Looking for a breathable women's rain jacket
September 24, 2012 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm buying a rain jacket for the first time, and I'm overwhelmed by choice. What details might I miss?

I'm looking for a women's rain jacket that is very breathable and that has a good hood that won't flop into my face. Also, I'd like to wear the jacket over warmer layers in the winter.

My ideal price is $100, but I'm willing to go a bit higher for worthwhile features/quality. Unfortunately I'm not able to order multiple jackets for comparison.

I've narrowed my list to the following jackets; are there any important differences between these that I might be missing?

- Patagonia Women's Torrentshell Rain Jacket
- Mountain Hardwear Women's Epic Jacket
- The North Face Women's Venture Jacket
- Marmot Precip Women's Rain Jacket
posted by neushoorn to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have another patagonia model that seals up into a little pillow, similar to your first link, and it is awesome. Also, it has huge hidden armpit zippers that vent the whole thing if I get too warm. It is a bonafide great jacket.
posted by history is a weapon at 6:46 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

All are good brands. The Mountain Hardwear jacket is made of a stiffer, more durable material, which would be good if you are going to use it for biking.
posted by desjardins at 6:56 AM on September 24, 2012

I think the PreCip is the best one that you've listed.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:08 AM on September 24, 2012

I have the marmot, and its been serving me well for biking, throwing in a backpack on a hike, and walling around the neighborhood. The material breathes ok, but I definitely make sure to open the underarm vents if i'm going to be working up a sweat. This jacket over a light fleece is my go to for winter biking in Oregon. As far as durability, it survived a pretty rough crash on my bike with just a couple of small holes on the outer layer of a pocket my keys were in.

I really like that jacket, and its a great alternative to my heavier north face that is going on 11 Portland Winters strong. the reason I ended up with the marmot was I found it on sale at REI, and after trying on a couple of the others they all seemed similar enough to me. Have you checked for sales on the REI clearance page or anything?
posted by Atalanta at 7:10 AM on September 24, 2012

Best answer: With one caveat, I'd say that any of those would be good choices, depending what you're going to be using them for. The caveat is that none of these are going to be "very breathable". Compared to the old rubberized or coated nylon jackets, they're certainly more breathable, but you're not going to get a (relatively) highly breathable waterproof jacket without spending $250+. If you wear one of these in a 75 degree rainstorm you'll be damp on the inside from your own perspiration at even a moderate exertion level. That's not a criticism of any of the garments, it's just a factor that comes into play with any of the garments at this price point. You'll notice that each has pit zips, which helps a bit. Many of the newer/more expensive/more breathable jackets (that use laminates like Gore-Tex, Polartec NeoShell, etc.) do not have pit zips as they are unneeded and add bulk and weight.

With that said, each of the four companies has a good reputation, so it's going to come down to color, fit, and features. If you can, find a local shop that carries these jackets and try them on in person; you might have better luck with a local shop instead of the big chain stores that sometimes have too few staff or employ people that aren't very knowledgeable. There are subtle things like the flexibility of the shell material or the way the hood fits that are going to impossible to determine without having the garment on your body. What are you going to be using the jacket for? Daily use in town, or is this more for hiking/camping/backpacking? Some jackets (like the Marmot, it appears) have higher pockets so that if you're wearing a backpack with a hip belt you can still access the pockets and their contents aren't smashed between your body and the hip belt. Obviously, this is great if you're using the jacket that way, but if you want to put your hands in your pockets while walking around town they are usually too high for comfort. Also, you look a bit silly with your elbows sticking out so far. On the other hand, I think the Patagonia has fleece-lined pockets that are a bit lower, which is really nice as long as you don't have a pack on. There's lots to think about, and I probably haven't made it any easier, but hopefully this is worthwhile to know. I've got ~15 years experience in outdoor specialty retail and more to say than is worth wall-of-texting here, so feel free to message me if you have any further questions!
posted by EKStickland at 7:18 AM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: What are you going to be using the jacket for?
Mainly for daily use: <10 km bike rides over flat ground, short walks, etc. I'll also have to wear it during two 50-minute train rides each workday, hence the need for some breathability. I probably won't be doing any hiking.
posted by neushoorn at 7:38 AM on September 24, 2012

Best answer: Another company whose stuff you might want to check out is Outdoor Research. Their stuff typically has fewer bells and whistles than their competitors, but OR is also usually cheaper.

