Anyone who loves the outdoors will find a lightweight waterproof jacket very useful. Sometimes you don’t want to be carrying around a heavy and bulky winter waterproof, especially on days where it might not be needed. Carrying it around at the bottom of your backpack, never to be reached for during a dry hike is highly inefficient - it’s just too heavy and doesn’t pack down small enough.
A lightweight waterproof will stash neatly into the smallest of backpack pockets and weigh next to nothing, yet still keep you dry when the showers do come – and we all know the cruel British mountains can serve up apocalyptic downpours at any time of year.
You may have some questions about the strength of lightweight waterproof jackets, especially given that they are, well, lightweight. You may be wondering if a lightweight waterproof really delivers adequate weather protection, or result in compromised performance?
Some cheap lightweight waterproofs are indeed wafer-thin and flimsy, with their waterproofing stats (10,000mm hydrostatic head or lower) leaving much to be desired. They are gossamer-light and highly compact, which is great, but if you are caught in a sudden downpour or storm, they are likely to let you down. However, there are plenty of genuinely fantastic lightweight waterproof jackets available - we know, because we’ve tried them. In this article, we field test our favourite lightweight waterproof jackets.
What to look for in a lightweight waterproof jacket
Breathability The breathability of a waterproof jacket refers to how much water vapour can pass out through the fabric. Breathable jackets don’t necessarily stop you sweating but should move moisture away from the body to keep you mostly dry and comfortable. However, performance depends greatly on other external factors like temperature and humidity.
Fabric Most lightweight waterproofs are made from nylon (polyamide), which is a stronger fibre for its weight than polyester, meaning fabrics can be thinner and lighter.
Fit Lightweight waterproofs tend to be cut shorter and trimmer, which saves weight. We tend to wear fewer layers in summer, so a more tailored fit can work well. But make sure the jacket doesn’t feel tight across your shoulders or chest, and that sleeves cover your wrists fully.
Hood Lightweight jackets tend to have simpler hoods than full-on mountain shells. Some are elastic-bound, while others have a single drawcord to offer some adjustment. Either way, make sure the hood still offers decent protection without obstructing your visibility.
Pockets Lightweight jackets tend to have fewer and smaller pockets, though a zipped chest pocket is still a useful feature. If a jacket has hand pockets, ensure these are not obstructed by a rucksack hipbelt.
Ventilation Some jackets feature pit zips or mesh-lined pockets, which can be opened to increase airflow. Wide cuffs that can be pushed up the forearm can also aid cooling.
Waterproofing The membrane or laminate provides waterproofing. 2 or 2.5-layer jackets use a face fabric bonded to a membrane or laminate, with a thin film coating or sometimes a raised pattern (a ‘half layer’) to protect it. More advanced jackets use a 3-layer construction, which sandwiches the membrane between a durable face fabric and a soft tricot backer.
Weight and packed size Since a waterproof jacket will often sit in your pack for most of the day – especially in summer – look for a light and packable shell, ideally with its own stuffsack or which packs into its own pocket. A lightweight waterproof should weigh less than 350g.
Zips Most brands use laminated and/ or reverse coil zips (with the teeth on the inside) to improve water resistance, as well as internal or external stormflaps. Zips often have a ‘zipper garage’ at the top to guard against leakage. A chinguard at the top of the main zip will protect your face from irritation.
The best lightweight waterproof jackets
Verdict: Much more than an emergency layer, this superb 3-season shell packs small and weighs just 300g.
Features 5/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 5/5 | Performance 5/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 88%
Pros: Top-level performance, very comfortable, durable, good features
Cons: Crinkly fabric, expensive
Far more than a ‘just in case’ jacket, the Beta is a true 3-season mountain shell made from 3-layer Gore-Tex C-Knit fabric with a 30-denier ripstop nylon face. As well as offering top-level waterproof and breathable performance, it makes for excellent durability and comfort (though like all Gore-Tex membranes it is slightly crinkly). All in all, it’s a quality waterproof.
