Your outer layer is your barrier against the elements, and is perhaps the most crucial element of your outdoor kit. But with new technologies, fabrics, and designs emerging all the time, it can be easy to get confused looking at the huge range of jackets to choose from. This guide will cover the main types of jackets and their key features, to help you decide which type of jacket will best suit your needs.
What type of clothing will best suit your activity? This will narrow your choice immediately. For example, an insulated snowsports jacket will most likely be too heavy and warm for general walking and vice versa.
What are the most important features for your end use? Durability, waterproofing, breathability, light weight, vents, freedom of movement, cut or colour?
Remember that waterproof garments can be very versatile. They can easily be combined with various layers to suit changing uses and weather conditions.
Best for: Trail running, general day hiking, summer backpacking
Packable and lightweight to keep in your pack when you need it
Not the most durable
Key features: Packability | Taped seams | Adjustable hood, hem & cuffs | Lightweight (under 350g) | Storm flap
Best for: Climbing, mountaineering, winter hiking
Durable & protective in all kinds of environments
More expensive than a lightweight waterproof
Key features: Durable fabrics | Helmet compatible hood with stiffened peak visor | Volume adjusters | Chin guards | Pit zips | Two-way zips | Articulated sleeves | Tapered fit | Water-resistant zips | RECCO reflector
Best for: Variety of winter activities, casual wear
Highly versatile during winter months, usually very lightweight
Can cause overheating if layering underneath, not waterproof
Key features: Articulated sleeves | DWR coating | Stuff sack | Helmet-compatible hood | Adjustable cuffs & hem | Elasticated edges | Insulated hood
Best for: Fast paced activities like trail running, climbing, and cycling
Lightweight and wind-resistant
Not usually waterproof
Key features: DWR coating | Stretch fabric | Helmet-compatible hood with peak | Articulated arms | Two-way zip | Adjustable hem | Packable | Pit zips
Best for: Variety of winter activities
Cool features to make your life easier on the slopes
Quite heavy for general wear
Key features: Powder skirts | Pass pockets | RECCO reflectors | Articulated elbows | Helmet compatible hood with visor | Pit zips | Down or synthetic insulation | Cuffs with thumbholes | Goggle wipe
It goes without saying that a good layering system is an essential element of dressing for the outdoors, and wearing the right jacket is a key element of this. Layering correctly will keep you warm, dry and comfortable whatever the weather. With advances in fabric technology, there are a lot of options to choose from, but the real key to layering is simplicity. If you follow these general principles you can tailor the system to suit your individual needs. Wearing multiple thin layers traps heat far more efficiently than a few bulky ones. A clever and versatile solution is to aim for three layers - an outer shell, an insulating midlayer, and a thin baselayer.
1. Baselayer: It is essential to ensure that each layer is breathable. A cotton t-shirt will negate the benefits of a breathable shell, trapping moisture before it even hits the jacket. When you stop, the moisture on the cotton t-shirt will then cool down and cause a chill. Choose a base layer made from a performance fabric that wicks perspiration away from your skin to the mid-layer, like merino wool or polyester.
2. Midlayer: A fleece is an ideal choice as a midlayer as it will continue to transport moisture away from your body to the shell while also providing insulation.
3. Jacket: A breathable jacket that suits the climate and activity will finish the layering system as it will protect you from the elements whilst also allowing moisture from the inner layers to escape.
Once you have mastered the art of layering you can regulate your body temperature by wearing one, two or all three layers to match the weather conditions. Base and mid-layers are also available in a wide variety of weights to provide the optimum insulation, whatever your needs.
Keeping any kind of jacket clean is essential to ensuring that it functions properly. Make sure you regularly wash and reproof your jacket to keep the DWR treatment working. How you wash/dry your jacket will vary slightly depending on the materials it’s made from, so make sure to check out our care & maintenance guide for more information.