I've had some success with Patagonia's H2no fabric, but in my experience (5 years as a pro ski patroller, 3 as an outdoor educator), nothing beats Gore-Tex for lasting waterproofness. I think all the jackets you listed have an actual waterproof membrane along with a nylon outer layer and some kind of inner layer to aid breathability. Beware of jackets that have only a waterproof coating applied to nylon, without the waterproof membrane layer. The way the Marmot jacket's described, it's not terribly clear that this isn't the case with it. The disadvantage to this type of fabric is that once the waterproofing treatment wears off, the fabric's no longer waterproof. All waterproof/breathable fabrics use waterproofing treatment on the nylon outer layer, but on the fabrics with a membrane this treatment is there to aid breathability; on all other fabrics, that treatment is all you have.

The Marmot's the only one you listed that's described as having taped seams. If the manufacturer doesn't mention this feature, it's probably safe to assume the jacket doesn't have it. The advantage of taped seams is that even if the outer nylon layer's waterproof treatment is worn off, the jacket's waterproof inner membrane and the seam tape still keep the thing waterproof, even though the outer layer, once saturated, makes it no longer breathable. You can still seal the seams yourself, even if a jacket's seams aren't taped, but it's hard to do this well, and pretty time-consuming even to do it poorly.

A well-fitting hood is essential in heavy rain, and it's hard to evaluate this without trying the jacket on. If you can try it on, look for a bill on the hood to keep the water from running straight down your face and on down your neck, and I like to have a collar that's wide enough to zip up over my chin, also to prevent the same effect.

I've used the warranty, or attempted to use it, for products from all the manufacturers you've listed. North Face doesn't like to honor its warranty. Mountain Hardwear and Marmot are both fairly cooperative about it. Patagonia is probably the industry leader for taking returns with no questions asked. I haven't had to return any of the things I've bought from Outdoor Research, so I can't vouch for their return policy.
posted by cthlsgnd at 7:56 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If 'very breathable' is on your list I'd say get a jacket with armpit zippers. Once you have one you'll never look back.

Also, I'm a few years behind on the tech curve but I gave softshells a shot and didn't like the breathability (or lack thereof) of the higher end Columbia stuff I purchased. I'll be going hardshell with option to wear a fleece/sweater underneath from here on out. Plus, and things may have changed but I doubt it, you really can't expect a softshell to act as a complete water barrier layer forever either. A hardshell will do that job for longer with much less care and upkeep.

I'll second what cthlsgnd says about taped seams, and also vouch for Marmot's form factor and quality, my wife's has held up to several years of moderate (not extreme hiking daily but spurts of that from time to time) use without any problems.

Ditto on the hood, if you live in a place with rain you'll be very happy to have it. If you go the hood route then pay attention to fit and adaptability, a visor on the hood is VERY nice if you're not the type to wear a ball cap but all the above is worthless if the hood doesn't fit your head/hat shape.

I have a GoLite jacket that I've been using for a bit but I'll withhold recommending it because it's a bit niche insofar as Golite seems to focus on weight, as their name implies, over other aspects of their gear... That's not to say that's a bad thing but you have to understand it going into things or else you'll have a bit of "wtf?" factor when you try their stuff on.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:46 AM on September 24, 2012

Best answer: Just as a friendly FYI-not affiliated except for the "they have too much of my money" thing: I just bought the new Precip at Sierra Trading Post. Sign up for their emails, they'll send you 35%-40% off coupon codes constantly. I just checked my history and I paid less than $45 for mine.
posted by atomicstone at 9:31 AM on September 24, 2012

Raar. "a", not "the"-in fact, since it's STP, it's most definitely last season. This is not important to me, but i thought I'd clarify in case the "year" of the model was of particular importance to you. (I don't even know if there is a NEW to this year PreCip).
posted by atomicstone at 9:50 AM on September 24, 2012

As you'll be using it for cycling, you may wish to consider looking at jackets that have hoods that will accommodate a helmet. Also, a longer jacket may work well, since if you're leaning forward while cycling in a rainstorm, a shorter one will ride up and funnel the water directly into your pants. (Fun!)

cthlsgnd mentions Outdoor Research, which is a great suggestion- they make great stuff. I linked you to a Gore-Tex Paclite jacket they make, and although it's $199, you should take a look. One awesome thing about Gore-Tex garments is that Gore stands behind products made with their fabrics. I've had customers who had problems with their garments (which in one case was 9+ years old) who contacted Gore customer service and had their jackets replaced with brand new garments of similar quality- they were able to select brand/style/size/color within a generous price range.

