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ROUNDUP: 5 Rain Shells to Keep You Dry

By on April 28, 2017

April showers bring May flowers. May flowers bring June flowers. June showers bring … Okay, you get it. It rains a lot in Oregon. That’s why everything is so green. No matter what time of year you hike the Pacific Crest Trail thru Oregon—spring, summer or fall—there’s a good chance you’re going to get rained on. One of my top tips that I always give when helping others prepare for their PCT trips is to remind them to always pack their rain gear (including tent flys)—no matter what the weather forecast says! After all, cold, soggy tents, sleeping bags and especially bodies are a quick buzzkill on any hike—and you just don’t want to mess with hypothermia. In preparation for some wet trail outings this season, I’ve spent the last few rainy months checking out a few of the latest rain gear options, as well as mentioning a couple of my favorites. Check ’em out!


Built for thru-hikers, the ThunderShadow jacket keeps you dry and comfortable when it matters most.

Mountain Hardwear ThunderShadow

Weighing in just under 12 ounces, this weather shield was a top pick of mine from last summer’s Outdoor Retailer event, and I was stoked to finally get my hands on one. When subjected to the elements the ThunderShadow easily shed off rain and light snow. But where this jacket really demonstrated its standout performance was in its breathability and moisture-wicking properties, due to its VaporDry construction. Through a variety of hiking conditions, under-layering configurations and pack arrangements, the ThunderShadow was excellent at regulating my temperature and keeping me dry. The fit is comfortable, if a bit on the trim side. It was fine to layer a shirt and light fleece underneath, but wearing a puffy underneath felt a bit cramped. I reco sizing up if you plan on using bulky under-layers. Another perk comes in the form of multiple pockets—both hand pockets and pack-friendly chest pockets—and it easily stuffs into one of those pockets for quick stashing away. It also has pit zips and an adjustable, helmet-compatible hood. Men’s only. $175


Stay dry on trail and contribute to energy efficiency and a clean planet in the OutDry Extreme ECO jacket.

Columbia OutDry Extreme ECO

At first glance at the 13-ounce OutDry Extreme ECO, my first thought was, “Wow! This jacket is so white! But so green!” Earth lovers and tree huggers will adore this jacket—and I’m both, so I can say this jacket is unequivocally awesome. First the construction: this jacket is made from 100% recycled materials, from the main jacket body to the labels and zipper-pulls. To reduce energy resources and save water, no dyes are used to color the jacket, hence the raw, white finish. That all sounds great, you say, but how does it perform? Quite admirably, actually. The exterior fabric sheds rain like a pro, and large, mesh pockets assist in keeping the jacket ventilated and breathable. The interior of the fabric has a unique, almost silky texture that keeps it from getting clammy and sticky inside. I found the fit to be comfortable and generous enough for a variety of base- and midlayer configurations, without feeling too bunchy, so no need to size up. It also has an adjustable hood. Men’s and women’s. $199


The Gore-Tex Hurakan Paclite jacket will keep you dry and comfy both on the trail and around town.

Under Armor Hurakan Paclite

You usually associate Under Armor with workout and team sports wear. Now they’re starting to work into the outdoor adventure market as well. I recently got a chance to head out in their Hurakan Paclite jacket. It’s a pretty standard Gore-Tex rain shell, and performed really well in both the pouring rain and in light snow. Chest vents and large, mesh hand pockets help improve ventilation to keep from overheating. The cut is pretty generous, allowing plenty of room to layer up underneath—including puffy jackets—without needing to size up. It also has a brimmed hood. When it comes to weight and packability, it’s decent but not the smallest. To stash it, I found it best to fold the jacket a couple times lengthwise then roll it nice and tight and stuff it down the inside of my pack. The Hurakan would not be my first choice for a long-distance trek, but I rather enjoyed it on dayhikes and snowshoes. Men’s only. $199


The Helium II jacket is light on pack weight and heavy on wet weather performance.

Outdoor Research Helium II

For a couple years, my own go-to rain shell on the PCT has been OR’s Helium II jacket. This jacket is amazing—uber-light, uber-compact and repels rain like nobody’s business. Last summer, I slogged 8 miles out of the Sierras under a thundering downpour and my Helium II jacket (and pants) kept me comfy and dry the whole time. The great performance this jacket offers comes from its 2.5-layer, seam-sealed Pertex Shield nylon fabric. It feels pretty delicate to the touch, but is actually very durable, and despite the lack of vents or pit zips, is actually very breathable. Fit is pretty standard, allowing you to layer up moderately (even lightweight puffies) without having to size up. The jacket offers some decent features, including an adjustable hood, hand pockets and a small chest pocket. When not in use, the jacket can actually stuff into that small chest pocket, then get stashed away anywhere. Oh, and it’s really lightweight, at just 6.4 ounces, hence its snappy name! Men’s and women’s. $159


The Elite Cagoule combines the best of a jacket and poncho for dry trail travel.

Sierra Designs Cagoule

The Elite Cagoule was one of my top picks for last winter’s holiday gift guide. This out-of-the-ordinary rain jacket/poncho is really pretty sweet—and really effective at keeping you dry on trail. Even if you forego rain pants, the Elite Cagoule keeps your midsection dry for its extra-long coverage. The best feature about this shell is the long, velcro-tabbed slits up the sides that allow you to buckle your pack’s hip belt under the jacket, thus keeping it from getting all bunchy and improving breathability and ventilation. I also like the big, pack-friendly, pass-through chest pocket—great for keeping hands covered and warm, and stashing a few essentials. Sizing is pretty standard, with decent room for layering up underneath. You might expect a larger shell like this to be heavier than its worth carrying, but it actually weighs in at just 6.5 ounces and compresses nicely for stowing. Presently, it looks like this item may be getting phased out, as it’s on clearance at most retailers—making it a great time to grab a Cagoule at a nice price! Men’s only. $114


These reviews are based on the experiences of the author’s testing in a variety of rain and snow conditions. Individual results may vary. As one of the Ten Essentials, all hikers should pack along rain gear. This post contains affiliate links. For more information on PCT: Oregon gear reviews, click here. Main photo: Guidebook author Eli Boschetto in the Mountain Hardwear ThunderShadow jacket.

 

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