Your top layer is there to protect you from wind and rain but it also needs to be breathable, easily stowed and look good!
- Waterproof jacket buyers guide
- How to buy a waterproof jacket
- 2-layer, 2.5 layer and 3 layer
- Best waterproof jackets
- Fjallraven High Coast Hydratic Jacket
- Jack Wolfskin JWP Shell Jacket
- Salomon Outline Hybrid Jacket
- Columbia Ampli-Dry Waterproof Jacket
- Berghaus Athunder Jacket
- Alpkit Definition Jacket
- Fjern Skjold Jacket
- North Face 1994 Retro Mountain Light Futurelight Packable
- Montane Alpine Shift Jacket
Waterproof jacket buyers guide
It's always worth chucking a lightweight waterproof jacket in your pack when you're heading out on a walk or ride, even if you’re not expecting rain. Add an overnight wild camp into the mix and your choice of waterproof jacket becomes that much more important, both in terms of protection from the elements and the dent it puts in your overall pack weight. For cycling an easily packable waterproof jacket that you can throw on in a downpour can make the difference between a miserable ride and a great one.
A decent waterproof jacket should have the versatility to be worn for travel, and daily wear but durability can suffer when materials are optimised for weight, so wearing one too often could risk prematurely wearing out your expensive investment.
Lightweight waterproof jackets can compromise on features to bring weight down, so decide whether you need lightweight packability over and above pockets, adjusters and a highly durable materials.
The jackets reviewed here have been put through their paces across a wide range of activities and in a number of different climates to whittle our choices down to what we consider to be the best waterproof jackets available today.
How to buy a waterproof jacket
How does a waterproof jacket work?
Waterproof jackets usually consist of a waterproof breathable membrane like Gore-Tex or eVent, a face fabric, and sometimes an additional layer of fabric inside too. The membrane is usually bonded to the inside of the face fabric and does most of the work, the face fabric just protects that membrane from damage, and offers a more aesthetically pleasing finish. How does this membrane work? It's designed with microscopic holes in it, just big enough to let heat and moisture vapour from the inside pass, but small enough that rain drops can't get through from the outside.
Often you will see a waterproof jacket with a DWR, or Durable Water Repellent coating. Contrary to popular belief this is not the waterproof element of the jacket, it simply helps the jacket breathe properly from the inside. The coating is applied to the face fabric of the jacket and encourages water to bead up and roll straight off, rather than soak into it. If the face fabric of the waterproof jacket becomes saturated, or 'wets out' any moisture that has been able to pass through the breathable membrane from the inside will get trapped by the outer fabric, and consequently you may get wet from the inside!
2-layer, 2.5 layer and 3 layer
The very best waterproof jackets are 3-layer. These are known as the most reliable waterproof jackets thanks to their sandwich construction of membrane with face and inner fabric bonded either side. This protects the vital membrane from scuffs and scrapes, body oils which can block the pores and general dirt and damage. These also tend to be the most expensive waterproof jackets though, and for many uses they may be overkill.
A 2-layer waterproof jacket mixes a membrane and face fabric with a loose mesh and taffeta liner. These tend to be the quietest in use and are also often the best value but are heavy and don't perform as well.
2.5 layer waterproof jackets are perfect for most walking, cycling and travel duties as they mix the benefits of both 2 and 3-layer waterproof jackets. They consist of a membrane, face fabric, and printed finish on the inside which offers some protection from body oils as well as a little additional next-to-skin comfort. They tend to be lightweight and very packable and offer the best mix of performance and value.
The higher the jacket’s ‘hydrostatic head’ the more waterproof it will be. This info should be on the garment’s swing tag and will be written as ‘mm H2O’. 20,000mm H2O is a good figure to look for if you demand a lot from your gear but anything from about 5,000mm is considered to be waterproof.
Waterproofing doesn't stop with the membrane though, potential weak points where water could make its way through the inside of your waterproof jacket are zips and seams.
Laser cut and glued seams are best as the process doesn't involve putting holes into the fabric. They also keep weight down. Taped seams are probably more common though, this involves the manufacturer of the waterproof jacket putting a waterproof tape over the seams to protect them. Check that these are all over the jacket rather than just in 'critical' areas.
