For this test our testers evaluated five criteria — weather shedding, breathability, function, durability and packability — for each lightweight rain jacket. They used them back-to-back and individually in a range of activities, temperatures, weather conditions and intensities over a couple of months of use. Once we’d dried out, the Marmot Eclipse EvoDry stood a slim shoulder above the Montane Minimus Stretch Ultra Jacket. Though, it’s worth noting only five points out of a possible 100 stood between our top ranked and lowest ranked jacket in this year’s test. That speaks to the continuous improvements in function, weight and breathability we’ve seen in 2.5 layer jackets. Every year manufacturers find ways to improve performance, while keeping prices affordable. These jackets breathe better than many three-layer shells while protecting from the elements. And they keep getting tougher. Where we would usually reserve these for day trips and fair weather expeditions, they’re steadily convincing us that lightweight waterproof jackets are worthy of longer trips and harsher conditions.
This is the primary function of a waterproof jacket: keep the rain outside and your upper body dry. When rating jackets in this category we consider the jacket as whole, from seams to zippers, hood to wrist closures and of course the fabric construction. The jackets in this test use a variety of membranes, some proprietary, like Marmot’s MemBrain in the Eclipse, while a few use branded ones like Pertex Shield in the Montane Minimus Stretch Ultra and Salomon Bonatti. They’re all very similar in function and performance. Brands rate fabric waterproofness using a water column test. We use a more subjective real world test of using the jackets in the pouring rain and observing how long it takes for water to absorb and leaking to begin. All the jackets scored well in keeping the rain out. The Salomon Bonatti had the lowest score not because the Pertex Shield membrane didn’t keep rain out, but because the minimalist hood didn’t provide as much coverage as the others. The Marmot Eclipse scored the best because of its molecularly bonded DWR coating that never wears off or wets out.
This score speaks to how well the jacket allows excess heat to escape from inside the jacket. When hiking, paddling or during any other exercise, our bodies warm up, releasing heat. The breathability is how well the jacket allows that heat, in the form of moisture vapor, to escape the micro-climate between the body and fabric. As with weathershedding, breathability is a factor of construction, both the materials used and any mechanical venting built into the jacket like pit zips, perforations and soft shell panels. Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid led this category thanks to the solid breathability of the Pertex fabric and soft shell panels on the side. Both the L.L. Bean Tek O2 Element and Eddie Bauer Cloud Cap Flex make up for okay membrane breathability with pit zips.
Often it’s the little things that make or break a jacket and it’s those miscellaneous features that we’re reviewing here. Pocket size and placement, zipper function, fit and how the jacket wears as we walk, run, bend over and reach up are all in play. For instance, the Eddie Bauer Cloud Cap Flex scored high because it looks sharp and never constricted with built-in stretch throughout. The Black Diamond StormLine won this category in 2018 because of its soft and supple hand feel, both on the inside and exterior. Meanwhile the Salomon Bonatti’s minimalist design scored the lowest, but for those looking for lightweight it wins.
This test time frame doesn’t allow us enough use to really see how these shells will stand up over months and years of wear, but we can tell pretty quickly where the weak points lie. From years of beating up jackets our testers can look at the seams and overall construction details and immediately see potential issues before we’ve even worn it. Then we bring on the hard use and put these jackets through bushwhacking torture. We didn’t rip any jackets this year, but we think the lightweight Sherpa Assar fabric needs to be treated with more care, while the high thread count and low tolerance for mistakes during production of the Montane Minimus Stretch Ultra speaks to quality construction. Also of note is the permanent durable water repellent treatment used on the Marmot Eclipse EvoDry. Where other DWRs are a coating that wears off and needs to be reapplied, the Eclipse’s is molecularly bonded.
We measure packability in two ways: ounces and volume. These matter because extra weight on the back generally hurts speed on the trail and bulkier items gobble up pack or pocket space, often a scarce and valuable resource. The difference between the heaviest shell (Marmot Eclipse at 13 ounces) and the lightest (Salomon Bonatti at 6.7oz) is only six and a half ounces, less than a snack bar. Volume stacked up similarly. In both cases it’s a measure of the weight of the fabric and number of features, since every strip and extra zip adds weight and bulk.
Over more than six months, a team of testers use the jackets in a variety of conditions and activities. They took the jackets hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, sea kayaking and rock climbing, pulling them out of their pack any time conditions warranted a shell. In addition, we put the shells through a series of standard tests. We wore all the shells in an uphill run in 65 degree weather to test breathability, in a shower for 10 minutes to test weathershedding and on a bushwhack hike to test durability.
Throughout the real-world testing, our testers recorded their observations on our five criteria: Weathershedding, the ability of the jacket to shrug off wind and rain; Breathability, how well the jacket released excess heat and moisture; Function, a catch all for features, fit and other factors that influence what it’s like to wear the jacket; Durability, how well made that jacket is and how much abuse it can take; and Packability, the weight and bulk of the jacket.
What Is A Lightweight Waterproof Jacket?
Lightweight Waterproof Jackets could also be called 2.5-layer jackets. All share the same construction technique, which involves sandwiching a waterproof and breathable membrane between a protective outer fabric and a thin film barrier on the interior of the jacket. This style of construction has been around for a couple decades as a less expensive and generally lighter option than 3-layer storm shells.
Typically 2.5-layer shells are best reserved for lighter duty, day trips, shorter overnights and fairer weather. They are not as waterproof or durable as three-layer shells and since there is just a thin barrier between the membrane and pore-clogging grease and dirt from the body, they need more washing and care to perform optimally. Increasingly these concerns are less relevant as the materials companies are using in this category continue to improve.
Most of the jackets in this test lean toward the lightweight and minimalist side. They tend to use elastic at wrists and waist, little structure in hoods and only hand pockets. This helps keep weight low, but impacts performance in harsher situations. A sub-category is hybrid jackets, which mix waterproof materials in more exposed areas and more breathable materials in more sheltered or hotter parts of the body. This category sacrifices weather shedding for breathability, a trade off that’s not a big deal for day trips, but should be carefully considered on more exposed and longer outings.
Overall, because of their low bulk and weight and their affordable price, Lightweight Waterproof Jackets are ideal for day trips and as the go-to waterproof-breathable shell for weekend warriors.