Editor’s Choice: Hill City Hooded Waterproof Shell

Hill City, a new men’s athleisure brand by Gap (many liken it to the male parallel to Athleta), is off to a running start. The Hooded Waterproof Shell is straightforward in more ways than just its name, but that’s a good thing. It has a functional spread of pockets, is quite lightweight, has a cape-style back vent and, most importantly, is waterproof. It’s also minimally branded, which doesn’t affect its performance but adds a small style play. The jacket doesn’t have all the technical features you’ll find in other pure-outdoor rain jackets (an adjustable hem is one of these), but it stacks up nonetheless. It trims features where they aren’t needed and holds onto everything that matters in a versatile rain jacket that can be worn both on the trail and off.



Introduction

We live in a Golden Age of water-repellency; before nylon shells and Gore-Tex membranes humans devised hydrophobic clothing using vinyl, oiled canvas and before that, cured seal and whale intestines. Now, (thankfully) waterproofing happens at a molecular level with advanced membranes that keep water droplets out but let body vapor (think sweat) through. The advancements have allowed rain jackets to become lighter, more breathable, packable and no less rain-proof. Rain jacket technology keeps getting better too — today, companies are experimenting with new fabrics to make rain shells softer and more comfortable and adding stretch for increased mobility (and less of that trademark crinkly jacket sound). Style hasn’t fallen by the wayside either. The new class of rain jacket is light enough, durable enough, breathable enough and waterproof enough to handle multi-day treks through misting rain and as well as the inevitable deluge during commuting hours.

Additional contributions by Tanner Bowden and AJ Powell.

What to Know Before You Buy a Rain Jacket

About Rain Jacket Materials

The outer textile of most three-layer shells is made of a rugged nylon or polyester that’s coated with Durable Water Repellent (DWR). The inner membrane is a microporous fabric, typically made of ePTFE or Polyurethane that acts as the shell’s primary waterproof and breathable layer. It’s the secret sauce. The backer textile is a thin layer, usually gauze, that’s laminated to the back of the membrane, which eliminates the need for a liner.

While the waterproof and breathable technologies are all generally related in the way they function, several brands have proprietary technologies, among them Gore-Tex, NeoShell, eVent, Schoeller and Dermizax NX. Discerning one technology from another can be difficult, in part because the technology is kept under lock and key, but also because the technology requires an understanding of terms like “phase change” and how things work on a molecular level. To repair a ripped rain jacket, head here.

DWR Explained

When you’re buying a rain jacket or any outerwear for that matter, you’ll often come across the initials DWR, which stand for durable water repellent. DWR is a coating applied to fabrics that lets them shed fluids, and they’re commonly used in conjunction with waterproof membranes. DWR works by making the surface of the exterior fabric spiky at a microscopic level, which forces water and other liquids into rounder, beaded forms. That helps them roll off the garment instead of saturating it. DWR isn’t permanent, but it can easily be revived. To re-waterproof your rain jacket, head here.

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The Best Rain Jackets of 2019

Best Waterproofing: Marmot Eclipse Jacket

The Eclipse Jacket is part of Marmot’s new EVODry Rainwear Collection, which uses a new environmentally-minded technology that Marmot developed in partnership with Green Theme International. All EVODry garments are constructed from upcycled industrial nylon waste, which minimizes waste while maintaining strength and longevity. Marmot and GTI also built in waterproofing by bonding the DWR to the yarn at the molecular level. That’s made EVODry jackets, the Eclipse included, highly waterproof and breathable. Furthermore, Marmot claims that the DWR will never deteriorate or require reapplication, which, if true, is a big leap forward in user-friendliness. We haven’t had enough time with the Eclipse to know if this is true, but the jacket is impressively water-resistant. It kept me dry through multiple storms this winter, and even when I try to force water past the DWR by rubbing it in with my finger, it remains resilient.

Beyond its built-in tech, the Eclipse is a solid, well-rounded rain jacket that’s built for the outdoors. Its two oversized hand pockets are high enough to go unimpeded while wearing a backpack hip belt, and their mesh interior helps them double as front-facing heat vents (there are also two zippered underarm vents). The Eclipse also has an adjustable hood and hem. Tanner Bowden

Weight: 13 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: MemBrain Eco 2.5 layer
Shell Material: 100% recycled nylon

Best All-Around Rain Jacket: Montbell Rain Trekker Jacket

It’s rare that a jacket brings quality, performance and price to the table in such an elegant package, but staff-favorite Japanese brand Montbell managed to do just that. The Rain Trekker comes in at just $149, among the cheapest jackets on the list, yet performed among the top Editor’s Choice candidates. In keeping with the brand’s mission (ultralight gear for hikers), the Rain Trekker is among the lightest jackets on this list.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the color of the jacket, which is unique not only on this list, but also across the outdoor industry. Not quite white and not quite cream, the Off-White colorway is one of our favorites. AJ Powell