Also- I've sold previous years' versions of the Patagonia Torrentshell and Mountain Hardware Epic jackets, and unless my memory is even more faulty than I think, they are seam sealed. cthlsgnd is right to point that out as a necessary feature for any rain jacket of this type.
posted by EKStickland at 9:53 AM on September 24, 2012

Let me also suggest that during a 50-min train ride you might want to take the jacket *off* -- after all, you would when you came inside, and you're inside for all of that time. That frees up some of your perfect-temp-controlling conditions. Heck, I get hot during a 10-min subway ride, especially if I walk/hurry to get there, and my sanity is greatly supported by just taking off the outer layer anytime my temp starts to rise. Then you can optimize your rain gear for your other needs.
posted by acm at 10:12 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: These are all basically the same thing: a backpacking oriented coated lightweight jacket with an internal membrane/ laminate which is exposed (it's the white/ gray lining). They will keep you reasonably dry as long as the DWR is kept up and the lining stays intact and won't breathe particularly well above a walking pace. Eventually the interior coating will start to flake off and they'll die. This process is accelerated if you wash the jacket a lot or get bug spray/ fabric softener/ chemicals etc on it. Figure one year hard wear, two or more of regular wear. The Precip is probably the most well known and popular of these but they are all, honestly, pretty similar. Great for walking about town, not so great for jogging.

For your use I'd personally look for a sale on steepandcheap, gear trade or Sierra Trading Post for a more durable jacket. I have a triple layer, stretchy Mtn Hardware similar to a goretex jacket that I got for ~$100 that way that is far superior to any of these jackets and is going to last at least 5 years of use and abuse.

Fitwise: North Face is for shorter, more petite women, under 5'5" probably and with narrow shoulders- the larger sizes are just square versions of the smaller ones. Marmot and Patagonia are medium- will fit most athletic built women up to 5'9" or so and also very slim women who are taller. They don't have a ton of room in the chest/ shoulders/ armpits. Mtn Hardware runs long, will fit if you are tall and has more room in the shoulders/bust and a slim tapered waist. Size up if you're tall, broad or have a bust.

Check out the reviews on backcountry.com and yeah, just take it off on the train.
posted by fshgrl at 10:43 AM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've been extremely happy with eddie bauer first ascent stuff. It's very high quality and they have awesome sales each year. Javascript is disabled on my browser so I can't see what sizes they have in stock but look at the Rainier Storm Shell from the list of stuff here:

posted by Quack at 11:57 AM on September 24, 2012

I have a jacket like the Patagonia model above but in the male version an love it. I keep it in my backpack all year long and use it a lot as an outer layer in winter. Another brand to look into is Helly Hansen, I have a couple of pieces of heavier rain gear and my wife loves her jacket like this one.
posted by JayNolan at 1:07 PM on September 24, 2012

Best answer: To reiterate/clarify what others have said, you're going to get more longevity and performance out of a stretch material like Schoeller or Gore-Tex than a laminated one, at the expense of cost and weight/bulk. As fshgrl mentioned, plan to buy another jacket in 1-2 years if you wear it frequently.

Anecdotally, I bought a top-range Patagonia alpine shell that's Schoeller material (they don't make it anymore, unfortunately) about ten years ago, and with occasional Nikwax care it still keeps me mostly dry. Got it for peanuts because it's bright green.

One thing that's only been tangentially mentioned— TNF and Patagonia have boxier fits for their lower-end garments than do MHW and Marmot. If you have long arms or a proportionally slim torso, you'll fit better in MHW probably.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:15 AM on September 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, all! Your comments were very helpful, particularly about fit. I'm petite, so sleeve lengths and boxiness are important concerns.

I ordered the Marmot PreCip from Sierra Trading Post; thanks to atomicstone for the tip! I got it for $52 after discounts. And when I'm in the U.S., I plan to visit REI (and other brick and mortar shops, if I can) to try on some other jackets for comparison.
posted by neushoorn at 10:24 AM on September 26, 2012

Response by poster: Following up: I'm happy with the Marmot after wearing it while walking and biking in the rain. I find the sleeves to be a bit long, but they can be adjusted with the wrist straps. And the hood stays in place nicely, without flopping into my face. I highly recommend it (and Sierra Trading Post, for the discounts).
posted by neushoorn at 9:44 AM on October 19, 2012

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