Guide to buying a waterproof jacket
Budget, activity, time of year, size, gender, fit, use and even colour preference are all important considerations when choosing a men's waterproof jacket or a women's waterproof jacket. Of course, you may end up finding that one or two factors are more vital – such as price over colour, or fit over budget – when compared to others, but there are still some general pointers to keep in mind.
When will you wear the waterproof jacket?
The season will generally dictate the type of waterproof jacket that you buy. Most waterproof jackets fall into one of three categories: Lightweight, general or all-purpose and mountain.
If you plan to be outdoors in winter, you’ll want a heavier weight fabric that is specially designed to keep out wind and heavy rain. This is a mountain jacket. In summer, a lightweight jacket will suit warmer conditions, especially if you tend to sweat.
For all-round use go for the all-purpose jacket, which offers the compromise of suiting generally okay winter and summer conditions, but won’t be so specifically designed.
If you are a fair-weather outdoors fan then it might be that you do not even need a waterproof jacket, and if so, we’d suggest you g for a soft-shell jacket.
Top tips for choosing a waterproof jacket:
- A heavier weight waterproof jacket will be wearable in winter and on many summer days in the UK.
- A lightweight summer jacket will be cheaper but less useable year-round.
- If you will be outdoors when it might – or might not – rain, choose a jacket that can be packed away into a small pack for easier stowing in your rucksack.
Waterproof vs breathability
There are numerous different waterproof jacket fabrics on the market, including Gore-Tex, HyVent, eVent, Hellytech, Repel Storm, NGX and Conduit. Add to this, newcomers such as Gore-Tex Active Shell, Polartec NeoShell and Mountain Hardwear's DryQ Elite.
Each claims to be highly waterproof and breathable. Each fabric producer also makes different types of fabric, from thicker and highly waterproof to thinner and highly breathable. Then there is membrane and coated fabrics to think about.
Gore-Tex is by far the biggest seller and also favoured by experienced outdoors folks, but it also tends to be one of the most expensive brands. Price, use, weather conditions and your personal perspiration levels will affect your choice.
As a guide to choosing jacket fabrics:
Breathability Scale of 0 - 10, where an old-fashioned yellow sailing raincoat is a 0, totally non-breathable, and hiking naked is a 10, totally breathable:
Gore-Tex Active Shell - 8
eVENT laminate - 6
MontBell Breeze Dry Tec laminate - 5
Gore-Tex XCR - 4
Gore-Tex Paclite - 3
Mountain Hardwear Conduit - 2
Marmot Precip II - 2
Red Ledge - 1
(Note: We have not tested Neoshell and DryQ as yet.)
Top tips when choosing the fabric and price of a waterproof jacket:
- With all jackets look out for guarantees for the life of the jacket, or a good many years of use.
- Check for guides to washing and keeping the fabrics in good condition.
- Learn how to reproof a jacket
A wealth of details and features
Waterproof jackets can be as basic as a pull-over jacket with just a short neck zip, or include a host of details such as two-way zips, map pocket, hand pockets, zipped sleeve pocket, fitted and peaked hood, adjustable waist, cuffs and hood and pit zips.
Again, the choice depends on what you will use it for. If you are buying a jacket to stay dry on the walk to work or the shops, it’s unlikely you’ll need a highly technical jacket. A simple design that keeps you dry will be ideal.
However, if you’re a winter walker or a keen hiker, pockets will be important, as will pit zips, which keep you cool when the going is kind-of warm.
Top tips: Features to look out for include:
- Softer fabric on the inside neck of the jacket will be more comfortable against your chin skin for times when you need to zip the jacket to the top.
- Hand pockets set higher up a jacket allow you access while also having the waistband of your rucksack done up.
- Two-way zips make jackets more versatile, improve under jacket accessibility and offer a way to cool you off when the going gets warm.
- A well-designed hood will turn with your head and have a stiff peak wire. It should also be adjustable at the back and at the front on both sides so that you can minimise facial exposure and obtain a good snug fit that cannot blow off.
- A storm flap over the zip and pockets is essential for keeping heavy rain out, especially in the winter. Some jacket manufacturers have designed waterproof zips, which have been give the thumbs up and down depending on who you ask!
- Colour is optional but a high visibility colour such as red, orange or yellow might one day save your life if you become lost of stranded on the hills.
- Some zip pulls are easier to handle with gloves on. Look for larger style pulls if you plan to wear the jacket outdoors in winrter.
Shape and sizing of a waterproof jacket
The length of a walking jacket should be enough to cover some of your backside and many hiking coats are now designed to be longer at the back than the front.
In general a men’s jacket will better suit the shape of a man, while a female-fit jacket is better suited to women. Again, this is preference and some women will feel more comfortable in a looser fit men’s jacket. Remember, however, that female-fit jackets will also be shaped to allow for a bosom and offer a better fit across narrower shoulders and waists and wider hips.
