Initially used by weather stations and now by gardeners, farmers, and weather enthusiasts alike, rain gauges collect rain into a funnel to measure precipitation over time. By knowing how much rain the area receives over an average week, month, or year, you can plan when to water your plants or to prepare for storms. With one simple tool, you can save time, energy, and money.
With so many different models available on the market, finding the best rain gauge for your needs can feel overwhelming. To give you a headstart, read on to learn about shopping considerations and why the following rain gauges are top performers.
- BEST OVERALL: Headwind EZRead Jumbo Rain Gauge with Float 820-0002
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: La Crosse 704-1531 Large Magnifying 5-Inch Rain Gauge
- BEST WIRELESS: AcuRite 00899 Wireless Rain Gauge
- BEST WEATHER STATION: Ambient Weather WS-2000 Smart Weather Station
- BEST FOR RAIN AND SNOW: Stratus RG202 Professional Rain and Snow Gauge
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Rain Gauge
You may be wondering what constitutes a good quality rain gauge. As with most products, your specific situation will impact the features and price range best suited for you. Consider the following criteria before buying.
The height of a rain gauge typically ranges from 5 to 20 inches, while the diameter of its cylinder ranges from 2 to 8 inches. It’s quite simple: the larger the cylinder, the more rain collected and the more accurate the readings are.
If you live in an area where it rains a lot, a larger rain gauge is a wise choice. Some models may double as snow gauges or come as part of an all-in-one weather station. However, if you only care about rain-related data, a more expensive, larger-scale gadget may not be necessary.
Rain gauges come in analog and digital types. Analog gauges are the simplest, most affordable models on the market. They collect water in a tube, then users must manually read and record the data every time it rains.
Digital or wireless gauges are much more self-reliant, but come with a higher price tag. They transmit their data to a unit inside the home or to a phone app. They may provide additional benefits, from monitoring the temperature to integrating other smart devices.
If that’s not enough, weather enthusiasts can opt for a weather station. This device offers a more complete picture, including not only rain data, but also temperature, snowfall, barometric pressure, and more. Weather stations are evidently the most expensive options on the market.
The importance of a rain gauge’s capacity depends on climate—whether it rains heavily or sporadically in a particular area—and on the tool’s intended purpose. Heavy and frequent rainfalls will require a larger rain collection tube. A rain gauge used for agricultural purposes requires more precise and long-term data compared to one used for gardening.
Most rain gauges collect up to 5 inches of rain, while larger models can collect up to 11 inches. A 5-inch rain gauge is usually plenty for an average yard or garden. Larger ones are better suited for farming.
Accuracy is generally important, although gardeners may require less precision than farmers. Digital or wireless rain gauges are more accurate than analog models, which may only bear markings in 1/4-inch intervals. Although, some premium models are accurate to 1/100th of an inch.
A wider diameter usually leads to more accurate readings. A 4-inch rain gauge is appropriate for most uses, while 8 inches is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employs for its data. To avoid evaporation before the water level can be measured, UV protection is another factor to consider.
In the end, accuracy is also a question of placement. Nearby obstructions such as buildings or trees, as well as wind and uneven terrain, can all play a part in the readings’ exactitude. It is best to record measurements at the same time of day each time. For optimal accuracy, you can even use multiple rain gauges placed in different areas of the yard.
With analog types, you may prefer to look for large and clear markings that can be read from afar. Some designs bear properties that magnify the water level. Contrasting colors for the tube and markings also enhance ease of reading. Markings that will neither erode nor disappear over time are a high priority. With digital units, the data is sent either to a display screen kept indoors or to an app on your phone.
A rain gauge can go on a fence post, a patio railing, a mailbox, a plant pot, or even straight into the ground near your plants. If you want to attach yours to an existing structure, look for a model that comes with brackets and screws. Alternatively, you can look for a model with spikes to plant directly into the ground.
Keep in mind that you should place a rain gauge in an unobstructed area. It should be installed at a reasonable distance from any buildings, trees, or overbearing bushes, while still protected from heavy winds. Avoid placing it directly beneath a rain gutter, as not to risk runoff altering your reading. It is also ideal to place it four or five feet above the ground.
Digital gauges typically require more work to install than analog ones. But on the upside, offer low maintenance once set up. Plus rain jackets can stay in the closet, since all data is sent directly to a unit inside your home or an app on your phone.
Our Top Picks
Below are some of the best rain gauges that stand out for their quality, ease of use, accuracy, and versatility.
The EZRead Jumbo Rain Gauge by Headwind is an analog model featuring an oversized design. Standing tall at 26 inches and with a diameter of 4 inches, it can measure up to 5 inches of rainfall. Its funnel top prevents debris such as leaves from clogging the rainwater collector.
