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Buying Guide: Jackets and Coats

So it’s time to invest in a new jacket, but what type do you need? How much should you spend? How does GORE-TEX work? All these questions will be answered in this easy guide to jackets & coats, taking in waterproof shells, down and insulation, 3 in 1s, softshells, gilets and parkas.

Waterproof Jackets

There are two main things to look for in a waterproof jacket - firstly, you need it to be waterproof (obviously), and secondly you need it to be breathable, which means it lets air escape. There's no point in keeping the rain out only to overheat on the inside and end up soaked in sweat.

There are varying degrees to which a jacket is waterproof and breathable, and these are measured in the following ways:

Hydrostatic head - This measures how waterproof the jacket is, and is calculated by applying a column of water an inch in diameter against a fabric, and seeing how high the water will rise before it starts to seep through. So a 5000mm rating means the water rises to 5 metres before water penetrates. For a fabric to be called waterproof at all it must have a rating of at least 1500mm, but in everyday use with pressure from wind, elbows, and brushing up against rocks you need a much higher rating.

MVT (Moisture Vapour Transfer) - This measures how breathable the jacket is, and is calculated by how much moisture can pass through the fabric in 24 hours, displayed as 10,000 gr/m²/day, or 10,000gr. Breathability ratings don't need to be worried about too much as a good waterproof membrane will be highly breathable and manufacturer guidelines can be misleading. For highly active use where you will sweat no matter what, look for features such as pit zips to increase ventilation.

Technology

So waterproofing and breathability are the two key factors, but what about all the different technologies that are used? It can get very confusing very quickly, but they fall into three basic categories.

GORE-TEX and eVent - These are the two leading waterproof technologies, and they work by using a microporous membrane underneath the outer fabric that has thousands of tiny holes in it. The holes are small enough to stop water particles passing through, but big enough for air to escape. So these wonder fabrics keep out rain, are fully windproof and provide exceptional levels of breathability. GORE-TEX® is ePTFE (expanded Teflon), and eVent® is a similar patented material. Because of a slightly simpler structure, eVent® is arguably more breathable, but that's a hot debate we won't go into here!

Own brand technology - The top outdoor brands all have their own waterproof systems such as HyVent® (The North Face), AQ™ (Berghaus), and TEXAPORE™ (Jack Wolfskin). These aren't technically standalone membranes, but they use a coated fabric within a layered system that works like a membrane and uses the same principle as GORE-TEX® to keep water out and let air pass through. At the higher end of the scale these technologies tend to have pretty much the waterproofing and windproof levels of GORE-TEX® and eVent® but won't offer the same breathability.

Coated fabrics - A basic waterproof jacket won't have a membrane at all and will use a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) or PU (Polyurethane) coating to prevent water penetrating the jacket. These are used on lightweight jackets and packaways and whilst being breathable and water repellent, they won't offer anywhere near the performance levels of membrane technology.

Usage

Festivals, day trips and sporting events - Here a basic packaway shell will suffice. This would usually be constructed using a DWR coating over a lightweight polyester fabric. These won't offer too much breathability and won't have a very high hydrostatic head (1000-2000mm) but they will do the trick if you aren't moving around too much.

Everyday commute and light trail - Look for something with a good waterproof rating, 5000mm hydrostatic or above, and good breathability. You'll be walking a lot, and potentially in some heavy rain so one of the brands' own waterproof systems as mentioned above will more than suffice.

Heavy trail and mountain use - This is where the GORE-TEX® and eVent® shells will count. For long tough walks in changing conditions you'll be varying degrees of hot and cold throughout the day, so you'll want to stay dry inside and out even when you might be sweating a lot. Any of the top brands' waterproof systems like HyVent® and AQ™ also perform in these conditions, but look to the more rugged 2.5 or 3 layer versions. In a GORE-TEX® 2 layer the membrane is bonded to the outer fabric only, with a separate layer to protect the membrane and add next to skin comfort. With a 3 layer construction all 3 layers are bonded together, which means no movement between the layers and a stiffer, more rugged and durable construction better suited to mountain pursuits where you are more likely to brush up against rocks and face much stronger winds. The GORE-TEX® Pro Shell range is a great example of this kind of rugged wear, and tends to favoured by professional mountaineers and rescue services.

Key features to look for

Sealed/taped seams - As well as the waterproofing technology, a jacket must also have sealed seams to fully ensure no water enters the jacket.

