Lightweight Waterproof Jackets
What is a Lightweight Waterproof Jacket?
Lightweight waterproof jackets are designed to provide weather protection and breathability in a packable form. The main features of these jackets are that they are waterproof, made from waterproof and breathable fabrics and seams to block rain getting through; lightweight, weighing less than 500g to reduce carrying weight and pack size; packable, can be packed down small to fit in bags and pockets; breathable, allows sweat vapour to escape to prevent overheating; windproof, stops cold winds penetrating and lowering body temperature; durable, able to withstand abrasion and continues working after repeat use; and versatile, suitable for many activities from hiking to cycling. The lightweight and packability make these jackets easy to carry just in case the weather changes. The waterproofing and breathability keep you comfortable whatever the conditions.
When to Use a Lightweight Waterproof Jacket
Due to their versatility and packability, lightweight waterproof jackets are useful across many outdoor activities and scenarios. They can be packed as an emergency shell layer for rainy days hiking and backpacking, and are also useful when stopping for breaks. The compact jacket can be stuffed into pockets or packs for wet weather protection when trail running. Cyclists can easily stash them in a jersey pocket to provide wind-blocking and rain protection. Climbers wear them during ascents for wind resistance and rain protection at belay points. They work as a thin shell layer for changeable winter weather over thermals and fleeces when skiing and snowboarding. They are handy jackets for rainy climates that can be stored in luggage when travelling and are also useful as a windbreaker. They provide packable protection from rain and wind chill when walking or cycling to work commuting. They are a lightweight alternative to bulkier raincoats for wet weather protection for general use. Having a lightweight waterproof jacket enables you to carry on your activity whatever the weather rather than being forced to head indoors. They provide an excellent just-in-case layer of protection from the elements.
Weight is a defining characteristic of lightweight waterproof jackets. Keeping overall mass down is critical for minimising the burden when carrying these jackets on hikes, climbs, or other outdoor pursuits. The lighter the jacket, the smaller it can pack down for easier portability.
Under 250g - Jackets under 250 grams are considered ultra-light. They use thin yet rugged shell fabrics like Pertex Shield to minimise heft. At under 8 ounces, these jackets pack down incredibly small into pockets or hip belts. Their low weight makes them ideal for mountain activities where every gram matters. They are the ultimate choice for fast and light alpine pursuits like peak bagging.
250g to 400g - Mid-weight jackets in the range of 250 to 400 grams offer a highly versatile balance. Lighter than most rain jackets, they are substantial enough to provide reliable weather protection. Athletic fits work well for active pursuits like hiking, climbing, and backpacking without excess bulk. They offer plenty of breathability too. These are great open trail shells that won't weigh you down.
Over 400g - Heavier jackets over 400 grams use more durable face fabrics that improve weather resistance and ruggedness. These include burly options like Gore-Tex Pro designed for extreme mountain use. The added weight provides boosts in tear strength, abrasion resistance and longevity. Breathability sees an uptick with improved venting. The overall durability makes them suitable when off-trail scrambling or bushwhacking.
Evaluate the intended use and conditions when choosing a weight range. Ultra-light jackets excel on alpine missions while heavy-duty jackets take on tougher terrain. The mid-weight designs strike an optimal balance of weight and protection for most general hiking and backpacking. Consider weight but don't sacrifice too much reliability just to trim every last gram.
Leading Waterproof Technologies
The fundamental purpose of a waterproof jacket is to keep rain out. There are several leading waterproof fabric technologies used in lightweight jackets, each with differing properties.
