How to choose a waterproof jacket

Sunday, 1 February 2015  |  Alan - Escape 2

 

It will rain - it’s a fact of life, especially if, like us you live in the UK! But don’t let that stop you from getting Out There. With the right waterproof wear, you can be outside doing your thing, even when it’s chucking it down. I’ve just got back from my morning dog walk and yes it is June, but guess what? Yup, raining again… It was glorious though! Cocooned in Gore-Tex, with hood up, it was a delight to hear the raindrops gently pattering around me. The swaying grasses and trees in full-leaf, tremble and glisten, while the birds sing their socks off. The sheep look content, grazing lush spring grass. They don’t need any modern Gore-Tex membrane to keep themselves dry, but boy we humans certainly do!

So how do you choose a suitable waterproof jacket?

You’ll need to decide what activity will form its primary function. This will determine what sort of features will benefit you the most. For each of the activities below, I have indicated what type of features are available, and what else to look out for.

Walking

Hood. Opting for a stiffened peak will make sure that water can trickle off the peak, keeping your face dry.

Hood adjustments and drawcords will enable you to cinch the fabric in, reducing flapping and maintaining it’s position, i.e. on your head, rather than being constantly whipped off by the wind.

Adjustable cuffs perform two jobs; keeping out moisture and drafts while keeping warmth tucked inside.

Pit Zips. These nifty inventions enable you to strike the balance between keeping water outside, while allowing some fresh air to circulate and release built-up heat during more strenuous stretches of terrain.

Hem and waist drawcords. The hem drawcord acts as an effective seal. It can keep your jacket in place and in cooler weather will make quite a difference to your warmth. Waist drawcords tend to be found on longer-length waterproofs, this is a useful addition to customise the fit of your coat.

Pockets. There are a couple of points to consider here. If you are using your waterproof for more general, everyday walking then pockets placed near the hem will be very useful. Many of the options that we sell at Escape 2 have a brushed lining, which feels cozy next to the skin and will warm your hands up. However, if you carry a rucksack, then you will need to consider opting for a coat with upper chest pockets, either instead of, or in addition to lower hand pockets. This will mean that you can still access the pockets when you’ve got the hipbelt of your pack done-up.

Waterproof zips or Storm Flaps. Both of these options are designed to prevent water ingress. The benefit of going for Waterproof zips, being that the overall bulk of the jacket is reduced. There is also less fabric to impede breathability, making temperature control easier. A storm flap that poppers down over the front zip or pocket zips, will again provide another water barrier. On non-specialist jackets, these details will be missing, and it won't take the rain long at all to work its way though an exposed zip!

Snowskirt. Hang on, read on… I know I have included this feature in the Walking section, but actually it is incredibly useful during chilly winter conditions. And I don’t just mean snow, the snowskirt acts as a great big buffer against icy drafts eroding your precious warmth. Obviously it will keep snow out admirably on your next sledging run too!

Insulation. This is something that can be a real boon, if you want a waterproof especially for the winter months. But if you want year-round wear, then it’s probably best avoided for obvious reasons. The latest insulating materials are very clever though, the best ones are increasing able to maintain comfortable temperatures, while being non-bulky. Don’t let their apparent ‘thinness’ beguile you, these materials are designed to provide as much warmth as possible. The non-bulkiness makes it easy to move freely.

Lining Fabric. I’ll discuss the relative merits of fabric construction later, but the lining you opt for is an important part of making an informed choice of waterproof. Synthetic fabrics are a joy in this department. It is essential to go for a non-wicking lining around the hem and cuffs of your coat. If the lining in this area is good at wicking, then any moisture present around the extremities will be soaked up like a sponge. Even worse is a lining that pokes out from the body of the jacket – this will soak-up every passing raindrop into the body of your coat. The lining used for the rest of the jacket body will depend on its intended season. Often winter-based coats will have a brushed lining that will deal with perspiration well, while providing a degree of light insulation. Light weight, summer waterproofs generally use a mesh lining for maximum breathability, while keeping the actual waterproof membrane fabric away from your skin. This prevents any clammy feeling and prevents the oils for your skin damaging the membrane. Whether or not the lining is obvious and ‘loose’ in your jacket depends on the construction of the fabric.