Water resistant zips are very common on lightweight waterproof jackets, this puts a rubbery finish around the zip to stop water getting through. Storm flaps are often used as an alternative. This simply places a flap of material over the zip and looks better on casual waterproof jackets.
A breathable jacket is a comfortable one so make sure you check the breathability rating of your waterproof jacket before you buy it. Breathability is shown as a ‘Moisture Vapour Permeability’ measured by how much steam the fabric lets through per square metre in 24hrs. A rating of 10,000 is good enough for most, but if you take your hiking or cycling seriously it may be better to look for a jacket with upwards of 20,000 breathability.
Pit zips are fantastic in any waterproof jacket that you will cook up a sweat in, as they allow you to quickly vent out that excess heat and moisture without getting wet. It's a similar situation with mesh lined pockets, crack these open and hot, moist air will be able to escape.
An easily packed waterproof is a versatile one, as you're more likely to take it on more occasions. One that packs down to a small size is obviously more easily stowed – especially in smaller summer day packs and travel luggage. Small pack size usually means lighter too. The most versatile pack into their own pockets.
Best waterproof jackets
Fjallraven High Coast Hydratic Jacket
Best for: Everyday use in the town and city.
Construction: 2.5 layer shell
This 2.5 layer shell jacket is Fjallraven’s everyday waterproof jacket. It immediately feels very practical, but the cut, shape and colourways aren’t all that fashionable. Despite the lowly 6k breathability rating the High Coast Hydratic feels quite airy even when you’re pushing the pace on a hike. The unusually placed zipped vents help to dump excess heat, always a welcome feature on any waterproof shell jacket.
The boxy, baggy cut makes more sense with an insulated jacket underneath, with the space filled out the jacket looks a little better but if you’re slim and you like an athletic cut then this isn’t the best option for you.
You get excellent all over rain and wind protection with the High Coast Hydratic thanks to fully taped seams and a membrane with 10k waterproof rating. The zips all have small storm flaps to stop water leaking through, which isn’t as good as waterproof zips but does the job and looks a lot less technical, something more attractive in an everyday waterproof jacket.
The material looks quite plasticky and shiny, especially in the black colourway but when you wear the High Coast Hydratic it doesn’t make much noise and feels reasonably soft to the touch.
We felt that the reflective details on the cuffs and hood lend themselves well to city living in general, whether that’s cycling to work or walking around town. And this is perhaps where the High Coast Hydratic jacket is most comfortable, as a no-nonsense everyday town and city jacket to protect you from the worst of the rain.
Jack Wolfskin JWP Shell Jacket
Best for: Travel use.
Construction: 2 layer shell
This relatively inexpensive 2-layer shell jacket does a lot of things right. It's simple, but very well put together, with excellent build quality and a durable feel to the fabric. Despite the outer fabric feeling thick it's still really soft making the JWP Shell comfortable and quiet to wear which is perfect for travel. Being 2-layer the JWP Shell has a loose mesh lining, this adds a boost to the warmth of the jacket and makes it more comfortable inside than a 2.5 or 3 layer shell that just has the plasticky material.
The fit is excellent, it's trim but can still accommodate mid layers underneath. Our only minor gripe is the slightly short arm length, but that's only an issue if, like me you have particularly long arms. The hem, cuff and hood adjusters are high quality and easy to use. The hood works well in a storm, it moves with your head and is comfortable to wear, protecting you from the worst of the rain.
With the hand pockets being mesh lined the JWP Shell has a touch of extra ventilation when you need it. On test, when walking fast we found this waterproof jacket to be really airy and breathable while still offering an effective barrier against the wind. The specs are 20k waterproofing and 15k breathability, in terms of the competition this is above average for the price.
The JWP Shell packs into it's own pocket for easy transportation in a bag or suitcase. It's about 100g too heavy to be considered a lightweight jacket but is still a viable option for backpacking if you're on a budget.
Salomon Outline Hybrid Jacket
Best for: Lightweight mountain adventures
Construction: 2.5 layer shell with 3 layer Ripstop weave on arms and shoulders
This impressively lightweight waterproof jacket is designed to take on the worst of the elements. The main material is Gore-Tex Paclite which is Gore’s lightweight membrane. It offers excellent waterproofing and breathability but not always the best durability which is why the Outline jacket features a tougher Ripstop fabric around the shoulders and arms. This is where a backpack will be and can cause stress on a jacket with heavy use. All the seams are taped, and the zips are waterproof. This isn’t always the case with waterproof jackets, if you’re looking for something for walking in the mountains across all seasons make sure it has these features as it will stop water seeping in past zips and stitching.
