2703)

What are the different cuts of rainwear?

There are different cuts of water-repellent jackets and jackets in general. The three most important are briefly presented below:

  • Rain jacket
  • Mackintosh
  • Rain cape

The advantages and disadvantages are discussed so that you can make your decision more easily. The subdivision applies to men and women, although protective rainwear is also often unisex.

Rain jacket

The most classic type of rainwear is the rain jacket. As the top layer, it reliably protects clothing from getting wet. If the jacket has pockets and a hood, hands and hair also stay dry. The rain jacket should be cut at least a little wider to offer sufficient protection. The water-repellent jacket is mainly equipped with zips or sometimes even as an overcoat without an additional front closure. The advantage of this variant is that jackets can be easily stowed in the backpack due to their small size. This form of overgarment provides reliable protection in downpours. However, should a “full-blown storm” come up, bear in mind that the protection ends above the legs. Alternatively, you can upgrade your protective gear with rain pants.

Mackintosh

The only difference between a mackintosh and a jacket is its length. While a jacket usually ends just below the hips, a raincoat can easily reach down to the knees or, in extreme cases, even to the ground. The advantage is obvious: the longer the coat, the more body surface is protected from the cool wet. This means you can easily do without rain trousers in wind and weather. The disadvantage is that due to the high fabric consumption, not only the price but also the space consumption in the backpack increases. However, if you don’t need protection from water on hikes, but only for the way to the office, a mackintosh is certainly a good option. Another advantage for women: Mackintoshes are usually slightly fitted and thus conjure up a figure-hugging silhouette.

Rain cape

The cape, also called a rain poncho, is a true all-rounder. The water rolls off and can flow to the ground unhindered because there are no annoying cross seams. It provides ample protection and suits almost every figure. Rain capes come in different lengths. Shorter versions in particular are easy and space-saving to stow away. Another positive aspect is that capes in dark colours often look classy and can therefore also offer protection on formal occasions. The only drawback is the limited freedom of movement for the hands. Rain capes cannot be worn with a backpack. There are, however, variants that you can put on in such a way that your luggage is also protected from the water. Otherwise, your luggage must also be able to cope with water.

What does the word “water column” mean and how does it relate to the waterproofness of my rain jacket?

To make it easier for brave hikers and “poor saps standing in the rain” to choose the right clothing, a standard was created so that the waterproofness of fabrics can be compared. This involves measuring the maximum water pressure a fabric can be exposed to until three drops of water seep through. The pressure achieved is given in millimetres of water column. The pressure of one metre water column corresponds to the water pressure at a depth of one metre. According to the EU standard, a fabric must reach a water column of at least 800 millimetres to be classified as rain protective clothing and thus waterproof. This all sounds more complicated than it really is. In summary, you just have to remember that:

  • The unit millimetre water column is
  • The value must be at least 800 millimetres
  • In any case, it would be better if it were much higher

Switzerland, for example, specifies a value of 4000 millimetres water column in order to be allowed to label fabrics as waterproof. This makes perfect sense, since a pressure of about 2000 millimetres of water column is built up while sitting. The required water column is therefore mainly related to the activity you have to perform in the rain. If you want to sail around the world, your number will have to be correspondingly higher than if you are just walking your dog.

How much does a rain jacket cost?

Rainwear comes in all shapes, colours and price ranges, from cheap plastic covers to high-end luxury jackets. The cheapest version starts at 15 euros. However, the price can go up into the four-digit range. If you want to have a solid rain jacket ready for the odd cloudy day, you don’t have to dig so deep into your pockets. Basically, you can expect to pay between 60 and 150 euros for a waterproof jacket of very good quality. These costs can be justified with a good material and suitable workmanship. However, extreme sports enthusiasts who demand a lot from their clothing should expect to pay more. Passionate outdoor enthusiasts depend on the functionality of the jacket. Accordingly, it will be used often, so that the higher price can still be justified. Versions costing over 1000 euros are probably only necessary if you are planning to sail around the world and want to be prepared for all storm fronts.

Decision: What types of rain jackets are there and which is the right one for you?

