Waterproof Jacket Guide
Buying Guide for Waterproof Jackets and Trousers
Of all the outdoor equipment available on the market today, there is more choice when it comes to waterproof jackets than any other bit of gear. With all this choice, it is not easy to discern which jacket is right for you. Some jackets boast at having a multitude of different features, whilst others don’t. To help you identify which jacket is right for you, we have written a guide explaining some of the common features and terminology.
Keeping the rain out is usually the first consideration when choosing a jacket. The way jackets go about doing this varies quite a lot. A basic waterproof jacket will have Polyurethane coating to the underside of the fabric with taped seems and a water repellent finish on the outside. A more technical jacket will have a multi-layered branded membrane such as Gore-Tex or eVent laminated to the underside of the fabric again with a water repellent finish on the outside.
As you do any activity, be it walk, ski, climb or cycle, you will generate body heat, and start to perspire. If a jacket is not breathable, condensation will quickly start to build up on the inside of the jacket, making it a pretty miserable place to be. The concept of a jacket being breathable is that the fabric has some way of allowing this perspiration to escape from the jacket in the form of vapour.
Jackets are generally designed with different end uses in mind. Some are cut longer, which is great if you are wearing it for walking the dog, and want something which will also keep the tops of your legs dry. Some are cut shorter, which is better if you are wearing it on a bike or with a harness.
Handy for keeping the elements out, there is a variety of different types of zips commonly used on waterproof jackets. Many have a tough zip with a flap of material running the length of the zip secured by poppers or Velcro to keep out the wind and rain. Some more technical or lightweight jackets have waterproof zips, which do not require the protective flap of material over them. Some jackets have zips which you can undo from both the top and bottom of the jacket, helpful if you are trying to sit down in a long jacket.
Hoods play a very important role in maintaining body heat in cold or wet weather. There are a few different hood features worth looking out for.
Peak: Important for keeping the rain out of your eyes and glasses, having a stiff fabric or wired peak can be extremely beneficial.
Volume Adjuster: Really useful in helping to maintain your peripheral vision, volume adjusters are usually velcro tabs or draw cords on the back of the hood, allowing you to take in excess fabric.
Helmet Compatible: Important if you are going to be using your jacket for climbing or biking, having a hood big enough to accommodate a helmet can save a lot of heartache.
Sleeves on waterproof jackets fall into two main categories. Firstly there are box cut sleeves, where the fabric is cut and stitched using straight lines for easy manufacture. Secondly there are articulated sleeves, where the sleeves are cut to mimic the shape of the arm when in motion, making for a more comfortable and flexible fit.
There is a wide variety of ways in which to finish the cuffs on a jacket. A basic pack-away jacket might have a simple elasticated cuff. Whilst effective at keeping the rain out, these are not the most comfortable things to have around your wrists all day. Most jackets have some sort of popper or velcro adjustment tab, which allow the wearer to adjust the cuff to a comfortable size taking into account any gloves or mittens they are wearing. A technical mountain jacket might have tabs on the cuff adjustment, which will allow the wearer to adjust the cuffs whilst wearing gloves or with their teeth.
Drawstrings help keep your jacket fitting properly, preventing excess fabric from flapping all over the place. How this works depends on the style of jacket. A short, active cut jacket might have one drawstring around the waist. A longer length, walking cut jacket might have two, one around the waist and another at the bottom of the jacket. These can be accessed either on the outside of the jacket, within the zip gutter or from inside a pocket.
Be it a place to store your phone, a compass and a chocolate bar, or somewhere to keep your hands warm in the winter, pockets are the feature that can make or break a jacket. The number, positioning and size of the pockets on a jacket are important things to bear in mind when deciding which jacket is right for you. If you are using your jacket for walking the dog, big pockets for leads, treats and bags are useful. If you are wearing your jacket with a harness on, having the main pocket higher up out of the way is useful.
Whilst having a windproof, waterproof shell will help keep the bad weather out and the heat in, some jackets have additional layers of insulation. These can either be stitched into the fabric of the jacket, common in ski-wear, or they can be fixed in with zips and poppers so are detachable. These insulation layers are commonly either quilted or fleece.
Some more technical jackets have additional ventilation zips to help keep you cool and aid breathability. These are usually located around the sleeve, either underneath (pit zips) or on the top of the sleeve.
Want to know how to look after your jacket? Read our waterproof maintenance guide here.