The two hand pockets have mesh lining, this helps with ventilation with the zips open, but pit vents would have also been useful to dump heat without opening the main zip. Having said that the Gore-Tex membrane feels breathable on fast and sweaty hikes in the rain.
We found the hood good in use, it has decent coverage over the face and mostly moves with the head when it’s cinched up with the drawcord adjuster. The Gore-Tex material is super crinkly though so wearing it gets annoying quickly.
Overall, this is a decent 2.5 layer technical shell jacket, we’re just not sure it’s worth the steep price.
Columbia Ampli-Dry Waterproof Jacket
Best for: Travel on a budget
Construction: 2.5 layer shell
This catchily named waterproof jacket is a generalist, suitable for anything outdoors where you might want to stay dry but it excels at hiking and travel. Columbia’s Omni-Tech takes care of waterproofing and claims 10k/10k waterproof and breathability which is about as middle of the road as the price of the jacket suggests. In use, this along with the taped seams and water-resistant main zip ensure you stay dry in most conditions, but the Ampli-Dry jacket is not the jacket to choose for extreme use.
Compared to a much more waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex the Ampli-Dry is pleasantly soft and supple meaning that wearing it isn’t akin to donning a stiff bin bag. It’s quiet and there is genuine 4-way stretch in the outer material, the inner is also surprisingly comfortable against the skin.
Pit zips and vented hand pockets help greatly with breathability when you work up a sweat, letting moisture and heat quickly escape and the hood adds vital extra protection from the rain, providing decent coverage.
We felt that the cut was quite boxy and uninspiring, the sort of jacket to wear if you want to blend into the background, this is complemented by a range of muted colours (apart from the bright red on test). Despite not sounding particularly appealing this may be exactly what you want when travelling.
Berghaus Athunder Jacket
Best for: A solid and dependable genuine all rounder that will take you from crag to Co-op
Construction: 3 layer shell
Berghaus new Athunder jacket comes in a fetching two tone mustard and blue colour that looks quite the fashionable technical jacket, despite Berghaus often distinctly middle-aged leanings. And that’s just the start of what we consider to be an excellent ‘fully featured’ waterproof jacket. What we mean by ‘fully featured’ is the type of jacket that you can batten down the hatches with against the worst of the winter weather and come out the other side without shrivelled skin and hypothermia.
Waterproofing comes from 3-layer Gore Tex, and despite there being no pit zips we found the Athunder breathable on a warm but wet autumn day, it’s also about as waterproof as you can find.
The two chest pockets are the only storage on the Athunder jacket but they will both take a map and handily clear hip belt or harness. The main zip is complemented by a storm flap which you seal down with poppers, this adds to the great looks and also to the rain protection in that most vulnerable of areas.
The hood is effective, it’s spacious and comfortable, helmet compatible and cinches down nicely over a bare head. The chin section covers the bottom of the face nicely leaving enough room for your face with the zip done up and the hood moves with your head unlike some.
This jacket isn’t cheap or particularly lightweight, but it is very good. If you decide to invest it will give many years of sustained use in the harshest of environments.
Alpkit Definition Jacket
Best for: Battening down the hatches in the depths of winter
Construction: 3 layer shell
Alpkit’s Definition is a hardy waterproof jacket designed to take on alpine adventures and therefore perfect for hiking and climbing in the UK’s mountains.
It offers a mix of excellent wet weather performance with bombproof durability to ensure you can stay out in the harshest conditions for longer.
The most outstanding feature of the 3-layer Definition is the performance figures, with a waterproof rating of 30k and breathability of 20k. These are both very high figures, proving that the Definition is optimised to keep you dry while hitting it hard in the mountains.
Extra durable nylon on the outer ensures that the Definition stays intact when you’re mountaineering or rock climbing, and you can really feel this in the jacket. It feels thick and robust much like Gore-Tex’ Pro fabric. The downside to this is of course that it’s a little stiff and crinkly, but we think it’s a worthwhile compromise.