Adjustable cuffs - These will help adjust the fit of the jacket and trap in warmth, and will feature on most basic shell jackets, but look out for bonded cuffs on mountain jackets that can withstand more wear and tear.

Hem drawcord - This again adjusts the fit and traps in warmth, but also stops the jacket riding up when wearing a backpack.

Map pocket - If you're using your jacket on the trail this is essential to keep your map dry and easily accessible. Virtually all shells will also feature front zippered pockets for carrying snacks or essentials.

Storm flap - A key feature of walking jackets, this ensures no water will enter through the zip.

Bonded zips - A key feature of top mountain shells, the bonding will prevent weather entering the jacket through the zips, and keeps weight down by reducing the need for further fabric.

Pit zips - Mountain trekking requires more exertion, so zippered vents under the arm pit allow additional breathability, which can be essential to keep you dry as you reach the colder climes of the summit.

Zip-in compatibility - This allows a fleece to be zipped in to the jacket to add winter warmth, also known as Interactive (IA).

Adjustable hood - Important for a good comfortable fit and to ensure complete coverage, higher end trail jackets may also feature a stiffened Helmet compatible hood – essential for mountain pursuits, this ensures comfort and safety when wearing a helmet.

The Layering System

When trail walking, make sure you wear the correct layers underneath your waterproof to ensure moisture is transferred. Polyester is the best material for this – start with a base layer, then a fleece in cold conditions, then your shell jacket on top. The layers trap heat and provide insulation to keep you warm, and the correct material means moisture won't get caught up and make you uncomfortable. If you wear cotton you're likely to end up drenched in sweat on the inside and prone to a chill once you cool down.

Our tip

A good jacket is an investment, and put simply the more you invest the more you’ll gain. There’s no point breaking the bank if you only need a basic shell for the odd shower, but if you’re using the jacket regularly on trail or mountain walks you’ll really see the benefit of the higher end fabrics like GORE-TEX®, eVent® and GORE-TEX® Pro, particularly in terms of breathability and durability. If you look after these type of jackets properly you'll get years of use.

Which brings me to my final point- take care of your jacket! A good waterproof shell needs to be looked after, as over time dirt and grime can affect its waterproof capability. A jacket with a waterproof membrane will also use a DWR treatment on the outer layer to stop water building up on the surface. Use a Nikwax or Grangers spray or in-wash cleaner every few months to refresh the DWR coating and this will significantly extend the life of your jacket.

Shop Men's Waterproof Jackets

3 in 1 Jackets

The 3 in 1 is the classic year round outdoor garment. It's basically two jackets- a fleece inner and a waterproof shell outer, and offers versatility and value-for-money as you have 3 wear options:

· The fleece on cool dry days
· The shell when it's wet and mild
· The two combined for complete winter warmth and waterproof protection

Worn with a base layer underneath, it's also the full layering system in one, allowing you trap warmth between the layers and still allow moisture to escape, keeping you warm and dry as you hike. You can also add or peel off the layers as the weather dictates, equipping you for any conditions you might encounter.

Our tip

Look for a minimum of 200 grams of insulation in the fleece layer for complete winter warmth in the UK; anything less won't cut it in the colder months.
Shop Men's 3 in 1 Jackets | Shop Women's 3 in 1 Jackets

Down and Insulated Jackets

What actually is down?

Down is the light, powdery feathers plucked from next to the bird's skin, and this is combined with the outer feathers to provide the insulating fill. The higher the ratio of down to feathers, the warmer the jacket will be, i.e. 90/10 ratio has 90% down and 10% feathers.

Rough guide to down ratios

50/50 – this is used mainly for fashionable jackets for light protection in cool conditions.

70/30 – this is a high ratio found in premium jackets for cold conditions. Anything around this ratio will easily be warm enough for the coldest UK conditions.

90/10 – provides incredible insulation for extreme cold and artic expeditions. Pretty much the highest ratio you'll see as any higher and it becomes incredibly expensive, and 100% down doesn't exist as it's not possible to separate it in this way.

Fill/loft power

This is basically the size of the down clusters and the fluffiness of the down. The bigger it is the more air it will trap, providing better insulation and a warmer jacket. 600 fill power combined with a high down/feather ratio will provide enough insulation for the coldest UK climates and is found in premium down jackets, but for colder climes 800 fill would be better suited.

