How to Choose a Waterproof Jacket
As hikers, we’ve all heard the phrase, “when it rains, it pours.” But how many of you have heard this: “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”
We often misjudge the rain, which is why it’s easy to end up soaked, cold and miserable (unless you like being cold and wet, in which case scrub the comment about misery). However, keeping yourself prepared for rain, especially whilst you’re hiking and trekking, is important because, no matter where your travels take you, the weather can shift from light showers to torrential downpour in a matter of moments.
However, choosing the best rain gear for outdoor pursuits will keep you protected, dry and happy. This short and simple guide will help you choose an ideal waterproof jacket.
Before we get into this post, if you’re looking for more details on the right clothes for your hikes, then check out our big guide to hiking clothing.
A better waterproof jacket has an improved tendency to keep the rain out, so you stay dry. It’s also important to understand the difference between cheap and better jackets.
Below are two common categories of waterproof jacket:
- Waterproof coating
- Waterproof membrane
Jackets with Waterproof Coating
Jackets with a waterproof coating are treated with Durable Water Repellent (DWR) liquid coating. Normally, this coating is applied before the manufacturing process is complete by ‘washing’ the garment in a water repellent liquid. Once dry, this coating prevents the outer layer of the jacket from absorbing water and reducing breatability. In essence, you stay dry!
There are a number of tiers of jackets with the less expensive options offering limited breathability. Below are some manufacturers that use their waterproof coating, including:
- Isotex (Regatta)
- Texapore (Jack Wolfskin)
- HydroDry (Sprayway)
- Aquafoil (Berghaus)
- AquaDry (Craghoppers & Dare 2b)
Note: no matter how expensive the jacket, it will require regular re-proofing.
Jackets with Waterproof Membrane
This type of rain jacket is manufactured using a thin layer of waterproof membrane. The layer is permeable, but only one way as it allows moisture out, but prevents water droplets from soaking through the material.
Broadly speaking, a waterproof membrane has better breathability and moisture control than other types of fabrics. In this category, GORE-TEX® is the most recognised and trusted membrane used by numerous brands like Berghaus, Sprayway, Craghoppers, and many more.
For environments where the weather can change quickly, GORE-TEX provides the highest level of protection from moisture ingress whilst providing excellent windproofing.
GORE-TEX jackets are made using one of the following construction methods:
- 2 layer – a combination of outer fabric bonded to a waterproof membrane, this type can feel bulky and inflexible.
- 2.5 layer – similar to 2 layer, but with an additional protective film sprayed onto the exterior, this type is flexible and lightweight.
- 3 layer – like 2.5 layer, with a scrim layer bonded to the inner membrane, this type is the most durable, but can feel stiff, or restrictive, when worn.
Waterproofing is important for any aerobic activities such as hiking or trekking, but there are more considerations which we cover below.
Breathability of a jacket is essential and must not be ignored. Picking a jacket that isn’t breathable will result in heat and sweat being retained inside the garment and result in you mid and base layers being soaked. In general, the more breathable the material the more expensive the garment and you need to factor this into your budget.
If you refuse to compromise on breathability, you must choose a jacket with a membrane that can transfer heat and moisture to the exterior, like GORE-TEX®. Other features to consider are ventilation pit zips (underarm zips used to vent heat) and mesh-lined pockets.
Finding the Right Hydrostatic Head Rating
The hydrostatic head rating measures the waterproof level of a jacket. You can calculate this rating by applying a water column on an inch against the fabric. Here’s a simple explanation:
Example: a jacket has a 28000 mm rating, which means a pillar of 28m pillar of water can be placed on any part of material before moisture penetrates through. A good waterproof fabric for use in light rain is one that has a good rating of at least 5000 mm.
If you intend to spend many long days where the risk of heavy rain is high, you should choose a jacket with a rating of at least 10,000mm for better weather protection.
What is MVRT (Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate)?
MVRT rating is a gauge of how breathable the jacket is. This figure is calculated by how much moisture can pass through the fabric in a day. In general, this rating is displayed as 10,000 gr/m²/day or 10,000gr.
Most jackets built using the membrane system are highly breathable.
The correct fit is essential and it’s important to consider the sizing. A close fitting, or tight, jacket won’t flap around in the wind and will be effective at transferring moisture (breathing). But you also need to make unrestricted movement and the wearing of additional layers a factor when choosing a jacket.