There is a large map compatible pocket on the chest and zipped vents running up the sides of the body. These help to dump heat quickly without having to expose yourself to rain through the main zip. All the zips are of course waterproof and seams fully taped. Essentially this jacket is not letting in any water, and provides a fantastic barrier against the wind too.
If you’re looking for a fashionable waterproof jacket you can pretty much forget it with the Definition, the cut is optimised for layering, articulation and to be compatible with helmet and harness. This means that the hood is big, but easily cinchable over a bare head with drawcord adjuster, and the pockets are placed with access while wearing a harness in mind. The cut is baggy but for its intended purpose it works brilliantly.
The use of proprietary materials and a direct-to-consumer model has traditionally allowed Alpkit to disrupt the outdoor market and the Definition epitomises this approach, with it rivalling the quality and performance of a waterproof jacket at twice the price.
Fjern Skjold Jacket
Best for: Fast and light but without the compromise
Construction: 3 layer shell
This is a packable, fast and light style jacket but not paired down to nothing to save ultimate amounts of weight. You still get all the features you would expect from an expensive waterproof jacket, like pockets and adjusters as well as a very decent, functional hood.
The membrane is eVent, this is massively breathable in our experience so is a great choice for moving fast, it does of course also keep the water out just as well as an equivalent Gore Tex.
Being a ‘packable’ jacket the Skjold’ material is thin but not wafer thin, so we still feel that it offers good durability and abrasion resistance. Coverage is also slightly trimmed down at the hem and in general volume, but the cuffs don’t suffer the same fate, tapering over the wrists to keep your expensive mid layer and watch dry.
The two hand pockets are located in bog standard places, that is to say that if you’re wearing a pack with a hipbelt or climbing harness you will not be able to make use of them, for all other uses though they work as intended.
Coverage and comfort from the hood are particularly good, it cinches down using the adjusters and then moves with your head and the material at the top of the jacket doesn’t get in the way of the chin too much.
eVent is a 3-layer fabric technology so there is no mesh lining for comfort or warmth but it’s still surprisingly comfortable next to bare arms.
Fast and light suggests a low weight and the Skjold does a decent job considering the feature set at 335g.
There is fierce competition pitching against the Skjold for your money and Fjern are asking a fair amount of it at £250 but we think it’s worth it – just.
North Face 1994 Retro Mountain Light Futurelight Packable
Best for: Casual wear
Construction: 3 layer shell with mesh lining
That name is quite the mouthful but what we can glean from it is a retro inspired look paired with bang up to date materials and tech.
Initially the 1994 Retro feels gimmicky and much more suited to the street than active outdoor use. The fit is massive considering I picked my usual size; the jacket swamps my svelte torso and makes me feel a little bit silly. This is not ideal from a performance perspective, having acres of material flapping around isn’t what you want when you’re on top of a hill in a hoolie.
Everything is chunky, oversized, and overdone, from the massive toggle pulls to the huge cuff adjusters and webbing strap adjusters for the hood. This makes the 1994 Retro feel and look like a caricature of an outdoor jacket rather than a serious bit of kit for walking.
Once you get over the quite frankly ridiculous styling the actual wind and waterproofing, which at the end of the day is what a waterproof jacket is all about, is top notch. Futurelight is North Face’ new waterproof membrane material and is super breathable and waterproof, it keeps the rain off and moves the sweat out.
The mesh liner adds comfort and warmth but contributes to the overall weight of 784g, making a mockery of the ‘packable’ claim. Still, we could see this being a good travel jacket for some if the style is to your liking (we won’t judge).
Montane Alpine Shift Jacket
Best for: A great packable jacket for cycling
Construction: 3 layer shell
We’ve now been wearing the Alpine Shift jacket for over six months, during activities as diverse as mountain biking, camping, bushcraft and hiking, all with lots of rain.
Rain is dealt with by the Diamond Lite Pro 3-layer material perfectly. The hood is particularly good providing excellent protection in sustained downpours. If you're a keen cyclist or climber, you'll also be pleased to know that it's helmet compatible.
The jacket provides ample coverage over the wrists and bum and plenty of space for layering, making it a good option in the winter months. The material, despite only being a relatively thin 20 denier has proved to be robust; this is a jacket that offers much more than its 315g weight would suggest.
Other features are fairly basic, this helps keep the weight down - just one chest pocket for instance, but all the usual adjusters are still there making this a genuinely useful all season waterproof jacket.
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