Do you know anything that is more painful than wearing wet clothes? Being a child on the coast of Cornwall, UK, which has an average of rainy days per year, and a propensity to provide the four seasons all in the same day, I’ve completed plenty of dogs walks in the rain along with thru-hikes and bicycle rides. If I kept indoors every time the weather turned bad, honestly, I’d be unable to go out, which means that shell jackets that are well-made are now one of my staples.
The majority of waterproof jackets aren’t made equal, and although an open-front poncho may suffice for a rainy day, however, it’s not going to help during a mountain storm. Here are the things you should be thinking about.
What is the difference between water-repellent and waterproof?
If you’re looking for proper protection against the elements, purchase an outfit that is waterproof not only water-resistant. Waterproof gear can provide protection from light showers however, it allows water to enter quickly.
A waterproof coat can stand up to much harsher environments, but if do not purchase a jacket that is breathable, you’ll end up with sweaty areas on the interior of the coat instead. If you exercise hard, however, you’ll end up sweaty and uncomfortable. Finding a jacket with a waterproof membrane is a good way to make sure it’s breathable and allows moisture to let out.
You’ve probably heard about Gore-Tex, the most well-known waterproof membrane available. It is made up of tiny pores that aren’t big enough to keep drops of rain from getting into your jacket, but big enough to let sweat wick out. Gore-Tex isn’t even the only waterproof membrane available on the market these days and several outdoor brands have distinct versions of the membrane.
If your jacket’s not as water-resistant as it once was it’s good to know that you don’t have to buy a brand new one. A water-repellent, durable coat (DWR) has been applied to the outside of a water-resistant or waterproof jacket. If your jacket loses its impermeability, it’s quite simple to apply the DWR yourself. If you want to determine if the jacket requires a DWR top-up, splash it with water and see whether the water beads up and is able to slide off. If the water does not, you’re okay. If it creates areas of wet, dark fabric, then it’s time to buy a DWR replenishment solution and then recoat your coat.
What do I need to know about the level of protection a waterproof jacket can provide me?
There’s a handy scale for this, and most stores will display a waterproof rating alongside their jackets. The minimum is 5,000mm of waterproofing that is required in order to qualify as waterproof, not just water-resistant, but it won’t stand for much other than light drizzle or drizzle. 10,000mm-15,000mm will withstand most downpours. Anything from 20,000mm upwards is recommended for extremely severe deluges or extreme conditions, however, jackets are generally much heavier.
What type of fit should I look for?
Given that you’re probably not wandering around in just bikinis and a waterproof jacket, get a jacket that allows you to layer. For three-season hiking the best waterproof jacket lets you wear a base layer and a down jacket underneath should be adequate, but for winter mountaineering you’ll want something roomier to allow you to layer.
What other features are helpful?
Check for jackets with taped seams. This signifies that the seams on the inside have been sealed, stopping rain from entering through tiny holes. Storm flaps are an additional practical option: flaps with an outer layer to cover zips in jackets which is another area that’s porous where rain can enter. Personally, for most adventures, I like a rain jacket with an open hood. It keeps the rain out of your eyes. On the other hand, jackets with a drawstring hood let rain drip down your face.