If you’re hiking, mountain walking or simply heading out for a stroll, you want a comfortable jacket that provides ample protection against the kind of conditions you’ll find yourself in. The question that follows suit, however, is: what jacket is right for me? There are several styles to choose from and each has their pros and cons.
The waterproof styles we’ll explore today are the classic men’s or women’s waterproof jacket, lightweight packaway jacket, multi-use 3-in-1 jacket and the flexible softshell jacket. Remember that ‘waterproof’ is not a blanket term and different jackets offer different levels of water defence. We’re going to break down the features of each style based on defence, comfort and practicality, while considering where they are best put to use.
For more information on all of our jacket types, not just waterproof, take a look at our types of outdoor jackets guide.
Our waterproof garments all come with a waterproof rating that is measured in millimetres (mm). This rating indicates how many millimetres of water is needed to be poured onto the fabric before it starts to penetrate the garment and start to seep through onto your inner layers or skin.
The higher the waterproof rating, the more waterproof the jacket is. The highest rating we have at the moment is 20,000mm – that’s 20 metres of water repelled by our waterproof fabric! On each of the jackets pages on our website you can filter by their waterproof rating on the left hand side to make sure you get the level of protection you need.
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The classic hardshell waterproof jacket is the default for most outdoor activities when the weather is threatening rain. Made with layered fabric to prevent moisture from breaking through the jacket’s shell, they are built for a range of uses.
As the name suggests, these jackets are waterproof and will generally offer the most protection of any style. This obviously depends on their waterproof rating but they will typically hold up longer in tougher conditions. Despite not featuring any padding, these jackets trap out wind effectively by design and can be warm when paired with a fleece. Most waterproof jackets will also feature taped seams to stop moisture leaking through between the jacket panels.
A waterproof jacket will generally fit comfortably although the material itself may not be particularly soft. These jackets are not padded and the exterior shell may become cold if it gets wet. Most waterproofs are designed for breathability, meaning that if it warms up or you’re sweating, moisture vapour can escape. The breathability rating varies, so some will be less forgiving than others.
If you’re venturing out in your waterproof jacket, you will find it easy to store items in several pockets and they will be adjustable for the best fit. If conditions improve, they can be a hassle to stow away, but you can also just keep it on and open the vents that several styles feature or tie it round your waist to keep yourself comfortable.
A sturdy waterproof jacket is a great all-rounder and generally offers the best protection of any style. If you plan on hiking to the peak of a mountain or spending long hours in the rain, this is the choice for you.
Packaway jackets – as the name suggests – are designed to be stowed in either a supplied stuff sack or into their own pocket for easy storage in a rucksack or car until needed. They are small enough for most packs and are incredibly lightweight in design.
Packaway jackets are lighter than typical waterproof jackets, and as a result, don’t offer the same level of waterproof protection. The material is very thin so in cold conditions it won’t help you out much and they generally have a slimmer fit, making layering a little more difficult. However, they are windproof and generally feature taped seams.
Packaway jackets are incredibly lightweight and you won’t be bogged down when wearing one. The material is flexible too and you can wear one easily for some time. Most packaways are breathable too, so in mild conditions that suit a packaway jacket, you won’t overheat.
As they store in a small pouch and can be stored in your bag, packaway jackets are extremely practical and even if it doesn’t rain, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted the weight or space. You can have it out and on in a matter of seconds if needed, so you’ll want one for unpredictable days.
If you’re heading out but can’t quite tell if it’s going to rain, you should bring a packaway jacket. If it’s mild out but rain is a possibility, a packaway jacket will take up very little room and provide ample protection for sudden bursts of rainfall.
A 3-in-1 jacket is designed to offer an outer waterproof jacket that attaches to an inner fleece or padded jacket. By wearing one layer separately, then pairing them when the weather changes, you can get three different styles to cover you for all sorts of conditions.
Designed similarly to a hardshell waterproof jacket, these jackets are generally waterproof and feature taped seams to prevent leaking. When paired together, you will stay warm thanks to the inner fleece and both layers are generally designed for wind defence.
On cold days, having the added fleece is great and as you can change it depending on the weather, you will generally be able to wear one of these jackets throughout the year and feel comfortable. Most 3-in-1 jackets will not have as high a breathability rating as a waterproof jacket however, and under those double layers, you may overheat.
You can chop and change a 3-in-1 jacket to meet your needs throughout the year. This is great when you hate having to change your wardrobe regularly every couple of months. One downside is that when attached, it can be a nuisance to separate them if the weather changes suddenly. That freedom makes a 3-in-1 style better for day-to-day activities.
A 3-in-1 jacket is best used for day-to-day activities throughout the year. Wear the fleece on cool, dry days, the outer jacket for summer showers and pair them together for warmth and protection in the autumn and winter months.
Softshell jackets are made from lightweight softshell fabric. Compared to typical hardshell fabric found in most waterproof clothing items, softshell is lightweight and extremely flexible. Softshells are quickly becoming a popular choice for seasoned hikers.
Softshell fabric can be designed with a high waterproofing level although the nature of the material means it’s extremely difficult to fit with taped seams. That means that a softshell jacket will eventually let in water between its panels. However, softshell jackets are windproof for extra protection in outdoor environments.
Due to their light weight and flexibility, softshell jackets are very comfortable to wear and allow free movement over prolonged use. In addition, the material is highly breathable, perfect for keeping you cool and comfortable while you work up a sweat.
As mentioned previously, softshell is a lightweight fabric and these jackets are great for throwing on with other layers. Some people will even wear a softshell beneath an outer waterproof or ski jacket for the winter months.
Softshell jackets are best used for mild days when any rainfall is expected to be light. You can wear them in warmer conditions over a T-shirt and you’ll find it to be a versatile choice that allows free and easy movement for a long, active day.
Picking a jacket to reflect your outdoor needs can make a real difference to your outfit and when you get it right you’ll be able to fit it perfectly into your plans to keep you safe and happy whenever you step outdoors.
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Last updated: July 23, 2018 at 10:49 am