GORE-TEX is one of the most well-known and trusted waterproof, breathable fabric technologies used in lightweight outdoor apparel and equipment. This proprietary membrane technology was developed by W.L. Gore & Associates in 1969 and remains a top choice for waterproof-breathable performance. GORE-TEX is made using an extremely thin, porous fluoropolymer membrane with around 1.4 billion microscopic pores per square inch. These pores are smaller than droplets of liquid water but around 700 times larger than water vapour molecules. This construction allows perspiration vapour to escape while preventing rain and wind from entering. For lightweight jackets, there are a few different GORE-TEX material options to suit different needs. GORE-TEX Paclite is an ultralight, packable fabric that folds up tight for easy storage in packs or pockets. GORE-TEX Active is optimised for breathability during aerobic pursuits with a softer, quieter face fabric. GORE-TEX Pro provides rugged durability for outdoor activities while maintaining waterproof-breathable capabilities. GORE-TEX offers reliable water and windproofing across its membranes. It retains breathability over time and use compared to some other membrane types. All GORE-TEX products are guaranteed to remain waterproof, unlike many jackets that use layered fabric constructions and DWR coatings. The technology is also windproof, keeping cold gusts from penetrating the jacket. While not the most affordable option, GORE-TEX jackets provide exceptional wet-weather performance, breathability, and packability. The microporous membrane maintains protection in the harshest conditions while allowing vapour moisture to escape. For lightweight versatility across many outdoor activities, GORE-TEX remains a top choice. The best-known waterproof-breathable membrane using an ePTFE layer. Features include:
eVent is a direct competitor to GORE-TEX in the waterproof-breathable fabric market. This membrane technology was introduced in 1999 and is now used by a number of top outdoor apparel brands. eVent aims to optimise air permeability and breathability. The eVent membrane is made from a thin, ePTFE (expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene) material. It features around 100 million pores per square inch, larger than GORE-TEX, to enhance airflow and ventilation. These pores prevent external water drops from entering while allowing internal water vapour to escape. eVent also utilises a patented Direct Venting technology process during membrane construction. This enhances moisture vapour transfer by 25-50% compared to GORE-TEX. Air-permeable eVent fabrics provide excellent ventilation for high-exertion aerobic pursuits. Lightweight eVent jackets promote what the brand calls “Active Comfort”. The emphasis is on optimising air flow to keep you drier during activities where sweat output is high. These jackets are designed to be worn against the skin rather than over layers. While not as established as GORE-TEX, eVent jackets offer impressive breathability and next-to-skin comfort. They ventilate well and minimise the clammy feeling associated with many waterproof jackets. eVent does trade off some ruggedness and long-term durability for heightened performance. eVent excels in aerobic applications like running, cycling, and climbing where moisture has to escape quickly. For lightweight versatility across casual and athletic use, eVent membrane jackets provide waterproof storm protection with excellent active breathability. This makes them a strong choice for high-energy endeavours.
Pertex Shield offers a lightweight waterproof fabric technology alternative to GORE-TEX and eVent membranes. Developed by Pertex, Shield technology coats nylon or polyester fabric with a thin polymer layer to repel moisture. Unlike membrane constructions, Pertex Shield fabrics feature smaller pore spaces. This provides decent water resistance but lower breathability compared to GORE-TEX and eVent. However, the technology excels in packability and lightweight. Pertex applies a thin, 7-micron polyurethane coating to create a protective barrier. The coated fabric retains air permeability for ventilation while shielding the wearer from precipitation. A durable water-repellent (DWR) finish is also added to the face fabric. This enhances moisture beading and dry time after wetting out. The DWR does require occasional reapplication to maintain optimal performance. Pertex Shield + improves durability and abrasion resistance. For lightweight designs, Pertex Shield jackets offer a favourable balance of waterproofness, breathability, weight, and pack size. The coating allows just enough airflow while shielding from wind and rain. These jackets work well as emergency shells over single layers. Pertex Shield suits fast and light pursuits where packing space is limited. The technology falls short of GORE-TEX and eVent for extreme wet weather protection and breathability. But for occasional use in moderate conditions, Shield delivers good waterproof qualities in a highly compressible form. The polymer coating technology also costs less than membrane fabrics. For lightweight versatility at a lower price point, Pertex Shield strikes a useful balance between protection, breathability, and packability.
breathable. Rather than using expensive membrane or laminate technologies, hydrophilic coatings are applied directly to the jacket face fabric. These coatings are made from polyurethane or other polymers that have an affinity for water. However, they are microporous and allow some water vapour transmission through the fabric. This provides basic breathability and ventilation. Hydrophilic coatings work by causing water to spread out rather than bead up on the surface. This augments moisture penetration resistance compared to uncoated fabrics. They also utilise a DWR (durable water repellent) finish to make the surface water resistant for shorter time periods before wetting out. While not fully waterproof, hydrophilic coatings provide a useful degree of weather protection, especially when new. They repel light precipitation and dampness rather than torrential rain. Breathability is also decent but less than with Gore-Tex or eVent. For lightweight jackets, hydrophilic coatings offer an affordable way to add water-resistant qualities. They work well for activities where total waterproofing isn’t essential. And they pack down small for easy portability. The tradeoff is that hydrophilic-coated jackets tend to wet out faster and need to be re-treated more often than membrane technologies. But for occasional recreational use rather than extreme conditions, they provide useful water protection without the high costs. Overall, hydrophilic coatings create a good balance of affordability, breathability, and water resistance. For casual lightweight jackets, they offer budget-friendly weather protection that’s decent enough for less demanding activities.
