Waterproof Jacket Buying Guide
If you don’t give up when the rain starts coming down, you will know the importance of keeping dry and comfortable during your days embracing the outdoors. However, with an ever-growing array of styles, fabrics and features to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one to invest in.
To help you find your perfect waterproof jacket, or hard shell as they’re otherwise known, we have put together a foolproof guide, to help you on your way. You’ll find the ideal waterproof for you and whichever outdoor activities you choose.
Read on to find out more about waterproof jackets, their features, considerations when buying and which types are best for outdoor activities…
When to Buy a New Waterproof Jacket
If you’ve tried reproofing and repairing a waterproof jacket, then it is likely time to treat yourself to a new one. There are plenty to choose from with all sorts of features and technologies to help you battle the elements.
So which waterproof jacket should you choose? Which features are right for you?
A good way to decide this is to consider what you’ll primarily be using it for – we’ll discuss in more detail further down. But, if you’re doing serious hill walking, then you may want a stiffened hood, storm flaps, and pockets for extra storage.
However, if you’re climbing, then you might want to consider something that’s a little more hardwearing, has a more relaxed fit for ease of movement, and has adjustable cuffs and hems.
What is a Waterproof Jacket For?
This may be an obvious answer, and it’s true that the core job of a waterproof jacket is to keep you dry – but it should also do more than just that.
Your waterproof jacket should also be breathable, allowing sweat and vapour to escape so you stay dry from the inside. Waterproofs should also help you to regulate your temperature and stay comfortable.
Most waterproof jackets are designed with an outdoor activity in mind. Some are made for high-intensity activities, like running, and make breathability their main feature. This helps you to stay comfortable by allowing extra heat to escape.
Other jackets balance durability, waterproofness and breathability, and can be for mountaineering or even skiing. These use hardwearing waterproof fabrics that may feel stiffer but stand up to demands, such as abrasive surfaces or carrying a heavy rucksack.
Most of us, however, are usually looking for a jacket that provides everyday protection and sits between these two extremes. This selection of these waterproof jackets is much wider, covering a range of brands, prices, fits, colours, and weights.
It all depends on your preference.
What are the Types of Waterproof Jackets?
One of the first, and most obvious, things to consider when buying a waterproof jacket is just how good it is at keeping the rain out. The biggest factors that differentiate a budget waterproof jacket from a more expensive one is the kind of technology it uses to keep you dry.
Most waterproof jackets fall into the following categories:
- Waterproof Coating
- Waterproof Membrane
Jackets with a waterproof coating
These jackets will be treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) liquid coating. You can tell if a jacket has this coating because water will bead up on the surface of the fabric and trickle off. Jackets with a waterproof coating tend to be less expensive, but offer little breathability and will require regular re-proofing.
Some manufacturers use their own waterproof coating, such as:
Jackets with a waterproof membrane
These jackets contain what’s known as a waterproof membrane – a thin layer of microscopic pores that are big enough to let moisture out, but small enough to prevent rain droplets from getting in. A breathable membrane will provide much more moisture control than a coated jacket.
Waterproof Jacket Breathability
Depending on your activity and budget, you may or may not want the addition of the breathability factor. It’s a great feature to have, making you feel more comfortable throughout your hike or walk.
However, this can increase the price and in some cases, pack size and weight. You can find that without any breathable membrane, sweat and heat is unable to escape – leaving you feeling damp and clammy.
If you want breathability then you’ll need to go for a jacket with a membrane, such as GORE-TEX®. However, there are other features that can add breathability to your jackets, such as underarm ventilation zips and mesh-lined pockets.
As a general rule, the more energetic the activity you’re doing, the more breathable you’ll need your jacket to be.
How waterproof a jacket is, as well as its breathability, are measured in two ways. Each one can help give you an idea of which jacket will be best for your activity.
This measures how waterproof a jacket is. It is calculated by applying a column of water an inch in diameter against the fabric, and seeing how high the water will rise before it starts to seep through the jacket.
So, a 5000mm rating means the water rises to 5 metres before water penetrates the fabric. For a fabric to be called waterproof, it must have a rating of at least 1500mm. However, for everyday use, you need a much higher rating to deal with pressure from wind, elbows and brushing up against rocks.
A rating of 5,000mm-10,000mm is ideal for spending long days on a mountain in all weather conditions, while 10,000mm-20,000mm is best for much wetter climates.
MVT (Moisture Vapour Transfer)
This measures how breathable a jacket is. It is calculated by how much moisture can pass through the fabric in 24 hours. You may see this displayed as 10,000 gr/m²/day, or 10,000gr.