Of course, Arc’teryx gear is expensive and painfully trendy these days too. But there aren’t too many other brands that can turn out fully featured, 3-layer Gore-Tex jackets that tip the scales at just 300g.
The fit is roomier than some, though this does allow more scope for layering. The longer hemline and sleeves also provide ample coverage. Other features include two well-placed, fully lined hand pockets plus a zipped inner security pocket. The laminated main zip runs smoothly and has a small inner stormflap, with a soft chinguard.
All the zips have chunky, easy-to-grab pullers. There are dual hem drawcords, Velcro-adjustable cuffs and an adjustable hood with a stiffened peak. Admittedly, the hood has just the single rear volume adjustment, so it doesn’t pull in very tightly around the face. But we’re nit-picking – bottom line; this is the best lightweight shell on test.
Weight 300g | Men’s sizes XS-3XL | Women’s sizes 2XS-2XL
Verdict: Light, packable and versatile, this is a great value multiactivity shell for walking, running or climbing.
Features 3/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 4/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 5/5
Overall score: 80%
Pros: Light and packable, good hood, great cut
Cons: Limited features, delicate fabric
This jacket uses the same 2.5-layer construction as the Outdoor Research Helium, though here the Pertex Shield membrane is laminated to a noticeably lighter and thinner 15-denier nylon face fabric. It is a ripstop fabric but doesn’t use Pertex’s interlocking Diamond Fuse yarns. As such, it doesn’t feel quite as tough, though the overall weights of both jackets are very similar. On the other hand, the Minimus is more comfortable to wear, thanks to a dry-touch backer that feels far less cold and clammy.
It also manages to pack in a few more hill-friendly features. These include dual hem drawcords, fully adjustable cuffs with Velcro tabs and a roomier zipped outer chest pocket. You also get a laminated, reverse coil main zip with a bottom press stud and a chinguard. It didn’t leak on test.
But this jacket’s best feature is its excellent hood, which has three-way adjustment and a wired peak. It moves easily with the head and offers great protection from wind and rain – an impressive feat for an ultralight shell. The overall cut of the jacket is spot-on too, with a streamlined fit, slight drop tail and good sleeve articulation. It’s also very packable and stuffs neatly into its own chest pocket.
Weight 190g | Men’s sizes S-XXL | Women’s sizes 8-16
Dynafit Alpine GTX
Verdict: A light and packable high-performance Gore-Tex shell with a premium look and feel.
Features 3/5 | Fit 5/5 | Comfort 5/5 | Performance 5/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 84%
Pros: Top-level performance, comfortable, great cut, cracking hood
Cons: Unusual vents, no hem or cuff adjustment, expensive
This jacket combines striking looks with an innovative construction. It employs stretchy PFC-free Gore-Tex Paclite Plus. This approach is designed to balance waterproof-breathable performance and durability while minimising overall weight. So, the Alpine GTX tips the scales at under 250g but delivers top-quality rain protection and breathability.
It’s very comfy, with a neat, streamlined cut that offers good freedom of movement but plenty of coverage in the arms and body. It also features a ZipOver system that expands and covers a running pack, if you're using one.
Other features include unusual underarm vents, which consist of perforated fabric panels protected by stormflaps. The hem and cuffs are elasticated but have no adjustment, so they either fit or they don’t.
Weight 247g | Men’s sizes S-XXL | Women’s sizes XS-XL
Haglofs L.I.M GTX Active
Verdict: A well-built Gore-Tex shell that ticks most of the boxes for a lightweight and packable waterproof.
Features 3/5 | Fit 5/5 | Comfort 5/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 80%
Pros: Top-level performance, comfortable, neat cut
Cons: Unusual hood, no hem or cuff adjustment, expensive
Haglofs’ L.I.M or ‘less is more’ series is highly regarded amongst ultralighters for its ethos of ‘functional minimalism’ – that is, delivering all the essentials but nothing extraneous, all in a weight-conscious package. This jacket is no exception.
