We all need them for British hillwalking – even if we wish we didn’t! Our expert equipment editor Chris Townsend puts a range of the latest waterproof jackets suitable for year-round use to the test.
A good waterproof jacket is an essential item for hillwalking and backpacking. Whilst there are ultralight jackets good for summer, and heavyweight jackets ideal for winter, there are many midweight jackets suitable for year-round use. That’s what we’re looking at here.
Before we move on to reviewing a selection the best waterproof jackets for hill walking, here’s what to look for when buying a waterproof.
The type of fabric determines how ‘breathable’ a garment will be. More expensive fabrics are usually more breathable than cheaper ones. The thickness of a fabric affects durability. The thinnest ones are lighter in weight but less suitable for prolonged wear or rough usage.
Most waterproof fabrics have a durable water repellency (DWR) treatment that causes rain to bead up and run off the garment. Whilst no DWR is really durable the best for many years were fluorocarbons (PFCs). However, these have been found to be harmful to health and to persist a very long time in food chains and the environment, so they are being phased out and replaced with more environmentally friendly though usually less durable alternatives. Whatever the DWR it will wear off eventually, so the outer starts to soak up water. This doesn’t mean the jacket is leaking but it does mean breathability will be reduced so condensation will occur more readily. The DWR can be replaced with various wash-in and spray-on treatments.
On the best waterproof jackets, hoods should be easily adjusted and ideally move with your head. A wired or stiffened peak is useful in wind driven rain. Helmet-compatible hoods should have volume adjusters so they can be reduced in size without affecting your vision for non-helmet wear.
Water-resistant zips are now standard in the best waterproof jackets. These are not fully waterproof all the time and should have an inner flap to repel any rain that gets through. A standard zip with external and internal flaps is more secure but found on few garments these days.
Underarm/side zips can be awkward to use but do allow good ventilation at a crucial place. They can often be used in rain when the front zip has to be fully closed. Zips that curve under the armpits are effective but the most difficult to adjust. Pockets can be opened for ventilation too if they are mesh lined.
Cuffs that can be opened wide are good for ventilation in the arms. Elasticised and narrow cuffs can lead to sweaty wrists.
Whilst not essential, pockets that are accessible when wearing a rucksack hipbelt are useful for items like compass, phone, snacks, map (if large enough), hat and gloves and feature on many of the best waterproof jackets. Pockets can leak though so need water-resistant zips and/or covering flaps.
For the most efficient breathability, the best waterproof jackets should fit fairly closely. At the same time, they shouldn’t be so tight that they restrict movement. And a jacket should fit comfortably over all the layers you might need to wear underneath it. Size labels should be taken as a guide only – they’re not consistent between makes.
11 waterproof jackets for 2020 reviewed
BEST BUY: Berghaus Athunder (RRP £250)
Likes: double front flap, pockets
Materials: PFC- free Gore-Tex polyester | Hood: wired peak, rear drawcords | Front Closure: zip with double stud-fastened storm flap | Length: 73cm | Underarm/Side Zips: no | Pockets: 2 chest | Hem: drawcord, extended | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men XS-XXXL
The Athunder is a new jacket from Berghaus with an old-fashioned look. Instead of an exposed water-resistant front zip it has a standard zip protected by double flaps. This was the normal design before water-resistant zips came along and I reckon it’s still the most waterproof. I’m pleased to see it return.
Read more: Berghaus Athunder review
Fjallraven Keb Eco-Shell (RRP £450)
Likes: hood, pockets, recycled fabric
Materials: recycled CFC-free Eco-Shell 3-layer stretch polyester | Hood: stiffened peak, volume adjuster, front drawcords | Front Closure: water-resistant AquaGuard zip with inner flap | Length: 74cm | Underarm/Side Zips: two-way water-resistant zips | Pockets: 2 chest, 1 inner, 1 sleeve | Hem: drawcord, extended back | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men XS-XXXL, women XS-XXL
The Keb Eco-Shell is an excellent jacket that performs well and is environmentally friendly. Its only drawback is the high cost. Otherwise it might have been my Best Buy. The fabric is three-layer and the outer, membrane and inner are all made from polyester so the garment can be recycled at the end of its life. The fabric is soft with a pleasant feel. Breathability is good.
