Looking for the a reliable rain jacket for hiking, backpacking, or bikepacking? A good rain jacket can save your life in the backcountry, and at the very least will make a soggy day more pleasant. But there are so many options available these days, how’s an outdoor lover supposed to choose?
I happen to own three of the most popular rain jackets for hiking and outdoor adventure. I built the collection over nearly a decade of hiking and biking and have spent many quality miles and days in each. While they all excel in their own ways, each of these rain jackets is designed for different conditions and styles of outdoor adventure, as well as different size budgets.
In this post I’ll review the three rain jackets I’ve come to know and love: Marmot PreCip, Outdoor Research Helium II, and the Arc’teryx Beta AR. I’ll explain the pros and cons of each, what style of adventuring they’re intended for, and how I choose which one to wear each time I venture out.
To learn more about how waterproof jackets are made and what features are available, check out this overview from REI first. Then, read on to learn about three excellent rain jackets for outdoor adventurers.
Marmot PreCip Review
My blue Women’s Marmot PreCip (men’s version here) was my first hiking rain jacket, and it says a lot that it’s still in my rotation. It strikes a great balance between features, durability, weight, and price. It’s still my go-to rain jacket when I want something durable, but not too heavy or bulky, in moderate conditions.
I would recommend the PreCip for:
- Anyone needing a good quality rain jacket on a limited budget
- Day hikers and three-season backpackers who aren’t counting grams
- New hikers and backpackers looking to buy their first rain jacket
- Travelers needing a durable rain jacket that can take some wear and tear on the road but isn’t too expensive
What I like about the Marmot PreCip:
- More affordable than most rain jackets
- Pit zips help with breathability
- Roomy fit goes over warm layers easily
- Two zip front pockets in convenient location
- Velcro adjustable cuffs and drawstring adjustable hem
- Lots of colors to choose from
- Reasonably lightweight at 9.6 oz
- Has grown less waterproof over the years. This is normal for coating-based waterproofing; refresh it with Nikwax Tech Wash.
- Adjustable hood does not fit fully over most helmets (bike, ski, etc).
- Not as breathable as Gore-Tex for heavy aerobic activity (though pit zips help a lot)
- If it pours all day long, you will probably get a little wet in this jacket. It’s best for fair-to-moderate conditions.
What I think the Marmot PreCip is great for:
- Summer hiking in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains
- Bicycle touring in moderate climates (I used it in drizzly-but-warm northern Vietnam)
- Spring skiing on a warm day
Outdoor Research Helium II Review
The OR Women’s Helium II (men’s version here) is the unapologetic lightweight pick of the bunch. If you’re truly hardcore about counting grams, you’re probably looking at something like this, but for the rest of us the Helium II is a great choice.
I bought mine for a JMT thru-hike seven years ago now (yeesh time flies!) and most recently used the same rain jacket on the Arizona Trail. I needed to refresh the waterproof coating, but otherwise it was still great! I saw plenty of other AZT hikers wearing newer models, which haven’t changed all that much on this classic.
The OR Helium II achieves its airy lightness at the cost of features and durability (and, well, money). There are no pit zips, no hand pockets, and the hood is pretty minimal. But if you need a rain jacket for lightweight adventures in fair to moderate climates, it’s an excellent choice.
If you haven’t already optimized your “big 3” (shelter, sleeping bag, backpack) for weight or plan to soon, there are other more cost-effective ways to cut weight from your pack and I’d suggest that the Marmot PreCip above is a better value for you.
What I like about the Helium II:
- Really lightweight (5.5 oz)
- Packs down very small
- Zip front chest pocket is convenient and fits a smartphone
- Best for moderate conditions. If it pours all day long, you will eventually get wet in this jacket.
- Minimal features: no pit zips, hand pockets, or adjustable cuffs (though this is typical with really lightweight gear).
- Not as breathable as Gore-Tex for heavy aerobic activity; can get a bit clammy.
- Adjustable hood does not fit over helmets (bike, ski, etc).
- Loses its waterproofing faster than more durable jackets (though washing with Tech Wash refreshes it nicely).
- After 7 years, the innermost layer is peeling off.
That may look like a long list of drawbacks, so I want to emphasize that this jacket is built for a specific purpose (to be lightweight) and it serves that purpose well. Most lightweight gear comes with a similar set of tradeoffs.
The Helium II’s fit is on the slim side compared to the Marmot PreCip, so consider ordering up a size (or at least not sizing down) if you want room to layer a puffy jacket or other warm layers underneath.
What I use it for:
- Fast and light three season day hiking and backpacking where rain is possible but not likely to be constant.
- Thru hikes, fastpacking, ultra running, or other trips where reducing pack weight is a top focus.
Arc’teryx Beta AR Review
My Arc’teryx Women’s Beta AR (men’s version here) is the newest addition to my rain jacket collection, and also the most expensive. I bought it because I needed a jacket I could trust my life to when adventuring, especially solo, in remote, cold, and wet places. I get cold very easily, and feeling secure in bad weather has been key to unlocking my dreams of bigger outdoor adventures.
The Arc’teryx naming system is a little tricky to decode, but AR is their “all-around” line. There’s also SV for “severe weather” if you’re a truly hardcore alpinist, or LT and SL for more minimalist (and a bit less durable) lightweight design. I’ve felt the AR is a good balance between durability and weight, but haven’t tried the other lines.
I would recommend the Beta AR to:
- Those who adventure in especially cold or stormy places where where getting wet could be dangerous.
- Multi-day trips in wet weather, the kind where it rains for multiple days and staying dry is nearly impossible.
- Outdoor-focused travelers looking for a jacket they can rely on anywhere in the world: climbing mountains in Nepal, hiking through wind and rain in Patagonia, crossing Iceland by mountain bike, you get the idea.
What I like about the Beta AR:
- Bomber waterproofing and design. I feel dry and safe even in gnarly weather.
- Large pit zips
- Good breathability even during hard aerobic work.
- Great adjustable hood design, stays put, keeps out water, and fits over my ski and bike helmets.
- Excellent windbreaker, keeps me warmer even when not raining.
- Two zip hand pockets in pack-compatible location, and interior mobile device pocket
- Adjustable Velcro cuffs and drawstring hem
- Roomy fit is great for layering and has good arm and shoulder mobility
- The price tag! I bought mine gently used on eBay and it still felt like a splurge. For a more affordable Gore-Tex rain jacket check out the REI Stormbolt, which my husband wears in conditions similar to those I wear my Beta AR in.
- Relatively heavy (13.2 oz) and bulky compared to the other options in this post
What I use it for:
- Mountain activities in potentially challenging weather (bicycling through Patagonia, hiking in Colorado)
- Biking in stormy weather (love the helmet-compatible hood)
- Skiing and snowboarding
So what’s the best rain jacket for backpacking / bikepacking / etc?
Like most things in life, it depends. Among these three popular choices, here’s what I recommend:
Marmot PreCip (9.6 oz, $): Great general-purpose choice for hikers with moderate budgets who need a jacket for moderate conditions.
Outdoor Research Helium II (5.5 oz, $$): If you mainly hike in summer and deal with only occasional rain, AND you’re committed to packing light, then the Helium II is a good investment.
Arc’teryx Beta AR (13.2 oz, $$$): If you have the budget for it and are into more extreme adventures (wetter, colder, more remote), this jacket offers a comforting amount of weather protection with excellent breathability. It’s also the only one of the three with a helmet-compatible hood for skiing, biking, or climbing.
More Outdoor Gear Resources
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