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Waterproof Jackets Buying Guide

A reliable waterproof jacket is a staple piece of outdoor kit - it’s rare that you’d set off without packing one "just in case". Your waterproof shell acts as a barrier against the elements, but it’s easy to get confused when looking at the huge range of waterproofs available on the market, and it can be difficult to narrow down which jacket best suits your needs. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide so that you can understand the overwhelming range of features and technologies, and make a decision with confidence.


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Quick Tips

There are a few things you’ll need to consider when you’re looking for a waterproof garment. Firstly - what do you need it for? Is it going to need to withstand all day rain, or just light showers? Are you using it for moving fast on trails, doing extreme climbs, or does it need to be more of an all-rounder? Once you’ve decided on how you will use your waterproof, it’ll make it much easier to narrow down the seemingly endless options.

Secondly, remember that waterproof garments can be very versatile. Waterproofs can be combined with various layers to suit different uses and weather conditions. Ultimately its purpose is to keep you dry - you can dress for the temperature by layering up underneath.

Finally, there’s a difference between water-resistant and waterproof - water-resistant garments will protect you from short, light rain showers and feature a water-repellent coating to help water roll off. Jackets that are labelled “waterproof” are constructed using a membrane technology that blocks water from entering the jacket altogether. You can read more about this below.



Construction

All waterproof jackets feature a durable water-repellent (DWR) coating on the outer layer to help water roll off and delay the time it takes for water to permeate the fabric. What makes a jacket waterproof is the membrane technology on the inner which is bonded to the outer fabric - this allows sweat to pass out whilst preventing rain from getting in. Different jackets will have different layering systems - all layers contain a waterproof membrane bonded to an outer face fabric (usually made of polyester), but differ when it comes to the inner fabric.

2-layer: Best for everyday, basic waterproofs - this construction features a thin mesh inner layer to protect the membrane.

2.5-layer: A coating or print is applied to the membrane to provide more protection. They’re highly packable and great for throwing in your bag on trail days.

3-layer: The membrane is bonded to a knitted or woven inner fabric for a highly durable construction, which is ideal for mountain conditions.


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Technologies

There are a variety of different types of waterproof technologies on the market, from both specialist manufacturers and outdoor clothing brands that have developed their own technologies.


GORE-TEX:

The most popular waterproof fabric brand, GORE-TEX introduced their original membrane technology in 1978 and through all of its advancements, it still remains a firm favourite within the outdoor apparel industry. It’s instantly recognisable, iconic, and used by pretty much every outdoor brand you can think of.

Pertex Shield

Pertex is another well-known fabric technology provider, and their Shield range is used in waterproof clothing by a range of outdoor brands including Rab, Montane, and The North Face.

The North Face FUTURELIGHT™

Many brands have developed their own waterproof membrane technologies, and TNF’s FUTURELIGHT™ is a high tech example of this. It adds air permeability to the waterproof membrane, for better venting and breathability without sacrificing waterproofness and durability.

The North Face DryVent™

Using a mixture of 2, 2.5, and 3-layer construction methods, DryVent™ is TNF’s staple waterproof membrane technology that is used across a variety of different products and technical abilities.

Patagonia H₂No™

H₂No™ is Patagonia’s standard that ensures waterproofness, breathability and durability. Rigorously tested, products must pass a three way test in order to be awarded H2No status.

Berghaus Hydroshell™

Berghaus’s own 2.5-layer waterproof fabric comes in three different forms, ranging from 15,000-20,000mm waterproof rating.



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How should my waterproof jacket fit?

Perhaps the most important element of the waterproof jacket is the fit. A jacket should cover your lower back when you lift both of your arms up, with cuffs covering your wrists. Bear in mind that you might need to keep some extra room underneath the jacket if you are planning to layer - so it may be worth trying the next size up. Most jackets have adjusters at the hood, cuffs, and hem that will help to tailor the fit to your body shape.