Breathability ratings don’t need to be worried about too much as a good waterproof membrane will be highly breathable. For highly active use, where you will sweat no matter what, look for features such as underarm zips to increase ventilation.
Waterproof Jacket Features
While waterproof jackets may differ depending on their price or brand, there are key features that you should look out for. We’ve highlighted them in the diagram below before going into a bit more detail.
- Adjustable Hood: A good hood should be adjustable to give you a snug fit and help protect you from the wind and rain. A peak is also useful for directing rain away from your face.
- Chin Guard: A soft piece of fabric on the inside of the jacket to protect your face from rubbing or catching the zip and waterproof fabric, preventing discomfort.
- Taped seams: Taping is used to seal the inside seams of a waterproof jacket, adding an extra level of protection against leaks.
- Storm flaps: A thin strip of material across your main zip that adds an extra level of protection against leaks.
- Pockets: Inner pockets are good for protecting your valuables, and on outer pockets look for covered zips to prevent water from getting through zipped areas.
- Adjustable Hem: Create a snug fit to prevent wind and rain from getting in your jacket.
- Adjustable Cuffs: These are useful for creating a snug fit around your wrists, preventing rain from getting inside.
How Should a Waterproof Jacket Fit?
When buying a waterproof jacket, you must always take the fit into consideration. A closer fitting jacket will flap around less and breathe more effectively, while a relaxed fit will give you more freedom of movement and more scope for layering. You should aim for somewhere between these two extremes.
Your jacket should cover your lower back when you lift both your arms and the cuffs should cover your wrists for warmth. If the jacket has adjusters, use them to tailor the jacket to your body shape. This is all for keeping cool air and rain off you. If you are going to layer this jacket over clothing, like a fleece, then try the next size up.
There often three types of jacket fit styles:
- Relaxed Fit: Every day, standard waterproof jackets will have a relaxed fit and a longer length for extra protection.
- Active Fit: Neither snug nor too baggy, these jackets will provide enough room for you to wear another layer underneath like a fleece or softshell.
- Technical Fit: Hiking and climbing jackets will offer more freedom of movement but they will sit closer to the body. These often have a shorter length and higher pockets which can be accessed when wearing a harness, for example.
Well, that very much depends on what you’re doing. Here are a few activities and some of the features you should look out for when buying a waterproof jacket:
Hiking & Hill Walking
- Stiffened hood
- Good breathability
- Storm flaps
- Consider choosing a jacket with a waterproof and breathable membrane, such as GORE-TEX® for comfort and high specification
- Pockets for extra storage
Mountaineering & Climbing
- Good breathability
- Relaxed fit to allow for greater freedom of movement
- Tough & hardwearing
- Consider choosing a jacket with a waterproof membrane, such as GORE-TEX®
- Hood that allows easy helmet wear
- Adjustable hem and cuffs
Everyday Use – Commuting, Dog Walking etc.
- A waterproof coated jacket
- Pockets for storage
How to Clean a Waterproof Jacket
The worst enemy of your wet weather gear is your washing machine. Detergents strip off waterproof coatings and conditioners will clog the pores and fibres that help fabric breathe. Instead, it’s a good idea to use a cleaner that’s specially designed for technical outerwear.
Read more: How to Reproof a Waterproof Jacket
You may also need to re-proof your waterproof jacket every once and a while. Over time, waterproofs can become less effective and stop working as well as they did when they were new. However, it’s really easy to restore them to their original waterproof glory using cleaning and reproofing products to prolong the life of your gear.
Offering welcome warmth on a cold day, this jacket features a slimline heated back panel providing comfort in cool conditions. A Hydrofort fabric shell provides waterproof protection and features taped seams and a DWR finish.
Thermoguard provides further protection, with high-warmth, low-bulk insulation and a grown on adjustable hood for additional coverage. Adjustable cuffs and hem allow for a great fit to keep the elements at bay.
Windproof and waterproof up to an incredible 8,000mm, this is a high-performance jacket that can cope with active or testing outdoor pursuits. Thanks to the stretchy softshell outer fabric, you can count on this jacket for comfort and freedom of movement.
Featuring two zipped side pockets and a zipped chest pocket for your essentials, this jacket also features an adjustable zip-off hood, making this an extremely practical coat.
Perfect for the snow, or going for family walks, this waterproof jacket offers warm-wearing protection and style. Capable performance is provided by the Ared 8000 fabric, backed up with taped seams and high loft polyester insulation to keep you warm and dry.
Adjustable cuffs allow for a tailored fit, while the fixed foldaway hood provides additional rain coverage when required. Zipped pockets make for practicality on the move with reflective details for enhanced visibility and safety.