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How to choose a waterproof jacket

How to choose a waterproof jacket

  • Zishan Haider

Within a layered clothing system, which is recommended for mountain activities, waterproof garments are used as the third or last layer, fulfilling the function of protecting us and keeping us isolated from external agents such as wind, rain or snow. This is why a good waterproof jacket must meet certain requirements, where the waterproofing and breathability of the material are one of the main characteristics to consider.

Waterproof clothing, like most mountain sports equipment, has been innovating in every way over the last few decades. Today there are more and more alternatives with different characteristics, materials, specifications, functions, making choosing the ideal garment for our particular activity very difficult and confusing.

To begin with, we must say that despite all the innovations and improvements that have been developed in waterproof garments, the ideal or definitive fabric has not yet been invented, the ideal being understood as one that meets and offers an absolute solution to all our needs as users. However, there is no doubt that progress continues in this field, where innovations have been much greater at the level of technical design and/or solutions for practical use, which helps us to classify the different models more clearly according to the type of intended user.


In the market we can find an infinite number of alternatives within the "waterproof" category, but they can be classified into 3 large groups: waterproof / breathable (water-resistant / breathable), waterproof / breathable (waterproof / breathable) and proof. water (waterproof), which category is right for you? It depends on how much time you are going to spend in the rain, the intensity and type of activity.

Water-resistant/breathable garments (water-resistant/breathable)

They are garments designed to keep you dry in a drizzle or light rain, "water resistant", it means that it resists up to a point, because it is not "water proof" like others. Water resistant garments are more breathable and generally less expensive, and are a good alternative for more intense activities where perspiration is high. Within this category we find windbreaker jackets and soft shells.

Waterproof / breathable garments (waterproof / breathable)

Waterproof and breathable garments accommodate a wide range of uses and are preferred by active people, as this category of garments seeks to provide a balance between impermeability and breathability, making users comfortable most of the time. time.

Waterproof / breathable fabrics repel precipitation while allowing sweat vapor to evacuate, however not always as quickly as we would like. This type of garment, due to its construction and technology, can be subdivided into two large subgroups: laminated and induced.

Laminated raincoats: use high-tech membranes (Gore-Tex, eVent, MemBrain Strata, Conduit), which have micropores small enough to prevent water droplets from entering, but at the same time large enough to allow vapor to escape of sweat. These types of garments are more expensive. This type of construction offers a higher degree of breathability and durability.

Induced waterproofs: these are garments with coatings (Precip, HyVent, Powertex) that are applied to the outer material on the inside. The principle is the same as that of laminates, however they do not offer the same degree of breathability and durability but they are cheaper and, in most cases, lighter.

Waterproof / non-breathable garments

Perhaps the most basic and well-known raincoat, but the least recommended for exercising outdoors, since they are quite waterproof but not at all breathable, with which we will be soaked shortly after starting the exercise. Recommended only for very low intensity activities such as bird watching, fishing, watching outdoor sports, etc.


Soft shells are an excellent option for highly aerobic activities, as they are much more flexible and breathable than a waterproof jacket, to the point that some experts looking to go fast and light prefer them as a single outer layer. However, a soft shell does not have the level of protection against rain that a waterproof jacket provides, because despite the fact that some models have membranes in their construction, water ends up seeping through the seams in case of long exposure to water or environments. very humid.

There are two types of soft shells, which are not always easy to identify:

traditional soft shells

The fabrics with which they are made offer a certain level of water repellency and an excellent fit and breathability.

Pros: Ideal for intense activities under dry conditions or light and short rain. They are appreciated for the flexibility and breathability they offer.

Cons: In heavy or prolonged rain the fabric will become saturated and at some point we will be wet inside.

Soft shells with waterproof/breathable membranes

These offer greater water resistance than a traditional soft shell, but have a lower level of breathability.

Pros: Like the other soft shells, they are ideal for intense activities, but particularly in climates where the rain is stronger and more constant.

Cons: When the weather is dry, it is not as breathable as other garments without a membrane.