Advantages

  • Down is nature's best insulator, can provide incredible warmth in extreme cold
  • Naturally lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Compressible, so it's easily carried
  • High warmth-to-weight ratio
  • Extremely long lasting if cared for

Disadvantages

  • Won't work when wet – moisture makes it clump together and lose virtually all of its insulating properties, plus a serious soaking can damage the jacket for good
  • Difficult to care for – needs specialist or very careful cleaning in order not to damage the feathers
  • Expensive

Hydrophobic Down

With new technologies like Berghaus' Hydrodown™, the down itself is treated with a water repellent coating. This doesn't mean it will still work when completely soaked; it's more to do with recovery. Hydrophobic down will dry quicker, regaining its insulating properties, and it won't absorb nearly as much water, so it will retain its warmth better than regular down when wet.

Why not just have down with a waterproof membrane on top?

A non-waterproof layer is always going to be more breathable than a waterproof membrane, and down needs to be able to breathe. Basically with a waterproof membrane you would get very hot, forcing you to open up the jacket to vent, then you'd cool down too quickly and end up repeating this process all day. Also down is designed primarily for snowy conditions rather than heavy showers, where by and large it will do its job.

Synthetic Down

Advantages

  • Retains insulating properties even when wet
  • Dries quickly
  • Generally cheaper
  • Easy to care for and can be machine washed
  • Highly compressible

Disadvantages

  • Can't match the warmth of down in extreme conditions
  • Heavier – requires more weight to get the same level of warmth
  • Will wear down over time

There are many kinds of synthetic insulation, but two prime examples are Thinsulate™ and Primaloft®. Thinsulate™ is the original warmth without weight fabric, and provides insulation in a range of sportswear an outdoor wear including fleeces, hats and gloves. It performs when wet, resists water and is highly breathable.

Primaloft® is a relatively new innovation, and has been hailed as the best synthetic alternative to down. Its wet performance is outstanding and retains 96% of its insulation power. It's also extremely hard wearing and compressible. The North Face's ThermoBall™ is the latest Primaloft® innovation, and uses small clusters of fibre to create numerous tiny air pockets that trap air to provide pretty impressive warmth for synthetic down, equivalent to the 600 fill power of goose down.

Ethics

With down being essentially an animal product, there are ethical concerns. Particularly with the live-plucking process, and the issue of birds being force fed prior to plucking. Most of the major brands have begun to address this issue, with Mountain Equipment setting up the International Down and Feather Laboratory (IDFL) to monitor all aspects of production. Berghaus now adhere to the processes outlined by Mountain Equipment and state that "All the down we use is a by-product of the food industry. It is not the result of live plucking, and does not come from geese that have been force-fed".

Our tip

600 fill power will be warm enough for any conditions you'll encounter in the UK, so you only need to go higher if you're heading to Scandinavian or Arctic climes. With this in mind a high end synthetic jacket should do the trick in the UK, plus it'll work when wet and is much easier to look after.

If you do go for down (and it is still the best choice for extreme cold) you must look after it, and the old tricks still work. After use put in a tumble dryer on a low setting with a tennis ball- this will even out any clumps of feathers and help regain its loft and maintain its insulating properties. Also, never store down in a compressed state, as this will crush the feathers and destroy its ability to loft.
Shop Men's Down and Insulated Jackets | Shop Women's Down and Insulated Jackets

Gilets

Gilets are a great option when it's cold and dry and you don't want the bulk of a full fleece or down jacket. The sleeveless design gives you a full range of movement, and you'll retain core body warmth. They are also great as part of a layering system- wear over a shirt or fleece or under a waterproof shell. Gilets tend to be either fleece or insulated/down. Down has a better warmth-to-weight ratio than fleece so will be the best option in extreme cold. It's also highly compressible so it can be packed away easily in your rucksack.

Our tip

The North Face Nuptse is a classic example of a down gilet and has become an icon of the outdoors; it also looks great in a casual setting.
Shop Men's Gilets | Shop Women's Gilets

Lightweight Packable Jackets

Perfect when you need a waterproof to carry in your rucksack on trail walks or day trips, these jackets will pack away either in to their own pocket or in to an accompanying stuff sack. Some down/insulated jackets can also be packable due to their high compressibility. These are a great option for active mountain treks where over the course of the day (or weeks and months!) the temperatures can change dramatically, and you may need to throw on an insulating layer.

