How to choose a good waterproof jacket

This was a question recently asked on the Adventure Geek Facebook Page. The answer went into a longish list of things to consider, so I thought it best to produce a little blog about my opinion on waterproof jackets.

I have a whole range of waterproof jackets. Some are super expensive and others are cheap and cheerful, but is expensive always the best?

Let's face it, even the best gear will still wet through if you are walking all day in torrential rain. You can't escape as all jackets have a big hole where your torso and head goes and two other holes where your arms go! Where there is a hole, water will eventually get through! But, there are some awesome jackets out there that do a good job of delaying that saturation point. Listed below are eight points to consider when looking for a good waterproof jacket.

#1 – Is it breathable?

I will never buy a jacket without pit-zips or breathable areas. I have a rather expensive Mountain Warehouse Rab jacket, which is built for the bad weather. I used this jacket when climbing Kinder Scout in January this year and even though the jacket did it's job and never let any water in, I was still soaking wet from my own sweat. The same happened on the Pyrenees with a Craghoppers jacket, and once again on The Jurassic Way with my Frogtoggs rain jacket.

I have a cyclists jacket which I use in the winter which I purchased from Halfords and it is perfect for walking in the rain. It has breathable areas underneath the armpits, as well as across my back. Decathlon also has a good range of inexpensive rain jackets with similar technology, and the Rab ranges such as Kangri GTX Jacket is one of the best on the market (but they are super expensive @ £275!).

#2 – Do you have to buy Gortex?

GORE-TEX® is one of the best-known waterproofing technology for materials and it certainly does a good job of repelling the wet stuff. It does not breath brilliantly, nor does it dry quickly. If your jacket does wet through and you are on a multiple-day adventure then you may prefer something that dries quickly. In my opinion, I would look at all the other aspects in this list first, before deciding if Gortex is right for you or not.

#3 – Consider the weight of the jacket

Depending on your activity will help you decide if the weight of the jacket is something to consider when hiking. If I am on a multi-day backpacking trip and the forecast is looking ok, with perhaps light drizzles, then I will add my Frogtoggs to my pack as an emergency waterproof jacket. If weight in my pack is not that important (such as just a day hike when I am not carrying a tent etc), then I will take a heavier jacket.

#4 – Think about layered jackets

Most rain jackets will have either a 2, 2.5 or 3 layer system. For general hiking, you will ideally want a jacket which has a 2.5 layer.  2.5-layer waterproofs usually have an outer fabric bonded to a waterproof membrane. These jackets are often lighter and more packable than 3-layer construction and they are also not as durable as the 3 layers.

#5 – Zips! Check out the zips as they are super important.

Take a look at the jacket you are thinking of buying and see if the zips are exposed or if they have a storm flap covering them. Water has a way of discovering the tiniest little holes, and zips are one area to think about.

#6 – There is nothing worse than a floppy hood!

I guarantee, if it is raining then you will also be suffering from other elements such as the wind! With this in mind, you want your waterproof jacket to have a hood that is going to stay on your head and keep you dry. Look for a jacket that has a peak, or a wired peak that you can alter. I would also consider a jacket that has a chin guard (with a nice fleece lining so that your chin does not get scuffed). There is nothing worse than constantly having to keep your hand on your hood to stop it blowing around in cold, wet and windy weather. Being able to synch down your hood is an essential ingredient for a good waterproof jacket!

#7 – Does it have velcro wrists?

Actually, it doesn't have to be velcro, it could just be elasticated or even pull cord, but you need a jacket where you can minimise any risk of water penetration by battening down all areas of possible leakage. The cuffs of the jacket should be able to synch neatly around your wrists.

#8 – Can you cinch down the bottom of the jacket?

And last but not least, you also need to be able to tighten the bottom of the jacket so that it is not flapping around. We need a close-fitting jacket that is breathable in the right places – not breathable because it is poorly constructed!

Summary

The best way to choose the perfect jacket for you really depends on your budget and the type of weather you will be walking in. If you are walking the dog around your local park then this will be very different from the jacket you will choose for a backpacking trip where every ounce counts. The one element that I will never regret is buying a jacket that is breathable and always has pit zips. I hope you found some value in this article.