Waterproof Buying Guide
Whether you're taking to the trails, hitting the crag or venturing high into the mountains, a waterproof jacket is a year-round essential for any adventure. Here's our guide to all the tech you might come across to help you choose the right one for you.
What is a waterproof jacket for?
The answer may seem obvious, and it's true that the main function of a waterproof jacket is to keep you dry - but it should also do more than that. Your jacket should also be breathable, allowing sweat vapour to escape so you stay dry from the inside, and should help you to regulate your temperature and stay comfortable throughout your adventure.
What do you need your jacket for?
Many waterproof jackets are designed with a particular activity in mind. Some are made for high-intensity activities like running or cycling. These make breathability their main feature; helping to keep you comfortable by allowing all the extra heat to escape. Others balance durability, waterproofness and breathability, and are for sports such as mountaineering or ski touring. These use hardwearing waterproof fabrics that may feel stiffer on the body but can stand up to the demands of the mountains, such as abrasive rocks or carrying a heavy rucksack.
Most people, however, are usually looking for a jacket that provides everyday protection and sits between these two extremes. The selection of these jackets is much wider, covering a range of brands, prices, fits and colours, with some lighter in weight and others stronger depending on your preference.
Waterproof fabrics have different constructions, which are denoted as “layers”. Waterproof jackets are often 2-layer, 2.5-layer or 3-layer.
A 2-layer waterproof is the most basic construction, featuring an outer “face” fabric with a waterproof membrane bonded to it. An additional lining is usually added to protect this fragile inner layer, which is usually made from nylon mesh, but not bonded to the waterproofing itself. Not many technical waterproofs will have a 2-layer construction.
As in 2-layer jackets, 2.5-layer waterproofs feature an outer fabric bonded to a waterproof membrane. But, instead of a mesh layer to protect the waterproofing, a coating or print is applied to it, which is far better at protecting the waterproof layer and offers extra weather protection, too. These jackets are often lighter and more packable than 3-layer construction, but aren’t as durable and are less suited to mountain environments, so choose one of these if you’re after an everyday, packable waterproof to wear on the trails and keep in your pack for if the weather turns.
In a 3-layer construction, the waterproof technology is sandwiched between face fabric and an inner fabric, usually woven or knitted. These jackets can be heavy and are less packable than 2.5-layer jackets, but are extra durable and suited to mountain conditions. If you’re looking for one waterproof jacket to do everything, go for a 3-layer.
Waterproof fabrics are resistant to water penetration. This is typically done using a membrane or a coating that act as a barrier, preventing moisture from permeating the fabric, keeping you dry and comfortable.
Breathable fabrics allow sweat in the form of water vapour to escape from the inside of the fabric to the outside.
Whilst it is common for a fabric to be waterproof and breathable, there are different variations so some fabrics may prioritise certain properties over others. Some fabrics may be more waterproof and some fabrics may be more breathable to cater for the kind of activity that you are trying to do. Getting the right levels of waterproofness and breathability will make sure you stay comfortable.
Does it have to be Gore-Tex®?
GORE-TEX® is one of the best-known waterproof membrane technologies, and is the choice of many brands thanks to its durability and reliability. However, some brands are so confident in alternatives that they choose not to use GORE-TEX® at all, whilst others choose to use it in some items and use their own membranes in others. Other waterproof fabrics you might come across include DryVent, Pertex Shield, or e-Vent for example. We recommend considering the other features of the jackets first if you're choosing between a GORE-TEX® jacket and a non-GORE-TEX® one, then consider whether the type of techology will make a difference to your adventures.
What are waterproof and breathability ratings?
Waterproof ratings and breathability ratings measure the level of waterproofing and breathability of a fabric used on a product. The higher the waterproof rating, the more waterproof the material will be. Likewise, the higher the breathability rating, the more the fabric will release moisture and vapour, which allows the body to regulate temperature and minimise sweating.
• 5,000mm: This is the minimum rating for a jacket to be called rainproof, however, whilst water resistant, it won’t stand up to much more than a very light rain shower or drizzle.
• 10,000mm – 15,000mm: A jacket in this range will withstand most downpours as well as heavy snow, but will eventually soak through over time if subjected to pressure and heavy, sustained rain.
• 20,000mm and up: This is the rating you should look for if you plan to be out all day, in all conditions, whilst carrying a heavy load.
• 5,000 – 10,000g/m²: This level of breathability is fine for urban travel or camping in the rain, but will get a bit clammy during high-intensity walking or climbing.
• 10,000 – 15,000g/m²: Jackets in this range are suited to more adventurous travel or low-level walking but running or walks with tough uphill ascents might prove too much.
• 15,000 – 20,000g/m² & above: An extended trip to the hills, trekking in warm climates or otherwise working hard and perspiring heavily will require a jacket this breathable.
What features should I look for?
A comfortable fit
How a jacket should fit is entirely subjective: you should simply choose the one you are comfortable wearing. Some like a jacket long enough to cover the waistband, whereas others prefer it short and tailored. However, if you’re buying a jacket for a specific activity, there are a few things to consider when trying on. With climbing, for example, are the pockets high enough to be clear of your harness, or can you still see your feet? Or if you want it for running, is it tailored enough to sit close to the body and reduce drag?
More general considerations include: do the sleeves cover your wrists as you move your arms around? Is the material too tight across the shoulders and underarms? Remember, you may wear the jacket in a range of temperatures, so think carefully about the number of layers underneath and choose the fit accordingly.
Taped seams involve using a heat application of thin waterproof tape to cover the tiny holes made by the needle in the sewing process so they don’t leak. Jackets can be either 'fully taped' or 'critically taped”' – the difference is that a fully taped garment has every seam taped, while a critically taped one has tape only on high exposure areas like the neck, shoulders and chest. No matter how waterproof or breathable the fabric on your jacket, without adequate seam sealing you’ll end up getting wet.
To keep water out, some jackets use what is called a hydro-seal zip: a rubber mechanism that binds shut when closed. Others use a storm baffle, which is a piece of material that folds over the zip. Both methods are effective; a hydro-seal zip is lighter and less bulky, while a storm baffle tends to be more durable.
Some jackets also have pit-zips, which follow the underarms and can be opened if you get too hot. All jackets should be breathable, but this addition is great for comfort if you know you are prone to overheating.
A hood’s function is simple: protect your head and face from the elements. A well-designed hood can make even the heaviest rainstorm feel like a light shower.
Some hoods feature a wire peak, which enables you to ‘customise’ the fit and shape of your hood. Other jackets have larger hoods to accommodate a helmet, which is useful if you plan to wear your jacket for climbing or cycling.
When putting the hood up, make sure it firmly fastens around your head and face without obstructing your vision; that the peak forms a protective shield for your eyes; and that it is easy to turn your head without limiting your movements.
Pull cords and Velcro
Waterproof jackets should have good quality draw cord or Velcro seals at the head and wrists, to effectively keep water out. Velcro tabs should be easily accessed and sealed, and elastic pull-cords should be intuitively placed.
Wondering whether it’s time to replace your waterproof? Read our guide to see whether it’s time to reproof, replace or repair.
When the rain starts pouring, it’s easy to stay inside and hibernate – but we think it’s the best time for an adventure. Here are our tips for making the most of the smaller crowds and the inevitable feeling of accomplishment by heading out for a wet-weather walk.
A waterproof jacket is an outdoor staple all year round, and it’s essential that your jacket stays effective at keeping water out. If you notice that your waterproof isn’t performing as well as it used to, it may be time to reproof, repair or replace it to keep you protected for many adventures to come.
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