Gear Review: Waterproof Jackets for 2023

Waterproof jackets are one of the most important (and expensive) bits of outdoor kit. We’ve put a range of jackets through their paces during an increasingly wet Scottish spring and summer. All of them are made from layered fabric, basically an outer woven layer, usually treated with a water repellent coating, bonded to waterproof membrane (Gore-tex is the best known brand here; many of these products contain PFC/PTFE “forever chemicals”) – this construction is referred to as 2-layer and will normally have a liner to protect it. On 2.5-layer fabric an additional coating is applied to the membrane itself to make it more robust. 3-layer fabric has a whole extra tightly-woven fabric on the inside of the membrane making the whole fabric much more robust but also heavier.

The hydrostatic head (HH) rating measures who waterproof each fabric is. The rating, given in millimetres and usually between 10,000mm and 30,000 for quality walking waterproofs, shows how much water pressure the fabric can withstand before it soaks through, the higher the rating the more waterproof it should be. However, higher waterpoofing can affect the breathability of the fabric. Whilst some manufacturers give their fabrics a moisture vapour transmission rate, or MVTR, this should be used as a guide only as design (seam taping, large pockets, linings, venting features, cut etc) as well as the activity undertaken and weather conditions on the day all play a massive part in how well the jacket will breath.

Jackets are big ticket items for most of us, and the price should be balanced against how long the item will last and how you will use it. Some people able to opt for a lighter, packable jacket for good weather and a heavyweight one for winter use, while others will want an all-rounder. We’ve given the HH waterproof rating provided by the manufacturer when available but have also worn the jackets in various wet weather conditions for low and high-level Scottish walks.

Keela Cairn

RRP: £174.95
Weight: 380g (Men’s L)
Fabric: 3-layer Aquaflex
HH: not given

We were fans of Fife-based Keela’s robust Munro jacket when we tested it a few years ago, so I was keen to try out the much lighter weight Cairn. It’s much more packable, and more suited to summer conditions, though it can cope with any weather if needed. The fabric is a three layer one made by Keela, which I’ve found to be waterproof and decently breathable.

The jacket has a fairly tailored fit but the articulated arms give excellent movement; the hood is large enough to take a helmet but is easily adjustable, whilst the jacket is a little longer at the back. The two-way waterproof zip is backed by a inner flap, whilst the semi-elasticated cuffs are velcro adjustable. There are two good hip pockets, plus one outside chest pocket and one inside. Overall the Cairn is a great choice and real value for money at the price point, especially for the summer or when wet weather is less likely, due to its light weight.

Available in 4 colours and 7 Men’s sizes (XS – 3XL) and 4 colours and 7 Women’s sizes (8 – 20)

Highlander Munro

RRP: £149 (though currently a discounted)
Weight: 620g (Men’s L)
Fabric: 3-layer PROT3X membrane
HH: 20,000mm

This is a much heavier jacket, using Highlander’s own three layer fabric. The cut is generous, and the jacket has a slight stiffness which gives confidence in the worst weather conditions. The hood is generously sized and volume adjustable. The two hand pockets are really huge and have waterproof zips, whilst there’s a useful additional inside pocket. The main (YKK) zip is protected with an inner flap, but there’s no storm flap, which you might expect on a heavyweight jacket such as this; it’s also a one-way zip so you can’t raise it from the bottom to add to ventilation. There are also pit zips, whilst the (large) cuffs have velcro adjustments.

The hood is generously sized and has a volume adjuster; the toggles at the front do hang down loose which can be a problem in strong wind – you really want to keep them from hitting you in the face. If you are looking for a jacket you can wear all year round, or you go for days out even in prolonged rain, this is a great choice of jacket for the low price.

Available in Men’s only, 2 colours and 6 sizes (XS – XXL)

Sprayway Torridon

RRP: £340 (widely on offer)
Weight: 640g (Men’s L)
Fabric: 3 layer GORE-TEX 100% recycled polyester PTFE membrane; PFCec FREE
HH: not given; GORE-TEX itself around 28,000

Here’s an unexpected blast from the past – I had a Sprayway Torridon Goretex jacket way back when I was first exploring Scotland’s mountains; it was a real classic piece of kit that lasted years and years. The Torridon’s modern incarnation has classic retro stylings and colours but retains the original bomb-proof feel. Let’s be honest – if I was just expecting a few odd showers, I wouldn’t want to have such a heavy and bulky jacket in my pack, but when expecting more of a battle with the elements, the Torridon’s robust fabric and generous cut gives you real confidence and comfort in keeping the rain away.

The chunky YKK zip is protected by a double storm flap, fasted with velcro, whilst the two very large hand pockets have waterproof zips, also protected by storm flaps. There’s a simple elasticated pocket inside too. The hood is excellent, with great protection around the chin especially; there are also pit zips for ventilation. If you are looking for a bomb-proof shell that’ll protect against the very worst conditions the Scottish hills can throw at you, the Torridon is as sound a choice now as the original version was all those years ago.

Available in 7 colours and 5 Men’s sizes (S – XXL) and 1 colour and 6 Women’s sizes (8 – 18)

Patagonia Granite Crest

RRP: £270 (currently on offer)
Weight: 360g (Women’s S)
Fabric: 3-layer H2No
HH: 20,000mm

Like most of Patagonia’s waterproofs this jacket uses its in-house H2No waterproof/breathable fabric, in this case the 3 layer option which is the thickest, toughest and most waterproof of the 3 H2No fabrics, it has taped seams. Use of this in-house fabric rather than using GoreTex helps keep the cost down. Even the 3 layer has a pretty lightweight feel, is very comfortable to wear with only minimal rustle. In test it proved to be extremely waterproof with good breathability especially combined with using the pit zips on uphill climbs. Patagonia say that the nylon in the fabric is 100% recycled from fishing nets and that the durable water repellent coating is PFC- free meaning it doesn’t contain any perfluorinated “forever” chemicals.