Read more: Fjallraven Keb Eco-Shell Jacket review
Montane Pac Plus (RRP £185)
Likes: hood, pocket, low weight, cost
Weight: 305g | Materials: Gore-Tex Paclite Plus nylon | Hood: wired peak, volume adjuster, front drawcords | Front closure: water-resistant zip with inner storm flap | Length: 72cm | Underarm/side zips: no | Pockets: 2 handwarmer | Hem: drawcord, extended back | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men S-XXL, women 8-16
This is the lightest jacket reviewed, and the best one for backpacking or any trip where weight matters. It’s good for most conditions though not the best choice for severe winter storms compared with a heavier jacket. The fabric is Gore-Tex Paclite Plus, which is not the same as Paclite (I wish Gore had given it a different name). Paclite Plus is a two-layer fabric with a new abrasion-resistant treatment on the inside that makes a separate lining unnecessary and which feels quite pleasant against the skin. The fabric is thin and flexible and packs down small. Breathability is good.
Read more: Montane Pac Plus review
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L (RRP £160)
Likes: double front flap, hood, recycled fabric, weight, cost
Dislikes: pockets cut off by hipbelt
Materials: recycled H2NO Performance Standard 3L nylon | Hood: stiffened peak, volume adjuster, front drawcords | Front Closure: zip with internal and external storm flaps | Length: 72cm | Underarm/Side Zips: two-way zips with external flap | Pockets 2 handwarmer | Hem: drawcord, extended back | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men XS-XXL, women XS-XL
Patagonia has beefed up its Torrentshell jacket this year by changing from a 2.5 layer to a 3-layer fabric that is more durable and handles condensation better. The nylon fabric is a little slicker than polyester ones but still feels pleasant. Breathability is not up with much more expensive jackets but still okay most of the time.
Read more: Patagonia Torrentshell 3l review
Snowpeak Wanderlust 2.5L (RRP £450)
Dislikes: very short, expensive
Weight: 405g | Materials: ripstop nylon with laminate | Hood: stiffened peak, volume adjuster, front drawcords | Front Closure: water-resistant zip with inner storm flap | Length: 66cm | Underarm/Side Zips: two-way water-resistant | Pockets: 2 handwarmer, 1 chest, 1 rear | Hem: drawcord, extended back | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: XS-XL
None of the jackets reviewed could be described as long but most of them are compared with the Wanderlust. This jacket is very short, which is fine if you wear waterproof overtrousers with it, or perhaps for activities other than walking, such as cycling. The designers may well have had the latter in mind as the jacket has a large zipped pocket on the lower back which, of course, is useless when carrying a rucksack.
Read more: Snowpeak Wanderlust 2.5L review
RECOMMENDED: Paramo Velez Adventure Smock (RRP £245)
Likes: fabric, hood, pockets
Dislikes: heavy, short
Weight: 755g | Materials: PFC-free Nikwax Analogy Waterproof polyester | Hood: wired peak, volume adjuster, front drawcords | Front Closure: 26cm zip with stud fastened inner flap | Length: 64cm | Underarm/Side Zips: full-length two-way with inner storm flaps | Pockets: 1 chest, 1 inner | Hem: drawcord, extended back | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men S-XXL, women XS-XL
This smock from Paramo is the shortest garment reviewed and designed to be worn with Paramo trousers in rain. I’ve always liked Paramo Nikwax Analogy fabric as it’s extremely breathable and comfortable. In cold weather it’s my first choice. I do find it too warm in summer. I only use it when I expect to wear it all day due to the weight as well. The warmth and breathability mean it works well as a warm windproof garment as well as a waterproof and the softness and comfort means it’s fine in camp. This is far more than a shell.
Read more: Paramo Velez Adventure Smock review
Salewa Sella PTX Responsive (RRP £360)
Likes: hood, pockets
Weight: 570g (L) | Materials: PFC-free Powertex Responsive Bi-Chromatic Eco | Hood: wired peak, rear adjustment | Front Closure: waterproof zip with inner storm flap | Length: 74cm | Underarm/Side Zips: two-way waterproof | Pockets: 3 chest, 1 sleeve, 2 stretch inner | Hem: drawcord, extended back | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men S-XXL, women XS-XL
A new jacket from Salewa, the Sella is made from an unusual material. Salewa says “Responsive technology uses minerals embedded into polyester fibres to recycle the body’s infrared energy. Fabrics using Responsive technology intercept far-infrared radiation (FIR) energy produced by the body, and gradually transmits it back into the body over time, increasing muscle microcirculation and oxygenation. Studies conducted by the University of Turin show that this improves performance and recovery; subjects gained on average 5.5% higher blood oxygen capacity (VO2) and 18% lower blood lactate”. Does this actually make any difference when using this jacket for hillwalking? Not that I can tell. I haven’t felt any different. Maybe in extreme sports it’s noticeable. These claims aside the fabric feels pleasant, breathability is okay, and the jacket design is good.
