Shopping for a good waterproof jacket for the outdoors can be unexpectedly confusing, especially for a first-time buyer, but we’re here to help. In this guide we’ll explain the main fabric types and technical terms, give you a few handy pointers of what to look for and list our top waterproof jackets picks.
Waterproof Jackets Buying Guide
Clothing manufacturers use a system called the Hydrostatic Head test to determine how waterproof a fabric is. The test gives a measurement in millimetres, which relates to how high a column of water standing on the fabric would need to be before the water would penetrate the fabric. Lots of brands will publish the HH of their garment, and in simple terms, the higher the HH, the more waterproof the jacket.
There’s a trade-off though. Something that’s 100% waterproof, like a plastic bag or an old-fashioned fisherman’s sou’wester, will not be breathable at all. If you do anything remotely energetic you’ll end up drenched in sweat. For this reason, most jackets max out at an HH figure of around 20,000mm, which is waterproof enough to keep you dry in heavy, sustained rain, but allows the jacket to be made from fabrics that can breathe and help move sweat away from your body.
Not all brand websites or jacket tags will show HH figures though. In which case, look out for Gore-Tex, Pertex Shield or Polartec NeoShell – these are all waterproof membranes, used across a range of brands. If you see any brand of jacket made from any of these materials, it will be waterproof, regardless of whether you can see the HH figure published (Gore-Tex for example tests its fabrics differently, so any brand using Gore-Tex won’t have a HH figure to publish).
In addition to this list, some brands choose to use their own proprietary fabrics. For example, Patagonia uses H2No and The North Face uses Futurelight and DryVent membranes, and neither release HH figures for these. Rohan use a range of proprietary fabrics but guarantee everything meets their Barricade standard of a minimum 20,000mm HH. This means that sometimes you have to rely on the brand telling you a jacket is waterproof – buying from a reputable retailer is preferable, because you can ask questions and read reviews.
How Waterproof Jackets Are Constructed
Broadly speaking, waterproof jackets come in three types: two-layer, 2.5-layer and three-layer. Most jackets feature a DWR (durable water repellent) treated exterior shell fabric, and it’s this DWR treatment that causes water to bead and run off the outer layer. The second, or middle layer, is a waterproof breathable membrane. The third and innermost layer is where all of the technical differences can be found.
In a two-layer jacket, the construction is finished with an internal loose/drop layer made from mesh or taffeta or similar. This loose layer is not bonded to the membrane or outer, but protects the membrane from abrasion and sweat.
Jackets with a 2.5-layer construction have a similar external shell to a two-layer jacket, but also feature a thin polyurethane laminate or coating on the inside. This laminate acts as a barrier to help protect the membrane layer against sweat, dirt or other oils that could clog the pores, which would affect breathability.
Three-layer construction features the highest performance and best-quality layering possible. It features a laminated external DWR fabric as the first layer, which is bonded to a waterproof/breathable membrane in the middle layer. A polyurethane (PU) film or lining covers this second layer, acting as a shield. The purpose of this third layer is to keep sweat and oils from clogging pores in the waterproof-breathable layer.
Any jacket claiming to be waterproof should also have taped seams. This means that all the stitched areas will be overlaid inside with a waterproof tape to prevent water ingress through the stitching.
And finally, there’s aftercare. Good-quality waterproof jackets need an occasional bit of TLC because the DWR outers and breathable membranes all perform best when clean. Make sure you wash and treat your jackets with a reputable product such as NikWax Tech Wash or Grangers Wash and Repel. An easy way to tell if your jacket needs a wash is when the surface “wets out” – when water stops beading and running off the outer surface.
Best Waterproof Jackets For Women
This three-layer jacket is made with Patagonia’s own H2No fabric. It’s a simple design that features neat internal and external storm flaps on the front zip to help keep the elements out, as well as armpit zips – again with storm flaps – and it can be stowed into its own pocket. It comes in a selection of colours as well as a good range of sizes (XS-XL), and has a recycled nylon outer. It’s also a reasonable price for a good-quality product that’s manufactured at fair trade-certified factories.
Buy from Patagonia | £160
Arc’teryx Beta Severe
A three-layer jacket made from Gore-Tex Pro (the toughest fabric in the Gore-Tex range) with a waterproof zip and a fully adjustable hood that can accommodate a helmet or bobble hat. It has pit zips to let excess heat escape when you’re working hard, and the adjustable cuffs allow for a glove to be worn over or under. The outer pockets, including the chest pocket, all have waterproof zips and there’s a built-in RECCO reflector for avalanche safety. It’s an expensive jacket for walking but it will serve you well if you want to take your adventures up a notch. This has been our go-to jacket for hiking, cross-country skiing, winter climbing and more for the last four years, and despite being well used it still performs admirably. It’s a worthwhile investment if you’re seriously into the outdoors. It’s available in three colours, in sizes XS-XL (UK 6-20).
Buy from Arc’teryx | £600
Rab Women’s Downpour Eco Waterproof Jacket
This 2.5-layer jacket is made from Pertex Shield, which meets the 20,000mm HH standard and is also highly breathable, which makes it a top choice for weekend walks and everyday use. Rab deserves respect for the eco-credentials of this jacket, which is made from 100% recycled materials and is also recyclable at the end of its life. It packs handily into its own pocket, it has an adjustable hood, cuffs and hem, and the pit zips and outer zips are protected with storm flaps. It’s high on features without being too high in price and comes in an impressive range of sizes (6-18) and colour options.
Buy from Rab | £110
With its design inspired by the demands of the Spine Race, this is a great jacket for fast and light adventures. With a three-layer Gore-Tex Active shell, it’s tough, lightweight, packable and very breathable, which makes it suitable for running and fast hiking. The jacket has an athletic fit with a close-fitting hood, as well as adjustable hem and cuffs, plus micro-taped seams to keep weight and bulk down. It’s available in two colours, paprika and cerulean, and in sizes 8-16.
Buy from Montane | £250
British brand Rohan always includes a longer-length, traditional-looking jacket in its waterproof collection, and currently that’s the Kendal: a two-layer, knee-length coat, with lots of pockets (another hallmark of Rohan pieces). You can also tailor the fit with the adjustable waist, hood and cuffs. A roomier fit makes this perfect for layering over a base layer and insulation layer. A good choice for lower level, less strenuous strolls, but it’s more than capable if you want it to do more. It comes in sizes S-XL (to fit UK size 18-20) in dark grey or forest green.
Buy from Rohan | £230 (currently reduced to £184)
Rab Kinetic Alpine 2.0
Described by Rab as having all the comfort of a soft-shell with the functionality of a waterproof, the Kinetic Alpine 2.0 is made from Rab’s own Stretch Knit Proflex. It’s designed to be a highly breathable, exceptionally waterproof shell, with the stretch fabric allowing for a close fit. As well as the adjustable cuffs and hem there’s a helmet-compatible hood and generous pockets, making it well suited to hiking and climbing. It comes in sizes 8-16 and is available in four colours.
Buy from Rab | £225