In summer, even in the UK’s notoriously changeable climate, there’s a fair chance that your waterproof shell will stay stashed in your pack for most of the day. Although you’d be daft to head for the hills without one, it’s largely an insurance policy - a just-in-case jacket designed to deal with sudden showers or short rainy spells.
But when winter rolls around, it’s a different matter. UK mountains can become a battleground: walkers vs weather. You’ll typically experience precipitation in all its forms – rain, hail, sleet and snow – and sometimes all in one day. Which means that a waterproof jacket is far more than just an emergency layer.
What to look for in winter waterproof jackets
In winter, a waterproof hardshell jacket acts as your first line of defence in the battle against the elements, providing essential protection from biting wind, stinging rain and whirling spindrift. And because you’re likely to be wearing it all day, a winter waterproof needs to be far more rugged and robust than its summer counterpart – tough enough to withstand constant abrasion from pack straps or climbing harnesses, as well as scrapes from rock and ice.
It should also offer room for layering and good coverage, particularly for the wrists and lower back, plus a secure hood that will stay put even if buffeted by blizzards. In addition, if you’re tackling graded scrambles and mountaineering routes, you’ll want a large, adjustable hood that will accommodate a climbing lid. Roomy, easy-access pockets are also handy, but make sure they have chunky zip pulls so you can get hold of them with gloved fingers. Lastly, since winter mountaineering is hard work, even the fittest climbers and hillwalkers will appreciate a little ventilation. Features like pit zips are a great way to dump heat fast without sacrificing too much weather protection. Get all those elements right and you’ll have a fortress of a jacket that will see you right through to spring.
The best winter waterproof jackets
Verdict: A true winter workhorse, this ultra-rugged jacket will stand up to punishment that would shred lighter shells.
Features 5/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 5/5 | In use 5/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 85%
Pros: Excellent hood, fantastic weather protection, very durable.
Cons: Breathability could be better, very expensive.
Jöttnar’s latest flagship mountain shell utilises the brand’s own membrane, called Skjoldr. Older Jöttnar jackets used Polartec NeoShell, which was acclaimed for breathability but perhaps less so for its long-term durability.
Lab test results for Skjoldr indicate solid performance of 20k/20k Hydrostatic Head and Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate (MVTR). The membrane is bonded to a burly 80D nylon face fabric and protected by a heavy-duty backer for exceptional durability. It’s a real workhorse that still feels soft and supple.
The fit leaves ample room for winter layers, while the pronounced drop tail and long arms provide plenty of coverage, even when bending over or stretching upwards. The Hodr also has one of the best hood designs we’ve tested, whether worn with or without a helmet. It cinches in superbly, with a broad, wired peak to deflect rain away from the face. Cutaway side sections give a wide field-of-vision, while the top of the jacket zips right up to the nose for maximum protection.
Inside you get a zipped security pocket and huge stretch mesh dump pocket. The latter is a great place to stash gloves. If you’re after fortress-like protection from the elements, this jacket is top of the pile.
We found the arms ever so slightly baggy. Other jackets here are lighter and felt marginally more breathable, though none are as tough as this. But it is very expensive.
Men’s sizes S-XL | Women’s sizes n/a | Weight 610g (men’s M) | Fabric 80D Jöttnar Skjoldr throughout (100% nylon face)
Montane Alpine Resolve
Verdict: A top-quality winter jacket that feels rugged and protective, while also managing to save a few grams over most rivals.
Features 4/5 | Fit 5/5 | Comfort 4/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 4/5
Overall score: 85%
Pros: Very breathable, great chest pocket, great fit.
Cons: No inner zipped pocket, narrow cuff tabs, slimmer cut can restrict layering somewhat.
Employing zoned Gore-Tex Pro Most Breathable fabrics in tough 40D and even tougher 80D weights, Montane’s Alpine Resolve is a top-end waterproof that competes squarely with other premium shells. The rugged construction balances weight and protection for difficult conditions, while also ensuring good lifetime durability.
The jacket is well-specced too, with a fully adjustable and helmet-compatible hood with a wired peak. There are two-way pit zips, a Napoleon chest pocket, two roomy hand pockets and an inner stretch mesh dump pocket.
Overall fit is excellent, with full coverage and great freedom of movement. The cut is a little trimmer than other shells here, which will suit slimmer builds, though it still leaves adequate room for layering.
This jacket is also cheaper than direct rivals like the Mountain Equipment Lhotse/Manaslu, which uses the same fabrics. So, although still not exactly cheap, it’s comparatively good value.
The standard cordlocks (rather than the embedded components of some rivals) add a little bulk around the face. They’re also a bit trickier to use with gloves. The narrow cuff tabs don’t always give a super-secure closure, and ideally we’d like an inner zipped pocket.