For cut and construction, it takes a similar approach to Dynafit’s Alpine GTX, as it also uses a mix of Gore-Tex Active and Gore-Tex Paclite Plus fabrics to deliver a balance of waterproof-breathable performance, durability and comfort. It has a similarly neat cut too, with a slim and streamlined fit.
Even the features are similar: both have relatively simple but effective twin meshlined hand pockets and elasticated cuffs and hems. Unfortunately, the Haglofs hood design isn’t as good as Dynafit’s. It has unusual twin rear drawcords, which do a decent job of reducing hood volume, but the floppy peak offers limited protection from rain. It doesn’t move particularly well with the head either.
And when it comes to weight, the Dynafit also wins, being lighter. The Haglofs jacket has a slightly better centre zip though, with a soft chinguard at the top and two press studs, one at the bottom and one at the chest. This enables you to vent the jacket easily without it flapping open, ideal for quickly dumping excess heat when moving fast.
Weight 317g | Men’s sizes S-XXL | Women’s sizes XS-XXL
Patagonia Storm 10
Verdict: Nicely cut and very comfy, with decent performance and good features. Arguably a little overpriced.
Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 4/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 76%
Pros: Comfortable, neat cut, light and packable
Cons: Expensive, not the toughest fabric
The Storm 10 is built for ‘fast and light’ Alpine-style pursuits but also works well for UK hillwalking. This 3-layer jacket uses Patagonia’s H2No waterproof-breathable PU-based laminate, bonded to a 20-denier 100% recycled ripstop nylon face fabric. The water-repellent finish is not PFC-free though. The fabric has a waterproof rating of 20,000mm hydrostatic head, and performance was solid.
The jacket kept us dry and largely comfy across a range of conditions, though didn’t seem to deal with internal moisture build-up as well as the Gore-Tex Active jackets. But the soft tricot backer ensures great next-to-skin comfort.
The Storm 10 is also nicely cut, with a drop tail and plenty of sleeve articulation. You get a helmet-compatible hood with rear volume adjustment and a stiffened brim. There are two well-placed hand pockets and an outer chest pocket. The jacket packs away into the latter for optimum compressibility.
There are also Velcro adjustable wrist cuffs and a waist hem drawcord. All zips are laminated reverse coil designs, ensuring high water resistance, and the main zip has a small internal stormflap plus a small ‘zip garage’ at the top – though no soft chinguard. The only other downside is that premium price. It’s not the priciest here but does seem a little steep for what you get.
Weight 235g | Men’s sizes XS-XXL | Women’s sizes XS-XL
Berghaus Hyper 100
Verdict: Great ‘just in case’ jacket for weight and packability, but its features may be better suited to elite fell runners.
Features 2/5 | Fit 5/5 | Comfort 5/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 76%
Pros: Incredibly light and packable, stretchy and comfortable, great cut
Cons: Delicate fabric, minimal features
This featherweight shell from Berghaus is billed as the world’s lightest 3-layer jacket. The fabric is Berghaus’ Hydroshell Elite Pro, which has a nylon face with a PU membrane and a soft tricot backer. This offers pleasant next-to-skin comfort compared to clingy 2- or 2.5-layer alternatives, yet the jacket’s total weight is just 97g (men’s M) – that’s less than two Mars bars.
The ultralight fabric is reliably waterproof and breathes well even when working hard on the hill. It has some stretch too, making it ideal for dynamic activity. The flipside is that it feels thin and delicate. It would be easy to puncture, and we also worried about abrasion from pack straps.
The jacket is trim fitting but superbly cut, offering full freedom of movement and decent all-round coverage, with a drop tail. It crams into a minuscule stuffsack that fits in the palm of your hand.
Otherwise, features are intentionally minimalist. Cuffs, hems and hood are elastic-bound but not adjustable. There is a small inner chest pocket, just big enough for a bank card or car keys. The zip is a weak point though. It’s a reverse coil design backed with an inner stormflap, but the zip isn’t waterproof and can occasionally allow moisture to seep through.