Women’s jackets also come in more feminine colours, while men’s jackets tend to be in “guys’ hues”. But this isn’t a rule and you may find you prefer a jacket in on the male or female rack according to colour.
* Buy a jacket that will allow for layers underneath. There is no point in buying a jacket that fits snugly over a t-shirt if you then plan to wear it in winter over three baselayers.
* Can you move your arms in your jacket? A jacket that is too tight on the shoulders will be hopeless when you’re trying to put on your rucksack, for example.
* When trying on the jacket, make sure the cuff covers the top part of your hand. It is really unpleasant on a rainy day to have rain dripping on to the gap on your wrist between short sleeves and gloves. If you plan to use the jacket for cycling the arm length will need to be even longer to accommodate your position on a bike.
Different sports and activities
If you have the budget, go for a waterproof jacket that is designed to suit each sport, including hiking, skiing, running and cycling. Most jacket designers will think about the sport participation. For example, when on a bike the arms and jacket length need to be long enough to reach the hands and over the bum when seated on a bike.
Meanwhile, a running jacket will be lighter and more closely fitted to reduce the weight and annoying bagginess of flapping clothing while running.
A winter and summer waterproof jacket will be designed with each season firmly in mind.
Likewise, a ski jacket will have added details such as an arm pocket for stowing the lift pass.
- If you plan to be fairly active on your outdoors pursuit, such as running or climbing, look for jackets with stretch panels integrated into the design.
Anything else to think about?
We have not yet mentioned lined vs unlined jackets. Some jackets have a silky or mesh lining. This is meant to aid comfort against the skin. However, most jackets tat are fully breathable will not have a lining, because this might hamper the ability of the fabric to allow sweat vapour out. The Gore-Tex active shell has a softer lining attached to the membrane that claims to offer superb breathability. Our reviewers agree with this.
Waterproofs aren't magic. Even the most expensive, top-end waterproof jacket will let in some moisture if you stand under a waterfall, and build up a little dampness inside if you go running in a heatwave. You can help a jacket to work well by keeping it clean and occasionally reproofing.
Also, you will only feel the full benefit of a jacket’s breathability if the layers you're wearing underneath can wick away moisture. There's little point paying hundreds of pounds for a fantastic jacket if you then wear a cotton t-shirt underneath.
Any other questions?
If you would like to ask any further questions about buying a waterproof jacket please do contact us on 0844 873 82 86. We will aim to answer you personally and add your question to this guide.
Our top Summer Waterproof Jacket picks:
Summer waterproof jackets for men
You don’t get much for under £25 these days, but you can buy a stylish and highly practical water-repellent Dare 2b jacket. The jacket is just the thing to keep out the wind and will also see off rain, so long as you’re not caught in a heavy rainstorm for the entire day. This is the perfect jacket for fair-weather walkers and outdoors types. Added features include cuffs with elasticated thumb loops (we love!) and a ventilated back panel.
It’s amazing what you can buy in the waterproof jacket department for a shave over £30. This jacket not only looks fab, coming in a stylish range of colours, but also does a grand job of keeping the rain out, while also allow sweat to evaporate. Regatta uses Isolite 5000 fabric for this jacket, and our testers have been highly impressed with it. Taped seams and a concealed hood are great additions to the jacket.
We’ll let you into a secret. At OutdoorLook we have been fighting over who gets to test this Helly Hansen jacket. It’s just so all-round practical. Perfect for walking to work, the jacket will also hold its own while out for a day’s hiking in the summer hills. The Odin offers brilliant water repellency and a really comfy-to-wear ripstop windproof fabric. Helly Hansen always make stylish jackets and this is no exception. We like the addition UPF 30+ sun protection, for those days when it is alternately sunny, showery and sunny again.
Summer waterproof jackts for women
You never know when you might get caught in the rain. On the way to the office, picking the kids up from school or during a family walk in the country one Sunday afternoon. That’s why a Regatta Packaway jacket makes a great buy, and for just a pound or so over £20. The jacket is cheap – and cheerful – but still offers good waterproofing, taped seams, an integral hood and pockets. Pop it into your handbag or rucksack and go!
We’re loving the stylish good looks of this Dare 2b Luckstruck jacket. It offers a super feminine-fit with all the practical advantages of a lightweight and breathable waterproof fabric, taped seams, hood and zipped pockets. And when the weather turns out to be sunshiney, you can always pack the jacket away in its own pocket.
This isn’t just any old packable women’s waterproof jacket, this is a high quality Helly Hanson jacket with breathable Helly Tech PERFORMANCE 2 Ply fabric, pit-zip venting, a hood with one-hand adjustment and other great details, such as front storm flap, elasticated bottom hem and adjustable cuffs. While the guys have been fighting over the Helly Hansen Odin, the women at OutdorLook have been eyeing up the Seattle!