The best waterproof jacket is one that can easily cover the lower back when you lift your arms over your head. In addition, the cuffs should cover your wrists for warmth, and not ride up when you articulate your arms. It’s better if the jacket has adjusters because they can be used for tailoring the jacket to your unique body shape.
If you want to wear the jacket over layers like fleece, choose one size up. There are three common types of jacket fit styles.
If you want to purchase a jacket for everyday wear, go for regular fit jackets as they are longer in length for extra protection.
Active fit is designed for people who want a waterproof jacket that is neither snug nor too baggy. This category of jacket offers enough space to wear another layer underneath.
Designed for technical activities such as hiking and climbing, this fit offers better freedom of movement. This type of waterproof jacket is designed to fit close to the body.
Technical fit jackets tend to be shorter in length. They also have higher pockets set just below the chest to allow easy access.
Below are a list of activities and features you should consider when buying a suitable jacket:
Hiking & Hill Walking
- Stiffened hood
- Good breathability
- Storm flaps
- Consider choosing a jacket with a waterproof and breathable membrane, such as GORE-TEX®, for comfort and high specification.
- Large, accessible pockets that sit above your rucksack’s waistband.
- Packable to a small size to reduce storage in your ruck.
Mountaineering & Climbing
- Good breathability
- Relaxed fit to allow for greater freedom of movement required when extended your arms to reach handholds.
- Tough & hard wearing
- Consider choosing a jacket with a waterproof membrane, such as GORE-TEX®
- Hood that allows easy helmet wear
- Adjustable hem and cuffs
Everyday Use – Commuting, Dog Walking, etc.
- A waterproof coated jacket
- Pockets for storage
This feature refers to the fabric’s capacity to let the water slide on the surface. It’s a treatment given to the fabric’s outer side. During the lifetime of fabric, this feature can be renewed.
Waterproof Jacket Features
Depending on the brand and price, the waterproof jackets may differ. Also, you must look for key features that separate an ordinary jacket from a better one. We’ve highlighted some additional features that will be important to particular activities:
- Adjustable Hood: A good hood is one that offers a snug fit and provides better protection from the wind and rain. A hood with a peak protects the face.
- Chin Guard: Try to pick a waterproof jacket that has a soft fabric on the inside of the jacket. Located at the inside top of the zipper, it protects the face from catching the zip or waterproof fabric or rubbing.
- Taped Seams: Taping helps seal the inside of the jacket, which adds an extra level of protection against leaks. If you’re venturing into extreme cold environments, avoid taped seams as they can freeze and burst.
- Storm Flaps: A waterproof jacket with a thin strip of material inside the zipper will add an extra layer of protection against wind and rain.
- Pockets: A waterproof jacket with inner pockets is a useful storage location for important pieces of gear such as your GPS, compass and chocolate. Outer pockets with covered zips, rather than a velcro sealing strip, will reduce the risk of water from getting inside.
- Adjustable Hem: Choose a jacket with an adjustable hem to reduce wind and rain from finding a way in.
- Adjustable Cuffs: The adjustable cuff comes in handy to create a snug fit. And, as with zippered pockets, you reduce the amount of cold air and moisture that could be driven up your sleeve.
The best material for a waterproof jacket is considered to be polyester microfiber material. It has a special coating, which makes it perfect for raincoats. Another great fabric is polyurethane laminate, which is very durable.
Gore-Tex is considered the best, but the more sustainable alternative is waxed cotton, which sounds exactly what it is. For this material, wax is applied to the cotton to make the cloth hydrophobic.
Gore-Tex is not 100% waterproof as it is a membrane. That said, it is HIGHLY windproof and has excellent breathability. Out of the materials available, it provides the most flexibility in terms of the activities you can use it for.
The 2L Gore-Tex jackets is the standard form, but it’s also heavier and less packable than 3L. 3L Gore-Tex jackets have more technical applications and are used to build products for people who need maximum versatility.
Gore-Tex is expensive, and performance tapers slowly over time as the material ages and wears. In addition, the taped seams are a weak point. From an environmental perspective, and being made using hydrofluoric acid, chloroform and fluorspar, it’s not very ‘Earth friendly’
Choosing a waterproof jacket for hiking and trekking is important. While doing so, you need to consider a few essential aspects, including breathability, hydrostatic head, sizing, water repellency, and waterproof jacket.