Waterproof jackets repel water in different ways depending on the design of the fabric, and you’ll see plenty of waterproofing jargon on labels when you’re out shopping. Thanks to technological advancements, however, it’s now rare for any waterproof fabrics to let in water, and it’s the actual design of the jacket that makes all the difference when you’re caught in the rain.
A badly designed jacket, or one that’s poorly made, can allow water to seep in. In contrast, features that allow air to enter the jacket, such as vents and adjustable cuffs, can improve its breathability and comfort.
It’s best to try on a jacket before you buy to ensure the best fit. If you walk with a rucksack, then take it to the shop to see if it gets in the way of any toggles, pockets or zips.
While waterproof jackets are not as packed with features or as technical as some other outdoor products, an understanding of the key features will help you choose the right jacket for you.
When trying on a jacket, look for the following features:
Having an adjustable hem and waistlines lets you use the waterproof jacket's toggles to tighten the coat to improve fit and aid insulation. Feel where the toggles will rest against your body as they could dig in and prove uncomfortable during a long walk.
The drop tail of a waterproof jacket is where the back of the jacket is longer than the front. This feature gives you more coverage when bending forwards and is particularly handy for cyclists.
A well-fitted hood should protect your face from the elements without restricting your view. A stiffened peak will help prevent the hood from bending in the wind. You should be able to adjust the hood easily, even when wearing gloves.
Fixed hoods will prevent water from running down your neck and back, as will detachable hoods with a good overlap between the hood and collar. Some oversized hoods are designed for wearing with a climbing helmet, so may look a little untidy when adjusted.
Some waterproof jackets have zips under the armpits. These pit zips are designed to aid ventilation and are more suitable for cold, dry conditions.
Wearing a rucksack can make accessing your jacket's pit zips trickier and could also distort the shape of the zip, increasing the chances of water entering, so take your rucksack along to the shop to try it on with the jacket.
Your waterproof jacket's pockets need to be easily accessible. Try the jacket on with a rucksack so you know what affect any pull will have on their positioning. Take along a pair of gloves so you can see how easy it is to open the pockets while wearing them. It’s best to keep items such as mobile phones away from potentially leaky external pockets.
The seams of traditional waterproof jackets are sealed or taped to prevent water getting in through the holes created during the manufacturing process. Only when the seams are sealed can the jacket be officially classified as waterproof.
A jacket's storm flap is a piece of fabric that covers the jacket's zips and helps to prevent water from entering the coat via pockets or other zip openings.
Velcro cuffs can help to keep out water and allow for ventilation in dryer conditions. Fabric adjustable cuffs are less likely to catch when accessing pockets, compared with stiffer cuff tabs.
The high price of some waterproof jackets makes them well worth taking care of. Here are some tips for prolonging the life of your jacket:
1. Scrunching up your jacket can stress the fabric, so carefully fold or hang the jacket to prevent damage.
2. Dirt can adversely affect the water repellency of the jacket, so keep it clean.
3. Coated and membrane jackets may lose their water repellency over time. Washing your jacket with liquid soap to remove dirt, then tumble drying and/or ironing it on a cool setting may help. If not, try using a wash-in re-proofing product available from outdoor retailers. Avoid excessive washing, as this will also reduce the coat's water resistance more quickly.