Breathable products of all kinds work best when the indoor air is warm and humid and the outdoor air is cool and dry. This makes it easier for excess moisture to evaporate. When the weather is hot and humid on the outside (under tropical rain), transmission rates will be lower and may allow condensation to accumulate on the inside of the jacket.


In any case where the water vapor transmission rate of the fabric is exceeded, for example when running or walking uphill at a great pace, or carrying a heavy load, it will also lead to the formation of condensation.


Membranes and coatings are relatively delicate, and abrasion can damage them and shorten their useful life. This is why these types of garments use a certain type of protection in their construction in the form of layers, with which we have 2, 2.5 and 3-layer garments.

2-Layer Waterproofs: Most Affordable

This is the most basic construction in waterproof/breathable garments, consisting of a membrane or coating applied to the face of the fabric to form layer 1. The second layer is often a hanging liner, usually mesh that is stitched inside the jacket. The lining is necessary to protect the laminate or coating from abrasion. Two-layer constructions are slightly heavier and less breathable than other designs, and are primarily intended for low-technical hiking or urban activities.

2.5-layer waterproof garments: The lightest

These use a lightweight fabric as the first outer layer and a polyurethane-based laminate or coating as the second layer. Finally they use (second coat) and a minimal inner protective layer, more like a gloss than a real coat, and this is why it is considered a half coat. These garments are generally considered super light and compact, which is why they are appreciated by those who want to go light and have little space. Also for those who prefer to use a Soft Shell and carry their jacket 2.5 layers in case a deluge surprises them. If you're not going to expose the jacket to too much abrasion, 2.5-layer jackets, especially those with membranes, are an excellent, high-performance alternative at a moderate price.

3 Layer Waterproofs: Most Durable

Garments in this category offer robust protection, while still maintaining a fairly low weight. In this type of construction, only membranes are used in the middle of the outer fabric and a thicker and more resistant internal lining. Jackets in the category offer a sleek, sporty fit and outer fabrics that withstand a higher degree of abrasion making them well-suited for climbers, mountaineers and backpackers. Products in this category seek high breathability, durability and relatively low weight, albeit at a somewhat higher price.


There are a number of extra details -no less important than the type of material and construction- that must be taken into account to make the final and correct decision:


Nothing speeds up sweat evaporation more than direct exposure to air, so any type of ventilation feature in rainwear improves breathability, regardless of the fabric. Ventilation allows heat to be dumped during activity, especially in hot and humid climates, and intense activities it's nice to be able to let sweat escape so you stay cool and dry.


Ventilation can typically be found under the armpits, at the back, and through mesh on the pockets, which often connects to the underarm vent. The greatest ventilation in a jacket is obtained from its front closure, which in some cases is two-way, allowing you to open it from below favoring ventilation on both sides.


The fit is important to customize a jacket to our needs and morphology. The cut depends on the activity that we are going to carry out, generally the most technical jackets have a more athletic cut. On the other hand elastic to adjust the waist and adjustable hoods and cuffs are other ways to adjust our jacket to different situations, however we must not sacrifice comfort as a full range of movement is essential.

heat-sealed seams

It will be useless to have a waterproof/breathable layer construction if the seams of our jacket are not sealed, as water could seep into the jacket through these seams. This is why it is enough for a jacket not to have its seams sealed to know that it is not really "waterproof".


The construction, fit and size of the hood certainly make all the difference in a jacket, some are more spacious designed to accommodate a climbing helmet, others are smaller for less technical and urban use. Most of them have adjustment systems so that the hood turns with our head when we turn our eyes. Others (less technical) are removable or can be stored for a more urban look. Front rigid brim hoods are becoming more common to offer better protection to the face.


The number and location of pockets is also important when choosing our jacket and it basically depends on the type of activity we are going to do. In the more technical jackets, the pockets are fewer and the front ones are high, so that the use of a harness or backpack belt does not interfere with access to the pockets. While the models for more recreational and urban activities have a greater number of pockets. Remember that the more pockets, the heavier the garment will be.


The closures are an important detail, these can be waterproof, which are the ones used in jackets that look for a minimum weight, since they do not require flaps to guarantee impermeability. On the contrary, those with lapels are more used in jackets that do not require saving weight. Some jackets have double slider closures, that is, they can be opened either from the neck or the waist, very practical with the use of a harness.


