Second only to a decent bit of footwear in terms of outdoor gear essentials. If you’re heading out to the fells and mountains of the UK, you’re going to need a decent jacket to keep the weather out.
There are jackets specific to different activities and sports, but generally speaking the technology behind them all remains the same. You want to keep the wet out- either sweat-based or rain based.
Generally speaking you do get what you pay for when it comes to jackets. More money will get you better technology and better performing gear that should last longer. For a full-on all-weather waterproof shell jacket you are looking at something around the £250+ mark, with the sky really being the limit. Something lighter weight, using a less heavy-duty grad of membrane (like Gore-Tex Paclite) you should expect to pay up to to around £200 for something decent.
What to look for.
Waterproofing and breathability
For regular outdoors use, something with a waterprooof membrane to boost performance is a good idea. Gore-Tex and eVent are the market-leading brand names of these sort of things, and essentially work in the same way. A semi-permeable membrane allows moisture vapour (sweat) to pass through to the outside whilst preventing rain slipping through in the other direction.
Lower-spec’d jackets do not use a porous membrane for waterproofing. They instead use a coating of Polyurethane on the inside to try and replicate the same action. In practice this makes the jackets less efficient at drawing moisture away from the body. This is fine for emergency protection, but for prolonged use (movement) in the rain, you can end up just as wet on the inside from the sauna effect. Having said that, any shell jacket is going to be sweaty on the inside if you try to run or mountain bike with any real gusto. There are dedicated
Generally speaking, jackets built for walking in have a longer cut that covers the backside and very top of the thighs. This gives more weather protection, but makes them a bit impractical for much else- running, cycling, climbing etc.
Climbing style jackets have a shorter body and longer arms that allow for a good range of movement. This cut also makes these types of jackets good for a wide range of outdoor activities and we would argue better suited to a kind of multisport role.
If thinking about cycling in a jacket, look for a drop tail that will help to cover your behind when bent over in the saddle. Increasingly, more general outdoor style of jackets are being designed with this drop tail.
Look for something reasonably well-fitted, not too baggy, not to skin-tight, that way you should be able to get some layers on underneath when it’s cold, and not having it flapping around catching the wind too much.
It needs to be adjustable. If you can’t tighten the hood down around your face it’s likely you’ll get wet, which is never good.
Peaks also help to keep rain out of your face.
Most technical outdoors jackets have hoods big enough to fit over a helmet, making them useable for climbing, or maybe a bit of cycling- if you’re inclined to get on your bike in a downpour- although cycling specific jackets generally don’t have hoods.
Waterproof zips are a good idea. Storm baffles (flap of material) either on the inside or outside will keep the wet and wind out too. Often, jackets with full waterproof zips do really need storm flaps and they are left out to cut weight.
Even the most expensive breathable fabrics will reach their limit if you’re pushing hard. To avoid overheating look for jackets with vents- most commonly in the armpits. Normally using zips, but sometimes using a more breathable, non-waterproof, fabric. Either way is fine, with zips being a little bulkier and breathable fabric sections being a bit less airy.
Adjustment around the wrists (usually Velcro) helps to adjust the fit and pull the sleeves up over the forearms when it’s too warm not to mention allowing you to batten downs the hatches in a full on storm. Drawcord cinches around the hem, collar and hood also help to keep the wind and rain out and keep the fit right.
Minimal at best. More pockets means more places for the rain to get in. It also means more weight and bulk, not to mention more places to lose things. Having said that, a couple of well positioned pockets can also double-up handily as vents for when it’s too hot.Pockets should be high enough on the torso so as to not interfere with any rucksack waistbelt or climbing harness.