Fabric construction. When you first start investigating waterproof jackets this bit may seem confusing to begin with. There are many different options of waterproof membrane fabrics on the market. A good rule of thumb to work on being that, broadly-speaking, the more you pay, the better the breathability will be. After all, you could wear a bin bag to keep the rain off you! Manufacturers such as Arc’teryx go to enormous lengths working with Gore to produce the most breathable fabrics available, that are durable for the kind of active wear you’ll use it for. If you go with the bin bag option, after any exertion you will be perspiring. This will condensate on the plastic and you will end up soaked after a while anyway. If however you choose to clad yourself in something a little more ‘upmarket’, then the more breathable the fabric/jacket is, the drier inside you will be.

The two different types of construction you will encounter most frequently being 2-layer and 3-layer.

2-Layer Construction consists of an outer layer or ‘face fabric’ that is bonded to a waterproof membrane eg Gore-Tex on the inside. Generally there will be some kind of loose lining or ‘drop lining’ inside.

3-Layer Construction is where the outer ‘face fabric’ is bonded to a waterproof membrane eg Gore-Tex, which in turn is laminated to the lining fabric. In other words a Gore-Tex sandwich!

Mountaineering

Hood. One of the primary concerns for a mountaineering waterproof, is ensuring that the hood will fit over the top of your helmet. A stiffened peak will make sure that water can trickle off the peak, keeping your face dry.

Hood adjustments are really important on a mountaineering jacket because of the extra volume needed in the hood to accommodate a helmet. When the hood is not worn over a helmet, the drawcords can be pulled right in to keep it in place when its up and to stop it flapping around when its down. On higher priced jackets you will also find tethered or hidden drawcords and adjusters. This prevents the loose ends from whipping into your face!

Adjustable cuffs perform two jobs; keeping out moisture and drafts while keeping warmth tucked inside.

Pit Zips. These nifty inventions enable you to strike the balance between keeping water outside, while allowing some fresh air to circulate and release built-up heat during more strenuous stretches of terrain.

Chest Pockets are very useful if you are going to be wearing a harness (either rucksack or climbing harness). Lower pockets may be obstructed by the hip belt.

Other Pockets such as laminated sleeve pockets by Arc’teryx are a useful addition to your waterproof, as they provide easy access to little essentials like sun cream.

Waterproof zips or Storm Flaps. Both of these options are designed to prevent water ingress. The benefit of going for Waterproof zips, being that the overall bulk of the jacket is reduced. There is also less fabric to impede breathability, making temperature control easier. A storm flap that poppers down over the front zip or pocket zips, will again provide another water barrier. On non-specialist jackets, these details will be missing, and it won't take the rain long at all to work its way though an exposed zip!

Snowskirts are a useful addition to your cold weather-beating capability. They keep out draughts as well as snow and also mean that your mountaineering jacket will make a brilliant skiing jacket too.

Insulation. Is not generally something that you’d need in a mountaineering jacket. It would be likely to cause over-heating and increases weight/bulk. It is probably a better to use a layering system, so that your jacket is easier to pack away in your rucksack.

Lining Fabric. I’ll discuss the relative merits of fabric construction later, but the lining you opt for is an important part of making an informed choice of waterproof. Synthetic fabrics are a joy in this department. It is essential to go for a non-wicking lining around the hem and cuffs of your coat. If the lining in this area is good at wicking, then any moisture present around the extremities will be soaked up like a sponge. Even worse is a lining that pokes out from the body of the jacket – this will soak-up every passing raindrop into the body of your coat. The lining used for the rest of the jacket body will depend on its intended season. Often winter-based coats will have a brushed lining that will deal with perspiration well, while providing a degree of light insulation. Light weight, summer waterproofs generally use a mesh lining for maximum breathability, while keeping the actual waterproof membrane fabric away from your skin. This prevents any clammy feeling and prevents the oils for your skin damaging the membrane. Whether or not the lining is obvious and ‘loose’ in your jacket depends on the construction of the fabric.

