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When you’re traveling through the backcountry, mother nature can be highly unpredictable.
One minute you might be comfortable in your light jacket as you stroll through a forest of shady, mountain pines.
A short time later, dark clouds have canvassed the sky and unleash an unexpected barrage of rainfall — with no intention of letting up.
You frantically dig out the rain shell from the bottom of your Osprey hiking backpack, thankful you brought it along.
Or, perhaps you’re headed up into a higher elevation, and although you started hiking below the tree line you soon cross over into alpine territory.
Suddenly, the temperatures begin to drop and the wind starts to gust, cutting sharply through your thin softshell.
At this point, you’re glad you brought along your wind shell.
Your hiking apparel is just as important as your boots, backpack, and cooking supplies.
A proper hiking jacket will enhance your experience on the trail by keeping you warm, dry, and protected from the elements.
Let’s look at some of the best hiking jackets for women and men — so that you don’t get caught out in nature unprepared.
Best Lightweight Waterproof Hiking Jacket for Men & Women
Best Multipurpose Hiking Jacket for Men
Best Multipurpose Hiking Jacket for Women
Best Softshell Hiking Jacket for Men & Women
Hiking Jacket Buyer's Guide
Types of Hiking Jackets
There aren’t many jackets that do-it-all on the trail. Most jackets serve for specific purposes and layering techniques are the key to comfort.
It's likely you’re going to have multiple jackets in your gear arsenal and you’ll have to make the decision which jackets you’re going to bring along on each expedition.
Rain shells are completely waterproof hardshell jackets that are intended to be worn over other layers, serving as your first line of defense when conditions turn rainy.
Some are designed for hiking and daily use, others are more specific lightweight products, and some are performance-oriented.
Rain shells need to resist moisture yet also let out hot air through venting mechanisms. They are comprised of multiple fabric layers for breathability purposes.
Most rain shells have a hood and pit or side zips for venting.
Softshells are flexible outer layers that are worn in place of high performance hard shell jackets.
Most are made with woven nylon or polyester. They’re not meant to withstand the elements as much as they’re intended for mobility and breathability when you’re working hard.
Performance softshells are designed for specific activities such as climbing, skiing, or mountaineering.
Some softshells are DWR treated, providing for a certain level of water resistance, but they are no substitute for a high-end hardshell or rain jacket. They do provide for a decent level of wind protection and are designed to be comfortable.
Some softshells provide no insulation while others offer thick, fleece-lined warmth.
A softshell’s greatest advantage is its stretchiness and some soft shells are available with hoods.
Hardshell jackets by definition provide for high levels of windproofing and waterproofing, designed for nature’s harshest conditions.
Most hardshells boast a 3-layer construction that includes an interior liner for breathability and an exterior face fabric for protection from the wind and rain.
Hardshell jackets are commonly used in mountaineering, skiing, alpine, and ice climbing — but can also come in handy on a harsh winter hike.
They typically include a hood, side or pit vents, and can be placed into different categories: alpine, all-around, or minimalist.
Ultralight hikers might prefer minimalist versions while those embarking on winter hikes that include scrambling over rocks might opt for an alpine version.
Interchangeable jackets are multipurpose — typically a softshell and a hardshell built into one product, providing protection from the elements in addition to insulation.
You can wear both at the same time or just one or the other — depending on the conditions. These types of interchangeable jackets offer the greatest amount of versatility and are preferred by many hikers for this reason.
In warm conditions, you can hike in the base liner alone and then if it starts raining, pull out the hardshell and layer it over the liner to serve as a rain jacket.
In cold conditions, you might want to wear both for a combination of insulation and weather resistance. The internal jacket is typically zipped into the outer layer, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you prefer an ultralight shell, you might have to be willing to sacrifice features such as pockets.
Down Jacket vs. Layering
Hiking Jacket Features
When you’re picking out a hiking jacket, after you decide the type of jacket that will suit your needs, you need to determine which features are important to you.
If you like versatility, an interchangeable jacket might be the way to go, offering the ability to transition between different types of jackets depending on weather conditions.
Consider the type of weather you’ll be hiking in.
In rainy climates, a rain shell with a hood is an absolute essential, and you might prefer your softshell have a hood as well, for hiking during a light drizzle.
