Rain Gear Buyers Guide

When those dark clouds roll in and the heavy stuff comes down, there's nothing that says you can't still go out and play. Just throw on that waterproof rain jacket, poncho or rain suit you got at Sports Unlimited, flip up the hood and head outside without a care. Our full line of rain jackets and raincoats are seam-sealed and completely waterproof, so you'll always stay dry even when Mother Nature has other plans in mind.

I need a new rain jacket but with so much selection, where do I even begin?

Although we'll admit we brag about our huge selection of rain gear, it's true that with so many options comes some confusion. That's why we're here to help out. First things first; let's narrow down your decision and help rule out what you don't need, by answering a few questions:

In what type of climate will you be wearing this jacket?
I mean, yes, we know...you use rain jackets in "rainy weather." But will it be cold rain or warm rain? Driving storms or light summer showers? City rain or saturated foliage? Knowing where you'll be wearing your rain jacket will help you determine what type of rain jacket you need.

What types of activities will you perform in this jacket?
If you plan on hiking, climbing, biking, or running in your new rain jacket, you're probably going to need something that's lightweight and breathable, with plenty of features to keep you moving. But if you're looking for something to keep you dry and stylish while you run errands or take the dog for a walk through the park, you're going to need something completely different. Know how you're going to use it, and you'll have a better idea of which rain jacket to look for.

How long will you need to wear your rain jacket at a time?
Some rain jackets hold up to continuous rain better than others. If you plan on being out in wet, rainy conditions for hours at a time, you're going to need an incredibly durable, seam-sealed rain jacket. On the other hand, if you plan on using it for quick trips or runs to the car, that type of durability probably isn't as important to you.

What features are most important to you in a rain jacket?
Modern rain jackets come with all sorts of advanced options and materials. From breathable moisture wicking fabrics to heavy duty storm hoods, the options are almost endless. When you know how you'll be using your jacket, in what climate, and for how long, the final decision is which options and features meet your needs.

Which rain jacket is right for my regular activities?

Rain jackets come in all shapes, styles, and materials. Some are incredibly lightweight and packable, great for travel and hiking. Others are breathable and wick moisture, to keep you dry when you're getting really active. When you have an idea of how you'll be using this jacket, you should have a better idea of exactly what you're looking for.

Which rain jackets are suited for which climates and environments?

Your environment is a huge indicator of what type of rain jacket you'll need. If, for instance, you live in an area that experiences a lot of wet, cold weather, we'd suggest going with a GORE-TEX rain jacket, or a jacket with a GORE-TEX membrane layer, since these jackets are 100% waterproof, warm, and incredibly breathable. If your area sees infrequent or random rain fall, your regular jacket can double as a rain jacket. Look for water-resistant materials and jackets with stow-able hoods, so you'll be prepared in case it starts to rain any day.

How do I know which rain jacket features are right for me?

Many brands offer impressive features in their rain jackets. Some are incredibly technical, and are meant for hiking, mountain climbing, and other intensive outdoor sports that put you in heavy rain and heavy activity. Others are perfect for keeping you comfortable when that sudden downpour puts a damper on your day out in town. Check out our comprehensive glossary to find the features that will best fit your outdoor lifestyle.

Adjustable Cuffs - Adjustable wrist cuffs let you pull your rain jacket over or under gloves, for added warmth and protection. They're also great at sealing up your coat from cold air drafts.

Adjustable Hood - Typically built with pull cords at the bottom of the hood, near the collar and in the back of the head, adjustable hoods deliver a custom, secure fit so your head stays dry during rigorous activity or high winds.

Breathable - Breathable rain jackets pull sweat vapor away from your skin and through the fabric where it can quickly evaporate, keeping you dry, cool, and comfortable underneath your jacket.Jackets that are "waterproof/breathable" are manufactured with pores in the material, small enough to keep moisture, like rain and snow, from penetrating the fabric, but big enough to allow sweat vapor out, where it can evaporate. GORE-TEX is the most commonly known waterproof/breathable fabric, and is made of a complex membrane material.

CFM - A measurement of windproofness, cubic feet per minute measures the air permeability of a fabric. The higher the number, the less windproof the garment is. A garment of 1 CFM or less is considered completely windproof.

Drawcord Hem - Also known as a hem cinch cord or an adjustable hem. Can be pulled tight to keep cold air drafts away from the body, or loosened for added ventilation.

Napoleon Chest Pocket - A vertical zippered pocket on the left chest of a jacket, typically including a storm-flap or water-resistant zipper, to keep rain out. Named for the French military leader who was often pictured with his hand in the left part of his jacket, these pockets are great places to hold onto small essentials, like cash, credit cards, cell phones, or music players, so your hand-warmer pockets are free to do what they do best...keep your hands warm!

Pit-Zip Vents - Zippers located on the underarm of a jacket, usually a hard shell garment. When un-zipped, these vents allow for added breathability to the body's core and underarm area during high levels of activity in cold weather. Pit-zips are a good feature to have for outdoor enthusiasts who hike, climb, mountaineer, and perform other aerobic activities in wet or cold climates.