Men’s sizes S-XXL | Women’s sizes 8-16 | Weight 480g (men’s M) | Fabric 40D Gore-Tex Pro Most Breathable (main body, 100% recycled nylon face fabric), 80D Gore-Tex Pro Most Breathable at shoulders, hips and elbows (100% recycled nylon face fabric)
Mountain Equipment Manaslu
Verdict: Rugged and versatile, this benchmark waterproof remains the definitive all-weather, all-season hillwalking jacket.
Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 4/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 84%
Pros: Great breathability, excellent hood, effective cuff tabs.
Cons: A bit pricey, slightly stiff to wear.
The Mountain Equipment Manaslu is the women’s version of the Lhotse, which is a serial Trail ‘Best in Test’ winner. It employs Gore-Tex Pro fabric in a zoned construction of two different 40- and 80-denier weights, balancing durability with good breathability and reasonably low weight for such a tough, winter-ready jacket.
The Manaslu is well-equipped, with two hand pockets, placed high enough to stay out of the way of a harness or rucksack waistbelt, as well as a large Napoleon-style chest pocket with an internal plastic clip to secure a compass or GPS unit, and a zipped security pocket inside. It also has dual tether hem drawcords, two-way pit zips and a two-way main zip with a chinguard, an inner stormflap and a bottom press stud. Chunky Velcro cuff tabs are easy to cinch and stay firmly closed.
The other stand-out feature is the Mountain Hood, which is helmet-compatible but fitted with three-point adjustment to ensure a snug fit over a beanie or bare head too. It moves well without obstructing your vision and has an excellent wired peak. The cut is fairly trim but long in the arms and torso, providing excellent coverage.
The price continues to creep up, and now hits the £400 mark. Like all Gore-Tex Pro shells, it’s a bit stiff and crinkly – but that’s the trade-off for the superb protection on offer.
Men’s sizes (Lhotse) S-XXL | Women’s sizes 8-16 | Weight 500g (men’s M) | Fabric 40D Gore-Tex Pro Most Breathable with 80D Gore-Tex Pro Most Breathable reinforcements (100% nylon)
Paramo Velez Evo Hybrid Smock
Verdict: An effective concept with greater comfort and ventilation than most waterproofs. If those are your priorities, this is a great choice for winter.
Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 5/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 4/5
Overall score: 84%
Pros: PFC-free DWR coating, very comfortable, highly breathable.
Cons: Not as durable as some competitors, relatively heavy.
In terms of design, this is the most innovative waterproof on test. It’s a new take on the classic mountain smock, with a central drop pocket and kangaroo-style handwarmer pockets. But instead of being a pullover with a centre chest zip, it boasts twin full-length zips that run up each side of the jacket. These are backed with internal stormflaps to guard against water ingress, which are fitted with press studs.
This design offers excellent ventilation from hem to chin, augmented by forward-facing arm vents, and gets around one of the common downsides of Paramo kit, which is that it can sometimes feel a bit too warm, especially when working hard.
It is extremely comfortable to wear, since like all Paramo waterproofs, the Velez Evo employs the soft, rustle-free Nikwax Analogy system instead of a crinkly waterproof membrane. In this case, a zoned pump liner works with reinforced panels in the hood, shoulders and arms to offer plenty of protection while minimising seepage from pressure points if wearing a heavy pack. The hood itself is excellent, with a stiff wired peak and halo adjustment to cinch it in tight. The top of the jacket offers great protection for the lower face too.
The polyester face fabric is less resistant to abrasion than high-denier nylon rivals. Cuffs aren’t the neatest, feeling a bit bulky when cinched in tight. And it’s the heaviest jacket on test.
Men’s sizes S-XXL | Women’s sizes XS-XL | Weight 720g (men’s M) | Fabric Nikwax Analogy (100% polyester face fabric with pump liner), PFC-free DWR
Arc’teryx Alpha AR
Verdict: The lightest jacket here yet one of the toughest too, this shell delivers the top-quality performance and build quality Arc’teryx is known for.
Features 5/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 3/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 3/5
Overall score: 80%
Pros: Good ventilation, excellent comfort, innovative shoulder straps, impressive features.
Cons: Back panel non-adjustable, too ventilated for extreme cold, plastic buckles.
Arc’teryx’s Alpha series is all about high performance and low weight, and top-of-the-range Gore-Tex Pro fabric is used throughout – Most Rugged and Most Breathable. Gore-Tex Pro Most Rugged features a slightly thicker membrane and a tougher backer. This is placed at the upper arms, shoulders and hood for better long-term durability in high stress areas.
The jacket boasts two-way pit zips and two well-placed chest pockets, plus a useful zipped inner security pocket. The cut leaves plenty of room for layering, with long arms for full wrist coverage. This ensures good freedom of movement with minimal hem lift, even at stretch.
