Choosing the Right Waterproof Jacket
Sifting through rack after rack of brightly colored jackets can be a daunting task, especially if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. There is a huge variety of weather-resistant jackets to choose from with tons of tech that sounds super fancy and complicated (and sometimes it is!) Here at The House, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to shop for the right jacket, so we put together this short guide to finding the perfect waterproof jacket for any occasion.
If you’d like more detailed information on how waterproof fabric works, check out our blog on waterproof fabric!
Waterproof vs Water-Resistant
One of the most important characteristics to identify right away when you’re shopping for weather-resistant jackets is to look for waterproofing or water-resistance. If you get them mixed up, you may find yourself very disappointed with your new jacket, or in worse cases, even soaking wet. The difference between waterproofing and water-resistance is simple although somewhat hard to classify. There is no consensus standard for how to rank items between the two, but generally one can assume that a waterproof jacket will let no moisture inside for long periods of time, while water-resistant jackets will stop a light rain or drizzle but give way to a sudden rainstorm.
Here at The House, we measure waterproofing in millimeters (mm). The higher the millimeters, the more waterproof the clothing. There are reasons for why you may want a waterproof jacket vs a water-resistant jacket and vice versa as we shall see later, but first, we need to talk about breathability.
What is breathability?
Breathability allows moisture created by body heat to escape. Warm air created by your body heat attracts colder and dryer air, so when pores or venting are added to a jacket, it escapes more easily. This prevents your jacket from feeling too hot, sticky or otherwise uncomfortable as you work up a sweat throughout the day. Non-breathable fabric can also collect condensation which can make you feel colder over time. Like waterproofing, there is technically no industry standard to determine breathability, but you can think of it as a spectrum that depends on what activity you plan on doing.
Generally, the rule is that higher aerobic activities require more breathable fabric. Things like mountain biking, climbing or intense hiking may require a jacket that lets your body heat escape easily so you stay comfortable and cool. For less arduous activities like your morning walk outdoors or a stroll through the park, you’ll be fine with something a little less breathable. There are a variety of features that will determine how breathable your jacket will be. Most notably will be waterproofing or water-resistance, as well as the type of shell they have.
Types of Weather-Resistant Jackets
There are five major types of weather-resistant jackets, all with a range of varying degrees of waterproofing, water repellent, water-resistance and breathability.
- Waterproof/Breathable: These jackets combine waterproofing with breathability and are best for high aerobic activities in the outdoors where the of wet conditions is high. This may include mountain climbing, skiing or snowboarding.
- Water-Resistant: These jackets can handle rain for a time, but won’t protect you from a storm. They tend to be more breathable than waterproof jackets however and are great for casual daily activities like walking the dog.
- Waterproof/Non-breathable: Aptly named, these jackets will provide secure waterproofing, but won’t consist of very breathable material. Our advice shows they are better for emergency scenarios, such as a rain slicker or poncho if a sudden rainstorm hits the football field.
- Windproof: Simply put, these jackets will whisk away the breeze with the help of the outer layer, helping to keep you warmer and more aerodynamic. As a general rule, anything waterproofed is also windproof.
- Wind-Resistant: Similar to water-resistant jackets, these are a great choice for casual activity but won’t stand up to well in a storm.
Most manufacturers will state what kind of weather-resistant qualities their jackets have.
Types of Weather Shells
There are four important types of weather shells:
- Hard Shell: Hard shells feature a strong fabric that is thin and sometimes lightly insulated that provides waterproofing in outdoor wet conditions. They are not super breathable but will provide the best waterproofing of the different shell types. The fabric is durable, but not very stretchy or soft to the touch. They are best for heavy rain protection, powder days on the slopes or backcountry camping.
- Soft Shell: Soft shells integrate more insulation than hard shells and feature water-resistance. While they have less rain protection, they are generally more breathable and comfortable than hard shells, making them great for high-exertion activities like climbing or a winter run.
- Hybrid Shell: These shells combine hard and soft shell fabrics. The jacket may have a hard shell over the chest, but soft shell underneath the arms. These give you a bit more breathability while still holding up in wet conditions.
- Insulated Shell: These can be hard or soft and are always filled with down or synthetic fill for warmth. They are perfect for cold-weather activities that may get damp such as snowboarding, skiing or snowshoeing. Insulated shells must have sealed seams to be waterproof. This means the seams of the jacket are sealed shut by tape or other fabric, ensuring moisture never leaks through.
Somewhere in between all of these are 3-in-1 jackets. 3-in-1 jackets combine rainwear with an inner fleece insulated shell to help you find the right balance of weather-resistance and warmth. The nice thing about 3-in-1 jackets is that you can wear each component separately. If you’re hiking on a fall day, you can wear a fleece or insulated shell. If rain rolls in, you have the outer rain component to keep you dry.
So now what?
All of this is only helpful insofar as you have a good idea of what you’ll need. To make it a bit easier, we’ve selected a few of our favorite jackets for a variety of activities throughout the year. For more in-depth detail on weather-resistant fabrics, we wrote an entire blog all about it!