Packable - Also referred to as compressible or stow-able, packable garments can be packed into themselves, or into a small area such as a backpack, for convenient, lightweight hauling. Packability is important in hiking, mountaineering, travel, and other activities where space is limited and low weight is important.

Removable Hood - A removable hood gives you the option of protecting your head when it's raining, and removing the hood for a streamlined look when its a bit nicer out. This feature gives jackets a lot of versatility, making it perfect for commuters and other more "on-demand" rain-jacket needs.

Seam Sealed - Garments that are seam sealed are waterproofed at the seams. Garments that use waterproof fabrics, but are not seam sealed, are not 100% waterproof, and are only suited for light rain and snow.

Storm-Flaps - Fabric covering a zippered or snap closure on a jacket. Storm flaps are also found on the inner side of a closure, and are meant to keep wind and water away from the body, and out of pockets.

Stowable Hood - These types of hoods let you pack the hood away into the collar of the rain jacket when you don't need it. When it starts to rain, it's as easy as pulling the hood back out and cinching it up. Preferable to removable hoods, for more seasoned outdoors people, since they are not easily lost when moving.

Visor - A support band attached to the top of a hood delivers a hard surface edge to the hood that diverts rain away from your face.

Zip-In Compatible - An insulation piece that is zip-in compatible can be zipped into a corresponding outer shell for added warmth and protection. An outer shell that is zip-in compatible can be incorporated into a matching zip-in compatible insulation jacket. Most outerwear brands offer zip-in compatibility, but those garments can only be used with other garments from that brand, and in the same size. For example, a The North Face Women's Denali Jacket, in a size small, can only be zipped into a The North Face zip-in compatible Women's outer shell, also in a size small.

What types of fabrics should I look for in a new rain jacket?

Rain jackets are made out of all sorts of fabrics, and feature the latest and greatest proprietary technologies, to deliver a comfortable feel, dry experience, and enhanced durability for your time in the outdoors. Check out our glossary of the various rain jacket fabrics out there:

Columbia Omni-Tech - Columbia's multi-layer waterproof/breathable protection system keeps precipitation from getting inside the jacket, while allowing moisture vapors from inside the jacket to escape.

Columbia Omni-Shield - Columbia's fabric technology that repels water and stains. Omni-shield fabric also dries quickly, and is ideal for light rain conditions and outdoor activities where stains are unavoidable.

Durable Water Repellent (DWR) - Durable water resistant treatments and coatings helps to bead water from fabrics, and make them more resilient. Commonly used on the outer layer of a jacket, gloves, bags, or headwear.

GORE-TEX - Products with a GORE-TEX membrane, placed between a water repellant outer fabric and insulation, are completely waterproof and windproof. These products are also incredibly breathable and durable. GORE-TEX products are ideal for an active lifestyle in cold weather, since they will keep you dry in any weather condition you might face, while also allowing perspiration to escape.

GORE-TEX PacLite Shell - A GORE-TEX fabric that enhances the breathability and waterproofness of GORE-TEX with extreme lightweight and packability. Perfect for running, biking, hiking, climbing, and other outdoor activities where weight and space are limited and crucial.

HyVent 2-Layer Fabric - Used in The North Face's Exploration and Flight Series products, this fabric is similar to the HyVent 3-layer technology, except its 3rd layer is a thinner, micro-grid print that creates a moisture-wicking barrier between the garment and skin. This layer also makes the fabric more lightweight and packable than other HyVent technology.

HyVent Alpha - A waterproof/breathable, micro-porous lamination membrane that contains about half a million pores per square inch. This allows sweat vapor to pass through the jacket, without letting rain or snow inside, keeping the user dry, warm, and comfortable in inclement weather conditions.

MVTR Scale - The Moisture Vapor Transfer Rate (MVTR) is a measure of the amount of water, in a gas form, that passes through a fabric over a certain amount of time. The higher the rating, the more breathable the garment. The rate is expressed in terms of grams per square meter during a specific amount of time.

Nylon Ripstop / Polyester Ripstop - A woven nylon fabric made with a gridded reinforced technique that makes it resistant to tearing. Easily identifiable by its gridded texture, this type of fabric is ideal if you'll be wearing your rain jacket frequently in harsh environments or rigorous activities.

PSI - Pounds per square inch

Waterproof/Breathable Fabric - Fabric that will not allow water to penetrate the outer layer, but does allow water vapor to escape its inner layer, out to the surface of the fabric. This allows sweat and heat to move out of the jacket, without letting precipitation in, so you stay dry and cozy. GORE-TEX was the first, and now probably the most well-known waterproof/breathable fabric brand out there. Some brands have developed their own versions of waterproof/breathable fabric to compete with the GORE-TEX and price tag. For instance, The North Face makes use of its HyVent technology, Patagonia has the H2No barrier, Frogg Toggs utilizes its DriPore technology, and Mammut has its DRYtech technology. Waterproof/breathable jackets typically use 2, 2.5, or 3-layer construction. These layers include an Outer Layer with Waterproof coating, a 2nd layer of Breathable Membrane (and in some cases, added insulation), and a 3rd layer Inner Lining. 2- and 2.5-layer jackets are durable enough for moderate use, while 3-layer jackets are incredible durable for heavy use.