Some jackets include adjustable waist skirts to block snow or wind from entering the jacket. An accessory that can be appreciated when weight is not the most important thing.

protection reinforcements

Many garments, especially those designed for heavy use and exposure to abrasion, have protection on the shoulders and arms.

Inner thermal lining

Some designs, generally those that are urban or less technical, may have internal thermal linings that add some thermal retention capacity to the garment, but in turn make it heavier.


Perhaps the most important and starting point to start considering possibilities is to define what type of user we are and what characteristics the garment we require should have depending on the activity we carry out.

Many times it is difficult to fit in or define exactly the type of user we are, especially when we practice several activities at different levels, however, three general groups are established below that can give us the initial guideline to make a more accurate decision when choosing a waterproof jacket, which group are you in?

Group I (Occasional Practitioner)

Occasional or sporadic hiker in medium and low mountains. Among his primary objectives is not to complicate his life and he seeks what is easy, or what is the same, he does not need difficulty at all to be fulfilled. The activities that he develops are of low intensity, a few hours or a maximum of one day in duration. You want something simple and functional for your no life.

Group II (Constant Practitioner)

Most constant practitioner of any mountain sport, committed to activities of low to moderate difficulty which require a certain intensity on a physical and technical level. The length of your journeys can easily go beyond one day. You are more exposed to weather variables, so you need equipment that works well for you. He worries about being informed and is usually demanding.

Group III (Assiduous Practitioner)

Assiduous or professional practitioner of mountain activities, they constantly seek to overcome achievements with a high degree of technique and difficulty. For them, the theoretical yields of modern fabrics are relative and it is not the last word, since their experience in a thousand battles, the real ones, gives them personal criteria that must be taken into account. Looking for a symbiosis between the simple and the highly technical, his wardrobe will always be full of non-multipurpose garments.


Below we mention in alphabetical order the factors that must be taken into account when purchasing a jacket that fulfills the functions of a third layer. The degree of importance of each one will depend on the user and therefore the activity in which it will be used.

  • Durability
  • Aesthetics
  • Impermeability
  • Lightness
  • Mobility
  • Technical features
  • Price-quality ratio
  • Breathability



Understanding your personal needs can help you find the garment niche that will meet your expectations, which is why you should consider factors such as the type and intensity level of exercise (climbing, cycling, jogging, walking, mountaineering), exposure to abrasion and personal metabolism.


A good tip to make the right decision when choosing a waterproof garment is to use your past experiences to predict future needs for your next waterproof jacket: are you looking for something more breathable? More durable? Lighter? etc. .


BREATHABILITY is what you are looking for?


Soft shells without a membrane are the best option, but if you're surprised by a downpour you're going to want a breathable waterproof garment. In this case, the 3-layer laminated jackets are a good alternative.


WATERPROOF is what you are looking for?


Any 2-layer, 2.5-layer or 3-layer garment will go well. But the intensity of the activity will determine your final decision, being the 3-layer designs the most recommended for the most active people.


Is COAT what you are looking for?


Do not think that a waterproof jacket is going to provide you with much protection against the cold. Even soft shells provide limited thermal capacity. Let's remember that it is the second layer that retains body heat, offering us shelter.


Is WEIGHT what matters most to you?


Garments with 2.5 layer constructions with laminates or coatings are the best choice, some of which can weigh around 250g.


DURABILITY is what you are looking for?


The category of 3-layer laminates or soft shells are the best for heavy use.


FLEXIBILITY is what you are looking for?


Soft shells is the answer, since its design and materials are designed for the flexibility that is required for more technical activities.


PRICE is what matters most to you?


Laminated garments will keep you dry at a low price, you just have to avoid very intense activities because breathability is not very high.


COMFORT is what you are looking for?


Two-layer jackets generally offer models that are not very technical and quite comfortable.

If you want a garment that works for everything, it doesn't exist! But you could consider a 3-layer jacket with a robust outer fabric to withstand abrasion.