Read more: Salewa Sella PTX Responsive review
Arc’teryx Beta AR (RRP £500)
Rating: 3.5/ 5
Likes: fabric, pockets
Dislikes: collar, cost
Weight: 490g | Materials: Gore-Tex Pro | Hood: stiffened peak, volume adjusters, front drawcords | Front Closure: watertight zip with inner storm flap | Length: 74cm | Underarm/Side Zips: two-way watertight | Pockets: 2 handwarmer, 1 inner | Hem: drawcord, extended back | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men XS-XXL, women XS-XL
Gore-Tex Pro is the most durable version of Gore-Tex. Arc’teryx says this jacket is even more durable as they have developed a new version of the fabric with Gore called Gore-Tex Pro with Most Rugged Technology. The fabric is slightly stiffer than others tested and does crinkle a little. It’s still comfortable to wear though and very breathable.
Read more: Arc’teryx Beta AR review
Columbia OutDry Ex Reign (RRP £155)
Likes: fabric, cost
Dislikes: hood, pockets
Materials: OutDry Extreme nylon | Hood: slightly stiffened peak, volume adjuster, front drawcords | Front Closure: water-resistant zip with inner storm flap | Length: 73cm | Underarm/Side Zips: water-resistant zips | Pockets: 2 handwarmer | Hem: drawcord, extended | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men XS-XXL, women XS-XL
OutDry Extreme is an excellent and unusual fabric. The waterproof layer is on the outside rather than sandwiched between other layers. This means there’s no need for any DWR treatment. The inside of the garment is a soft wicking material. I’ve found OutDry Extreme to be very breathable and comfortable to wear. The material does have a slightly rubbery look and the taped seams are on the outside. I don’t mind this. Performance is all!
Read more: Columbia OutDry Ex Reign review
RECOMMENDED: Mountain Equipment Rupal (RRP £270)
Likes: hood, pockets
Weight: 545g | Materials: Gore-Tex polyester | Hood: wired peak, volume adjuster, front drawcords | Front Closure: AquaGuard watertight zip with inner storm flap | Length: 73cm | Underarm/Side Zips: two-way, water-resistant | Pockets: 2 chest, 1 inner | Hem: drawcord, extended | Cuffs: Velcro | Sizes: men S-XXL, women 8-16
The Rupal is a straightforward jacket suitable for year-round use. It’s made from a robust-feeling 3-layer Gore-Tex that isn’t quite as soft as some of the other fabrics reviewed but still feels comfortable. The hood is excellent – Mountain Equipment have had some of the best hoods for many years. It’s helmet compatible but can be easily reduced in volume without too much bunching of the fabric. It fits closely round the face, moves with the head, allows good side vision, and has a big stiff wired peak for great protection. The chest pockets are big and easily hold maps and a stretch inner pocket for a phone or other small item. The chest pockets are Gore-Tex so if the water-resistant zips leaks – there’s no flap over them – rain won’t get through to your inner garments.
Read more: Mountain Equipment Rupal review
Keela Cairn (RRP £170)
Likes: hood, lightweight, cost
Dislikes: pockets cut off by hipbelt, cuffs
Materials: Aquaflex 3-layer polyamide | Hood: wired peak, volume adjuster, front drawcords | Front Closure: water-resistant zip with inner storm flap | Length: 71cm | Underarm/Side Zips: no | Pockets: 2 handwarmer, 1 chest | Hem: drawcord, extended back | Cuffs: Velcro, elasticised | Sizes: men XS-XXXL, women 8-20
The Cairn is the second lightest jacket reviewed and one of the last expensive. The fabric, Keela’s own brand one, is soft, flexible and comfortable with good breathability. The low weight means it doesn’t feel as substantial as heavier garments and it probably isn’t ideal for use in a blizzard but otherwise it should cope with all conditions. The low weight makes it worth considering for backpacking.
Read more: Keela Cairn review
For more of the best waterproof jackets, check out our full range of waterproof jacket reviews.