Wherever you live in the United Kingdom, there’s no doubt that a waterproof jacket is one of the most essential bits of hiking gear required. It’s quite easy to spend just a few pounds on a jacket, but you’ll soon realise that this is a false economy when you come back home soaking wet inside your jacket as it isn’t up to the job.
But a great waterproof jacket will not only cope with any amount of rain that nature throws at us, but also with the high winds that we get exposed to. So no matter whether you are walking in the local country park, through town, or out on the mountain tops, you want to know that you have invested wisely and bought the best waterproof jacket that your money can buy.
Features on your jacket to look out for
There’s quite a lot of features to look out for when shopping for your waterproof jacket. The more of these features that the jacket has, the better it should be.
The fabric that the jacket is made of is the number one consideration – you want it to be waterproof, and so the quality of the fabric is essential.
A jacket is made up of 2 layers – the durable, rain-shredding outer layer and a waterproof, breathable membrane that is heat-bonded to the interior. The outer layer protects you against water and wind, while the inner layer keeps your body dry as well as providing insulation so your body doesn’t lose too much warmth during cold days.
The central membrane has millions of microscopic holes – these are small enough to stop rain water droplets from coming in, but big enough to let moisture from sweat escape to the outer surface. For many years the best of these has been Gore-Tex, but many brands use their own versions which work just as well.
Make sure that your hood is snug – the most important thing is that the hood should fit nicely around your head and you will be able to adjust it as needed. Some come with three drawcords (two on the collar at the jaw, one at the back of the head); some with just one at the back; more basic hoods just use a velcro tab.
Most decent hoods will come with a wire frame, but if you are really lucky it may also have a small peak which is designed to help keep rain off your face. This is like having a peaked cap on under your hood. When pulling your hood tight around your face make sure that you have good vision still – it’s better to be safe when hiking especially in the rain.
Some jackets may have an extra large hood – you” find that these are probably designed for cyclists to include their crash helmet.
If you are caught out in stormy weather you’ll soon learn how good your zip is, as one of the most important features that a waterproof jacket needs is protection for the zip. Most waterproof jackets include stormflaps, which are a flap on the exterior of the jacket to cover up zips. More expensive models use heat-bonded tape over the zip as an alternative to adding extra weight from fabric.
More expensive jackets may have two-way zips that can be unzipped from the bottom upwards as well as the top downwards. This is particularly helpful when you have a longer jacket which may restrict leg movement – and from personal experience, useful for men when having a wild wee when wearing a longer jacket.
Length of jacket
You want to make sure you’re comfortable when you are out hiking in the rain. It’s important to have the right jacket length for your walk. A longer jacket will protect your thighs and bottom from the rain, but can hinder leg movement, particularly when scrambling or climbing over styles, unless there is a two-way zip. Shorter cut jackets give you full range of movement, but obviously your bottom and thighs of your trousers are more exposed to the elements.
You need your sleeve cuffs to be able to protect you from rain and draughts – it’s amazing how wind can blow up a sleeve if it’s open. Cheaper jackets will often have an elasticated cuff to cinch it in to protect you, whereas more expensive jackets will have a velcro strap to enable you to adjust the opening – if it’s not windy or raining you can open it up wider to allow air in, but if required can close it tighter to keep out the elements.
Pockets on good jackets will have zips to keep your valuables in, and a warm lining to keep your hands warm in the cold. If you have a longer length jacket you want to ensure that the pockets are not too low, as they may be covered by the hip-belt of your rucksack, rendering them unavailable to put your hands in.
A chest pocket is not essential, but is very handy indeed – perfect for holding your mobile phone or GPS unit. Just make sure it sits between the chest-strap and hip-belt of your rucksack – take your rucksack with you when trying on jackets. You can get them large enough to hold an OS map, although these are rarer. If there is no external chest pocket you may find one inside – more protected but to get access you need to unzip the jacket so not entirely practical for items you require often when it’s raining.
Fit of jacket
As with most clothes, you’ll find that jackets can be “athletic” (quite figure hugging) or casual (loose fitting). As much as you may want to show off your honed body at every opportunity, a looser fitting jacket will allow a bit of movement without it riding up to expose your back or wrists to the elements. You’ll also be able to layer up easier in the winter with a looser fitting jacket.
A few waterproof jackets have long zips under the armpits. These are designed to allow heat and moisture from sweat to escape quicker. As they point downwards there is little chance of rain getting inside the jacket.
Seams on waterproof jackets must be sealed or taped to prevent water getting in through the stitch holes created during manufacturing. Only when the seams are sealed can the jacket be officially classified as waterproof.
How is the level of waterproof-ness of a jacket measured?
A jacket’s waterproofness is expressed as a rating called a hydrostatic head. This is the water pressure level at which point the fabric begins to leak, and is measured in millimetres. To be classed as waterproof, it must be at least 1,500mm – or 1.5 metres. Most waterproof fabrics far exceed this level though – Gore-Tex, the gold standard, can be up to 30,000mm or 30 metres!
Caring for your waterproof jacket
As your waterproof jacket will be a major investment, it’s a good idea to look after it and care for it well.
Dirt and grime can affect the waterproof capabilities of your jacket, so occasionally washing your jacket in the washing machine will help. But don’t put in a normal wash and never use biological washing agents. Instead, follow these instructions:
- check the washing labels for any special instructions
- after checking the pockets are empty, zip them up and zip up the front of the jacket too
- make sure the washing tray is clean of any residual powder or washing agent
- pour in a detergent such as Nikwax Tech Wash
- wash following the instructions on the detergent
- dry naturally
How will you know if your jacket needs reproofing? Usually water will gather on the material in drops, because it cannot penetrate the outer layer. If you find it starts to spread in dark patches then it will need reproofing – unless you like getting wet! You may get lucky and running the jacket through the tumble drier may help, but if not, then you can reproof it using Nikwax TX Direct. Add it to a machine wash of the jacket or use in a hand wash to restore the water-repellence and breathability of the jacket.
Despite them being hard wearing, you may catch your jacket on a branch or thorn and find it ripping. But it’s not the end of it’s life as you can buy McNett’s Tenacious Sealing & Repair Tape or Gore-Tex Repair Kit for an easy fix.
Waterproof jackets are one of the most important items that you can buy for your hiking journeys, so it’s well worth taking the time to get the right jacket for your needs. It’s possible to spend hundreds on a jacket, and whilst this isn’t necessary, it’s well worth investing a good sum to ensure you stay dry whilst walking.
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