Fabric construction. 3-Layer Construction is where the outer ‘face fabric’ is bonded to a waterproof membrane (often Gore-Tex in higher end, more breathable jackets). This is then laminated to the lining fabric. Generally this construction method creates the best mountaineering waterproof, as it produces a more durable garment, that copes better with the tough usage and abrasion associated with mountaineering, i.e. exposure to rocks, harnesses and carrying a pack.

Skiing

Hood. The requirements of the hood on your ski jacket might have changed fairly recently due to the vital importance of wearing a ski helmet. Your options are either to wear a thin beanie-style hat or a Buff underneath your helmet in storm conditions. Most helmets have removable plugs that you can close up the ventilation holes with. If you desire an additional protective layer in the form of a hood, you will need to make sure it fits over the top of your helmet.

Hood adjustments enable the hood to be pulled right in if not worn over a helmet, to keep it in place when its up without a helmet and to stop it flapping around when its down and your flying down the piste. On higher priced jackets you will also find tethered or hidden drawcords and adjusters. This prevents the loose ends from whipping into your face!

Adjustable cuffs perform two jobs; keeping out moisture and drafts while keeping warmth tucked inside.

Pit Zips. These nifty inventions enable you to strike the balance between keeping water outside, while allowing some fresh air to circulate and release built-up heat during more strenuous stretches of terrain.

Pockets. I like to have plenty of them while skiing on-piste. Consider looking for little sleeve pockets tucked away – a great place to stow your electronic lift pass, in a position that the barrier will ‘read’ it. A goggle pocket is another handy addition, as are handwarmer pockets and other suitable places to store an extra emergency chocolate bar, tube of sun cream, lip balm, spare beanie hat and some money.

Waterproof zips or Storm Flaps. Both of these options are designed to prevent snow or water ingress. The benefit of going for waterproof zips, being that the overall bulk of the jacket is reduced. There is also less fabric to impede breathability, making temperature control easier. A storm flap that poppers down over the front zip or pocket zips, will again provide another barrier against water. On non-specialist jackets, these details will be missing, and it won't take the moisture long at all to work its way though an exposed zip!

Snowskirts help to keep you warmer by stopping draughts going up into your jacket. Their primary function is to stop powdery snow from shooting up your back if you fall. Some snowskirts have poppers that clip on to corresponding poppers on your ski pants.

Insulation. Fixed insulation that is built into the jacket is very easy and snug to wear. Modern, high quality insulation is brilliantly low in bulk so you don’t get that ‘padded jacket’ feeling. The other option is a 3-in-1 jacket, where you have a waterproof jacket with a separate, warm inner jacket that can be zipped out in warmer weather. Or you go for a waterproof shell jacket with the appropriate features and then buy a separate warm layer that will work in conjunction with the outer. This has the advantage that you can tailor your insulation choice to the conditions more easily. Sometimes a synthetic insulated jacket will provide the warmth you need, while in warmer weather you may just need a fleece. For spring skiing you might need nothing else but a baselayer.

Lining Fabric. Synthetic fabrics are a joy in this department. It is essential to go for a non-wicking lining around the hem and cuffs of your coat. If the lining in this area is good at wicking, then any moisture present around the extremities will be soaked up like a sponge. Even worse is a lining that pokes out from the body of the jacket – this will soak-up moisture into the body of your coat. There is a large degree of variation with ski jacket linings. Smooth linings can make it easier to move around in should you be wearing something like a fleece underneath.

Fabric construction. Many on-piste orientated ski jackets use a 2-layer construction, offering a nice soft handle. 3-Layer construction can often be found on backcountry ski jackets where extra durability is required.

Lightweight Summer Waterproofs for Traveling or Everyday Use

Packability. The aim here is to have a really light jacket that is still capable of keeping a storm at bay. The jacket can be stowed away easily when it’s not needed or popped into your rucksack.

