(The Gear Loop) - A waterproof jacket is one of life’s necessities, especially if you’re outdoors in the UK, whatever the season or indeed, the weather forecast.
It’s a simple, lightweight and flexible item of outdoors clothing that can be thrown over whatever layers you might be wearing when the skies blacken and the heavens open, keeping your torso (and head, if the jacket has a hood) dry and comfortable for the remainder of the hike.
However, they come in a bewildering variety of colours, cuts, shapes and technical attributes that can seem utterly confusing for the beginner and expert alike. Head to the bottom of this article if you need a little help navigating the world of waterproof jackets.
Here, we’ve collated our pick of the best waterproof jackets from a list of the UK’s most popular and best-selling models. Using sales data from the likes of Cotswold Outdoors, Blacks and more, we’ve been able to select from those jackets that the UK public are buying in their thousands.
So read on for our take on some of the most popular waterproof jackets on sale today, so you can make an informed selection next time you go shopping for some protection from the elements.
- Solid build quality
- Not super-breathable
The Craghoppers Atlas waterproof sits very much at the cost-effective end of the market, but that’s a positive rather than a negative.
Part of Craghoppers' Duke of Edinburgh Award Collection, it’s relatively lightweight, waterproof, and has a decent hood and - importantly - a map-sized front pocket.
On the downside, the breathability isn’t amazing, but there’s extensive use of recycled materials, and you could easily pay double for less - well worth a look if finances are a key factor.
- Decent breathability
- Overkill for easy rambles and low-level strolls
Berghaus has a strong pedigree in good waterproof design, and the Ridgemaster is a classic example.
Made from a robust but breathable Gore-Tex 3L Performance Shell, this is a proper mountain outer that’ll see you safe in the worst conditions out there.
Key to this is an excellent hood with a stiffened peak that can be adjusted to keep the horizontal rain out, as well as the three-layer build, which will shrug off wind with ease.
Finally, there are plenty of pockets to lose your snacks in, and pit-zips to boost ventilation when steepness strikes.
Rab Downpour Eco
- Middling waterproof performance
Lightweight (320 grams) but fully-featured, there’s lots to like about the Rab Downpour Eco Waterproof Jacket, and given Rab’s pedigree in outdoor gear, you can be pretty sure you’ll be well cared for in this.
The big news is it also cares for the planet too, as the jacket is made from recycled 2.5-layer Pertex Revolve fabric with a fluorocarbon-free DWR treatment, both good points.
Interestingly, Rab has ensured that the Downpour eco is monopolymer, making it much easier to recycle at the end of its life as a waterproof.
That said, it's not the most robust nor the best at withstanding really disgusting downpours. More of a performance outer to pull on and off when needed.
- Extremely packable
- Delicate for careless hikers
Sometimes it’s all about moving fast in the hills, and for those times, the Montane Spine is the jacket for you.
Lightweight and super-packable, but still more than a match for dicey conditions, the Spine is constructed from a 13 Denier Gore-Tex Active shell. This gives maximum breathability even in high-output situations, but throws excellent waterproofness into the bargain.
If you’re a keen ultra-racer or mountain-marathon devotee, this is the shell for you - and it’s all new for 2022.
- Year-round protection
- Not particularly lightweight
The Rab Firewall is a year-round, mountain-ready waterproof, which basically means it’ll keep you dry in any conditions you can imagine, and several you probably can’t.
It’s made from Pertex Shield 3-layer fabric, which has stretch built-in for those more energetic moments. It is also pretty breathable and very waterproof and windproof.
There’s a full-function helmet-compatible hood, with a wired peak to keep the wind and sleet out of your eyes, as well as three roomy pockets and reflective detailing too.
The downside is a relatively hefty weight (517 grams), making this a jacket to wear rather than carry, but in poor weather conditions the armour-like attributes of this will be a godsend.
What to look for when buying a waterproof jacket
Apart from basic sizing of a waterproof jacket, which may need adjusting for different seasons, there are a few key variables.
Although "waterproofness" is often widely quoted on the marketing spiel for all waterproof jackets, sometimes as a measurement of hydrostatic head (usually a massive number in millimetres) this is pretty much useless in the real world.
Most decent quality waterproofs will keep the rain out, but it’s the breathability of waterproofs that is the crucial thing - the vital difference between a £600 technical Gore-Tex shell and a bin bag. This is because without breathability, you’ll quickly build up dampness/sweat inside the shell, soaking all of your other layers.
The tricky thing about breathability is that while it’s a measurable thing, real world conditions make it very variable - not least humidity, ambient temperature and what you’re doing in the jacket. Standing around will generate much less heat and perspiration than walking, and marching up hills or running will cause both to rocket, taxing even the most expensive and technical shell to the max.
So what does all this mean? In short, the cheaper the waterproof, the less well it will breathe, and the wetter you’ll get if you’re doing anything energetic. Equally, running up a rainy Scottish Munro in even the best shell will inevitably be a soggy business, so don’t expect magic.
Modern technical materials also rely on being clean, not clogged with mud, so if you’re constantly getting dirty then the breathability question is pretty moot, so it’s worth considering if a high-end shell is really the right tool for the job.