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Waterproof Jackets Buying Guide

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.

What is a Waterproof Jacket?

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.

Below, Charlie from GO Outdoors will take you on a brief overview of the different types of waterproof jacket.

Which waterproof fabric is right for me?

With such a large range of waterproof fabrics and at different prices, which is right for you? This simple table should begin to help you find the type of jacket you are looking for, based on the activity it is intended for. For more information on these fabrics, keep reading below.

Active Shell
Breathable Limited Good Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent
Windproof Good Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Good
Durable Good Good Good Good Excellent Excellent
Everyday Use
Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent
Hiking Fair Good Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent
Mountaineering Poor Fair Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent
Climbing Poor Fair Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent
Cycling Poor* Fair Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent
Running Poor* Fair Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent

* Please note, this is a rough guide and there are always exceptions to the rule. The advances being made in coated fabrics offer some fantastic options being developed for the future.

Explaining waterproof fabrics

Most waterproof jackets can be divided into the following categories, depending on the materials they are made of:

  • Coated Fabrics
  • Laminates/Membranes
  • Paramo

What are 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:

North Ridge Meltwater Jacket Regatta Fraser Jacket Craghoppers Rushmore III Jacket
Using Dewpoint Technology Using Isotex Technology Using Aquadry Technology

What are waterproof membranes?

There are many different types of laminates and membranes, but these are by far the most popular:


GORE-TEX® is by far the most well known membrane name on the market, however it can actually be split down into 3 different variations. These variants all offer different levels of protection, dependent on the garment’s use.

GORE-TEX® is a membrane bonded to other protective fabrics to create a laminate. This membrane consists of millions of tiny pores that allow water vapour to evaporate through from inside, but are small enough not to let water through from the outside, which is what makes the fabric waterproof and breathable.

Active Shell
  • Waterproof
  • Breathable
  • Windproof
  • Durable

Tip: An ideal jacket for a walker or day to day use, but during high aerobic activity, you may want to look toward GORE-TEX® Active shell for improved breathability.

  • Highly Breathable
  • Waterproof
  • Windproof
  • Lightweight

Tip: Extremely breathable and ideal for trail runners, cyclists or any arduous activity.

  • Extremely Durable
  • Waterproof
  • Highly Breathable
  • Windproof

Tip: The most rugged of the 3 variants, made to withstand abrasive activity such as rucksack straps, mountaineering etc where the material is put under stress. This is GORE-TEX’s only air-permeable option.


The eVent membrane is made up of millions of tiny pores, which keep the water out, but also allow the vapour to evaporate, making the garment air-permeable.

  • Highly Breathable – The breathable properties of eVent make it extremely popular with highly active users, as the breathability rating is one of the best out there.
  • Clean Regularly – eVent garments are completely waterproof, but do require more care than other membranes. The microscopic pores can become blocked up by oils and dirt from the body, if this happens the waterproof properties of the jacket will become compromised. Clean your garment regularly with a non-detergent solution (such as Tech Wash) and the garment will continue to perform at a high level.

Polartec Neoshell

Unlike GORE-TEX® and eVent, Neoshell has a spun construction, this means that instead of microscopic pores in a membrane, Neoshell is made up of microscopic strands which under a microscope would look a bit like candy floss. This creates an air-permeable, extremely breathable but fully waterproof fabric.

  • Highly Breathable – Much like eVent, Neoshell is created without a PU laminate, which makes the fabric incredibly breathable.
  • Durable
  • Fully Waterproof

What is Páramo?

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:

Paramo Alta 2 Jacket Paramo Pajaro Jacket Paramo Velez Adventure Smock
Using Páramo’s Directional Analogy fabric Using Páramo’s Directional Analogy fabric Using Páramo’s Directional Analogy fabric

How to select your waterproof jacket by features:

Mountaineering 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
  • Tough
  • 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
  • Waterproof
  • Breathable
  • Jackets for everyday use come in a variety of fabrics.
  • Look to coated jackets for a lower cost.

Other features to look out for:


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.

How to care for your jacket:

If a waterproof jacket is working properly, water should bead off of the surface. If water starts to settle into the surface and the jacket looks wet or damp then it may be time to clean and perhaps re-proof.

How to clean:

Wash your jacket with a non-detergent based solution.

Products such as: Nikwax Tech Wash and Granger’s 30ºC Clothing Cleaner are ideal.

How to proof:

Re-proofing isn’t necessary each time you wash, if you’re cleaning your jacket regularly you should be able to give it 3-5 washes before the garment needs to be re-proofed.

A good way to test this, is to spray some water on the jacket when dry, if the water beads – you don’t need to re-proof. If it doesn’t, then follow the steps below.

Products such as: Nikwax TX Direct/ Nikwax TX Direct Wash-In and Granger’s 30ºC proofer are ideal.

Always check the label before washing your jacket for information on caring for your specific item.