The fit of your jacket will largely depend on the end use and the brand manufacturing it. Many brands have fit guides to show which jackets are slim fitting and which are more relaxed, so it’s worth checking that out before you make a purchase. In general, trail running jackets will have a slimmer fit to keep excess fabric and weight to a minimum. Hiking jackets are roomier to allow for easy layering, often with a longer body for better coverage when the rain comes on. Technical jackets for climbing and mountaineering may have a tapered design, with more volume at the top for freedom of movement and a slimmer hip area to fit snugly underneath a harness.




Waterproof/breathability ratings

Waterproof ratings, also known as water column or hydrostatic head ratings, indicate how waterproof a garment is:

5,000-10,000mm: will tolerate light showers and drizzle

10,000-15,000mm: can cope with heavy showers/snow but will start to soak through if exposed to such conditions all day

20,000mm+: suitable for unpredictable mountaineering conditions, for full day rain/snow forecasts


Breathability ratings determine how much moisture the fabric can release, helping regulate your body temperature and minimise sweating:

5,000-10,000g/㎡: suitable for casual city walking, but will overheat during activities with any degree of intensity

10,000-15,000g/㎡: a good middle ground, these jackets will cope with activities where your energy output is varied, like hiking

20,000g/㎡+: this rating is designed to remain breathable on long full day hikes and runs when you’re working hard for long periods of time



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Common Features Explained

DWR Finish: Stands for durable water-repellent finish. This is a water-repellent coating applied to the jacket during production that allows water to bead off and increases breathability. Depending on how often you use your waterproof, this will need to be refreshed with a reproofer from time to time. Traditionally, these coatings contain fluorocarbons or PFCs, which are known to have harmful effects on both the environment and human health. An increasing number of companies are switching out their DWRs to PFC-free - you can read more about this here

Taped seams: Seals the holes created by stitching needles to prevent water leaking through - every waterproof jacket will feature some form of taped seam.

Stiffened peak: Many waterproof jackets will feature a stiffened peak on the hood to help rain roll off and keep it away from your face.

Helmet-compatible hood: Featured on some more technical waterproof jackets, a helmet-compatible hood has more volume than a normal hood so that the wearer can fit a helmet underneath, combined with volume reducers and adjusters so that it fits without a helmet, too.

Packable hood: For everyday or summer hiking jackets, it can be great to go for an option with a packable hood so that you can stow it away when it’s not needed.

Storm flap: A strip of fabric that covers zips to keep wind and rain out.

Water-resistant zippers: Highly technical jackets feature water-resistant zippers on the pockets and main zips, eliminating the need for a storm flap.

Pit zips: Allows you to zip down the underarm of the jacket to circulate air and aid with ventilation during periods of high exertion.

2-way zips: Allows you to unzip the jacket from the hem, highly functional when wearing a harness or to improve freedom of movement.

Articulated sleeves: Sleeves that have a slight bend in them to move easier with the natural shape of your elbow, increasing mobility.

Drawcords: Placed in areas of excess volume to allow you to cinch in the jacket and improve the fit.

Hook & loop cuffs: Velcro cuff adjusters, featured on many hiking jackets to seal out the rain and cold.

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Activity Guide: Which Jacket When?

Hiking

Best fit: Regular fit with additional room for layers and a drop hem for coverage

Ideal waterproof rating: 15,000mm+

Key features:

  • Stiffened peak hood with adjustments
  • Breathability
  • Storm flaps
  • Pockets for storage
  • Packability

We recommend: Rab Downpour Eco

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Our verdict:

When you’re heading out in the hills, you want something that is going to be reliable if the weather takes a turn. The perfect hiking jacket should have a relatively high hydrostatic head rating, breathability for periods of high output, and a stiffened peak to keep the rain off your face. Secure pockets will keep your essentials close to hand and packability is always useful especially in changeable weather or summer hikes.



Climbing

Best fit: Tapered with extra volume at top and slim at hips

Ideal waterproof rating: 10,000mm+

Key features:

  • High breathability
  • Lightweight packability (e.g. GTX Paclite)
  • Articulated sleeves
  • Abrasion resistant
  • Helmet compatible hood
  • Two-way zip

We recommend: Patagonia Calcite

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Our verdict:

When it comes to climbing, you’ll need a lot of technical features such as articulated sleeves for improved freedom of movement, adjustments to make sure it fits close to your body and under your harness, and a helmet-compatible hood. When you’re climbing in the summer, you’re unlikely to need a jacket as hard wearing as those made for winter climbs - something lightweight and packable is ideal, so that you can throw it in your backpack when you don’t need it.



