Rain Gear Guide: How Should A Rain Jacket Fit?

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There’s a lot of factors that play into buying a rain jacket: fit, features, climate, price. Everything should be evaluated, but the most important should be finding the right fit. An ill-fitting jacket will only cause you issues on the trail. Through our years of hiking (and poor purchases), we’ve determined the best fit for your rain jacket should be to allow for enough room to wear the necessary base/mid layers for your hike.

Getting The Best Fit

The best fit for a rain jacket is one that allows for versatility. Meaning you have room underneath to wear whatever base layers you need while being able to adjust the fit. If it’s hot out you don’t need any layers, so you cinch down the openings and you’re still comfortable. On cold hikes, a well fitting rain jacket allows you to stack the layers on without feeling like the kid from Christmas Story.

Having your measurements helps with sizing, but the best way to buy the right sized jacket is to go to the outdoor stores and try them on. See how it feels, how it restricts your movements, and how much extra material (if any) you have. Try the features out: cinch down the adjustable cords, put the hood on, use the zippers. Read about the specs and features online, but get yourself in there to try them on to pick the perfect fit for you.

How To Choose The Right Jacket

Waterproof

If you’re buying a rain jacket, it most likely means you plan to be outside while it’s raining. In this case, be aware of the wording that describes a jacket, “waterproof” vs. “water resistant.” Waterproof means the material can withstand heavy amounts of moisture while keeping you dry. Whereas water resistant means it can hold up to light rain for a limited time.

Any reputable brand that has their product labeled as waterproof is going to hold up to some heavy rain. So if you plan to do any extensive hiking, especially in wetter climates, it would be good to go for one of these rain jackets.

There are some other small features that help with the waterproofing abilities of a jacket. These include zippered pockets and seam taping.

  • Zippered Pockets- make sure your rain gear has zippered pockets. These waterproof zippers are going to keep things dry and prevent water from seeping into otherwise compromised areas.
  • Seam taping- this is a feature that waterproofs the seams of the jacket. It prevents moisture from working its way into the seams. Anything labeled waterproof will have this so it’s not really something you look specifically for. It’s also used in water resistant jackets in the hood area so it’s a less important factor to look into.

Breathability

Here’s another feature to pay attention to when purchasing a jacket. You’re going to see terminology like waterproof breathable membrane and breathability ratings. Without getting too technical, this is just how well moisture passes through the waterproof material.

Think about it, you could have a great jacket that prevents all moisture from getting to you, but if it doesn’t allow any body heat to escape, it’s pretty much useless. As you sweat, your body and under layers will become soaked if no moisture can pass through the outer material.

Find a breathable jacket that allows moisture to pass through the material and prevents water from seeping through.

Design

Your purchasing decision should also be based on the layer design of the jacket. Usually seen as 2L, 2.5L, or 3L this refers to the fabric makeup of the jacket. All of them have the face fabric which has a DWR treatment (durable water repellent). Each design has their own pros and cons which we’ll cover below.

2 Layer Design

This design is considered the most basic of rain jackets. It consists of one outer layer with a waterproof bonded coating to the inside. There is then a mesh liner that protects the coating. 2L jackets are considered entry level/casual use jackets that don’t offer the best waterproofing and aren’t as breathable.

2.5 Layer Design

This design isn’t quite a 3 layer jacket but offers better breathability that the 2 layer. It is also more lightweight than the others. It consists of the outer fabric, with a waterproof coating “painted to” to the inside creating the second layer. The half layer is a very thin interior fabric that offer better moisture transfer than the mesh, but isn’t quite the liner that a 3 Layer design offers. These additions to the 2.5 layer jackets create the lightest option, but falls somewhat short on other features that the 3 Layer jackets offer.

3 Layer Design

This jacket contains 3 full layers, no coatings or mesh. It has the outer, face layer (for abrasion resistance), a middle waterproof membrane (the waterproof layer), and an interior fabric that protects the membrane. Having the third layer makes this the most expensive option and is best utilized for more harsh hiking conditions. It provides the best durability, waterproofing and breathability.

