Choosing a waterproof jacket can be daunting, and this is also potentially the most important item of clothing in your outdoor & travel wardrobe – so we’ve decided to try and simplify the process a bit.

Firstly ask yourself a few simple questions. Knowing the answers to these will really help in narrowing down the choices and aide with finding the ideal garment.

What will you using it for? & Where are you going?

Maybe you’re… Hiking through the Andes, Mountain biking in NZ, Climbing Mount Arapalies in winter, Backpacking around Aisa during the monsoon, Taking a drive through North-Eastern Europe, Scuba Diving…? (sorry they’re not THAT waterproof!). Whatever it may be, think about the activities you’ll use it for and the climates you may encounter.

What is your budget?

These styles of jackets range from about $150 up to $800+. Consider how much use the jacket will be likely get and how long you would ideally like it to last. Essentially you get what you pay for, both in features and often durability.

Does it come in black?

Colour can be important. You may prefer a muted darker tone for a travel jacket, compared to a bright visible colour for an Alpine Shell. Remember that bright colour looks great in photos and more importantly help you get spotted if something goes array.

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So now we’ve got you thinking about how this waterproof jacket will fit into your adventures. That’s a great start!

There are more and more different types of rain or waterproof jackets (or waterproof shells) hitting the market than ever before. We’ve divided them into some loose categories to explain the differences:

Note: To keep things simple – All of types rain jackets referred to are both Waterproof and Breathable – but they are not all created equal! It’s also worth noting that whilst the primary function of a waterproof jacket is the keep you dry, they also act as wonderful barriers against the wind & windchill.

Lightweight Jackets

These are small, lightweight and very packable – for those times when you know that taking a rain jacket is a good idea, but you don’t expect to have to wear it all that often. The fabrics used in these jackets will be thinner and less durable than more expensive/heavier offerings & breathablility will generally be quite good. You may look to fit a garment of this type to fit a base layer, and one thicker warmer layer underneath, but probably not too large as it will often be worn straight over a base layer/shirt in warmer climes.

You would look at this style of jacket if you’re doing day walks and some longer supported walks with a smaller day-pack, or lightweight travel/backpacking through potentially rainy climates.

Some examples include: The Marmot Precip, The North Face Venture , Patagonia Torrent Shell & Helly Hansen LokeJackets – These three styles will also be the most affordable options, often costing less than half that of the higher end jackets. For more technical ultralight options you could look at the Patagonia Alpine Houdini or Rab Muztag & Kinetic Plus, these will have a more active cut and have a high level of breathability.

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Durable (Bush-walking & Trekking) Jackets

So you’re heading off into the back country of Tasmania for a weeks of scrub bashing and mud stomping, or maybe you’re doing a 2 week self supported trek with a heavy pack through the Himalaya. This is your category.

You’ll be wanting maximum protection from the elements, as well as a stout jacket than can take a beating, both from your pack, and the environs you’ll be encountering. Bushwalking jackets of this nature will often (but not always) be longer cut in the hem, have excellent adjustable storm hoods, pickets placed high above the packs hip belt, durable face fabrics (many have an even more durable fabric in high wear areas such as the shoulders for pack wear) and at last – but definitely not least – a high level of breathability. These jackets will have 3 layer fabric usually using Gore-tex or eVent. 

Depending on the climate you intend to use the jacket in it could be wise to size a bush-walking jacket to fit a couple of warmer layers underneath.

Some examples include: The Arcteryx Theta AR Zeta AR and are durable but quite lightweight technical options . Whist the Mont range of rain-wear; the Austral (mens) Siena (women’s) Odyssey jacket’s; are is tough as nails and will get you through the heaviest of week-long downpours

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Jules wearing an Arcteryx Theta shell, whilst camped at a bivvy spot in some cold damp & misty weather on the Annette Plateau – Aoraki/Mount Cook NP, NZ. Photo: Lachlan Gardiner.

Technical (Alpine) Jackets

If you’re looking in this category, you’re probably already fairly clued up on what you’re looking for. Basically these jackets are for vertical & active activities such as trail running, rock climbing, alpine climbing, mountaineering, and cold/high-altitude expeditions. They will have some specialised features such as; harness compatible hand-warmer pockets (higher than usual), a helmet compatible hood, and will generally be made from very breathable fabrics.

Technical shells will often be either an athletic (slim fit) for most high output activities, or roomier for high alitiude & cold weather mountaineering which allows for bulky insulated layers to fit underneath. These specialist jackets will also often be in the higher end of the price-range, and use the most advanced, moisture wicking & breathable fabrics available, alongside cutting-edge designs.

Some examples include: More durable styles include the Arcteryx Theta ARRab Latok Alpine  whilst some lighter weight options are the Rab Muztag & Patagonia Alpine Houdini.

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Brightly coloured jackets are always recommended for use in alpine environments.

Travel Jackets & Component Jackets

This category is for those looking to travel, enjoy the finer things in life, but not necessarily engage with strenuous activities such as hiking or mountain climbing. Travel jackets, and coats will come in endless shapes and styles. For the waterproof variety there will be a few main styles to look for. Many will be longer coat style jackets, whilst others will be quite similar to a lightweight bushwalking jacket, but maybe a bit less technical looking.

Outer Shells – These are just your outer layer, and will come unlined and will rely on wearing a warm layer under to keep warm.
Some examples include: Shorter  styles such as, Marmot Minimalist or The North Face Venture.  Or longer styles like the Arcteryx Codetta Coat, Helly Hansen Welsey Trench & Exoficcio Emei Trench & Men’s Exoficcio Leshan Jacket.

Insulated jackets – These will have an out waterproof shell layer, along with an insulated inner, usually fleece (warm), Syntheic fill (warmer) or down (warmest).
Examples include: The North Face Flux Insulated Jacket

Component Jackets – These are similar to the insulated jackets, but with a removable inner layer – Then each of the two components can also be worn independently.
Examples are: Helly Hansen Squamish CIS Jackets, Patagonia Tres 3 in 1 Parkas and the The North Face Arrowood TriClimate Jackets.

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Zuzana enjoying an Icelandic Sunset. Photo: Dave Casey

As you can see in all of these loosely defined categories there will be crossovers and you certainly don’t need a different jacket for every different activity you’re into. The key is working out which features you require and finding the jacket that best fits your need/s.

One final tip is to always try on several jackets, as the fit will vary between the brands and styles.

Waterproof Pants

If you are heading out and can see yourself being in rain for a prolonged period a set of waterproof pants can be a great idea. These will stop water running down your leg into your shoes, your pants or shorts getting wet and wicking moisture up under your jacket and keep you warm if your in a cold environment. Again it will depend on where and how you plan to use your waterproof pants. Lightweight & packable can be great for travel or light bushwalking where a heavier more durable set would be preferred for alpine or scrubby bushwalking.

Hopefully that we have helped to shed some light on choosing the best garment to keep you dry, comfortable and most importantly outdoors having fun longer!

Lachlan-Springbrook- Rainwear-30.03.15-67-2Next week on the Paddy Pallin Blog we will dive even deeper into the intricacies of different waterproof fabrics & how they work. Stay tuned!

About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

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