The Big Test: Waterproof Jackets reviewed (2018)

Staying dry during a hillwalk can be a challenge, but pack the right waterproof jacket and you’ll be warm, dry and comfortable no matter what the mountain throws at you. We put six jackets to the test on the Lakeland fells.

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The Runners Up


Sprayway Santiago / Atlanta £90

Tester: Jon Bennett

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  • Materials 2-layer hydrodry with loose mesh lining

  • Men’s XS-XXXL (Santiago)

  • Women’s 8-20 (Atlanta)

  • Weight 606g (M) 

This jacket is made with 2-layer Hydrodry fabric. Although on paper this is not the most breathable fabric, the mesh lining on the inside very effectively managed condensation and kept me drier from condensation than the other lower-priced jackets. There are two handwarmer pockets and a map-sized chest pocket. The foldaway hood has face drawcords and rear volume adjustment. Compared with the other lower-priced options there’s a good length to the jacket and it felt warmer owing to the air gap provided by the mesh lining. However, although the hood protected my face it did not turn well with my head. The handwarmer pockets were also not easy to access when wearing a rucksack and the chest pocket was closed by Velcro, rather than a more secure zip.

Pros

Price, condensation management, lots of features and good protection in general.

Cons

Heavy compared to others and hood does not move with the head.

Buy it if...

You want a good all-rounder at a superb price and don’t need either the lightest or absolute best performance on the hill.


Berghaus Stormcloud £100

Tester: Graham Thompson

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  • Material 2-layer Hydroshell

  • Men’s XS-XXL  

  • Women’s 8-18 

  • Weight 324g (L)

The big advantages here are the price and weight, as both are very appealing. The fabric is a 2-layer Hydroshell, which kept the water at bay while scrambling up the gill but soon became very sweaty inside as there is no inner layer to hide or soak up the condensation. But importantly the pockets are not mesh lined, unlike some higher-priced lightweight jackets, so even if water entered the pockets I didn’t get wet inside. The hood fits quite close and did move a little with my head, but higher-priced designs offer better adjustment. When scrambling the cuffs and hem tended to ride up far too easily, which left my body more exposed to the elements than all the other jackets here. The two main pockets are both annoyingly small and too low to allow the optimum access while wearing a rucksack hipbelt. 

Pros

Price and weight are the main benefits here for hillwalkers.

Cons

Lots of condensation build-up, and not the best pockets nor the best hood design.

Buy it if...

You want a lightweight low-priced jacket for stowing in your rucksack and just wearing during short showers when any condensation will be tolerable.


Rab Ladakh DV £275

Tester: Tim Butcher

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  • Material 3-layer Event

  • Men’s S-XXL 

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 604g (XL)

The Ladakh DV is made using the durable 3-layer Event fabric, which is superb at controlling condensation and keeping the rain out. The size XL is roomy and nicely long, with adjustment in all the right places, including waist and hem drawcords, plus longer sleeves, all of which kept out draughts and stopped the jacket riding up. The large hood is helmet compatible and has sufficient volume adjustment to keep it in place in wind and rain, and it moves nicely as your head turns to look for holds or take in the view from under the stiffened peak. With pit zips open and just a long sleeve base layer beneath I was never damp from condensation on scrambles or walks. The only design drawback is the lack of a decent third chest pocket, whilst some may consider it heavy in terms of weight and price for hillwalking.

Pros

Durable waterproof and breathable fabric, great pockets, great hood, great sleeves.

Cons

No third chest pocket, and others are lighter and lower in price.

Buy it if…

You want a durable waterproof jacket with generally great features and don’t require a third chest pocket.



The Top three


Montane Atomic £125

Tester: Graham Thompson

The low price and light weight make the Atomic instantly appealing, but how does it compare to higher-priced and heavier alternatives?

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  • Material 2.5-layer Pertex Shield

  • Men’s S-XL 

  • Women’s 8-16

  • Weight 331g (L)

It’s good

This light jacket packs down small, so you’ll hardly notice it in your rucksack. The weight saving comes from the use of 2.5-layer Pertex Shield fabric, and there’s no inner layer, just a printed surface to manage condensation. The fabric is quite thin and supple too. This all adds up to this being very comfortable. 

The sleeves don’t ride up badly when scrambling and the hood has good face drawcords and rear volume drawcord adjustment, so it was easy to see even as I moved my head around to look for good holds during scrambles. 

The two main pockets are well placed to allow access while wearing a rucksack, and both are large enough for a map too. These pockets are lined with mesh, which improves condensation control by allowing a means of adding airflow, while a pair of pit zips add further venting. So in many ways there is lots to like here and for general walking in warmer wet weather this is a superb choice.