For a low exertion activity like walking or playing with the kids in the backyard, there are two jackets that we absolutely love. For men we have the Eco Multisport Jacket from 2117 of Sweden. This jacket comes in at an incredible price, making it great for those casually enjoying the outdoors who aren’t far from home should a storm blow in. It features a light DWR coating for water- and wind-resistance. As a lightweight jacket, it’s great for transitions seasons.
For the ladies, we recommend the Finder Jacket from Mountain Hardwear. Dry.QTM Core technology coating provides water-resistance similar to the Eco Multisport that dries very quickly for a more comfortable wear. The abrasion-resistant fabric also helps keep this jacket in great shape throughout the years, making it the perfect companion for low-exertion casual activity.
Low to Medium Exertion
Fishing or on an easy hike on the trail are low-exertion activities with occasional spikes in difficulty. They are different than your morning walk because you’ll likely be far from shelter for a longer period of time. So if a drizzle develops into a full-on rainstorm, you may not be able to run inside like you might if you’re just doing a little yard work and walking the dog around the block.
For these activities, we recommend guys go with the Summit Sleeker Shell Jacket from Columbia. This jacket is perfect for when the rain starts and just never seems to stop. It’s fully waterproof and features fully-taped seams to ensure you stay dry at all times and no moisture can get through the seams. It has vented hand pockets and is super breathable to let body heat and moisture escape should you decide to hoof it back to your vehicle.
For the ladies, we recommend the Studiogrand Stow Away Parka Jacket from Mountain Hardwear. This stowable jacket is perfect in a pinch and offers lightweight water resistance with fully-taped seams and durable nylon fabric that is perfect for a sudden splash of rain. It’s great for bringing to a sporting event or a hike.
High-exertion activities such as mountain biking, climbing or steep mountain hiking will require a jacket that has the strong waterproofing. And since you’re likely far from shelter, will also need to be breathable so body heat and moisture can escape.
For guys, the Roam Paclite Rain Jacket from Under Armour one of the best jackets available at The House for high-exertion activities. It features a strong Gore-Tex laminate that is well-known for its ability to combine waterproofing with breathability. This jacket is super comfortable as a result and has fully-taped seams to keep you dry at all times. Gore-Tex also makes this jacket windproof.
An excellent choice for women is the Precip Jacket from Marmot. This jacket has the waterproofing and fully-taped seams you want for heavy rains but is also breathable for aerobic activity. The Nylon Ripstop fabric is super durable as well. It also features underarm venting for rapid heat release. When your heart rate picks up, you can expect this jacket to perform incredibly well.
Low Exertion, Cold-Weather
Everything suggested up to this point will work great provided it’s not 10 degrees outside. When the temperature drops, you’ll want to look for something insulated. The following jackets are great for low exertion activities in the winter. As such, they don’t need to be as waterproofed as you might need for high-exertion winter activities. So the next time you’re ice fishing or watching a football game on a freezing set of bleachers, take one of these jackets with you.
One of the best jackets for men is the Ebreon Parka from Chamonix. This jacket has a fair amount of waterproofing from DWR coating, as well as critically-taped seams to keep moisture from seeping inside. It has 200 grams of Shieldtex Proloft Insulation and an adjustable faux-fur hood to keep the cold winds off your face. The Ebreon Parka also has tons of pockets including an internal media pocket and hand-warmers.
A great option for the ladies is the Alpine Action Omni-Heat Ski Jacket from Columbia. Waterproofing, breathability and critically-taped seams ensure that moisture never gets inside without making you feel like you’re in a sauna. As a plus, tons of additional tech offers immense functionality.
High Exertion, Cold-Weather
High exertion activities in cold-weather include snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing or backcountry winter hiking. For these, you’ll want a jacket that gives you strong waterproofing and good breathability. More venting is better. This will help keep moisture and sweat from building up and freezing.
The Covert Insulated Snowboard Jacket from Burton is an excellent choice for guys. This waterproof jacket is great because it has good waterproofing for slushy conditions, but is also super breathable. Mesh-lined underarm venting provides quick moisture escape while insulation keep you toasty warm at the same time. The seams are taped and the whole jacket is loaded with tech to make your time in the frigid outdoors even better. Not to mention the wide variety of designs you can get!
For all the ladies that shred, the Athena Insulated Snowboard Jacket from 686 is perfect for winter conditions. Waterproofing and breathability keep you dry without retaining moisture from body heat, while mesh-lined underarm venting helps keep you cool. It has just the right amount of insulation to keep you from getting too warm. Taped seems keep snow and slush from leaking inside and has an adjustable powder skirt that prevents loose snow from getting in the bottom.
Now that you know the basics of shopping for the right weather-resistant jacket and waterproof jacket types. We hope you feel a little less lost among the plethora of options out there. Be sure to visit The House website for a vast selection of jackets to choose from.