Being a lover of the outdoors, an owner of a women’s waterproof brand, and someone who has worked for many years developing other brands’ performance wear, you’d think that suggesting how women choose a waterproof jacket would be easy. However, with the range of products available, boiling this down to a few simple instructions is difficult. I think the simplest way around this is to be really honest with yourself about what you do on a daily basis and therefore what you need the jacket for. It could be anything from climbing a mountain to the daily commute, or often both, so it’s important to get it right.
I’ve added a synopsis of some of the technical jargon used in the industry at the end of this article if you need to refer to it, but let’s go straight in with discussing some of the different types of outerwear.
Types of waterproof outerwear
Rubber or polyurethane based
There are many rubber, or rubber coated, women’s waterproof outerwear brands on the market today. If you spend a short time say waiting for a bus, or dirt is a big problem (and you want to simply wipe it away), then this type of coat will be useful The problem is, this option won’t be breathable, and moisture from sweat can be as uncomfortable and sometimes more unpleasant than that of rain. The red faced, sweaty look isn’t the best way to start a busy Monday after a short cycle to work! However, these products don’t need a water-resistant coating, hence no re-proofing required, and are often much cheaper than their more technical membrane alternatives. Great for simply shielding from rain, not good where any level of humidity or activity is present.
Water-resistant or coated
These are readily available on the high street. They have no seam sealing, and offer a water-resistant coating only. The design of this type of jacket is not restricted by the need to have good waterproofing construction, or clever placement of seams to be sealed, as a result many of these products look and feel like a “normal” piece of outerwear easing simply into your everyday wardrobe. On the whole, they don’t rustle when you move, and can be a cheaper option which will see you through the odd wet dash. This type of garment can’t technically be called a waterproof (as they are not seam sealed), so don’t expect too much from them.
Laminated / membrane options
These jackets are far more technical than the above and you’ll be used to seeing these in traditional outdoor shops. These innovations get more and more sophisticated, and if you are serious about weather protection and want something that lasts, this is the area where you’ll find it. However, you will pay more for this technology and you may be more restricted by the designs on offer. The design and construction takes into account all performance factors – there is no point using an expensive technical fabric, and then incorporating fancy design features which let water in. There needs to be careful consideration of placement and quantity of seams, as they are all sealed, which can, at times, restrict aesthetic. However, this form of waterproofing should offer the best breathability (check the ratings on your swing ticket). I cannot stress enough that this does matter. Imagine wearing a plastic bag dashing on and off the tube, or hiking up a hill on a wet summers day. I have done both, and trust me the result is not pretty.
Features and Functions of waterproof jackets
Ok, so we have looked at the jargon and the types of waterproof outerwear, let’s look at the features and functions which for me are as crucial. These are the things that make me happy, and at times look forward to rain!
Comfort and aesthetic
So, do you want to wear your waterproof jacket most days of the week? You may have a daily commute walking or cycling to work, the dog always needs walking, and unfortunately the kids do need collecting from school. If you do want to be in your jacket constantly, you want to look like you in it. You want your outerwear to merge with the rest of your wardrobe, and essentially feel completely comfortable both physically and aesthetically – this, in a nutshell, is the reason Protected Species exists and why this point is at the top of my list. For comfort, I would always purchase an outerwear piece with stretch properties. Not only are they much more comfortable, offer greater freedom of movement, but generally the elastane makes the fabric less noisy and helps to eliminate creasing very important when packing or throwing in a rucksack.
Talking of packing, if you do a lot of travel, your outdoor jacket needs to travel well i.e. it should be crease resistant and relatively lightweight. Check that it still looks smart after scrunching it up a bit, it’s pretty easy to tell if it’s easy care or not and it is a real bonus to have a jacket which looks as good as new after being in the boot for a few days.