Here’s a quick recap of each option:

  • 2 Layer- Midweight, Durable, Fairly Breathable, Moderate Price, Best Used for Casual Wear
  • 2.5 Layer- Lightest Option, Durable, More Breathable, Cheapest Option, Best for Hiking, Backpacking
  • 3 Layer- Lightweight, Most Durable, Most Breathable, Most Expensive, Best Used for Backcountry Adventure, Harsh Conditions

Lightweight/Packability

Unless you’re going to be out in winter conditions, with freezing weather and snow you’ll want a rain jacket that is lightweight and easier to pack. There’s also ultralight jackets that can be rolled up and packed into itself.

These options offer super low carry weights, but just be aware you may sacrifice some durability with the lighter you go. The 2.5 Layer designs are the most lightweight but won’t sustain as much of a beating as a 3 Layer rain jacket.

Adjustability

Rain jackets are meant to have some adjustability to them. This allows you to go with something a little bigger and adjust down to fit your needs. Usually this is accomplished through cinch cords and velcro cuffs.

As we talked about earlier, you want to get a rain jacket that is slightly bigger to allow for layering underneath if needed. However, when you have fewer layers on, you want the ability to tighten the jacket up to keep water from getting underneath.

Other Rain Jacket Features

Hood

The importance of hood design is often overlooked when purchasing a good hiking jacket. For the more serious hikers, a design with a brim and adjustability are the way to go.

The brim keeps the hood off your forehead and allows the water to drip in front instead of on you. And make sure you can adjust it to get the right fit. This will prevent it from blowing off in the wind or flopping around as you move.

Many hoods can also be zippered off or rolled up and stored when you’re not using it.

Zippered Pockets

These pockets were referenced earlier, but they are essential for a waterproof jacket. The zippers prevent moisture from entering the pocket so it’s tough to be in the rain without this feature.

The number of pockets your jacket has is really up to you. There’s lots of choices, so go with what works for you. I like using a hiking pack, so I’m perfectly content having two pockets down by the waist and one chest pocket on my rain jacket.

Pit Zips

This is another feature that aids in the breathability of a jacket. Leave the pit zips open in warmer weather to increase airflow and allow your body heat to escape.

They’re also under the arms so you don’t have to worry about it getting directly hit with rain. So you stay cool and dry at the same time.

And when’s it’s cold out, just zip them up and you’ll be able to retain that body heat to keep you warm. Pit zips give your rain jacket more versatility so you can use it throughout different seasons.

Other Considerations When Buying A Jacket

Climate

One thing you should evaluate before buying a jacket is the weather you’ll encounter on your hikes.

Is it a colder region in the North or further South? This is a good way to decide what type of rain jacket you purchase. If you’re in warmer, wet weather it’ll benefit you to get something that doesn’t have the insulating layers. Focus on breathability and minimalism to stay cool in the rain.

However, if it’s cold, wet weather you might want the extra material to keep you warm.

Another thing to think about is the seasons. Do you want something that can handle all of the seasons in your region of hiking, or one that just gets you through spring and summer?

Price

A good rain jacket is going to cost you a little bit. To get one that offers the right fit as well as quality waterproofing, breathability, and packability, you’ll need to go beyond the budget options.

If you only plan to use your rain jacket on infrequent, short hikes you could get by with a cheaper option.

However, getting into all day hikes and multi-day hikes is going to require something with more protection. Opt for quality if it fits in your budget. It’s ok to spend more on a piece of gear that will protect you from some serious weather.

Caring For Your Rain Gear

Rain gear can be expensive, so you’ll want to avoid buying new gear frequently. The gear is built to last, but only if you take proper care of it. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • First and foremost, always check and follow the manufacturer’s care instructions before anything else.
  • Pay attention to the performance of your rain gear to determine when it needs cleaned.
  • The best sign is when your gear begins to “wet out” and water no longer beads up on the surface.
  • Follow the washing instructions with special detergent to get your gear performing like brand new.
  • Store your rain gear in a cool, dry place. Whether you just got out of the rain or washed it, make sure your jacket is fully dry before storing it to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Final Thoughts On Getting The Right Rain Jacket

Every hiker should have a rain jacket. It’s going to be essential for protecting you from the weather whether it’s a short hike or an extensive backcountry adventure. Keep yourself dry. Evaluate the design (2L, 2.5L, or 3L), the features it has, and how it fits to choose the right jacket. And make sure the jacket you choose offers enough room to layer appropriately for the weather and adjust down as needed. Stay dry my friends!