Waterproof Jacket Buying Guide
If you intend on being out on the hills and mountains in all weathers, then you need to invest in the kind of clothing that’s going to keep you warm and dry, no matter what the elements throw at you.
An essential part of any weather-repellent gear is a good quality waterproof jacket. But with so many styles, fabrics and features to choose from, it can be hard to know where to begin. So we’ve put together this foolproof guide to waterproof jackets, or hard shells as they’re otherwise known, outlining some of the things you need to think about before you buy.
One of the first things to consider when buying a waterproof jacket is just how good it is at keeping the rain out. One of 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:
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:
- Isotex (Regatta)
- Texapore (Jack Wolfskin)
- HydroDry (Sprayway)
- Aquafoil (Berghaus)
- AquaDry (Craghoppers & Dare 2b)
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.
Read more: How to take care of GORE-TEX®
Waterproof jacket ratings explained
Not all waterproof jackets are born equal – some are actually more waterproof than others, and this is shown in the waterproof ratings. Here are the waterproof ratings explained nice and clearly:
|Waterproof rating||Resistance||Weather suitable for|
|0-1,500mm||Water resistant||Light rain, dry snow|
|5,000-10,000mm||Very waterproof||Moderate to heavy rainfall|
|10,000 +||Extremely waterproof||Heavy rainfall|
As the ratings show, the higher the rating, the more water the jacket will withstand. For example, jackets with a 5,000mm rating can take around 5,000mm of water before it will start to absorb it.
Jackets with a 0-1,500 rating are fine for everyday use if you don’t think you’re going to be caught up in a heavy downfall, while a 1,500-5,000 jacket will keep you dry through your average rainfall but probably won’t be suitable if you’re out in a storm.
5,000-10,000mm waterproof jackets will see you through most weathers so are great all-round jackets, but if you’re a serious walker who might find themselves caught in a bad weather, then a jacket of 10,000-20,000mm or even higher might be the best option.
Depending on your activity and budget will all depend whether you want the addition of the breathability factor. It’s a great feature to have, making you feel more comfortable throughout your hike/walk, however this can increase price and in some cases, pack size and weight. You can find 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 jacket, such as underarm ventilation zips (or pit zips) and mesh-lined pockets, which all come in handy during warm, muggy hikes.
As a general rule, the more energetic the activity you’re doing, the more breathable you’ll need your jacket to be.
Other features of a waterproof jacket:
Taping is used to seal the inside seams of a waterproof jacket, adding an extra level of protection against leaks.
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.
A storm flap – a thin strip of material across your main zip – adds an extra level of protection against leaks.
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 and cuffs
These are useful for creating a snug fit around your waist and wrists, preventing rain from getting inside.
When buying a waterproof jacket, it’s also worth taking the fit into consideration. A closer fitting jacket will flap less and breathe more effectively, while a more relaxed fit will give you more freedom of movement and more scope for layering. You should aim for somewhere between these two extremes.
As with all outdoor gear, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” really applies to waterproof jackets. More expensive jackets employ better waterproofing technologies, have more waterproofing features and are designed to cope with serious weather conditions.
However, how much you spend on a waterproof jacket depends on what it is being used for, as there’s no point in investing in a top-of-the-range jacket just to walk the dog.
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.
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 the many cleaning and reproofing products that are now available – prolonging the life of your gear and saving you money in the long run.
We recently spoke to Grangers for their tips on how to waterproof your equipment.
What is the best waterproof jacket?
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
- 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
Men’s Waterproof Jackets
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Women’s Waterproof Jackets
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Kids’ Waterproof Jackets
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