Now, this is a bit bug bare of mine – ‘brights’. These colours are traditionally offered by a lot of outdoor performance companies, particularly in the women’s section. These colours do actually do a job, and it is amazing how far away these bright limes, pinks and often purples can be seen on a mountain side. If you really think you are going to get lost, this may be of consideration but if you aren’t planning on calling out the air ambulance anytime soon, then make an assessment if these colours are suitable for all your activities / environments.
It seems obvious but your jacket must have deep pockets with security zips, preferably with water resistant zip closures. Most jackets have pockets but are not always secured and for me this is vital – oyster cards, walking maps, keys, money, etc. If you’re out in the rain, and can possibly help it, leaving the bag somewhere else is great. You want to be self-contained, have your hands free, feel secure, and be unencumbered. It’s such a liberating feeling when it’s raining to feel unrestricted and more than this it can be a necessity if you’re clutching a buggy or a dog lead or both.
Massively important and something we discuss regularly here at Protected Species. The hood obviously needs to have good coverage but it must be adjustable to fix it in place when it’s windy – there is nothing, I mean nothing, more frustrating than your hood blowing off in windy conditions. Properly try the hood on, adjust the draw cords and ensure it will definitely stay put in wilder weather otherwise your jacket is severely limited. Also the hood should have, what we call, an ergonomic cut. The hood should be cut to give depth and coverage to the top of your head but it needs to be cut away at the face to avoid restricted viewing. This can sometimes mean that you need to pull your hair back to avoid getting wet hair (a well-shaped hood will also provide space to wear your hair up). You will always be thankful of this feature when crossing the road, and is especially important when travelling on your bike.
All of our ladies waterproof jackets include a hood, so make sure you take a look at our full range.
Sleeve lift refers to a technical way of cutting a sleeve pattern and in short it stops the hem of your jacket riding up, and your sleeve disappearing up your arm as you stretch upwards. Just do a check when you try the jacket on it’s easy to tell if this has been incorporated or not.
Often found at the waistline or hem, or as on the waterproof parka, in both positions. These are used to pull your jacket close to you to stop wind-chill. Adjusters on the Protected Species collection are also used liberally to shape and flatter. Check the toggles used to secure the cords are of good quality with a strong grip. Sometimes the adjusters are weak and of cheap quality and this allows the cord to slip backwards and the benefits are then lost.
There are many, many more functions and features but I’m hoping the above will start the thought process for you. If you truly consider your lifestyle activities, how often you think you will wear your jacket, and the importance to you of how your jacket looks, this will dictate the features you need and the money you are prepared to pay. I would really recommend minimum waterproof and breathability ratings of 5000mm / 5000gm for most activities, but the features are dependent on its end use and really down to what you need your jacket for. If you would like further advice or help please feel free to contact me at [email protected].
Technical waterproof details explained
The pressure of water applied to the surface of your jacket at which the “breaking point” (the point water passes through the fabric) is measured. This is shown in mm or sometimes mm/H20.
The breathability of the jacket you are reviewing is measured by the amount of water that evaporates through the fabric of the jacket over a 24hour period – think of the old school petri dishes with water, a controlled environment, and a piece of your jacket fabric securely clamped over the top of it. The difference between the weights of water before and after a 24hour period is your breathability rating.
Your jacket can be fully taped / critical seam taped only / no taping. Seam taping, in short, is an adhesive waterproof tape which is heat sealed to some, or all, of the jacket seams to stop water passing through the stitch holes made by the machine needle.
Water resistant coating (DWR or WR)
This is a liquid coating which is washed onto the surface of the fabric, it’s function is to bead water away from the material’s surface. This does wear off over time with repeated wear, washing and abrasion and needs to be reapplied by simply spraying on or adding to your wash – this is called re-proofing.
Laminates or membranes
These are effectively a thin fabric layer bonded to, or enclosed between the visible layers of the fabric. These membranes are constructed with holes small enough to stop water droplets from passing through, and large enough to allow the passage of water vapour only – allowing protection from rain, and crucially movement of internal moisture reducing or eliminating sweat.