Waterproof Jackets - Buying Guide - GO Outdoors
Shopping for waterproof jackets can be daunting, when you come face to face with all the different names that brands have for their fabrics. In this guide we aim to explain things in a simpler fashion, so you know exactly what you need before you go shopping.
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Waterproof jackets (or hard shells as they are also known) are the final protective layer in your layering system. This layer provides a waterproof barrier.
The main difference between these waterproof layers is the fabric they are made from and the level of breathability that this will give you.
The level of breathability you need is dependent on your chosen activity:
- High aerobic activities (such as mountain climbing, hill walking etc) necessitate the use of highly breathable fabrics.
- Less arduous activities (such as day to day use, or lowland walking) require a less breathable garment.
> More information on the importance of breathability, and how it works is explained in our video below:
|| Hill Walking
|| Lowland Walking/ Everyday use
- Highly breathable
- A hood that is helmet compatible
- Pockets which are out of the way of a climbing harness
- Provide greater freedom of movement
- Look at technologies such as eVent, GORE-TEX and Neoshell
- Highly breathable
- A hood with a stiffened peak
- A hood with a rear draw cord
- Look at technologies such as GORE-TEX and eVent
- Jackets for everyday use come in a variety of fabrics.
- Look to coated jackets for a lower cost.
Most waterproof jackets can be divided into the following categories, depending on the materials they are made of:
- Coated Fabrics
Different brands will have different names for their coated fabrics, however many will follow a similar construction.
- Created using PU (polyurethane) on the inside of fabric
- Limited breathability (dependent on the coating)
- Best suited toward low to mid-level actviity
Coated fabrics will be available in either two or three layer construction.
Some common coatings are:
AquaDry (Used by Dare 2B and Craghoppers)
IsoTex (Used by Regatta)
Aquafoil (Used by Berghaus)
HydroDry (Used by Sprayway)
Dewpoint (Used by North Ridge)
Precip (Used by Marmot)
Here are some examples of coated jackets:
- Created using solid sheet bonded to the fabric
The two most common laminates are:
- Created using a solid sheet of PU bonded to the face fabric with either a scrim or mesh drop liner for extra protection.
- Offers the same level of breathability as a coated fabric, but more durability, making it better for stretch fabrics.
- Created using a sheet of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) or Teflon as it is more commonly known.
- The Teflon is stretched to create billions of microscopic pores, too small for water to get in but large enough for water vapour to escape, creating an incredibly breathable and waterproof membrane.
- Protected with a coating of PU.
Some common membranes are:
GORE-TEX (What is GORE-TEX?
eVent (What is eVent?
Recommended use: (dependent on style of jacket)
Here are some example of Membrane jackets:
Páramo aren’t just a popular brand of walking clothing, they’ve also created their own entirely unique waterproofing system.
- Using a breathable and permeable pump action liner, known as Páramo’s Directional Analogy fabric.
- Sharing similar properties to animal fur as opposed to a barrier like other systems, Páramo has the ability to move moisture rather than just water vapour, reducing the clammy feeling on the inside of your jacket. Even if the outside of your Paramo jacket is wet, you stay warm inside.
- Unrivaled breathability
- Constructed from two layers of fabric, which trap layers of air giving good insulation in cold weather.
Here are some examples of Paramo jackets:
The ability to repel water is tested in lab conditions by a fabric's ability to keep out a certain amount of water, and is measured by standards by (in the UK) known as PSI (pounds per square inch), or the Hydrostatic Head which is measured in milimetres.
Sometimes denoted as HH, is a test in which a fabric is held taut underneath a sealed tube of water 1 inch in diameter. Over 24 hours it is observed to see how many millimetres of water the fabric can withstand before it leaks through. When the fabric begins to seep water, the measurement is noted.
This relates to the amount of water pressure that a garment can withstand both from the pressure within the garment (the wearer) and the external conditions (the weather).
To be 100% waterproof, the British Standard of 3 PSI has to be met, which means the jackets can withstand 1500mm of water pressure. Pressure is not as simple as the pressure of a rain storm, simply moving in the jacket will exert pressure on the fabric. Typical activities like kneeling and walking will generate 8000mm of pressure. Most jackets typically exceed the minimum level for this very reason, reaching around 40 PSI.
Generally speaking, the higher the PSI, the more effective the waterproofing will be. However the higher the PSI level and the more effective the waterproof is, the more expensive the jacket will be, so your choice of jacket should be based on what you can afford, the use of your jacket, and what other features it has in it's favour.
Fit is important for any type of clothing, and a waterproof jacket is no different. Some things to look for:
- Jacket is large enough to fit a midlayer and baselayer underneath
- The jacket shouldn’t be too short that it rides up when moving and exposes your back
- The jacket shouldn’t be too long that it restricts movement
- All waist drawcords should be at the correct position on your body, these are there to adjust the fit of longer jackets
- Cuffs can be fastened at the wrist
- The zip goes all the way up to your chin
The fit of your hood is important, in poor conditions you lose most of your body heat through your head. The size and fit of the hood can be adjusted on most jackets, to make sure the hood covers your head and moves with it, without restricting your view. Stiffened hoods often offer more protection from bad weather. Mountaineers need to make sure their hoods are helmet compatible.
Zips can be taken for granted, but the last thing you need when you’re caught in bad weather is to have a jacket that you can’t fasten. Zips should be smooth running and, if they’re not waterproof, hidden with storm flaps to prevent water from getting in. Zips are also a great source of ventilation for when the body gets too hot, look for pit zips on higher end jackets, these help regulate your body heat and move moisture more efficiently.
The number of pockets you need is dependent on your intended use for the jacket. Jackets that offer a large chest pocket or inside pocket are usually for the purpose and size of an OS Map and compass. Pockets should have storm flaps covering the zips to make sure what goes inside, stays dry.
Everybody is different, and drawcords are a very handy way of making sure that the fit of the jacket can be made to fit you perfectly. These drawcords can be found at the bottom of the jacket, and sometimes on the back of the hood and on the waist of the jacket. Adjust these cords and make sure the jacket fits you as perfectly as possible.