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How to choose a rain jacket

Choosing a rain jacket might feel overwhelming when you’re faced with tons of options in stores or online. But it’s a lot easier to find the best rain jacket for you when you know what to look for and how to narrow down your options.

When you’re buying a rain jacket, here are some factors to consider:

  • Waterproof vs. water resistant: Do you want a rain jacket for occasional light rain or heavy downpours?
  • What kind of rain jacket layers do you need?: Learn what 2-layer, 2.5-layer or 3-layer construction means and what one is best for you.
  • Extra features: Find out about hoods, pockets or other features that would be good for your favourite activities.

Waterproof vs. water-resistant: What’s the difference?

Rain jackets can be made from a variety of fabrics, but polyester and nylon are the most common. These fabrics are slightly water-resistant on their own, but they need a boost from some additional technology before you’d want to take them out in the rain. You might have seen rain jackets labelled as either water-resistant or waterproof – these mean different things when it comes to keeping you dry.

Water-resistant jackets

Water-resistant jackets are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. DWR is applied to the outside of the jacket so that water beads up and rolls off. It stands up to light rain, but if it’s pouring out, water will start to leak in.

Great as: windbreakers or casual jackets, but they don’t work well as rain jackets.

Waterproof jackets

Waterproof-breathable MEC Hydrofoil jacket with fully taped seams and a water-resistant zipper.

If you’re looking to stay dry in windy downpours, then you’ll want a waterproof jacket. They’re treated with DWR as a first line of defence, but the waterproofing brilliance is on the inside.

How waterproof-breathable jackets work

Waterproof jackets have an interior coating or membrane to keep water out. At MEC, most waterproof rain jackets have waterproof-breathable technology that uses tiny micro-pores in the membrane. These micro-pores won’t let rain in, but they do let warm air and sweat escape so you don’t overheat as you’re running for the bus.

GORE-TEX® was the first waterproof-breathable technology on the market. It’s the best known and is still the gold standard for quality and performance. Over the years, other waterproof-breathable technology brands have emerged, such as eVent, Pertex Shield, Patagonia H2No and Helly Hansen HellyTech. Lots of unbranded waterproof-breathable technologies are also available, and they can give you solid budget-friendly options.

Even with the best waterproof-breathable membrane and a DWR finish, rain can still leak in along seams and through zippers. That’s why a good quality rain jacket also has taped or sealed seams to keep water from seeping in, along with water-resistant zippers or storm flaps over the zipper.

Rain jackets at MEC

All rain jackets sold at MEC are made with waterproof coatings or membranes, DWR finish and seam tape so you can venture out into a storm and be confident that you’ll stay dry.

But remember, in order to perform at its best, your rain jacket needs a bit of TLC in its lifetime; learn how to wash and re-waterproof your jacket.

Rain jacket layers and construction

Think of a rain jacket as a sandwich of fabric layers. The outside is polyester or nylon with a DWR finish. The middle is a waterproof-breathable membrane or coating. And the inside layer is a liner next to your skin. But just like sandwiches, the layers in rain jackets can have different ingredients – you’ll want to choose the right ones for your activities.

When you’re on mec.ca, the tech specs tab for each rain jacket has info about the construction and layers for that product.

2-layer construction

Close-up of MEC Monsoon Jacket

Inside of the MEC Monsoon Jacket, an example of a 2-layer construction with a soft lining.

In a 2-layer construction fabric sandwich, the outer fabric is laminated to the waterproof-breathable membrane or coating so that they act as a single layer. Inside, a mesh or hanging fabric lining is stitched into the jacket and sits next to your skin.

2-layer jackets:

  • Are very durable and the sewn-in liners are really comfortable
  • Usually heavier and bulkier than other types of jackets, due to their comfy liners

Great for: a casual rain jacket around town, or downhill skiing.

2.5-layer construction

Close-up of MEC Hydrofoil Jacket

Look inside a 2.5-layer rain jacket, like the MEC Hydrofoil, and you’ll see a raised print (which adds to its packability factor).

How can a jacket have half a layer of fabric? Well, it’s not actually fabric. In 2.5-layer construction, the outer fabric is laminated to the waterproof-breathable membrane (just like 2-layer construction). Then a thin coating with a raised print – this makes up the half layer – is applied to the inside of the membrane so that your skin doesn’t touch the membrane directly.

2.5 layer jackets:

  • Are usually very lightweight and packable, since there’s no inner liner (some even have a pocket that doubles as a stuff sack)
  • Compared to a smooth fabric liner, some people think the coating can feel sticky against their skin
  • The thin coating is not as durable as a fabric liner, so the overall lifetime of a 2.5-layer jacket will be shorter than other types of rain jackets

Great for: travelling or as a compact rain jacket for hiking, mountaineering or cycling.

3-layer construction

Close-up of MEC Synergy Jacket

3-layer construction, like in the MEC Synergy Jacket, buffers you from rain, snow and sleet.

Confusingly, 3-layer jackets actually feel like they’re made with just one layer. This is because all three layers are bonded together: the outer fabric, membrane and liner are laminated so they feel like one piece of fabric.

3-layer jackets:

  • Are usually found in high-end rain jackets since this technology tends to be more expensive – but you get more for your money
  • Are more durable and more breathable than other types of construction
  • Are lighter and more packable than 2-layer jackets
  • If you spend a lot of time in the outdoors and want a premium jacket, a 3-layer rain jacket is an excellent choice

Great for: hiking, mountaineering, biking, backcountry skiing and spending a ton of time outside.

Extra features to look for

Do you break a sweat easily? Are you always losing your ski pass? Maybe you’re gearing up to hike the West Coast Trail and see rain in the forecast. Take a look at extra jacket features that can solve specific problems:

Hoods to match your activities

Most rain jackets have a hood. But the type of hood you need depends on how you’ll be using your rain jacket. Casual rain jackets typically have simple hood adjustments, while hiking rain jackets have often more adjustable hoods with a stiffened brim. Jackets designed for skiing or mountaineering have large hoods that accommodate a helmet (heads up: these hoods can be pretty baggy if you never plan to wear the jacket with a helmet). And cycling rain jackets rarely have a hood since they can block your vision when you turn your head.

Ventilation zips

If you wear your rain jacket during high-output activities like cycling, hiking, backcountry skiing or mountaineering, there’s a good chance you’re going to get hot and sweaty. The waterproof-breathable membrane in your rain jacket can help move some of the moisture out of your jacket, but it’s not a miracle worker. That’s why many jackets come with ventilation zippers that you can open to let in a welcome rush of cool air. These zippers are usually located in the armpits, chest or back (the usual suspects for sweaty warmth).

Special pockets

You can often tell what a rain jacket is designed for just by looking at the pockets. Casual rain jackets often have lots of inner and outer pockets for daily essentials like keys or bus passes. Rain jackets designed for climbing or hiking usually have pockets set a little higher on the body so they don’t get in the way of a backpack hip belt or a climbing harness. Ski jackets can have a specialized pocket for your ski pass, a soft lined pocket to protect your goggles, or a big pocket to hold climbing skins or bulky gloves. Cycling jackets and jackets designed for fast and light hiking or mountaineering often have very few pockets (or even no pockets) to reduce weight and bulk.