Weight 97g | Men’s sizes XS-XXL | Women’s sizes n/a (Hyper 140 8-16)
Columbia OutDry Extreme Mesh Shell
Verdict: Unusual looks but solid performance, a comfy fabric and some good features. Cut and hood design could be better.
Features 3/5 | Fit 3/5 | Comfort 4/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 4/5
Overall score: 72%
Pros: Excellent performance, comfortable, practical
Cons: Polarising looks, baggy fit, poor hood, heaviest option here
OutDry’s USP is that it is constructed with the waterproof membrane and seam taping on the outside. This is good for breathability since there’s no face fabric to ‘wet out’ and slow the movement of moisture through the membrane. It also eliminates the need for a water-repellent finish, so OutDry jackets don’t require reproofing like other waterproofs. That’s a big plus if you want a no-fuss shell that won’t need a lot of TLC. It does make the membrane more susceptible to wear and tear though, and looks and feels a little plasticky.
Still, this jacket is surprisingly comfortable, since the inner lining is a soft, fast-wicking mesh. On-the-hill performance was excellent. But the frustrations we’ve had with other Columbia jackets still apply: the fit is too baggy, with excess fabric that adds weight, and the hood could be better. To be fair, this one isn’t the worst we’ve tested, but it isn’t great either. It doesn’t adjust particularly well and leaves gaps around the lower face.
Other features are better – there are two roomy, well-placed hand pockets with mesh linings and water-resistant zips. You also get twin hem drawcords and nice long sleeves with chunky Velcro cuff tabs. It’s a shame – if the cut and hood design were improved, this would be a real contender.
Weight 345g| Men’s sizes S-XXL | Women’s sizes XS-XXL
Outdoor Research Helium
Verdict: Simple but effective, this is a great value shell that is both lightweight and packable. The fit and features could be refined though.
Features 3/5 | Fit 3/5 | Comfort 3/5 | Performance 4/5 | Value 5/5
Overall score: 72%
Pros: Lightweight, packable, surprisingly durable for its weight
Cons: Somewhat boxy, slightly clammy feel, limited features
This perennially popular shell from US brand Outdoor Research is much-loved by backpackers and thru-hikers across the pond, and it’s easy to see why: it’s lightweight, packable and reliably waterproof. And this latest version is also tougher than ever.
It’s made from Pertex Shield, a 2.5-layer fabric with a 30-denier ripstop nylon face fabric. This also utilises Pertex’s Diamond Fuse technology for improved resistance to snags and abrasion. The fabric is a little shiny and crinkly, but that seems a small downside. Waterproofing and breathability are both above average on paper (20,000/20,000 hydrostatic head and MVTR), which translates into solid real-world performance. It’s just a shame that the inner of the jacket feels a bit cold and clammy – it’s not the nicest to wear against the skin if you’ve only got a short-sleeved base layer on underneath.
The cut is also a little boxy, especially compared to the trimmer-fitting ultralight rivals tested here from Berghaus, Patagonia and Montane. It’s also a little light on features, though it does have single drawcord adjustment at the hood and hem, plus an outer chest pocket. This doubles as a stuffsack and has a ‘biner’ loop so you can clip it to a pack. Cuffs are elasticated, and the main zip is a laminated waterproof design, with a soft chinguard. But overall, for such a lightweight jacket the Helium feels well-built and durable – and it is good value too.
Weight 179g | Men’s sizes S-3XL | Women’s sizes XS-3XL + plus sizes 1X, 2X, 3X
Waterproof jacket care and maintenance
Care and maintenance are vital to jacket performance and longevity. Some of our favourite gear care products come from Grangers. Its products are both effective and Bluesign approved. Nikwax products are good too. Waterproofs perform best when clean!
Read our in-depth guide to caring for waterproof clothing for more.