There are hundreds of waterproof jackets on the market, many of which vary in price, design and function. With so many technical features, ratings and fabrics it's not always easy to tell which waterproof is right for you. Our handy guide will help you make an informed decision before you purchase your next coat.
Waterproof jackets are rated for their level of waterproofness with a hydrostatic head test. In a hydrostatic head test the fabric is pulled tight under a 1 inch diameter sealed tube of water. This is then left for 24 hours to ascertain how much water the fabric can withstand before it soaks through. The level at which water starts to come through the fabric is the hydrostatic head. This is measured in millimetres.
A hydrostatic head of 1,500mm is the minimum British standard to be declared waterproof. A rating between 1,500 and 5,000mm is suitable for light to average rain, up to 10,000mm will handle moderate to heavy rain and anything between 10,000 and 20,000mm is highly waterproof and will handle the heaviest of downpours.
To achieve a waterproof rating manufacturers use one of two different methods. The first is a waterproof coating, in which the outer fabric of the jacket is treated with a Durable Water Repellency coating (DWR), or a similar water repellent coating.
Jackets with just waterproof coatings are more affordable and lighter but do not have the breathability or durability of coats with waterproof membranes (see below). Many outdoor brands have their own waterproof coating, a few examples of these are:
- Storm Shield (Peter Storm)
- AquaDry (Craghoppers)
- Isotex (Regatta)
- Aquafoil (Berghaus)
- HydroDry (Sprayway)
The second method to waterproof a jacket is to use a waterproof membrane. This is a thin layer with lots of microscopic pores which are big enough to allow moisture caused by perspiration to be released, but small enough to stop water droplets getting in. Membranes are breathable as well as protective, making them ideal for more arduous activities.
GORE-TEX® is the most recognisable membrane on the market and used by a number of top outdoor manufacturers. There are three types of GORE-TEX® membrane: the regular version, the lighter GORE-TEX® Active Shell which is ideal for faster paced activities, and the extra durable GORE-TEX® Pro, which is made to withstand abrasive activity, such as rucksack straps and mountaineering.
Other common waterproof membranes include the highly breathable eVent and Polartec Neoshell, which has a spun construction, using microscopic strands rather than pores.
Also known as two-layer or three-layer jackets. A two layer jacket combines a waterproof shell with an inner lining. The lining is commonly constructed from mesh, polyester taffeta or a combination of both. As well as adding warmth this lining protects the waterproof layer. They are ideal for low level activities, such as short hill walks, walking the dog and general everyday use.
Three layer jackets have an additional waterproof membrane, such as GORE-TEX® (as explained earlier) for extra protection and breathability. They are ideal for outdoor activities, such as hiking or mountaineering (when worn with a warm mid-layer).
A packable waterproof jacket is usually a one-layer coat that rolls up into its own pocket or a stuff sack for easy storage when not in use. They are ideal for warmer days that start out dry but with a threat of rain around the corner (as there always is in the UK!).
The Packable Cagoule was invented by the founder of Peter Storm, former Marine Noel Bibby, in the early 1960s. The difference between a cagoule and a regular packable waterproof is the lack of a full-length zip. Instead a cagoule has an over-the-head design with either poppers or a short zip at the neck.
3 in 1
Three in one jackets have become increasingly popular over the years for their all-round protection and versatility. A typical 3 in 1 combines a waterproof shell jacket with a detachable inner jacket, normally a warm fleece or an insulated softshell jacket. The two layers can be worn together or separate, giving you multiple options for changeable weather conditions.
Here are the key features you should check out when buying a waterproof jacket:
- Taped seams – standard in most waterproof clothing, prevents water ingress.
- Hood – should be adjustable for a perfect fit. A hood may often be detachable or pack away into the collar.
- High collar – protects against wind chill.
- Chin guard – a soft protective cover that will protect your chin from catching on the zip.
- Adjustable hem and cuffs – lock in warmth, keep out water and ensure a great fit.
- Length – ideally not too short so that it rides up and exposes your back, but not too long that is restricts movement.
- Pockets – most waterproof jacket have multiple pockets, often with two handwarmer pockets, plus chest, sleeve and inner pockets. Zipped pockets provide the most secure storage.
- Waterproof zips – often called a stormguard or stormzip, they prevent water getting through the zipped area, whether it's the main jacket zip or a pocket zip.
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