Trail Running

Best fit: Slim with no excess volume

Ideal waterproof rating: 10,000mm

Key features:

  • Extremely lightweight and packable
  • Ventilation (pit zips or mesh vents)
  • High breathability
  • Adjustable hood
  • Secure pockets
  • Reflective detailing

We recommend: Montane Minimus Stretch Ultra

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Our verdict:

Weight is the most important element when you’re moving fast and light - anything under 200g is what you should be looking for in a trail running jacket to make sure it won’t weigh you down. Ventilation from mesh areas or pit zips, alongside high breathability, will ensure you’re kept cool even as your energy output goes up. Make sure any pockets are secure enough to keep your belongings safe, and reflective panels will make sure you remain visible if you’re heading out after dark.



Mountaineering

Best fit: Tapered, extra volume at the top and slim at the hips

Ideal waterproof rating: 20,000mm+

Key features:

  • Hardwearing & abrasion-resistant
  • Helmet compatible, adjustable hood
  • Adjustable hem & cuffs
  • Articulated sleeves
  • Two-way zip
  • Pit zips

We recommend: Mountain Equipment

Men's Lhotse Women's Manaslu

Our verdict:

For mountaineering, you’ll need a jacket with full protection including a high hydrostatic head rating, and superior durability/resistance to abrasion. Articulated sleeves will help you move more freely, adjustability will help the jacket to fit close to the body in the right areas, and a two way zip is great for accessibility. A helmet-compatible hood will be essential.



Everyday/Walking

Best fit: Regular fit with room for layers

Ideal waterproof rating: 5,000-10,000mm+

Key features:

  • Lightweight
  • Pockets
  • Reflective details
  • Packable/removable hood

We recommend: Adidas RAIN.RDY

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Our verdict:

For an everyday jacket, you need something that’s going to be showerproof enough to keep the rain off for short periods of time, with decent pockets for convenience. It doesn’t need to be highly technical or breathable, could include a packable hood for changeable weather, and have enough room to fit a winter jumper underneath.

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A note on environmental impact

It’s worth noting that waterproof jackets have a relatively high environmental impact in terms of both the chemicals and materials used in their production. The durable water-repellent (DWR) coating applied to the outer layer of a waterproof jacket has traditionally been made using harmful perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) - “forever chemicals” which are known to build up in the environment and have harmful effects on both the planet and human health. In recent years, long chain (C8) PFCs, which have been proven to have damaging effects, have been banned and replaced by short chain (C6) PFCs which are thought to be less harmful. However, emerging evidence has shown that although their impact is slower, C6 PFCs can still have a damaging effect on the environment. Although PFCs are still considered unbeatable in their waterproofing performance, an increasing number of companies are switching to PFC-free DWR in their waterproofs, with the exception of highly technical products.

As well as this, the materials used in waterproofs, particularly the waterproof membrane, are made with plastic compounds which are non-biodegradable and therefore will ultimately end up in landfill. Many brands are switching to recycled materials which is a positive step forward by helping to keep plastic out of landfill for longer. It’s worth keeping in mind the long-term impact that waterproof garments can have - but don't let it put you off completely! When properly cared for, waterproof garments can last a very long time - and this is a sustainable practice in itself. Just make sure that the waterproof you purchase is the right one for you and will remain in your wardrobe for years to come - which is hopefully what this guide has helped you to do!

To maintain optimum performance of your waterproof it is essential that it's kept clean and that the DWR treatment is working. Washing your waterproof and reproofing it regularly is key to ensuring it lasts longer, and that the membrane is kept clean and functioning. Check out this article for a step by step on how to wash waterproof garments properly. For tips on how to best look after all of your outdoor clothing, see our care and repair guide.

Find your new waterproof here:

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