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The Best Lightweight Rain Jackets for Travel

By Kelly Bastone

Feb 20, 2019

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Photos courtesy Royal Robbins, Columbia, and Marmot; design by Emily Blevins

Good-bye plastic giftshop rain poncho. You’ll be proud to don these packable, stylish garments for both men and women when the rain clouds roll in.

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Sure, a rain jacket should keep you dry—but its packability is equally important when you’re traveling. After all, even the soggiest destinations enjoy clear skies sometimes, and that’s when you’ll appreciate an outer layer that’s lightweight and compact enough to be stowed conveniently in a waterproof backpack. These five winning rain jackets do that and more: They fend off drizzles and downpours while looking good, too.

Marmot Bantamweight Jacket

  • Buy now: Women’s, $275, marmot.com; Men’s, $275, uniqlo.com
  • Sizing: XS-XL (women’s); S-XXL (men’s)
  • Best for: Ultra-light packers

When weight-saving is your greatest priority, consider this tissue-thin jacket. At five ounces, the Bantamweight is as light and silky as some windbreakers, yet it delivers a lot more weather protection: It’s fully waterproof, thanks to rain-thwarting Pertex Shield fabric that’s treated with a durable water-repellent finish to make moisture bead off the surface.

It also leaves you feeling less clammy than many windbreakers do because the Bantamweight’s underarm fabric is peppered with laser-drilled perforations that vent heat and perspiration. We’ve worn it on drizzly hikes to jungle waterfalls and barely steamed up inside.

It’s fairly fitted to begin with, but for additional shaping (and to prevent the hem from blowing up in gusty winds) a thin cinch cord is built into the waistline. Two zippered hand pockets hold keys and a wallet. When packed, this jacket is as small as a softball, so it disappears into a purse or backpack. And because it barely registers on a luggage scale, it’s perfect for weight-restricted travel on small aircraft and other vehicles with limited cargo allowances.

Columbia OutDry Ex Reign Jacket

  • Buy now: Women’s, $150, columbia.com; Men’s, $150, columbia.com
  • Sizing: XS-XXL (women’s); S-XXL (men’s)
  • Best for: Adventure travelers

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Ideal for hiking and backpacking in wet weather, the OutDry Ex Reign Jacket is light, packable, and utterly rainproof. Unlike most Gore-Tex jackets, which sandwich a waterproof/breathable membrane between layers of fabric, this jacket’s water-thwarting OutDry film covers the exterior and makes it feel (and behave) like a rain slicker. Water simply sheets off the material, and that moisture-shedding property is particularly handy when it’s time to pack it away—one brisk shake removes virtually all the droplets.

That breathable membrane let us log long uphills without overheating, and the fabric’s four-way stretch allows for full freedom of movement. The jacket’s interior is lined with a soft, slightly fuzzy microfiber that wicks away sweat and feels soft against the skin, but it’s also tough enough to face the elements. We appreciated the more muted appearance when transitioning from New Zealand’s trails to Christchurch’s sidewalks.

Burton Narraway Rain Jacket

  • Buy now: Women’s, $120, burton.com
  • Sizing: XS-XL (women’s)
  • Best for: Playful festivarians

Some rain jackets feel stiff and plasticky, but not the women’s Narraway. Its polyester shell and lining feel supple and stay quiet—rather than emitting the crinkly sounds of a potato-chip bag. We also love the whimsical colors and prints, which bring a merry vibe to outdoor concerts and farmers’ markets.

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Its casual styling hides some serious technology: The lining fabric features tiny pores that open or close depending on the wearer’s temperature. That kept the Narraway from feeling stifling during brief periods of sun during a day out in Seattle’s Discovery Park. But once the clouds and wind returned, the jacket was cozy enough that an additional sweater was unnecessary. The two fleece-lined hand pockets even warm numb fingers.

Like most rain jackets, the shell is coated with a durable water-repellent finish, but the Narraway’s is free of potentially toxic PVCs. And all of the jacket’s materials are bluesign-approved—meaning that from production to disposal, they meet the highest safety standards for people and the environment.

Arc’teryx Sawyer Coat

  • Buy now: Men’s, $449, arcteryx.com
  • Sizing: S-XXL (men’s)
  • Best for: Urban explorers

This company’s mountaineering jackets are celebrated for their clean lines and weatherproof construction, and the men’s Sawyer Coat delivers those same qualities in a city-ready look. The high-performance Gore-Tex fabric seals out sustained downpours, yet remains impressively breathable—it proved its mettle on New York’s streets during a subway closure in the middle of a torrential storm.

Because such sidewalk maneuvers don’t require the same high-stepping that skiing or mountaineering do, the Sawyer Coat is cut longer to provide better protection for the upper legs. Meanwhile, smartly tailored shoulder seams and underarm gussets provide full freedom of movement through the arms and chest, so the fabric doesn’t bind when wearers reach for a hand-strap on the subway or hoist luggage into an airplane’s overhead bin. And just like Arc’teryx’s mountaineering jackets, the Sawyer Coat is impressively lightweight (15 ounces) and packable (the size of a grapefruit when compressed)

Joules Golightly Packable Jacket

  • Buy now: Women’s, $70, joulesusa.com
  • Sizing: 2-16 (women’s)
  • Best for: Fashionistas

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Offered a dozen flamboyant prints, this women’s trench adds splash to any outfit and proves that rainwear doesn’t have to look stodgy. The superlight fabric feels gauzy enough for summertime showers and also makes the Golightly ultra-packable, despite the fact that it extends to mid-thigh. (It folds into its own pocket for easy transport.)

The fabric and seams are waterproof but not breathable, so this isn’t the best choice for strenuous pursuits. Climbing hills or hurrying to make your dinner reservation will likely steam up the interior and leave you feeling clammy. But the lack of a high-tech, breathable membrane also makes the Golightly more affordable than performance-oriented jackets. After all, not everyone logs hours of activity in extended rain, and travelers who simply need basic coverage for short jaunts between the Lyft and the pub will find this jacket a pleasing accessory.

This article was originally published in February 2019; it was updated on October 5, 2021, with current information. 

>>Next: The Best Waterproof and Water-Resistant Backpacks for Travel

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