Weight: 10 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: Dry-Tec 3 layer
Shell Material: Nylon

Most Stylish Rain Jacket: Fjällräven Greenland Eco Shell Jacket

It was an ill-equipped expedition to Greenland that led Åke Nordin to design the first Greenland Jacket in 1968. That jacket was made with Fjällräven’s G1000 material, which requires a bit of wax to become fully waterproof. The newly-updated Greenland Eco-Shell Jacket, however, does not. Fjällräven built it with its more-sustainable Eco-Shell fabric, which is the Swedish brand’s high performance waterproof and breathable shell. The material uses hydrophilic (water-loving) “corridors” within its membrane to transport moisture away from the body, while DWR keeps it from getting in on the outside. One of the benefits of this is that the material is less affected by dirt and oils that can clog and degrade other membranes.

The Greenland is cut like a heritage expedition coat — it’s long, with two oversized snap-flap front pockets — but it’s a style that isn’t out of place in towns and cities. The jacket’s two-way zipper helps to keep that longer cut functional by providing more freedom of movement (if you commute by bike, for instance, you can zip up the lower zipper to prevent the length from becoming restrictive). The Greenland is an outstanding everyday rain jacket for those who aren’t looking for a lighter, backpacking-specific style. Plus, it has lots of pockets, and that’s a good thing. Tanner Bowden

Weight: 27 ounces (size medium)
Waterproofing: PFC-free DWR
Shell Material: Polyester

Best Ultralight Rain Jacket: Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow Jacket

Patagonia’s Torrentshell Jacket has garnered awards and sits at the top of many “Best Rain Jacket” lists, but the Stretch Rainshadow, available as a full-zip (and formerly a pullover), is another exceptional storm-guard that weighs next to nothing. The Rainshadow is constructed with Patagonia’s proprietary H2No 2.5-layer waterproofing and 30-denier ripstop nylon. As its name implies, the jacket has a fair amount of stretch too. Its central zipper and various pockets are all functionally sealed against moisture (the chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack for packing). The hem cinches tight with an internal drawcord, and the hood is helmet-compatible. All of these small but useful features add up to an insubstantial seven ounces.

I wore the old pullover version of the Stretch Rainshadow during one of New York’s March Nor’easters, and the jacket kept me dry on a longer-than-desired walk through Brooklyn, even as snow accumulated on its surface. The jacket has become my go-to for hiking and hot rainy days when I don’t want to wear something heavier. Tanner Bowden

Weight: 7 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: 2.5-layer H2No Performance Standard (DWR plus a membrane)
Shell Material: Nylon

Stretchiest Rain Jacket: The North Face Allproof Stretch Jacket

Stretchy waterproof fabrics are one of the big themes for rain jackets in 2018, and The North Face’s Allproof Stretch wins the prize, easily, for the stretchiest available. Imagine the stretchiness of a balloon, and you’ve got the Allproof. In fact, while the jacket’s exterior is soft brushed nylon, its interior even feels like a balloon. At first, that rubbery texture felt off-putting (it lines the insides of the two hand pockets), but it was a notion that faded the more I wore the coat around town, and well worth it for the amount of stretch the jacket provides. That material also makes the rain jacket slightly less breathable than some of the others on this list, but it is equipped with underarm vents to help shed heat. The Allproof, made with The North Face’s DryVent 2.5-layer seam-sealed fabric, is as waterproof as any on this list and tends toward the lighter and more packable side of the weight spectrum. Tanner Bowden

Weight: 10 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: DryVent 2.5 layer
Shell Material: Polyester

Most Affordable Stretch Rain Jacket: Black Diamond Stormline Stretch Rain Shell

Stretch is one of the biggest trends in outdoor rain jackets at the moment, and it’s easy to write that off as a feature only available on jackets at the upper end of the price spectrum. The Black Diamond Stormline Stretch shatters those preconceived notions. It’s impossibly stretchy, still offers 100-percent waterproofing that you’d expect in a high-end rain jacket and comes in at a price of just $149. Basically, bring your lunch to work for a week and you’ve paid off your jacket no problem.

But beyond price, Black Diamond brings some serious performance to the table with its BD.Dry waterproof breathable membrane. It beads water on par with more expensive jackets on this list, and while other features beyond stretch are sparse, you get far more than you pay for. AJ Powell

Weight: 11 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: BD.Dry 2.5 layer
Shell Material: 88% nylon, 12% elastane

Best Rain Jacket for Hiking: Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic Jacket

Like many of the jackets to make our list this year, Mountain Hardwear’s Stretch Ozonic Jacket is constructed with a stretchy and lightweight fabric that’s very unlike the unyielding rain slickers of yore. Also not characteristic of those older jackets is the Stretch Ozonic’s breathability. Mountain Hardwear employed its proprietary Dry.Q Active fabric, originally designed for aerobic activities like running, which makes the Stretch Ozonic ideal for hiking too.

