Buying a new waterproof jacket can be a real minefield, with so many brands, fabrics, features and more available it can be confusing trying to work out which is the best waterproof jacket for your needs. In this guide, we'll look to clear some of the fog in this area by explaining some key differences you might find and pros and cons of different fabrics and constructions which should hopefully answer the age-old question of 'why is this jacket £20, and this other jacket £350?'.
It's a bold statement, but if something is described as a waterproof jacket, you can pretty much guarantee that it is waterproof to some degree. The term waterproof should not be mistaken with 'water-resistant', anything that is described as water-resistant is only really designed for a light rain shower over a short period of time.
The main difference between waterproof jackets are usually their construction the fabric used, and whether or not it uses a membrane. All these factors together will impact how breathable a waterproof jacket is, and it's within the breathability of a jacket that you'll find the main differences. A general rule is that cheaper waterproof jackets are likely to not be very breathable, and only really for use around town to keep the rain off, while more expensive waterproof jackets are usually designed to breath and manage your sweat as well as moisture from the outside.
If you're picking the kids up in the rain, the chances are you don't need a mountain ready waterproof, but if you're heading up Ben Nevis in the rain, then you'll certainly notice the difference if you've picked up a cheaper jacket, as you'll likely be sweating quite a bit when you reach the top.
The four main types of waterproof jacket are: Coatings, Membranes/Laminates and Paramo. The type of jacket you need depends on what use you're going to get out of it. Runners/Cyclists will need a jacket with great breathability to stay comfortable, if you're heading into the mountains you'll need something that is not only breathable but durable also, however for many, you're just looking for something to keep you dry day to day, and unsurprisingly the choice at this end of the scale is largest.
Video: Here Charlie explains the different types of waterproof jacket available at GO Outdoors
PU coated waterproofs cover most of your low cost, great value for money waterproof jackets that are ideal for everyday use. How they work is simple, the inside of the face fabric is coated in polyurethane which acts as a wall to stop moisture seeping through from the outside. While this barrier is fantastic for keeping the rain out, it also will hinder moisture from the inside of your jacket (sweat) from getting out, which can cause the inside of the jacket to feel damp if you're being quite active, or the weather is warm.
Common features on jackets like this include low pockets and an emergency hood witht he overall jacket having a more casual look. Many brands will often have their own named coatings such as AquaDry from Craghoppers, iSotex from Regatta etc.
Examples of coated jackets:
Most membranes or laminates are branded with arguably the most famous of all being GORE-TEX, but you may have also heard of Polartec Neoshell, Pertex Shield and eVent. Manufacturers will often work with membrane brands to create their jackets, so you can be sure that a GORE-TEX jacket from Berghaus and a GORE-TEX Jacket from Montane will often the same great waterproofing. Membranes, like laminate jackets mentioned above, are extra layers underneath the face fabric, and will often be either a 2 or 3 layer construction. Rather than create a solid wall of protection, the membrane is usually stretched out to create tiny pores that help move moisture from inside the jacket to the outside, while preventing water from the outside coming in. This means that a membrane jacket will often offer great breathability
Membranes are part of a whole range of jackets from everyday use, right through to technical mountaineering jackets, and as such, features will vary. This is evident as well in the fact that there are three different variations of GORE-TEX that all have their own benefits depending on your needs. You can find out more detail about GORE-TEX in our GORE-TEX guide.
Examples of membrane jackets:
You may be wondering why the Paramo brand get a section all to themselves, and it's because their founder decided to create something that was completely different to all the other waterproof fabrics. Paramo's clothing has a cult-like following among hillwalkers and mountaineers. The fabric is often reffered to as Paramo, but is actually known as Nikwax Analogy. This lining is designed to mimic animal fur, pushing moisture outwards to protect you from rain, condensation and perspiration, while protecting your insulation.
Want to know more about Paramo? Check out this video for a full explanation:
Examples of Paramo jackets:
Differing brands, styles and price points will mean that jackets come with different features. Here are a few features to look for and what they're useful for.
Hood - 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, which means the hood is made a little larger to accomodate a climbing helmet.
Zips - 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.
Interactive - Interactive jackets or IA for short can accomodate a compatible fleece or midlayer to be zipped inside of it to create a 3 in 1 jacket.
Pockets - 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. As mentioned above, if you're using a rucksack with a hip belt, then look for a waterproof with higher pockets around stomach height so you can still use them with your rucksack fastened.
Drawcords - 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.
Adjustable cuffs - Adjustable cuffs, or elasticated cuffs are ideal to help keep your sleeve down over your gloves, this can help to keep you warm and pesky drafts out.