The design is roomy for the stated size giving plenty of room to wear insulating layers underneath and still allows a good range of arm movement, the fabric itself has a little bit of stretch in it. The front zip is one way only but is waterproof and backed by a small storm baffle. There are two large handwarmer pockets which are well positioned to be accessed when wearing a pack with hip belt and are large enough to easily take a phone although in prolonged rain there was some damp penetration despite the zip being protected by a baffle. The chest pocket, which also acts as a stuff sac for the jacket, has a waterproof zip but while large enough to take a phone it was awkward to get a standard size phone in and out. The 2 way pit zips are well designed, fairly easy to open and close one handed and providing a good amount of venting without too much material flapping. There’s a drawcord to pull in the hem with the spare cord being neatly housed in one of the pockets. The helmet-compatible hood is large but has volume and peak adjusting cords and a decent sized laminated visor keeps rain off the face without restricting your view too much. Good choice of colours and sizes. All in all, a good all round waterproof jacket.

Available in Women’s XS – XL and 8 colours, Men’s XS-XXL and 7 colours.

Fjallraven High Coast Hydratic Jacket

RRP: £275
Weight: 310g (Women’s S)
Fabric: 2.5 layer – 100% recycled polyamide backed with a PFC-free impregnated laminate and printed pattern on the inner.
HH: 10,000mm

I liked the zipped side vents, easier to use than full pit zips and with non of the associated flapping, but providing enough ventilation for this weight of jacket. The main downside for me was that in heavy rain it wetted out quicker than I was expecting; I found there was damp across the shoulders even when not wearing a pack after 40 minutes of walking in heavy rain – mainly water coming in rather than sweat. Fjallraven say that this jacket has a waterproof rating of 10,000mm meaning; it can soak through over time but should be able to withstand short downpours. On the plus side the breathability is good especially when combined with use of the side vents and front two way zip. The fabric has a lovely soft feel and is properly stretchy, the printed pattern on the inner makes it comfortable against bare skin. The hood adjusts well, is not too large, and has a small unwired peak with reflector. The two zipped hand warmer pockets are large and well positioned. The front zip is two way and protected by a small storm baffle and there’s a neat draw-cord at the hem.

Available in 6 Men’s sizes (XS – XXL) and 6 Women’s sizes (XXS – XL) 4 colours for both.

Sprayway Reaction

RRP: £180 (£210 for Long version)
Weight: 520g (W 10 Long)
Fabric: 2 layer GORE-TEX
HH: GORE-TEX itself around 28,000

A heavier-weight jacket due to the addition of a taffeta and mesh lining and thicker GoreTex membrane attached to the PFC-free 100% recycled polyester outer fabric. Robustly-made and well designed there is a good range of movement and the cut is generous. I was testing the long version which I would recommend if the recent trend to shorter and shorter jackets means you are seeking a cut which won’t ride up under a pack and provides good coverage for extended wet weather wear – for me this means I can delay putting on waterproof overtrousers until the absolute last minute. Overall in test it has been extremely waterproof. The downside is that I’ve found it too hot with the extra lining (mesh only at the back and underarms) for very warm summer days and will keep it for cooler wet weather and the high tops where the level of protection offered is reassuring and worth the weight.

The front zip is one way only but covered by a double storm baffle which has kept all water out and there’s a comfortable fleece lining to this at the chin. The two zipped hand warmer pockets are large and easy to access with a pack on. There’s also a decent sized, velcro-sealed internal chest pocket in the lining which takes a phone easily but you need to unzip the jacket to access it. The velcro cuffs are nicely shaped and adjust well as does the draw-cord hem which has two separate sections. There’s also waist drawcords adjustable from the pockets, this drawcord does not extend across the back which has traditionally been an area of wear from backpacks. The hood is large and whilst it adjusts well for volume and around the face, I found the laminated peak a bit too large – it sheds water well but for me overly restricts vision when looking downward. Overall a good option for a heavier-weight reliable jacket for year round use.

Available in 6 colours and Women’s sizes 8 – 20, 3 colours and 5 Men’s sizes (S – XXL) and Long versions for both

Rab Kangri Gore-tex Paclite Plus Jacket

RRP: £270
Weight: 330g (Women’s 10)
Fabric: 2.5- layer Gore-tex paclite – 100% recycled polymide with ePTFE membrane
HH: 28,000mm

This is a lightweight, Paclite, version of Rab’s reliable classic Kangri jacket which I really like as a year-round waterproof. There are many features that I like about this lighter version too. Lightweight and packable enough to remain in your pack all day but also reliably waterproof and robust enough to withstand properly bad Scottish summer weather and the wear and tear that goes with long term use. The Paclite membrane is more breathable than the 3 layer Gore-tex version and it has well designed 2-way pit zips as well as a 2-way main front zip and easily adjustable cuffs that all help ventilation. All the zips are waterproof although Rab does not guarantee that phones and other items kept in the 2, well positioned and spacious, hand warmer pockets, will stay 100% dry – there is an inner storm baffle on the main front zips which provides good added protection, seams are taped.

The fabric has a slight rustle but moves well and is very comfortable with good movement in the arms and good visibility when wearing the hood which adjusts well. It’s plenty big enough, definitely a generous rather than athletic cut. Not cheap but provides good value as it can be used in all but the worst weather and should last well.

Available in 4 colours and Women’s sizes 8 – 16 and Men’s sizes S – XXL.

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