First of all, it is important to know that two different types of rainwear can be distinguished. This has to do with the material properties. There are:

  • Fabrics with coating
  • Fabrics with membrane

Basically, fabrics can be made water-repellent by means of a coating or with the help of a membrane. Both types offer different advantages and disadvantages due to the manufacturing process. To help you decide, the positive and negative aspects are now explained and illustrated. For a rain jacket to be waterproof, it needs the right membrane or coating. Whether a jacket with a membrane or a coating is right for you depends on your use. While a jacket with a high-quality membrane is recommended for long trekking tours with a backpack because it is more stable and the material wears off less quickly, a jacket with a coating is usually sufficient for occasional weather protection while jogging, bouldering and cycling.

How does a coating work and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

With a coating, almost any fabric can be made water-repellent sooner or later. During production, a layer is applied that prevents the fabric from absorbing water. This procedure ensures that no drops can penetrate. This variant is very inexpensive and is therefore often used for cheap rainwear. In this context, cheap does not mean bad. Depending on the intended use, you can be just as happy with a coated jacket as with one with a membrane.

Advantages
  • Cheap
  • Thin material
  • Space-saving
Disadvantages
  • Quick wear and tear
  • No longer waterproof after 2 hours of continuous rain

If you often fold the jacket up and stow it in your rucksack, the coating on the folded edges can quickly become cracked. Friction from shoulder straps can also affect the waterproofness. In any case, you should think about what you need the rain protection for before buying. A cheap jacket is sufficient to get you to work dry on rainy days. However, if you want to use your new acquisition for sporting activities, it is better to spend a few euros more and invest in a rain jacket with a membrane.

How does a membrane work and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

A membrane is an additional layer that is bonded to the outer fabric. If necessary, it can also be processed between the outer and inner material. The membrane is designed to repel raindrops but allow water vapour from perspiration to escape to the outside. Such materials are therefore not only waterproof in the long term, but also breathable. Not all membranes are the same, and expensive is not automatically good. Especially in the outdoor sector, you can rely on brand names like Gore-Tex.

Advantages
  • Robust
  • Completely waterproof
  • Long-lasting
Disadvantages
  • Expensive
  • Different breathability

Softshell and hardshell jackets work on this principle. Softshell is very breathable due to its flexible membrane structure. However, depending on the quality of the materials used, the waterproofness can vary. Hardshell jackets, on the other hand, are more robust and completely waterproof, which is why breathability suffers to a certain extent. However, the different layers of these fabrics also increase the price. On the other hand, these materials are durable and remain a reliable companion for years to come. If you have high demands and want to use the rain protection for longer, the membrane version is definitely the right choice.

Buying criteria: You can compare and evaluate rain jackets based on these factors

Once you have decided to buy a rain jacket, there are several characteristics that distinguish an excellent jacket from a mediocre or even bad one. Below you will find a list of the most important buying criteria, along with brief information about them. Some of these features will be more important to you than others. This is due to personal preferences and needs. The most important feature when field-testing rainwear is obviously that it keeps water out. But there are other criteria like:

  • Material
  • Processing
  • Breathability
  • Comfort
  • Pack size
  • Features
  • Design

Material

Waterproofness is the be-all and end-all of high-quality rainwear. The greatest guarantee for this is the material. However, even fabrics with a water column of 4000 millimetres can become leaky if they are processed or handled incorrectly. As a reminder: in Austria, for example, fabrics are considered waterproof if they have a water column of at least 800 millimetres. Are you wondering what the word “water column” means? This question is also answered in our guide a little further up. The material is a major cost factor for a rain jacket. In other words, cheap jackets can rarely compete with the waterproofness of a more expensive model. Depending on the purpose and duration of use, the quality of the material can be compromised. However, you should think about this carefully beforehand to avoid any unpleasant surprises. It’s not for nothing that the saying goes: buy cheap, buy more.

Workmanship

The biggest weak points are the seams and the fasteners. Ever wondered why rain jackets never have a button closure? Because water would always get in at this point. That’s why zips are sometimes made with an additional snap fastener on top. The extra layer of fabric is to prevent water from getting through the zip. Because normal zips are not waterproof. The waterproof special models are much more expensive in comparison and can still show signs of wear over the years. The overlying strip thus serves as additional protection. The seams are another major weak point. When the different parts of the fabric are sewn together, the fabric is punctured. At this point, the membrane or surface treatment is destroyed and water can penetrate. For this reason, seams should always be welded or “taped”. In this case, the small holes are closed and the protection is then restored. With cheaper versions, it is quite possible that not all seams are specially sealed. Often, only those seams that are subjected to the greatest stress are welded. This applies especially to the seams on the shoulders, back and outside of the sleeves.