The markings on this Headwind rain gauge are large and visible at 1/4-inch intervals. With the additional float and water-level magnification feature, you can read them from up to 50 feet away. Its bright yellow and green design is fun and highly visible in most weather.
The EZRead Jumbo Rain Gauge is designed to withstand excessive heat, high winds, and heavy rain alike. However, it is not freeze resistant, so be sure not to leave it outside in the cold. Thanks to its plastic hanger, the device is easy to install on a range of surfaces.
With this magnifying analog model by La Crosse, there’s no need to break the bank to get a functional rain gauge for the backyard or garden. The compact device is 12 inches tall and 2 3/4 inches wide, capable of measuring up to 5 inches of rain.
The magnifying acrylic funnel features large numbers that are easy to read, even from a distance. The funnel is removable for cleaning and emptying. Keyhole brackets make the device easy to mount on a post or a fence, while a pointy bottom allows for planting it into the ground. Note that mounting screws are not included.
The La Crosse rain gauge is designed to withstand heavy rain and wind, but not freezing temperatures. It’s available in three color choices: black-blue, navy blue, and burgundy red.
This digital and wireless model by AcuRite is easy to set up and does nearly all the work for you. A rainfall alarm lets you know when it starts to rain, and then rain totals get transmitted every 16 seconds to the easy-to-read LCD display.
The indoor unit provides all data and measurements in both inches and millimeters for the current rain event, current day, last 7 days, plus two other customizable totals. A flood watch alarm also lets you know if conditions may lead to flooding.
Its signal is strong enough to transmit up to 100 feet away, which provides reasonable freedom with positioning the outdoor component. Once mounted, it is designed to stay securely in place through the elements. However, this model may not withstand excessive heat or too much direct sun exposure, so choose its location carefully.
The high-tech Ambient Weather WS-2000 Smart Weather Station offers full-color TFT LCD display, 300-feet wireless transmission, and encrypted Wi-Fi connectivity. With this weather station, you get real-time updates every 16 seconds, in both imperial and metric units of measure. This model is not limited to rainfall measurements; it provides an array of other important weather-related data as well.
An all-in-one integrated sensor measures wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, and rainfall as well as UV and solar radiation. You can add optional detectors for lightning, air quality, and humidity. You can even place sensors indoors for data on the temperature and humidity in your house or office.
You can connect to the Ambient Weather Network via their website or through their app to access dials, gauges, graphs, and text reports. It is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant for easy voice-activated weather reports. The sensor is solar powered, although two AA batteries (not included) are recommended for backup power.
The Stratus RG202 Professional Rain and Snow Gauge provides some of the most precise measurements among analog models. It is 14.5 inches tall and 5 inches wide, allowing it to measure up to 11 inches of rain or snow.
The Stratus 5G202 comes with an inner measuring tube with a 1-inch capacity, graduated to 1/100th of an inch for extra precision. When rainfall exceeds 1 inch, the extra water simply flows into the larger outer cylinder. The funnel and inner cylinder are removable for ease of reading and cleaning. With its “Quick Connect” bracket, the device is easy to install on most mounts or structures.
This rain and snow gauge was manufactured in accordance with United States Weather Bureau specifications. It contains heavy-duty, UV-resistant polycarbonate, allowing the gauge to withstand rough weather and direct sun exposure without fading or corroding.
FAQs About Your New a Rain Gauge
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions by shoppers before buying a rain gauge.
Q. How does a rain gauge work?
A rain gauge collects water into a graduated cylinder and measures precipitation over time. Analog types require you to manually record measurements and dump the water yourself. Digital models require less maintenance; they record and transmit data to an indoor unit or to an app, and often include self-draining rain gauges.
Q. What size should a rain gauge be?
If you are a gardener, a 5- or 6-inch capacity will likely suffice. If you live in a rainy climate or make a livelihood from farming, a cylinder capable of collecting between 7 and 11 inches of water is more suitable.
Q. Where is the best place for a rain gauge?
The best spot for a rain gauge is one that is free of obstructions, protected from the wind, and 5 feet above the ground. For accurate readings, a level surface is also ideal.
Q. What is the best way to mount a rain gauge?
Many rain gauges come with mounting brackets, for which you’ll need screws. They can then be mounted on fence posts, patio railings, or other elevated spots. Some models include spikes to secure them directly in the ground.
Q. How often should I check my rain gauge?
An analog gauge will require you to record measurements yourself. How often you check it depends on the accuracy and precision required. Digital or wireless gauges, on the other hand, record the data for you. You only need to check them for battery changes or occasional repairs.
Q. How do I clean a rain gauge?
When your rain gauge develops buildup, use gentle soap to clean it. The funnel and cylinders are sometimes removable for ease of cleaning. Steer clear of harsh chemicals, which may damage the glass or plastic. Always read the manufacturer’s directions before cleaning.