Having the right camping rain jacket means you’re not restricted to exploring the outdoors on a sunny day. The right rain jacket helps provide comfort and safety once strong winds begin to blow or a storm rolls in.
However, with a plethora of choices available, how do you know if you picked the right one? This post will tell you everything you need to know about camping rain jackets. Whether you’re buying your first one or replacing an old favorite, you’re in the right place.
How to Choose a Camping Rain Jacket
Level of Weather Protection
All types of jackets provide some level of water resistance. But, it helps to understand rain jacket terms a little bit more to determine what level of protection you need.
Waterproof vs Water-Resistant
A waterproof jacket means its water resistance is good enough to keep the rain away. There’s no standard test to determine how waterproof a jacket is. But, you can be assured that major brands define “waterproof” as something that can withstand a serious downpour.
- Waterproof (breathable) – this helps your sweat evaporate while keeping rain from getting through your skin. It prevents rain and sweat from soaking you, so it’s perfect when doing activities that require a lot of effort.
- Waterproof (non-breathable) – if you’re only looking for something that keeps the rain away, this is enough to do the job. Rain slickers and ponchos fall under this category. Non-breathable waterproof jackets are very inexpensive as well. However, if you’re planning to do any exertion, this type of gear may not be enough. It also doesn’t take much wind before it becomes largely ineffective.
- Water-resistant – this type of gear can handle light rain for short periods and is also breathable. Think of windbreakers and lightweight jackets. But, water-resistant jackets won’t cut it if it starts raining heavily.
Windproof vs Wind-Resistant
- Windproof – waterproof jackets are all windproof. This means that they keep the rain away and block the wind that’s pushing the rain at the same time. Moreover, you may also find windproof jackets that have some sort of laminate, making them only water-resistant.
- Wind-resistant – this type of lightweight gear is easy to pack and is essentially the same as a water-resistant jacket. It’s made for short trips and mostly sunny forecasts, so it won’t offer much-needed protection in a violent storm.
These feature a design combining your typical rain jacket with a fleece jacket or an insulated shell. The inner component zips into the rain jacket, giving you the option to wear either piece on its own.
Weather Shell Type
The term “shell” doesn’t just apply to the word “jacket”—it can also refer to ponchos, parkas, and pants. It focuses more on the fabric makeup instead of the garment style. It’s crucial to be familiar with each type to help narrow down your choices.
- Soft-shell – this type has an insulating layer and a water-resistant shell. It comes in a single piece that serves as both your mid and outer layers. It’s very flexible and breathable but offers low protection from the rain, cold, and wind. If you’re planning to do some high-exertion activities, soft-shell jackets are your best bet.
- Hard-shell – this is another term for breathable and waterproof gear. Hard-shell fabrics are stiffer than soft-shells, although many more supple hard-shell fabrics are being developed. They’re also not insulated, so you have to depend on your base and mid-layers to keep you warm.
- Hybrid – as you may have guessed, this refers to a combination of the first two fabrics. It consists of a waterproof and windproof outer fabric and a flexible, breathable fabric inside. You may also find a soft or hard-shell jacket with a more durable outer fabric or in high-wear areas.
- Insulated – most insulated jackets are stuffed with down or synthetic fill and are also breathable and water-resistant. You’ll also want to check if it’s waterproof and breathable to get more protection. It has to be seam-sealed, though, before you can consider it fully waterproof.
Durable Water-Repellent (DWR) Finish
Most outerwear comes with a DWR finish. Jackets with a water-repellent outer fabric mean that precipitation beads up and rolls off. But, don’t confuse the term with “water-resistant,” which refers to a fabric’s ability to prevent water from penetrating.
Make sure to maintain your jacket’s DWR finish so that it can continue working its magic. Once the DWR layer wears off, your jacket’s surface fabric can get wet. While the underlying coating can still keep water out, the soaked surface fabric slows down sweat from evaporating. It might even cling to your skin, too, making it feel like the jacket is leaking.
Additionally, the more modern and environmentally friendly DWR finishes tend to wear out much quicker than older DWR products. Therefore, applying a DWR treatment regularly should always be a part of your rainwear maintenance routine. It’s time to reapply if the rain stops beading up or when a wet surface starts giving you cold spots.
Camping Rain Jacket Layers
The number of layers your jacket has determines its overall durability and versatility. Here’s a short primer on what each layer means:
- Two layers – the quietest, this refers to a layer applied inside an outer fabric to create a single garment. A loose-hanging liner is then added to that inner layer for added protection. Two-layer jackets are preferred for urban and travel rainwear since they’re quieter when you move around. In terms of cost, these jackets are often moderately priced.
- 2.5 layers – this design consists of a lightweight yet durable outer fabric as the first layer. A polyurethane coating is then applied inside that first layer, followed by a protective sheen (half “layer”) to cover that second layer. While 2 ½-layer jackets aren’t that breathable or durable, they’re usually lighter and more affordable.
- Three layers – this has the most robust design. It has no coatings and only involves a membrane sandwiched between a liner and a rugged outer fabric. Three-layer jackets are the most durable and breathable and are designed specifically for harsh backcountry environments. These jackets also come with a high price tag.
Here’s a short table comparing the three:
|Feature||2 layers||2.5 layers||3 layers|
|Weight||Midweight||Ultralight to lightweight||Lightweight|
A real camping rain jacket should be fully seam taped to be completely waterproof. But, don’t assume that a jacket is waterproof only because there’s seam tape on the shoulders and hood. Keep in mind that this is a common practice among water-resistant jackets.
Plus, a soft-shell or water-resistant jacket with little to no seam taping doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality. These jackets don’t use seam taping because it will only make them more complex for their intended use.
Many jackets are loaded with zippers. However, look for jackets with zippers that have a rubberized coating or storm flaps to prevent water from seeping through.
Coated zippers, or laminated zippers, are harder to zip up and down. They also need covers, or zipper huts or garage, to cover the opening at the end of the zipper track. Modern jackets tend to stay away from full flaps to save weight. But, remember that coatings can wear down eventually and become less effective.
Camping Rain Jacket Hood Design
Most hoods feature brims and adjustments on the sides and back to let you adjust the size of the opening. Jackets without these features are only intended for more casual uses. You can also find jackets with hoods that zip off or roll and stow in the collar.
Almost all backcountry jackets have underarm vents. Some even take it up a notch and have mesh liners in the torso pockets to double as additional vents.
Some jackets can have a drawcord at the bottom hem, at the waist, or the wrists. These adjustment features allow you to create a tighter closure to keep cold, wind, and rain from entering the openings. You can loosen these adjustments, too, to increase ventilation.
Camping Rain Jacket Pockets
Pockets, especially those with waterproof zippers, will add to the jacket’s overall cost. Some jackets have so many pockets that you can bring whatever you like even without a pack. On the other hand, other jackets only have hand pockets along the waist and away from the shoulder straps. This allows you to easily access them even with your bag on.
Many jackets now also have pockets with a cord port so you can listen to music while hiking or camping. Some travel jackets sometimes come with hide pockets under the storm flaps or along the seams.
Jackets that use non-bulky, ultralight fabric are ultimately easier to pack. Some jackets even come with a pocket that doubles as a storage pouch.
Finding the right camping rain jacket shouldn’t be that difficult. Make sure to keep these features in mind so you end up with a jacket that meets your requirements.
Happy shopping and be safe outdoors!