Dan A. Nelson's team of testers reviews lightweight rain jackets from Merrell and The North Face.

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Light weight, low price, or effective protection: When selecting rain gear, you typically get to choose just two of those three qualities. A new generation of rain jackets, though, claims to offer all three.

To test the claims, we threw a few jackets into the ultimate rain-gear testing environment: early spring in Washington’s Cascades and Olympics.

One of the best jackets we tested came from a well-known shoemaker. Both men and women praised Merrell’s jackets. The men’s Norgate and women’s Mariposa proved fully waterproof with good breathability. Most testers also loved the trim, athletic cut, though it could be a little too snug if you tried to layer much insulation underneath.

Given the cut, the jackets proved ideal for active adventures, with just a medium-weight base layer underneath for warmth. One tester, Liz Marzolf, a Seattle-based cyclocross racer and ski instructor, said she loved the body-contouring fit, and appreciated the breathability of the Merrell fabric while bicycling around the Puget Sound basin. Pit zips provided good ventilation to complement the breathability and further prevent sweat buildup.

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Tester Doug Stroop said the Norgate was one of the toughest lightweight jackets he’s used. It showed no signs of wear while easily absorbing all the abuse he threw at it bushwhacking around the Entiat country of Central Washington. The jackets, available in men’s sizes S-XXXL and women’s XS-XXL, are both priced at $99. More information: www.merrell.com.

For a more traditional outdoor cut, with room to add more layers underneath, testers favored the Venture jacket by The North Face. Tester Chris Bloomquist, of Winthrop, described the cut of the jacket as “the Goldilocks fit — not too long, not too short, but just right.” Liz Marzolf raved about the simple hood, which snugs close to your head and stays in place as you move. The jacket effectively shed rain, and provided modest breathability. If really working to get up a trail, sweat buildup could occur. Venting through long pit zips helps alleviate that problem, though. While hiking up the Cooper River Trail in the upper Cle Elum Basin, I could feel dampness building at times, but opening the venting zippers a bit more and slowing my pace moderately cured that. When we hit snow above Cooper Lake and the temperature in the forest dropped, the roomy cut of the Venture allowed me to add a heavy fleece sweater underneath without binding or pinching.

The Venture is available in men’s and women’s sizes (S-XXXL for men, XS-XXL for women) and sells for $99 (except men’s XXXL: $119). More information: www.thenorthface.com.

Freelancer Dan A. Nelson, of Puyallup, is a regular contributor to Backpacker magazine, and an author of outdoor guides with The Mountaineers Books. For the purpose of review, gear manufacturers lend products, which are returned after a typical use of six to eight weeks. There is no payment from manufacturers and they have no control over the content of reviews. Contact Dan with gear-related questions at gearguy@adventuresnw.net.

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