Breathability

The next big point is breathability. Many functional fabrics offer the possibility to keep water drops out, but still transport sweat in the form of water vapour to the outside. So you’re sure to stay dry on both sides. This is another point that has to do with the intended use. You will sweat much less on a leisurely walk with the dog than on a hike in the mountains. Depending on the activity, a higher or lower level of waterproofness is crucial.

Comfort

In addition to these features, the rain jacket should of course also be comfortable. Water-repellent fabrics sometimes feel stiff and unnatural. That’s why you should always try rain jackets on first. This way you can feel and test the fabric. Ask yourself the question: Would I want to wear the jacket for a whole day? The feeling of wearing a jacket is very subjective. You will often find many different opinions in customer reviews. A fabric that some find scratchy and unpleasant, others find pleasant and soft. You should not be misled and form your own opinion. Even when ordering online, the goods can usually be returned within two weeks. When you try it on, you can test how the jacket “sounds”. Heavily coated fabrics in particular can cause a crackling noise when rubbed against, which annoys many people.

Pack size

Finally, you should look at the pack size. Lightweight and thin rain jackets can be folded up very small. Some models can even be stowed in their own fanny pack or in a pouch provided. On the other hand, their waterproofness and breathability often cannot be compared with those of a thicker quality. So it always depends on what the rain jacket is needed for. If the jacket is always to be ready to hand in your rucksack for possible rain showers, a small pack size is absolutely essential. If it is more important to be dry even after hours in the rain, you should opt for quality rather than a small pack size. If you like to store your jacket in your own pocket or in a bag to save space, make sure it is completely dry. Otherwise, it won’t be able to dry out as a small folded pack.

Also, don’t forget to let the jacket with a small pack size dry out well at home, otherwise not only will an unpleasant odour form, but the quality can also suffer if not handled properly.

Equipment

Last but not least, you should think about the equipment of your protective clothing. A protective rain jacket should always have a hood and pockets. The headgear also ensures that your hair stays dry and water cannot “run” down your collar. It is important that the hood is adjustable so that it encloses the face well. Cords on the outer edge of the hood are particularly suitable for this. If you do a sport in the rain where a helmet is essential, you should take this into account when buying. The hood must be large enough to fit over the helmet and still enclose your face tightly. Another criterion is pockets. Waterproof outer pockets are not mandatory, but they can be useful. Basically, the jacket should have at least one inner pocket so that you can safely stow your mobile phone in a downpour. Some rainwear has a stand-up collar in addition to the hood. This is especially helpful on stormy rainy days and offers additional protection in the chin area. It also prevents water from collecting under the neck and “trickling” into the jacket. As a final point, we would like to point out that there are lined and unlined waterproof jackets. Especially for cold winter days, the lined version is advantageous. Alternatively, you can buy the jacket one size larger so that you can still fit a thick jumper underneath. Unlined rainwear is ideal for mild spring rainy days. As a compromise, there are also models where the lining is only held in place with a zip or press studs, so that the inner jacket can be taken out or put in as needed. These models can therefore be worn all year round.

Design

Rainwear comes in all shapes and colours. Whether dotted, striped, neon or classic black. The design is as varied as the wearers. However, care should be taken with the cut, as depending on the model, you may encounter different advantages and disadvantages. Always wear your favourite once to check whether the cut and colour suit you. You can read about the different cut options in our advice section above. All of the above features can be characteristics of the quality of your future rain jacket. Depending on the intended use, they are of varying importance and must be weighted differently. The fact is that you should inform yourself before buying to avoid making a mistake. So take a little time so that you can enjoy your rainwear later on.

Do you want your jacket to be functional, visually appealing, or maybe even both? Check out the relevant specialist shops and get advice on the various models.

Interesting facts about rain jackets

Windbreaker or rain jacket, which is which?

The answer to this question is comparable to the saying: “All thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs”. Because it is exactly the same with the two terms.

Did you know that there are differences between a rain jacket and a windbreaker? While a windbreaker is windproof, it does not mean that it is also water-repellent or waterproof. A rain jacket, on the other hand, should always be both windproof and waterproof.

