When looking for a waterproof jacket the varieties out there can be incredibly confusing to the untrained eye. With variations in fabrics, cuts, features and waterproofing techniques, finding the most suitable jacket for you can be a lengthy process. Given the relatively high costs of modern jackets, its also not a decision you will want to get wrong.
Waterproof Jackets have two main scales on which they are judged, their waterproofness and their breathability. The big names, Gore-Tex, eVent and others all make claims of the superiority of their waterproof, breathable fabrics. There are also numerous alternative fabrics available, such as North Face's Hyvent and Berghaus's AQ2 which don't perform to the same levels but come in at a lower cost.
Broadly speaking, waterproof jackets can be split into three categories which we will go through below.
Fast and Light:
The fast and light option for waterproofs has taken off in recent years with the increasing interest in fast, outdoor sports and also the availability of lighter weight fabrics. With this style the key points tend to be its breathability and its weight. If you're a trail runner counting the grams then this is the option for you.
This style jacket trends on the minimalist side. It will usually have a shorter cut so as not to hinder movement and be made of particularly light fabrics. Fast and light jackets will rarely have more than two pockets whilst hems and cuffs are commonly elastic rather than featuring drawstrings. Most active people also won't want to be wearing their jacket all of the time so choosing one with a minimal pack size is also handy.
A walking Jacket is often seen as a step down from a top end jacket, though in truth the fabrics will often perform just as well, just without the additional features found on a mountaineering Jacket and without the additional price. When buying a walking jacket its well worth thinking about how much you intend to use it. If you're a fair-weather walker and it will be kept in your pack 'just in-case' then you'll likely not want to spend the same amount as someone who plans to head into the hills no matter what the weather.
Jacket length varies greatly in walking jackets. Traditionally these are cut longer though waist length models are much more common with the increased popularity of waterproof trousers.
Finding a jacket with a good quality hood is essential and its always worth trying this out when you buy. An adjustable model is best as this will hold the hood in place and allow you to look around without impairing your vision. Having peak is also a good feature as it protects the eyes and face from rain coming in sideways. A peak with a stiffened wire can also be bent to shape to help shield the face.
Climbers and mountaineers typically favour more technical jackets which are designed to accommodate various additional situations which you'll find yourself in. Mountain jackets are typically sleeker. A shorter cut with articulated shoulders and elbows have become a common feature which improve fit and provide less restricted movement. More durable fabrics are used on mountain jackets to protect from the additional abuse they are likely to undergo.
Most mountain jackets will come with a helmet compatible hood though its always worth testing that this fits over your own helmet. Adjustable cuffs and hems are important features to personalise the fit of a jacket.
All jackets require some love and attention after you've used them and there are some simple ways to keep them performing as they are meant to. Overtime the water resistance on all jackets begins to fade, you will notice this as the rain droplets will stop beading up on the surface and instead will soak into the outer fabrics. When this happens the jacket will begin to feel damp and loose its breathability. Cleaning the jacket in a pure soap or technical cleaner, such as Nickwax Techwash will not only clean the fabrics but also revitalise some of this water-resistance.
The durable water resistant coating on jackets, known as a DWR, will wear off over time. When this happens the jacket will require re-proofing which can easily be done using products such as Nickwax TX Direct. These re-proofers are easy to use and can be found in all outdoor stores.
When drying Jackets avoid leaving them on radiators or other heat sources as this can damage the glues that bond them together. Its better to hang them in a warm room and allow them to dry naturally.
Rips and Tears
If you do put a hole in your waterproof jacket don't panic, there are plenty of options on hand to repair it. Most manufacturers will be able to repair a jacket for you, though in the case of wear and tear this will likely be at a cost. Alternatively specialist repair centres are often able to repair any damage. For a quick and easy solutions products such as Gore-tex repair patches are available if you prefer the do-it-yourself option.