Evaluate the features you need and what you’re willing to go without.
We’ve done the research for you to help you pick out the best jackets to meet your specific needs.
What Are The Best Hiking Jackets In 2020?
BEST LIGHTWEIGHT WATERPROOF HIKING JACKET
Marmot PreCip Jacket
Marmot designed the PreCip in both women’s and men’s versions for excellent rain protection at an extremely affordable price.
The newly engineered NanoPro fabric is completely waterproof and more breathable than ever before.
This jacket boasts a coveted combination of durability, compressibility, and light weight, tipping the scales at just 11.4 ounces for the women’s version and 13 ounces for the men’s.
The 2.5 layer construction and DryTouch finish ensures you won’t feel the clamminess often created by rain shells.
Marmot’s Angel Wing Movement allows for a full range of arm motion and ensures you won't feel restricted while on the go.
The jacket includes a hood, pit zips for adequate ventilation, and a storm flap over the front zipper.
To attain proper fit, the jacket integrates an adjustable hem and adjustable Velcro cuffs.
It compresses and packs up into its own pocket, ensuring it won’t take up too much precious space in your pack.
BEST MULTIPURPOSE HIKING JACKET FOR MEN
Columbia Lhotse II Interchange Jacket
This three-in-one option is extremely versatile, making for a coveted trail companion you can utilize in varying weather conditions.
The outer shell is made of 100% nylon Omni-Shield double ripstop, the inner lining is made from Taffeta (think silky soft!), and the innermost liner is constructed from Dotswarm fleece.
Columbia has integrated its proprietary Omni-Heat thermal reflective layer to keep you toasty in cold weather.
The Lhotse II jacket was designed with an easy-to-use zipper interchange system.
The jacket features an adjustable storm hood, zippered hand pockets, an interior security pocket for stuffing essentials, and adjustable cuffs.
BEST MULTIPURPOSE HIKING JACKET FOR WOMEN
Columbia Bugaboo Interchange Jacket
The women’s Bugaboo Interchange jacket is similar to the men’s Lhotse II with an attractive, women’s specific fit.
Columbia’s patented Omni-Heat thermal reflective technology keeps you warm during winter hikes and the Omni-Tech waterproof breathable shell ensures you’re kept dry during the most torrential downpours.
This jacket is designed for whatever the weather throws at you — and on warm days, you can strip down to the fleece liner.
The adjustable storm hood is also removable if you’re looking to go a little more lightweight.
Zippered hand pockets and an interior security pocket compliment this jacket’s wide range of features.
The Bugaboo Interchange is the epitome of versatility.
BEST SOFTSHELL HIKING JACKET
The North Face Apex Bionic Softshell Jacket
North Face’s Apex Bionic softshell was designed specifically for cold and windy conditions.
This softshell features the company’s Windwall fabric, which is a wind-resistant fleece. This fabric limits the permeability of external air, reducing the effects of windchill, maintaining warmth, and ensuring comfort.
The men’s version features a relaxed fit while the women’s version is more streamlined, serving for a more active fit.
Both models boast a center zip, zip chest pocket, and zip hand pockets.
This is the ultimate softshell for when you’re working hard out on the trail and need a blend of comfort and weather resistance.
Most hikers don’t intend on getting caught out in the rain — but if you do, you need to be prepared so that your hiking experience doesn’t end up a miserable outing.
Having the right hiking clothes and gear is key.
Hiking in the rain or during high wind gusts may not be ideal — but if you have the right jacket for the conditions, it won’t be so bad, either.
Every type of climate boasts positive and negative aspects and the important thing is to be prepared for what may come your way.
The ability to choose between different jackets is ideal — but if you prefer to bring along just one, an interchangeable option might be the way to go.
In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.
We’ve provided you with enough options in this article that you should be able to find what you need and get out there — the trails are calling.
About the Author - Andrew
Andrew's love for the outdoors began at an early age growing up in the midwest farmland and taking family vacations out west. Being a dreamer with his head in the clouds most moments make the mountains the perfect location for him. He hasn't met a false summit he doesn't like yet! Click here to learn more about Andrew's outdoorsy background...