Our tip

With packaways, the lighter they are the better. You want it to take up the least weight and size in your pack as possible. GORE-TEX®'s Paclite is a great example; it still uses a membrane but remains incredibly light, exceptionally breathable and waterproof.
Shop Men's Lightweight Packable Jackets | Shop Women's Lightweight Packable Jackets

Softshell

Softshell is perfect if you want a versatile, warm and lightweight layer to protect when it's cold with a chance of light showers. Made from polyester fleece with a water repellent outer layer, they're perfect for active outdoor use, as the stretchy fabric allows a full range of movement. The smart finish of softshell jackets means they also look great for casual use, and can be ideal as a day-to-day autumn/winter jacket.

Our tip

A top softshell can be the ideal solution in most conditions if you want to keep weight to a minimum- it'll keep you warm and dry without slowing you down, but look for a windproof option such as WINDSTOPPER® if you're wearing as a standalone piece.
Shop Men's Softshell Jackets | Shop Women's Softshell Jackets

Parkas

Parkas are essentially the ultimate winter jacket. Heavy, insulated and often with a waterproof outer in the higher end options, you'll be completely snug all season, and they are the ideal choice in extreme cold or in some cases Arctic conditions. Parkas are identified by a fur or faux fur lining on the hood, and are often great as a casual winter jacket because of the twill or shell finish of the outer fabric. A parka is the perfect option when you find yourself stood still for long periods of time in cold or extreme cold.

Our tip

Keep an eye on the spec, a parka might look really warm and snug, but you need some serious insulation to keep you warm when it's below freezing. As with the down jackets look for 600 fill power or equivalent for use in the UK, or go higher for sub-zero temperatures.
Shop Men's Parkas | Shop Women's Parkas

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Comments

Jenny 11-02-14 08:02
Dear Sir/Madam

I want to buy an excellent waterproof jacket to be used regularly on mountain walks and in my daily routine. After reading your comments, I feel a little disorientated about GORE TEX jackets and I would like you can help me to clarify the benefits of the following jackets to find out which one I will buy and if these jackets will need to be wear with another one and why:
Product code 124122 COLUMBIA
Product code 111385 66 NORTH
Product code 124134 HELLY HANSEN

Are all of these GORE TEX and eVENT?

Many thanks for your help.
Blacks 02-03-15 14:15
Hi Jenny,

To answer your question, all of the jacket's you have listed provide excellent waterproof protection but do not use GORE-TEX or eVent technology. You would be well protected against rain and snow in all, however the 66 North Snaefell (111385) is best suited to mountain walking as the others are more ski focussed.

The Columbia Millennium Blur Jacket (124122) features Columbia's own waterproof technology known as Omni-Tech. This offers great wet weather protection and also comes with insulating technology (Omni-Heat), making it a great ski option.

The 66 North Snaefell Jacket (111385) uses Polartec Neoshell, a material designed to withstand extreme weather yet is light and flexible. This is fully waterproof, will protect you in heavy rain and is a great option for mountain environments.

The Helly Hansen Eclipse (112134) is a fully waterproof ski jacket which like the Millennium features the brands own waterproof technology known as Helly Tech Performance. This jacket is also insulated and has a cosy faux fur hood trim.

Thanks,
Blacks Team
Noel Higgins 15-10-17 10:44
I have a North Face Jeppeson jacket, colour red, weight approx. 1200grams.
I wish to replace same with a jacket of similar weight and warmness for UK winter conditions. My colour preference would be red, if not available, a bright colour for our dreary dark winter days. The jacket will need to be rain and wind resistant. The Jeppeson was marvelous but seemingly it is not available. I would appreciate your advice and assistance to keep WARM and DRY during our wet and windy winter.
Noel Higgins 15-10-17 11:30
Product code 288055 north face men’s point five waterproof jacket. What weight is this product? Is the weight more than 1200 grams? How good is the insulation against damp wet cold UK winter conditions? What type of insulation is provided?
Sam Taylor 16-10-17 09:29
Hi Noel,
Thanks for your messages. I'll do my best to help you find a replacement for your trusty Jeppeson.
Looking at your second question 1st. The Five Point is much more a dedicated waterproof outer layer, so though it will be lightweight (i.e. much less than 1200g) and very wind and waterproof (thanks to Gore-Tex Pro membrane), it doesn't feature any insulation so it might not be as warm as your Jeppeson. Just something to think about.
Here are some other options for you to consider:
p.s. I've tried to keep them as colourful as possible
1. Salomon Ice Glory Ski Jacket - Like the Jeppeson, the Iceglory is technically a ski jacket but it will keep you very dry and warm, with synthetic insulation and a 20,000mm hydrostatic head waterproof outer-layer. Points for colour.
2. Mountain Equipment Vega Jacket - Not completely waterproof but it makes up for it in insulation (800 Fill Power - Very high).
3. Berghaus Hudsonian Parka - Bit of a wild card and heavier than most of the others on this list; it offers comprehensive waterproofing and insulation (synthetic).
Alternatively, you could consider a 3-in-1, like the Northface Anti-Freeze Tri-Climate, but it might not be as colourful as you might like.
Few there to consider. Please get back in touch if you are still struggling.
Thanks
Sam, Blacks Team
Alison 28-10-17 10:25
Hi
I get very cold.. and would like a very warm jacket for walking which is also waterproof... this is Britain after all.. and even if you start oit in sunshine it’s bond to rain At some point!
I thought about down but they are not waterproof. Looked at your synethic down north face thermoball as an option, but not sur how well it would cope with a downpour or continuous strong rain.
I often layer up at the moment with fleece and raincoat... Berghaus but still feel the cold... hence looking at the down jacket option.
Please advise. Alison.
Sophie | Blacks Team 30-10-17 09:52
Hi Alison,