Hood. Even lightweight quality waterproofs have good hoods. Peaks can be lightly stiffened too. Some coats have hoods that zip off and some will roll away into the collar to keep the look neater. Better ones will have adjustment and concealed drawcords/adjusers.

Adjustable cuffs. Good quality lightweight waterproofs have adjustable cuffs for individual fit.

Pit Zips. These nifty inventions enable you to strike the balance between keeping water outside, while allowing some fresh air to circulate and release built-up heat during more strenuous stretches of terrain.

Hem and waist drawcords. The hem drawcord acts as an effective seal. It will keep your jacket in place. Waist drawcords tend to be found on longer-length waterproofs and can be a useful addition to customise the fit of your coat. Most lightweight waterproofs tend to be fairly short, as full coverage takes less priority over compactness and weight.

Pockets. There are a couple of points to consider here. If you are using your waterproof for more general, everyday walking then pockets placed near the hem will be very useful. Many of the options that we sell at Escape 2 have a brushed lining, which feels cozy next to the skin and will warm your hands up after a soaking. However, if you carry a rucksack, then you will need to consider opting for a coat with upper chest pockets, either instead of, or in addition to lower hand pockets. This will mean that you can still access the pockets when you’ve got the hipbelt of your pack done-up. Some options will a have a ‘stow pocket’ that the whole jacket can roll away into. If you are travelling, then perhaps an inner pocket will offer more security for valuables.

Waterproof zips or Storm Flaps. Both of these options are designed to prevent water ingress. The benefit of going for waterproof zips, being that the overall bulk of the jacket is reduced. There is also less fabric to impede breathability, making temperature control easier. A storm flap that poppers down over the front zip or pocket zips, will again provide another water barrier. On non-specialist jackets, these details will be missing, and it won’t take the rain long at all to work its way though an exposed zip!

Lining Fabric. I’ll discuss the relative merits of fabric construction later, but the lining you opt for is an important part of making an informed choice of waterproof. Synthetic fabrics are a joy in this department. It is essential to go for a non-wicking lining around the hem and cuffs of your coat. If the lining in this area is good at wicking, then any moisture present around the extremities will be soaked up like a sponge. Even worse is a lining that pokes out from the body of the jacket – this will soak-up every passing raindrop into the body of your coat. Light weight, summer waterproofs often use a mesh lining for maximum breathability, while keeping the actual waterproof membrane fabric away from your skin. This prevents any clammy feeling and prevents the oils for your skin damaging the membrane. Whether or not the lining is obvious and ‘loose’ in your jacket depends on the construction of the fabric.

Fabric construction.  The more breathable the fabric/jacket is, the drier inside you will be.  A breathable outer combined with a mesh lining provides a good level of comfort in warmer climates.

The two different types of construction you will encounter most frequently being 2-layer and 3-layer.

2-Layer Construction consists of an outer layer or ‘face fabric’ that is bonded to a waterproof membrane eg Gore-Tex on the inside. Generally there will be some kind of loose lining or ‘drop lining’ inside. This is the most common construction for summer waterproofs

3-Layer Construction is where the outer ‘face fabric’ is bonded to a waterproof membrane eg Gore-Tex, which in turn is laminated to the lining fabric. In other words a Gore-Tex sandwich!

Other sports eg Horse Riding, Mountain Biking

Many of the waterproofs that we sell at Escape 2 aren’t designed especially for these sports, but we personally still use them for other activities such as the above. Breathability is key to maintaining comfort levels in all of these activities. The ‘cut’ on the types of jackets that we stock is designed for active use. This often means that sleeves are constructed in away that enables cuffs to stay in place when your arms are in a forward position - really useful when you want to use your waterproof for a multitude of activities.  If you are unsure of what kind of jacket to purchase, then please drop us an email or give us a call.

 

Waterproof Overtrousers

A nice bit of foul-weather kit. Waterproof overtrousers can make an enormous difference to your comfort level out in the rain. I also find them particularly useful when the grass is really long and wet or when the ground turns to mud in the winter. They perform the dual function of keeping you dry, comfy and clean. Look for leg openings zips or gussets at the hem so that you can pull them on and off over boots.

       

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