Choosing the Right Jacket
With many types and technologies of lightweight waterproof jackets available, focus on your planned use and conditions to choose the right option:
Hiking & Trekking
Look for jackets with:
Durable waterproof & windproof fabrics like Gore-Tex
Helmet compatible hoods
Abrasion resistance in high-wear areas
Packability to fit in hiking packs
Pit zips for venting sweat build-up
Trail & Fell Running
Seeking jackets offering:
Lightweight under 250g ideal for running
Stretch fabrics for unrestricted movement
Breathability from air-permeable fabrics
Adjustable hoods that don't bounce while running
Packability to stash when warm
Mountaineering & Alpinism
Require technical jackets with:
Tough waterproof and windproof fabrics
Helmet and backpack compatibility
Articulated arms for reaching and climbing
Internal snow skirts or wrist gaiters
Pockets accessible while wearing harness/pack
Look for cycling-specific features like:
Close body fit to work under a jersey
Longer tails and sleeves for drop riding position
Large venting pit zips
Elastic or Velcro hems and cuffs
Visibility details for commuting
Top Lightweight Waterproof Jacket Recommendations
Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket
The Patagonia Torrentshell jacket is a trusted lightweight waterproof shell for hiking, travel, and daily use. It uses the brand’s own 2-layer H2No Performance Standard fabric with a durable water-repellent finish and waterproof/breathable barrier. The Torrentshell is made from 50D 100% recycled ripstop nylon for durability and packs down into its own zippered left pocket. Notable features include an adjustable hood that rolls down and is helmet-compatible. The microfleece-lined neck protects from chafing, while the zippered handwarmer pockets provide ample storage. Underarm pit zips allow for venting during aerobic pursuits. It includes a drawcord hem for adjusting fit. Weighing just 343g, the Torrentshell offers versatile 3-season protection and stuff down for compact storage in packs.
Montane Pac Plus Jacket
The Montane Pac Plus jacket uses a 2.5-layer Pertex Shield + fabric for its lightweight waterproof shell construction. This balances packability and weight with decent rain protection and breathability. Features include a mountain helmet-compatible hood with an adjustment system that is easy to operate with gloves. The athletic mountain fit allows ease of movement while the EXHAUST centralised venting helps release built-up moisture. Elasticated cuffs feature adjustable Velcro tabs and the hem can be tightened with a single pull adjuster. Weighing 285g, the Pac Plus stuffs into its own zippered stash pocket for compact portability. It excels as a minimalist emergency shell for fast hiking, climbing, and other highly aerobic mountain pursuits where keeping weight down is critical.
Mammut Foraker Light HS Jacket
As the name implies, the Foraker Light HS jacket from Mammut keeps weight to a minimum without sacrificing weather protection. Using a light 30D Gore-Tex membrane, it weighs just 198g while providing reliable waterproof-breathable performance. The clean design omits unnecessary features to reduce packed size and weight. The adjustable hood fits over climbing helmets while the Velcro adjustable cuffs seal out moisture. Minimal seam construction enhances weather protection. The close-fitting athletic cut allows freedom of movement and pit zips vent excess heat buildup. Elastic drawcords at the hem and hood ensure a secure fit. Unencumbered by excess features, the Foraker Light HS provides a barely-there but fully protective shell layer for alpine environments and fast-paced activities where every gram matters.
A lightweight waterproof jacket is one of the most useful pieces of outdoor clothing you can own. Choosing the right one means assessing your needs for features, fabrics and performance. Focus on the optimal balance of waterproofness, breathability and packability based on how and where you'll use it most. With the range of leading technologies and specific designs available today, you can find a jacket that perfectly suits your adventures. A packable yet protective shell layer enables you to head out whatever the forecast, keeping you comfortable mile after mile in wind, rain and trails.
Adventure doesn’t wait for the weather, and the rain shouldn’t stop you from getting outside to do what you love. Embracing the rain and heading out on a walk brings a number of unique joys – but the right kit is absolutely essential. Dressing for the weather and having the right things with you will make sure your walk is enjoyable and safe, too, so here’s our kit list for a rainy-day walk (a waterproof jacket goes without saying!):
A waterproof jacket is an outdoor staple all year round, and it’s essential that your jacket stays effective at keeping water out. If you notice that your waterproof isn’t performing as well as it used to, it may be time to reproof, repair or replace it to keep you protected for many adventures to come.