The Stretch Ozonic is packed with vents. There are two large zippers under each arm that open wide, and the two hand pockets are lined with mesh on the interior and can be left open to allow additional heat to escape. The chest pocket is built in the same way. All of these features make this one of the most breathable jackets that we tested, and a weight of only 11 ounces keeps the Stretch Ozonic lightweight and very packable for longer trips and sustained overnights. Tanner Bowden

Weight: 11 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: Dry.Q Active Stretch 40D 2.5L
Shell Material: Nylon

Best Urban Rain Jacket: Arc’teryx Sawyer Coat

The sleuth detective in an outdoor-themed film noir film might don the Sawyer. It’s defining characteristic is its clean style, which stems from a logo-less front and a longer sub-hips length. Even the inside is a gunmetal gray instead of the white that’s traditional in most technical rain jackets. It’s not entirely unbranded though, Arc’teryx’s trademark archaeopteryx fossil is perched on the left shoulder, and “Gore-Tex” falls on the right forearm, perhaps the only two visible markers of the tech supporting this jacket. Drawing on Arc’teryx’s outdoor expertise, the Sawyer is completely waterproof, seam-sealed and lightweight given its length. It’s the perfect rain jacket for those who spend more time in urban environments than in the mountains. Tanner Bowden

Weight: 13 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: Gore-Tex 3 layer
Shell Material: Nylon

Most Innovative Rain Jacket: Columbia OutDry EX Reign

Compared to other rain jackets, Columbia’s OutDry EX Reign immediately looks different. That’s because OutDry Extreme, one of Columbia’s proprietary waterproofing technologies is constructed differently than Gore-Tex, Dermixax or other commonly used barriers. Instead of layering the waterproof membrane between a liner and a shell, Columbia put it on the outside, where it’s exposed directly to the weather.

That construction has multiple consequences: the fabric-lined interior wicks and is left soft; the exterior feels more like a classic, slicker-style raincoat that won’t wet out (when a coat’s shell fabric gets saturated). It also means that the seams are taped on the outside, which adds to the jacket’s unique look. It also has two large pockets and underarm zips for venting. The OutDry EX Reign doesn’t follow the most recent trend in rain jackets — it doesn’t have any stretch — but it’s still comfortable, breaths quite well and is impenetrable to rain.

Weight: 22 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: OutDry Extreme
Shell Material: Nylon

Most Durable Rain Jacket: REI Stormbolt Jacket

If you’re a serious outdoorsman, it can be easy to write off REI’s in-house brand as just that, an in-house brand. But much like Costco’s Kirkland brand, there’s a lot to love. For one, the Stormbolt is incredibly durable. I posit that you could rub it up against a rock face what feels like a few too many times and still come away with a jacket that looks and performs as if it were new. It brings a Gore-Tex three-layer construction to the table, which is the gold standard for waterproofing. The fit allows for layering underneath, which adds to the jacket’s versatility and allows it to be used as a ski shell in winter. If you’re an REI member, there isn’t much of a reason to look elsewhere. Add to your dividend and save for something on your wish list. AJ Powell

Weight: 15
Membrane/Laminate: Gore-Tex 3 layer
Shell Material: Nylon

Most Versatile Rain Jacket: Hill City Hooded Waterproof Shell

As the latest brand under the Gap umbrella, Hill City garnered equal shares of hype and skepticism leading up to its launch last fall. Nobody expected the men’s athleisure (or activewear, everyday performance apparel; whatever you want to call it) brand to produce a fantastic rain jacket though, but that’s what the Hooded Waterproof Shell is.

The jacket meets the core requirement of this list, i.e., it’s waterproof — we learned so firsthand during a rainy weekend of hiking in the Adirondack mountains of Upstate New York and in many storms since. The Hooded Waterproof Shell is more outdoor-oriented than Hill City’s branding might have you think (when it was first released, it was called the Hooded Trail Shell), but it includes some features that make it stand out, even in that performance-oriented crowd. The fit is excellent, the cuffs use snaps instead of Velcro to cinch tighter, there’s a cape-style vent on the back to let air in (but not rain) where it’s most needed, it’s very lightweight. The only feature some might find it lacks is an adjustable hem, but with all of these other features, we didn’t notice its absence.

Weight: 10 ounces
Membrane/Laminate: 2.5 layer Dermizax 3D membrane
Shell Material: Nylon
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