There are a few options you can consider here, you could look at The North Face Thermoball Jacket (product code: 287740), which uses clever synthetic insulation to stay warm even when wet. You could then use your waterproof Berghaus coat to layer on top in the event of rain. This makes for a very versatile combination as you can wear the Thermoball alone if it is not raining.

Berghaus also produce down jackets that are made with Hydrodown, this is a down jacket where the insulation is treated with Nikwax to provide water-repellency for light showers . The Berghaus Women’s Tephra Down Jacket (product code: 285049) is part of our new Autumn and Winter range and features the Hydrodown technology.

Alternatively, you could look at parkas. We do have a range of parkas that offer both warmth and waterproofing. A few suggestions here would be the Peter Storm Women’s Phillipa II Down Jacket (product code: 297125), this is fully waterproof and has 600 fill down for warmth. The Didriksons Women’s Frida Parka is a thermal parka that is fully waterproof, windproof and breathable, it also has storm flaps over the main zip for extra protection against the elements. One of the most high-end parkas we offer is The North Face Zaneck parka (050775), this is filled with synthetic down so slightly lighter than real down. It is fully waterproof as it uses The North Face’s DryVent fabric and the high loft Heatseeker technology which locks in warmth.

Hope this helps in your search, if you have any further queries please don’t hesitate to contact us again.

Thanks,
Sophie
Alison 02-11-17 10:31
Thanks Sophie,
Just as an add on.. reading your recommendations... it would be very useful if you could provide live links to the products/ coats in my case you suggest...
Thanks.
Alison
Alison 02-11-17 10:54
Hi Sophie again!
Just a quick question would you say the north face zaneck parka was fully waterproof for downpours? Is it as good on your opinion as gore tex used in the Berghaus jackets for instance?
Thanks
Alison.
Sophie | Blacks Team 02-11-17 11:44
Hi Alison,
Yes, The North Face Zaneck is a fully waterproof jacket. Gore-Tex waterproofing is suited to more extreme conditions but the DryVent waterproofing technology in The North Face Zaneck Jacket will be more than sufficient for what you’re looking for.
Thanks,
Sophie
Christine 30-11-17 22:34
Considering purchasing a jacket for my daughter either the North Face Tonnero full zip or the North Face Trevail but how am I supposed to know what the sizes are? How big do you buy them?
Sam 19-12-17 13:33
Hi Christine,
Many thanks for your message and apologies it has taken us so long to get back to you! Hopefully we are not too late.
Both the Tonnero and the Trevail have a back length of 63.5cm in a size medium.
This should give you a good idea of required size. If still unsure, please let us know.
Many thanks,
Sam @ Team Blacks
Sylvia Jakeman 15-09-18 14:42
Do you do a larger ladies gortex jacket as i am looking for size 18+
Alex 18-09-18 13:24
Hi Sylvia,

Thanks for your message!

We do have GORE-TEX Jackets size 18+ on our site!

We have The Berghaus Glissade III which comes in 2 colours so there's plenty of choice.

We also have the Berghaus Hillwalker Jacket, which features a ripstop face fabric for durability and tear resistance.

The main difference in these two is that the Glissade is designed with a longer length for extra coverage.


Hope this helps. If you any other questions don't hesitate to ask.

Thanks, Alex @ Blacks
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