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(The Gear Loop) - The best ultra-light, packable waterproof jackets give you superb protection from the elements when the heavens open, while simultaneously being barely noticeable in your pack when the sun eventually shows its face.
Whether you’re a runner, a climber or a hiker, you’ll know that the lighter the pack on your back, the faster and more comfortably you’ll be able to cover ground.
The mountain athlete is always wanting to go faster and lighter. From the late 1970s, when the likes of Joe Tasker and Alex Macintyre started to approach the Himalayas with an alpine style, to today, where the likes of Sabrina Verjee and Finlay Wild set previously unimaginable records across the fells and mountains, the need for high quality, lightweight kit has been an ever-present feature.
This need has sparked space race of sorts in the world of outdoor gear that is still being run today, as manufacturers scramble to outdo each other by creating exceptional products that weigh less and less.
Along with items like hiking shoes and backpacking tents, waterproof jackets are at the front and centre of this arms race.
Here, we feature three of the finest featherlight jackets designed specifically for runners, as well as two of the best ultra-light, packable waterproofs for all-round adventure, be it hiking, running, climbing or mountaineering.
Every jacket in our selection is a product of exceptional quality that will keep you dry in those dreich (Scottish lingo for "rather wet") conditions.
There’s plenty of jargon associated with hard shells, their fabrics and their features. If you don’t know your Hydrostatic Heads from your Pertex Shields, scroll to the bottom of this page to get a better grasp of what to look for when choosing the best ultra-light, packable waterproof jackets.
Inov-8 Stormshell Waterproof Jacket
- Excellent waterproof rating
- Comfortable and breathable
- Packs into its own pocket
- Minimal reflective detail
- Heavier than rivals
Designed with the harsh conditions found in the Lakeland fells, Cumbrian brand Inov-8’s Stormshell is a jacket made specifically for fast and light adventure runners. However, its excellent waterproof rating, comfort, weight and packability make it a no-brainer for speedy hikers too.
The breathable 2.5 layer Pertex Shield fabric has a 20,000 HH rating, which means it can withstand truly biblical conditions, while fully taped seams and TKK AquaGuard zippers keep things tidy around the edges.
There’s no side ventilation but the front can be unzipped to increase air flow and there’s a popper above the chest to keep the jacket fastened. The well-fitted hood is also fully adjustable.
There’s a tiny bit of reflective detailing but not enough to recommend it for road running at night. But that’s not really what the Stormshell is for - this is a jacket ideal for the mountain trails and, when it stops raining, it packs neatly away into its own pocket.
At 175g, there are lighter options out there, but we've found the Stormshell is slightly more versatile than many of its rivals.
Haglöfs L.I.M Jacket
- Durable materials and design
- Magnificent waterproof rating
- A versatile piece of high-performance kit
- Heavier than options designed for runners
Swedish brand Haglöfs’ L.I.M (Less Is More) Jacket has garnered a reputation as one of the best lightweight waterproofs around.
Their L.I.M series products are created to be minimalist, cutting out all but the most fundamental features to provide kit that is as lightweight as possible, without compromising on performance and durability. The L.I.M jacket does just that.
Thanks to GORE-TEX’s Paclite Plus waterproof technology, the L.I.M jacket boasts a staggering 28,000 HH rating, the highest in our selection. It also features a well-fitting three-way adjustable hood, water-resistant zippers, a large chest pocket and articulated sleeves with elasticated cuffs.
All of this means that, at 230g, the L.I.M Jacket is heavier than those designed specifically for runners. However, this is still much lighter than most hard shells, making the L.I.M Jacket a particularly versatile piece of kit.
An essential selection for hikers who like to go fast, it also stashes neatly into a climber’s pack, ready for if and when the heavens open.
Montane Podium Pull-On
- Remarkably lightweight
- Packs down incredibly small
- Great waterproof rating
- Packs into a separate stuff sac
- Lack of features means it is not as versatile as some
Weighing in at only 100g (medium size), the Podium Pull-On is Montane’s lightest ever waterproof jacket and is designed primarily for fast and light adventure runners. As well as its remarkable weight, it also packs down into a stuff sac that fits into the palm of your hand.
Waterproofing is provided by the ultra-thin Aqua Pro Lite micro fabric, which operates alongside ripstop nylon, a YKK Aquaguard half-length front zipper and taped seams to give you a jacket that will pass any race steward inspection.
The HH rating is 15,000, which isn’t as high as some, but will still keep you dry in a downpour. The hood is elasticated, so doesn’t blow off in a gust.
