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What is a Rain Jacket?

Blue rain jacket isolated on white background.

A rain jacket is a piece of clothing that provides a layer of protection against wet weather like rain, sleet, or even light snow. These jackets are specially made with a waterproof material that will keep you dry whenever you’re outside. Whether you’re walking in the rain, hiking, or need something to protect you while you’re caught in a rainstorm in the city, rain jackets do a great job of keeping your clothes dry.

Rain Jacket Categories

Brunette wearing rain jacket and sunglasses smiling.

You will notice that rain jackets come in a range of options, depending on how much protection you need. Most are labeled as waterproof, which means that they keep the rain from soaking through the material and onto your clothes and skin. Look for a rain jacket that’s also breathable so it doesn’t trap body heat, which can cause you to sweat.

A water-resistant rain jacket is also breathable but works best in lighter rain conditions. Think of a windbreaker as an example of a water-resistant type of rain jacket. These lightweight jackets work well in mild rainstorms, but they won’t keep you dry during major downpours.

A waterproof rain jacket is more heavy-duty and is usually not breathable. These jackets, typically in the form of a poncho or rain slicker, are geared toward people who work outside or on boats, but they also trap body heat and can make your body temperature rise while wearing them.

Rain Jacket Features to Consider

Not all rain jackets are the same, and many offer a myriad of features to keep you comfortable and dry. Here are some things to look for when you’re shopping for a rain jacket:

  • Seam-taped: These rain jackets are fully taped at the seams to prevent water from seeping in. The seam tape is usually added to the hood and shoulder area to prevent water from getting into vulnerable areas where the fabric seams meet.
  • Zippers: Almost all rain jackets have zippers unless they’re in a pullover style. Look for a jacket with a flap that covers the zipper for more protection.
  • Hood: Unless you want to carry an umbrella, make sure your rain jacket has a hood to keep your head dry. A jacket with a drawstring hood lets you adjust how tight the hood fits around your head and neck area just in case you’re stuck in heavy rain and need some more coverage. Some jackets also have removable hoods or an area inside the neckline where you can tuck the hood in to hide it until you need it.
  • Venting: Mesh vents under the arms and in the pockets will add breathability to your rain jacket. Choose a vented jacket if you’re planning to wear it during more rigorous outdoor activities.
  • Adjustability: A rain jacket with a drawstring at the waist helps you secure a tighter fit. Some may also include closures at the wrist area that you can adjust to keep rain and cold air out.
  • Pockets: Not only do pockets keep your hands warm, but they also give you a place to stash your keys, wallet, and other small items. Make sure your rain jacket has pockets with a zipper, so nothing falls out.
  • Lightweight, packable jackets: A packable jacket can be folded up for easy transport when you’re traveling or commuting. Some even fold into a built-in storage pouch so you can bring your rain jacket with you on vacation or in your backpack if you’re heading out for a day of hiking.
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Raincoat vs. Rain Jacket

Cheerful couple in a raincoat doing piggyback.

You might think that the terms raincoat and rain jacket are interchangeable, but these garments are actually slightly different. A raincoat tends to have a longer fit that reaches the knees, while a rain jacket usually hits just at or below the hip or waist area. Raincoats also tend to be made of a heavier, thicker material.

They’re designed for keeping you warmer in colder weather, while rain jackets are usually worn during milder weather and slightly warmer temperatures. Both raincoats and rain jackets are water-resistant, and the difference is mostly in the length and sometimes, the type of material that’s used to make them. Most rain jackets are breathable, while many raincoats are not due to their heavier makeup.

The best way to determine which option works for you is to try several styles on in-person.

What Type of Rain Jacket is Best?

Young beautiful woman wearing rain jacket in cold weather.

While all rain jackets are designed to keep you dry, some are better than others if you need to wear one for a specific application. Runners and hikers should choose lightweight, breathable rain jackets with venting to help regulate body temperature. If you’re a casual commuter who might get stuck in the rain on occasion, a packable rain jacket is a great choice.

Just fold the jacket up and place it in your glove box, purse, or briefcase so you have access to it whenever you need it. If you live in a cold climate, choose a rain jacket made of multiple layers for added thermal insulation. Jackets with laminated layers will repel water to keep you as dry as possible.

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These rain jackets are treated with a special solution that helps the water bead off the outer layer, keeping you warm and dry in any environment. They’re often referred to as technical or two and three-layer rain jackets.

How to Care for Your Rain Jacket?

It’s important to take proper care of your rain jacket to extend its lifespan. Always store your jacket by hanging it in a closet and keeping it out of direct sunlight. Avoid cramming or stuffing the jacket into a drawer or in its travel pouch unless you’re taking it with you somewhere.

Follow the instructions on the care label or tag carefully as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some rain jackets require a special detergent that won’t leave residue behind or cause damage to the protective coating (if applicable). Don’t use fabric softener or bleach when washing your rain jacket.

You should also avoid dry cleaning it unless it’s specifically recommended to do so. Let the jacket air dry or line dry and don’t put it in the dryer, as it may damage the jacket or cause it to shrink. Whether you’re a serious outdoor enthusiast or just hate getting wet, look for a rain jacket that will work for your lifestyle and activity level, so you can stay dry in any type of weather.

Special features like a hood, zippered pockets, and venting will ensure that your rain jacket gives you the level of functionality you need. Use the information in this guide to help you find the right rain jacket for you, so you can stay dry and stylish no matter what the weather brings.

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