Buying guide: hiking waterproofs

One thing you can guarantee if you’re hillwalking in the UK is that you’ll get a proper soaking at some point. So reliable waterproofs don’t just keep you dry, they offer vital protection in the full range of unpredictable mountain conditions.

Woman in hiking waterproof jacket with map

by Trail magazine |

Getting wet is a potential risk when hill walking at almost any time of the year. From a brief summer shower to a torrential winter downpour, precipitation can come in all forms and in all seasons.

Little wonder, then, that a reliable waterproof jacket is high on the list of walkers' gear purchases. But with so many options and features available it can be a bewildering shopping experience.

This guide to what to look for in waterproof hiking apparel will help you find the perfect jacket for you, and will ensure that your money is spent on the right product for your needs...

What will you use them for?

If you’ve stared at the endless options for waterproof jackets in gear shops, you’ll know there are loads of different styles depending on the kind of mountain adventure you’re planning. You get specific hillwalking options, lightweight summer shells, heavy-duty winter jackets, and high-spec designs built for high mountains and alpine terrain. The key is to find one or two that will work across all of your mountain trips.

Know your gear jargon

A lot of jackets badge themselves as water-resistant, but that’s a very different thing to being waterproof. You want a jacket made from a 2- or 3-layer fabric, which must include a waterproof lining. Many jackets include Gore-Tex but it’s far from the only lining out there – many brands use their own excellent membranes, which can bring the price of the jacket down.

rain beading up on the shoulder of a waterproof hiking jacket

Don’t block the pockets

When you try on a waterproof jacket in the shop you probably won’t have your rucksack with you, so grab one off the shelf and buckle it up. What you’ll often realise is that the pockets can get obstructed by rucksack straps, meaning you have to take off your whole pack to access what’s in them. A good selection of chest pockets and high-sitting hand pockets is usually best, as these allow you to easily access key bits of kit, like gloves, snacks and maps, as you walk.

Find adjustable features

One of the best features of a good waterproof jacket is adjustability. Key areas you’ll want to be able to adjust so they fit your body shape better are the hood, hem and cuffs. This is usually done through a variety of drawstrings, toggles and Velcro tabs.

adjusting the hood on a waterproof walking jacket

How to keep cool

The problem with something that doesn’t let water in is that it usually doesn’t let water out either (think of a bin bag), which means your sweat has nowhere to escape to. Waterproof fabrics are getting more breathable every year, but some jackets offer more ventilation options than others. Adjustment in the cuffs helps, as it lets you roll your sleeves up, while pit zips allow you to open up the whole area underneath your arms.

Find the fit that works for you

Waterproof jackets come in all shapes and sizes – long ones, short ones, loose ones, tight ones. Some people like the jacket to fall way below their waist, while others prefer it to sit on the hips. If the cut of the jacket is loose it allows more layers underneath, while a more athletic fit will feel snugger around your torso. Try a few styles on, and go for the one that moves best with your body shape and walking style.

Woman trying waterproof jacket in gear shop

Check out the zips and hoods

They aren’t the sexiest things to talk about, but zips and hoods can make or break a waterproof jacket. Despite big recent advances in technology, water often finds its way through zips, so stormflaps that cover the area over the top and beneath the zip offer extra protection. The key things with hoods are movement and visibility. Once you’ve adjusted and tightened them up to offer as much protection as possible, remember you still need to be able to rotate your head to see where you’re going!

Don’t forget about your legs!

Most walking trousers don’t come with a waterproof lining, so another key addition to your hillwalking wardrobe is a good pair of waterproof overtrousers. Look for a pair with zips that fully open from hip to ankle, so you can put them on without taking your boots off.

Man zipping up waterproof trousers with rucksack in rain

LFTO's top hiking waterproofs:

Montane Pac Plus XT Men's

Best waterproof jacket 2022
Montane Pac Plus XT

View offer

A mountain-ready shell with a great fit. Still lightweight and packable yet robust and well equipped, this is a worthwhile upgrade for those in search of a technical 3-season waterproof.

Trail magazine Gear of the Year awards 2022

Verdict: “A solid all-rounder with an impressive HH rating and good features at a reasonable price.”

Cleaning and care

Read our in-depth guide to caring for waterproof clothing the find out all you need to know.

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