This jacket does exactly what it says on the tin, which is provide a high quality, lightweight, packable waterproof shell for runners.
It has few features beyond this, so won’t tempt those looking for a lightweight hard shell for hiking or mountaineering. There’s no bells and whistles, no pockets, no side ventilation but that’s not the point.
Rab Phantom Waterproof Pull-On
- Astonishingly lightweight
- Excellent waterproof rating
- Very breathable
- More expensive than rivals
- Separate stuff sac
British brand Rab has shaved off every conceivable gram with its excellent Phantom Waterproof Pull-On. A perfect marriage of barely-there weight and superb waterproofing, the Phantom really is quite an achievement.
It weighs an almost unbelievable 90g, making it the lightest of the jackets featured here. When the rain ceases, the Phantom packs down into a tiny stuff sac to throw into your bag.
Waterproofing comes courtesy of a two-layer, lightweight Pertex Shield fabric complimented by a DWR coating. What this gives you is a highly breathable, wind and waterproof shell that boasts a HH rating of 20,000 HH.
In short, it will repel the worst of the British weather. Other features include an elasticated hood, elasticated hems and cuffs and a half-length zip for ventilation.
The only downside is the price when set against its direct rivals, which give you better value despite not being quite as high-spec.
Nevertheless, if you’re willing to make a little extra investment, the Phantom is the lightest option out there for keeping the rain at bay during your trail running adventures.
Montane Pac Plus XT
- Made from recycled materials
- Fully featured
- A high-performing, durable piece of kit
- Stuffs away into its own pocket
- Relatively heavy compared to ultra-light running jackets
Montane says that the Pac Plus XT is "developed for high paced mountain activity", such as climbing, scrambling, mountaineering and hiking. Like the Haglöfs L.I.M jacket, it marries low weight with waterproof capability using GORE-TEX Paclite Plus technology.
However, unlike other jackets in this guide, the Pac Plus XT is a fully-featured beast, with map sized YKK AquaGuard zippered side pockets, pit zips for ventilation and a helmet-compatible hood.
The jacket uses 100 per cent recycled 40 denier GORE-TEX fabric, so its kinder to the environment, as well as being fully wind and waterproof, with a HH rating of 28,000. It even packs away into its own pocket, so you don’t need to worry about an extra stuff sac.
A combination of solid eco-credentials, useful features and high-quality materials makes it hard to see past the Pac Plus XT.
For runners or backpackers obsessed with counting every last gram, there are lighter jackets out there. However, for fast and light mountain adventures, it might just be the ultimate choice.
What to look for when buying an ultra-light, packable waterproof jacket
Weight and packability
Clearly, when it comes to ultra-light packable waterproof jackets, weight and packed size are key. Every gram counts when embarking on fast and light adventures in the mountains. Daypacks and hydration vests are only small, so every litre of capacity saved is beneficial too. Many ultralight jackets pack down into themselves or into a tiny stuff sack, ideal for speedy missions. Consider whether your priorities are weight and size or waterproofing and durability when comparing options and find the compromise that suits you.
There are a range of fabrics used these days and all aim to perform the same core tasks: to keep water out while allowing vapour to escape, giving you a waterproof but breathable shell. GORE-TEX is the best-known fabric membrane, though there are plenty of alternatives, such as Pertex Shield (used by the Rab Phantom and the inov-8 Stormshell), eVent and The North Face’s Futurelight.
A key element to look out for is a jacket’s Hydrostatic Head rating, which tells you how much pressure it can withstand before letting water in. Take, for example, the Inov-8 Stormshell with its 20,000 HH rating. In theory, the Stormshell should be able to withstand a solid column of water 20,000mm (20 metres) high before letting water in. This is an excellent level of protection.
Keep an eye out for a fully adjustable hood. The last thing you want is a hood that won’t stay up in gusty conditions. If you plan to use your jacket in climbing and mountaineering situations, make sure you choose a jacket designed with room for your helmet.
If you’ve ever ascended a mountain in warm, drizzly conditions, you’ll know how hot you can get underneath a hard-shell waterproof jacket. While their fabrics are designed to be breathable, you can still easily overheat if you’re working up a sweat. This is where ventilation comes in. Of course, the easiest way to ventilate is to unzip the front. However, having your jacket flapping around when running or climbing is not ideal, which is why many have a fastening at the collar. Many jackets, like the Montane Pac Plus XT, come with vented armpits that you can unzip to improve air flow.
Writing by Alex Foxfield.