Rain and sun are both certainties in Alaska. The 49th state is home to the world’s largest temperate rain forest and the midnight sun. You’re likely to experience both; occasionally, several times in the same day. A good hardshell (read: rain jacket)—one that will keep the water out no matter what, while not making you feel like you’re wearing a plastic bag—comes highly recommended in Alaska, winter or summer. And good news: You don’t have to wear (or carry around) heavy waxed canvas anymore. Modern, lightweight synthetic materials are waterproof, breathable, and pack-friendly.
Our local experts put some of the best rainwear available to the test for two months, hiking, camping, skiing, and fishing—rain, snow, or sun—looking for what kept them driest when it was raining (or snowing), and packed the easiest when the sun was shining. These five came out on top.
EDITOR’S CHOICE: The North Face Kichatna
Named after an Alaska mountain range known for its terrible weather, the Kichatna Jacket kept our testers completely dry in heavy rain and wet snow, no matter what. With fully taped seams, burly two-layer Gore-Tex, and polyurethane-coated zippers, this jacket is built for years of abuse. Our testers particularly liked the smartly designed helmet-compatible hood and removable powder skirt, making it a great option for backcountry skiing. It’s a true four-season shell without the bulk. Bonus: It comes with a lifetime warranty.
$600, 1 lb. 4 oz.; thenorthface.com
Outdoor Research Horizon
Lightweight and well designed, the Horizon Jacket is watertight with fully taped seams; plus, it’s breathable, and surprisingly affordable. Our testers enjoyed the interior and exterior zipper “storm flaps,” which ensured water and snow never seeped where it shouldn’t. Bonus: It comes with a lifetime warranty.
$129, 14.5 oz; outdoorresearch.com
Tough, but light, the Armor is made with a proprietary fabric that allows it to stand up to any weather condition while packing down to the size of a small loaf of bread. Along with being easy to pack, our testers liked the fact that its loose-fitting design allowed them to easily put on mid-layers beneath it. Bonus: Fleece thumb loops keep the jacket sleeves from sliding down your arms when you raise them.
$430, 15.5 oz.; brooks-range.com
BEST BARGAIN: Helly Hansen Loke Jacket
You just can’t get more features in a shell for less money: fully seam-sealed, “pit zip” vents, Velcro cuff adjustments, and 2.5 ply waterproof-breathable fabric, all for 100 dollars. Our testers particularly enjoyed how small the Loke Jacket packed down, easily fitting into a mid-layer jacket pocket.
Mountain Hardwear Super Light Plasmic
By far the lightest jacket we reviewed, our testers enjoyed the effective simplicity of Mountain Hardwear’s Super Light Plasmic Jacket, along with its minimal price tag. It has everything you need in a hard shell, and nothing you don’t. It’s completely waterproof, breathable, has two front pockets, and an adjustable hood. Bonus: It comes with a lifetime warranty.
$200, 8 oz.; mountainhardwear.com