It is impressively lightweight for such a tough winter jacket. The brand’s trademark build quality is evident in details such as the precision seam taping, which surpasses other brands. High-quality components include integrated Cohaesive cord locks, a RECCO avalanche safety reflector and highly water-resistant zips. Few brands match Arc’teryx for such high levels of weather protection at such low weight.
The pockets aren’t big enough to carry bulky winter gloves. The hood works better with a helmet than without one, as the brim isn’t as stiff or as mouldable as a wired peak. And it costs a lot.
Men’s sizes XS-XXL | Women’s sizes XS-XXL | Weight 430g (men’s M) | Fabric 40D Gore-Tex Pro Most Rugged (main body, 100% nylon face fabric) with 80D Gore-Tex Pro Most Rugged reinforcements (100% nylon face fabric)
Cortazu Mountain Hard Shell
Verdict: A rugged and protective waterproof jacket with plenty of features, this is an all-rounder for hillwalking, mountaineering and snow sports.
Features 4/5 | Fit 4/5 | Comfort 4/5 | In use 4/5 | Value 4/5
Overall score: 80%
Pros: Includes recycled materials, durable, many useable pockets.
Cons: One-way main zips, Brexit has caused availability issues in the UK.
Cortazu is a relative newcomer to the outdoor industry, but the Dutch brand has already made a big impact. The Mountain Hard Shell is its flagship waterproof, designed for a wide range of winter mountain activities.
Its rugged 70D nylon fabric contains 50% recycled fibres, backed with a Dermizax EV PU-based membrane. Cortazu claims waterproof-breathable performance of 25k/25k Hydrostatic Head and MVTR respectively, which puts this fabric up there with the best.
Durable and well-made, the jacket boasts multiple features, including a great wire-stiffened hood, integrated Cohaesive cord locks, AquaGuard zips and chunky cuff tabs for easy adjustment. It even incorporates a RECCO avalanche safety reflector. There are also pit zips for venting and a laminated area on the upper shoulders to resist abrasion from pack straps.
There are 9 pockets, including a stretchy inner mesh pocket and two zipped forearm pockets, one of which includes a handy microfibre cloth. The generous cut leaves plenty of room for layering and the hemline is longer than most.
The hand pockets are low, so are obstructed by a hipbelt. The main zips are only fitted with one-way zipper pulls. At the time of writing, Brexit had stopped Cortazu shipping to the UK. If not yet resolved, it’s available at webtogs.com
Men’s sizes XS-XXL | Women’s sizes XS-XXL | Weight 620g (men’s M) | Fabric 70D x 140D Dermizax EV (100% nylon face fabric with 50% recycled content)
Waterproof ratings explained
Like fill power with down insulation, waterproof ratings are very simple but widely misunderstood, or not known at all. Hydrostatic head is the industry standard for measuring waterproof fabrics; the waterproof fabrics used for waterproof jackets, tents, and so on.
The hydrostatic head figure given (for example, 10,000mm), indicates how high a column of water sitting on the fabric would need to be before water begins seeping through. It’s perhaps a slightly odd thing, but it’s an effective means of measurement. It’s all to do with pressure. Obviously, testing labs don’t actually use such volumes of water, they use machines that apply equivalent downward pressure. Thus, a waterproof jacket with a hydrostatic head rating of 15,000mm for example, can withstand a 15-metre column of water before it leaks through.
Winter waterproof jackets should have a hydrostatic head of at least 18,000mm. It's not only more intense wet conditions they have to deal with, but the pressure from bigger, heavier winter packs.
Zips and seams are usual weak points in a jackets waterproofing. To combat this, some waterproof jackets have waterproof zips (or fabric cover flaps) and taped seams. Keep an eye out for these features when shopping around.
Care and cleaning
Hiking jackets get a real workout and it doesn't take long for the fabric to get covered in muck and perspiration. A dirty jacket doesn't perform as well as a clean one, and its breathability and water repellency can suffer. Luckily cleaning and reproofing is easy.
Grangers and Nikwax both produce effective water-based, PFC-free gear cleaners and proofers. Used together, they clean waterproof fabrics, restore breathability, and revitalise water repellency.
Read our guide to waterproof garment care to find out all you need to know.
Grangers Performance Wash 300ml
Use instead of washing liquid in the washing machine. Use 25ml per load. Bottle is made from Ocean Waste Plastic.
Grangers Performance Repel Plus 275ml
Spray evenly onto just-cleaned and still damp fabrics. Remove excess with a damp cloth and allow to dry naturally. Bottle is made from Ocean Waste Plastic.
Nikwax Tech Wash 1L
You can use this either in the washing machine or by hand. Very effective gear cleaner if instructions are followed.
Nikwax TX.Direct 500ml
This works in a similar way to the Grangers equivalent above. After cleaning, evenly apply this to damp fabric and wait a couple of minutes before removing excess with a damp cloth. Then let the garment dry naturally.