I get questions like this fairly often. I always sit in mock horror and look at them on my 21" ViewSonic screen. And I say aloud to the two beagles sleeping in their bed behind my chair: 90 degrees, 90 percent humidity, and worried about a rain jacket?!?" Im mainly a West Coast hiker, but on a travel story once I did backpack on the Gaspe Peninsular in Quebec, and the last thing on my mind was a rain jacket. I was utterly drenched WITHOUT one.
Marmot Impulse Jacket
Anyway, anything as bulletproof as requested here would have to be a heavyweight three-ply jacket, something such as ArcTeryxs Beta AR ($399; arcteryx.com), which uses Gore-Tex XCR. Its a very nice jacket, and very sturdy, but even at that it would have its limits to how many thorns and tree trunks it could fend off. Plus, youd have steam coming out your sleeves.
Personally, Id opt for the lightest jacket out there, and if it gains a few rips over the years before I retire it, well, theres always duct tape. Marmots Impulse ($135; marmot.com) is sort of the default champion here. Its light, well-ventilated, has a decent waterproof-breathable material, and doesnt cost a fortune. Same for Mountain Hardwears Cohesion ($145; mountainhardwear.com), which, like the Impulse, uses a proprietary polyurethane-based laminate for good rain protection and adequate breathability. Outdoor Researchs Zealot ($199; outdoorresearch.com) uses Gore Pac-Lite for excellent breathability. The most durable jacket out there? No. But it would work well and be far more comfortable than heavier pieces.
The Gear Guy reports from 2007 Winter Outdoor Retailer, the bi-annual gearapalooza in Salt Lake City. Check out his top picks for gear to watch in 2007.