I'm looking for an inexpensive rain shell. I'd prefer something waterproof and breathable, with a hood and pit zips. Thoughts?
You've got plent of options, John. The classic rain jacket is the Marmot PreCip ($99). It’s what really made the $100 rain jacket all the rage, and it’s a solid performer. It's lightweight, with a 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable fabric (the inner “half” layer consists of small particles that help reduce clamminess), pit zips, and a full hood. Marmot also offers the slightly pricier Oracle ($175), which has a better fabric–MemBrain, which is supposed to adjust its breathability based on your body temperature–and a nicer cut.
Even Patagonia is in the bargain-jacket game, with its TorrentShell ($119). The TorrentShell uses Patagonia’s effective H2NO coating, a technology I’ve used happily for years. It has pit zips and a full hood as well. It looks great in red or mango.
In the next price range up, REI’s Kimtah Jacket ($229) is a really good buy. It uses eVent fabric, one of the best good waterproof-breathables out there. I have several eVent piece and think the stuff is great. No pit zips because you really don’t need them. It has a full hood and water-resistant front zipper. The only downside is a slim fit, not the best for winter activities if you need to layer up.
Or there’s Mountain Hardwear’s Typhoon ($200). It uses Gore-Tex PacLite, a lightweight but effective version of classic Gore-Tex. It's too delicate for rugged use, but for all-around backpacking and outdoor wear it works well. Very breathable and waterproof.
Hope that helps!