However

Problems start to show themselves when you really challenge the material. Firstly this jacket is not as stiff as others and the fit is slightly closer than some, so in the wind it feels a bit chilly. Also as it is only a 2.5-layer fabric condensation develops easier than the 3-layer fabrics, so did get pretty clammy once I overheated. 

Those mesh pockets also allow water to pass right through the jacket, meaning I had to keep them closed properly during the gill scramble – not a problem you’d get with sealed pockets. 

Other jackets also have a useful third pocket for a guidebook or phone, but here you have just two. Of course all these small drawbacks could be reduced by adding features that would increase both the weight and the cost, so you need to decide if weight or comfort is your priority before parting with your money.

Verdict

The weight and price are great, and the design is ideal for milder conditions, but in really wet and windy mountain conditions you may prefer different features.

  • Features 4/5

  • Weatherproofness 3/5

  • Condensation 3/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 76%

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Paramo Alta III £295

Tester: Jon Bennett

Does Paramo’s unique fabric combination improve comfort to a level that overcomes any drawbacks of the design?

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  • Material Nikwax Analogy

  • Men’s S-XXL

  • Women’s XS-XL

  • Weight 832g (M)

It’s good

The unique Paramo fabric delivers far greater breathability and better condensation management than the other fabrics on test, and this is why I love wearing the Alta in cold, wet conditions.  

The incredible six pockets – two inside, two chest (one map-sized), and two handwarmer – are all useable when wearing a rucksack. The jacket is a good length and zipped upper-arm vents offer top ventilation. The wired hood also moved really well with my head, with excellent hood adjustment. The Alta is the warmest jacket on test, so when the others were reaching for extra layers at the summit I just zipped up. 

And good to know is that Paramo has strong ethical manufacturing standards, and doesn’t use environmentally hazardous polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).

However

While I love wearing the Alta in cold conditions, it can be overly warm in summer (although Paramo does now make a lighter version of its fabric for summer use). Consequently, the Alta is the warmest and heaviest jacket here, and would bulk up a ’sack if solely being carried waiting for a shower. 

Some care is also needed when leaning on wet rock during a gill scramble, as water can pass through the jacket under high pressure. The fabric dries exceptionally fast though, so I was totally dry during our waterfall adventures. 

There are cheaper jackets than the Alta, but if you sweat a lot then it will at least quickly pass through this jacket to the air so you’ll be dryer than in a cheaper one!

Verdict

Unique fabric ensures that condensation is managed far better than other jackets but the extra warmth, extra weight and extra cash are the main drawbacks to consider.

  • Features 5/5

  • Weatherproofness 3/5

  • Condensation 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 84%


Mountain Equipment Lhotse / Manaslu £350 

Tester: Tim Butcher

This is a well established 3-layer Gore-Tex jacket but is it really worth paying all that extra cash? And could this classic be even better?

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  • Material 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro

  • Men’s S-XXL (Lhotse)

  • Women’s 8-16 (Manaslu)

  • Weight 531g (XL)

It’s good

The Lhotse continues to be the benchmark against which other jackets are measured. Built of tough 3-layer Gore-Tex Pro it’s incredibly durable, giving armour-like protection in storms and high levels of waterproofness and breathability, so I was never damp on our final test day in Langdale, even with changing conditions. 

The design also delivers when it comes to practical features, providing both good body coverage and unrestricted movement, with sleeves and hems staying put when reaching for holds on the steep rock. The three external pockets are in just the right places, clear of rucksack straps, allowing ‘hands in pockets’ walking and a chest pocket large enough for a map or guidebook. 

Pit zips, which aren’t stiff under the arm, open easily to improve ventilation, and the hood with a well-stiffened peak and rear volume adjuster kept the wind and rain out without restricting vision whilst walking and scrambling.

However

With top-spec gear, the cons are often weight and price, and it’s not the lightest jacket available. It could be argued that it’s over-specced for most Lakeland days out, and a lighter jacket would suffice, but if you walk year-round in the UK as we do, and you’re looking for one jacket that’ll tackle everything, then the extra weight is worth it. 

Moisture management relies on having the right combination of base layers underneath, so in changing conditions it was fleece on/off a number of times to maintain ideal temperature and prevent overheating. 

However, I can’t fault the fabric or the design, and coming onto the summit of Harrison Stickle into a cold, rain-laden wind, with both test jackets in my pack, it was the Lhotse I instinctively reached for.

Verdict

A seasoned performer, with high-end fabric and brilliant design, I’d wear it with confidence in any conditions in the British mountains.

  • Features 5/5

  • Weatherproofness 5/5

  • Condensation 5/5

  • In use 4/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%

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