While all rain jackets are also windproof, wind jackets or windbreakers do not necessarily have to repel rain. This has to do with the materials used. You can find out more about how the materials of rain jackets work at the beginning of this guide. Due to their waterproof properties, rainwear has a very impermeable fabric as its outer material. This not only keeps out water, but also wind. Wind jackets, on the other hand, keep out strong air currents, but the fabric does not necessarily have to be waterproof. Usually the fabric is slightly water-repellent, but cannot withstand pouring rain.

How do I care for my rain jacket properly?

The answer to the question: Can I wash my rain jacket? is basically yes. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, you should read the washing instructions for your jacket to find out exactly how the washing process should be carried out. Alternatively, you can often find this information on the brand’s website. As a guideline:

  • Close fasteners for protection
  • Maximum 40 degrees Celsius
  • Low spin speed
  • Delicate detergent or special detergent
  • Extra rinse
  • Air dry

Depending on how the rain protection works, for example with different membranes, the washing instructions may vary slightly. It often makes sense to use your own detergent for outdoor products, but this is not absolutely necessary. Otherwise, liquid detergent is more suitable than the powder form, as this sticks together more. However, it is important never to add a fabric softener. Many manufacturers recommend rinsing the jacket once or twice at the end to remove all detergent residues. Otherwise, these can stick to the membranes and limit their functionality. “As often as necessary, but as little as possible” is the rule of thumb for washing functional clothing.

My rain jacket is no longer waterproof – and now?

After repeated washing, it can happen that the impregnation loses its effect. The best way to test this is to spread a few drops of water on your jacket. If the water runs off, the impregnation is fine. However, if the fabric becomes saturated, the impregnation should either be renewed or reactivated.

Did you know that the first waterproof garments were made of linen? The so-called “oilskin” was the weatherproof clothing worn by sailors in the 19th century. It consisted of a linen fabric impregnated with oil – usually linseed oil – to make the material water-repellent.

It is better to test several places and especially the main stress zones ,such as the shoulders and the outside of the sleeves. Whether the protection can be reactivated depends again on the material and the water repellent technique. Again, you can find the information in the washing instructions or on the internet. Reactivation is very simple. Simply put the closed and dry rain jacket in the dryer at a low temperature for about half an hour. Alternatively, you can also work carefully with an iron. However, there should always be some additional material between the hot iron and the jacket, for example a tea towel. Alternatively,the impregnation can also be renewed. This can be done either with a spray or a detergent. Usually, using a spray is quicker and easier.

What do I do if I get stains on my rainwear?

Stains are a nagging issue in the outdoors. If normal washing is not enough, you can try to pre-treat the stains. However, you should avoid chemical stain removers or even bleach, as these can destroy the membrane. It is better to rub the discoloured area with a little bile soap and work on the stain with a soft brush or cloth. If the stain is still visible, you can treat it again with gall soap. Then you should wash the jacket again. You can read about the best way to wash your rain jacket in the Trivia section.

How do I repair holes in my rain jacket?

It’s all too easy to get caught on a branch and tear your jacket while hiking through the forest. Doubly annoying if the “good piece” wasn’t cheap. There are a few tricks you can use to restore rain protection. There are various options: from self-adhesive patches to glue to professional repairs. If you’re in the middle of a trekking tour, you’ll need to do it quickly. Self-adhesive patches are ideal for this. Simply stick them onto the dried tear. To make the patch last longer, it is best to treat it again at home with the iron. However, this is only possible if your rain jacket is made of a heat-resistant fabric. If you have a little more time, you should treat the patch from both sides. First you have to get to the damaged area from the inside. If you have a lined jacket, you will have to carefully cut open a part of the nearest seam. Then you can put the two edges of the fabric back together and fix them with tape from the inside. There are various products from different manufacturers. For example, you can use the glue and the Seamgrip from the brand McNett, which are available for a few euros on Amazon. It is important that about 1.5 to 2 centimetres on each side of the tear are covered by the tape. If the tear is not straight, use several shorter, overlapping tapes. From the outside, the tear should also be treated with an adhesive. This will ensure that the damaged area is waterproof again. Please follow the instructions for use of your product. Most adhesives need 24 hours to cure completely. In addition, the tape can be applied again from the outside. Afterwards, the lining can be sewn back together by hand. You can also use the tape to repair worn seams. If this seems too complicated, there are other options. Some brands offer a repair service and some alteration shops specialise in outdoor clothing. However, these options are considerably more expensive than the “do-it-yourself” option.

Photo credit: ddouk / pixabay.com

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