Now that we're heading into fall, waterproof raincoats are next on the agenda. They're not exactly the most glamorous item of clothing out there, but a wet-weather jacket is still a wardrobe essential when those irritating fall showers leave you completely drenched at a moment's notice.
Before diving into the many, many weather-proof options out there, it’s worth considering what exactly you need from your new purchase. Are you looking for a jacket that’ll keep you dry on the move? Something stylish to reach for when the weather turns foul? Or a next-level performance piece that will keep you and your essentials safe and sound in the worst weather imaginable?
After you’ve determined exactly what it is you’re looking for, the following pointers will serve as a handy primer to help you find the waterproof outerwear of your dreams.
Without further ado, here are a few things you should check before buying a new waterproof raincoat.
1. Find Your Style
Shorter, cropped styles are ideal for active people like cyclists or joggers who need something form-fitting that still allows their legs to move freely. If you’re wanting something to keep you dry while indulging in a bit of physical activity, though, you’ll need to make sure your jacket’s fabric is suitably breathable, otherwise, you’ll end up drowning in sweat. Athletic brands like Nike and adidas (of course), ISAORA and Satisfy would be a good place to start, here.
Elongated, classic options like macs and trench coats are menswear icons, but have tailored, cumbersome fits that aren’t exactly ideal for modern life’s hustle and bustle. Macs and trenches date back to when well-heeled gentlemen needed something smart to wear in bad weather, so are great for timeless style, but aren’t exactly the most technically advanced garments out there - most of the time they don’t even come with hoods.
Burberry and Mackintosh are legends of this field, although their prices reach well into the luxury range. You’ll find similar garments at all ends of the market, though we’d recommend investing in something from at least a mid-range label - A.P.C., AMI, and Barbour have made these sorts of jackets cornerstones of their collections.
Given that their countries are perpetually drenched in rain, it’s hardly surprising that the Swedes and Danes excel at wet-weather gear. RAINS, Stutterheim and Elka are all staples of the Nordic region and offer a variety of rubberized coats that’ll keep you dry in the foulest of weather conditions. These fabrics have very little in the way of breathability, though — they’ll keep you dry in any scenario, but you wouldn’t want to be doing any serious physical activity in them otherwise you’ll be drowning in sweat.
There are tons of practical, affordable pieces out there from outdoors brands like The North Face, Patagonia, and Berghaus. Hiking-style shell jackets and mountain parkas might not be for everyone, but if you’re down with a bit of streetwear nostalgia or want to embrace the spirit of Normcore then they’ll provide great bang for their buck — especially when they’re in striking, ’90s-style colorways. These sorts of jackets sometimes have the added bonus of being able to pack away into themselves — handy for when you’re on the move.
At the higher end of the market, many modern brands offer weather-proof technical gear that boasts high-performance fabrics and cutting-edge technology. Sleek silhouettes, visible tech features, and monochrome colorways are the order of the day for labels like Arc’teryx and Norse Projects (which has recently expanded into the technical end of the market). The undisputed king of the high-tech outerwear game is ACRONYM, though, whose ultra high-end pieces often sport innovative additions like sling pockets and interior straps, so you can carry your jacket when the weather gets nice again.
The poncho might conjure up images of Mexican bandits and soaked festival-goers, but its oversized, loose silhouette can cover your bags as well as yourself, and will likely be the least restrictive of all the options out there. It will, however, allow the wind to blow more easily through its larger gaps and openings, making it less suitable in colder weather. While the market isn’t exactly saturated with stylish ponchos right now, Danish rainwear label RAINS makes a decent-looking one, and Highsnobiety favorite C.E. even dropped its own distinct take on the garment a few seasons back.
A little-known fact: your skin cannot actually detect wetness, only the temperature change associated with it. With this in mind, it's worth picking a jacket that will allow you to layer up with a sweater or two underneath, so you can keep yourself dry even when the temperatures plummet.
As always, we’d recommend trying on a bunch of different options to see what works for you — both in terms of style and function.
2. Think About Fabrics
This area will affect the way your raincoat performs significantly. The main choice you have is between natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, and fully synthetic materials, although there are additional options to consider whichever route you take.
Natural fibers can either be treated with waterproofing substances, or woven together incredibly tight to prevent water from penetrating their surface. Barbour’s waxed jackets are a prime example of a treated natural fabric, while cotton Ventile (often used in cycling jackets) offers high waterproofing while still remaining breathable — it actually swells up when it contacts moisture, so no further water can enter.
Gabardine — most famously used in trench coats and macs — offers similar performance, with a crisp, firm hand (that’s fashion-speak for the way a fabric feels, by the way). In all these natural fibers, waterproof capacity is fairly high — although not as high as pure synthetics — and the breathability of the fabric should allow effective regulation of the microclimate between your body and the garment itself, reducing the chance of sweating. If you’re wanting something that’s classically stylish and waterproof enough for moderate showers, then the above fabrics will be a solid choice.
When it comes to synthetic materials, basic polyurethane shell jackets or synthetic PVC rubber rainwear offer a very high level of waterproof protection, yet with almost zero breathability. This greatly increases the likelihood you’ll sweat while wearing one, and should be avoided if you’re planning on doing any physical exertion in your jacket.
Fully synthetic jackets that include a technical membrane — such as GORE-TEX, Polartec or HyVent — are much more breathable and comfortable to wear while active, but their high performance comes with a hefty price tag.
The process of making synthetics can be pretty disastrous for the environment, too - many of the chemicals involved in manufacturing these fabrics are incredibly toxic and pollutive. If you’re conscious of your environmental footprint, then do your research into all of the materials out there — or go for a water-resistant natural fiber, instead.
3. Consider the Construction
Not all waterproof jackets are created equal, and there are some features that will really set certain models apart — so keep an eye out for them when you’re shopping around.
The first of these is taped seams. While fabric itself can be made effectively 100% waterproof, the points at which it's sewn together will always represent a weak spot where water can seep in. Having the seams of a jacket taped on the inside will reduce the chances of this happening by a long way. Likewise, zips are another potential point of entry for water, and the very best products will tape those too.
While the neat-collared look of a rollaway hood is preferable to some, these options will typically have a less defined shape when opened out, which could be a problem in heavy downpours. Equally, a high placket will keep out more intense rain and give better heat insulation but might be a little uncomfortable for some people, given how close it rises under the chin when zipped to the top.
Elsewhere, more sporty jackets may include things like wrist gaiters (also known as storm cuffs) to help seal in warmth and prevent water from traveling up the sleeves, or storm hoods, which can be tightened around the face in especially foul weather conditions.
Other modern garments will also take into account necessities like headphone cable gates or 3M patches for visibility, all of which will come in useful when you're on the move.
4. Take Care
While fashions come and go, you can rest assured there will always be rain. Luckily, with the right care and attention, a good waterproof jacket should last you many years — if not a lifetime. It's worth bearing in mind that different products require different amounts of maintenance, so it's important you know what you’re getting yourself into before you pull the trigger.
Treated natural fabrics will gradually lose their waterproof functionality over time thanks to dirt and oils clinging to their surface, and will need periodic re-treatment to maintain their full use. This can be done using eco-friendly products like Nikwax or by adding a chemical-heavy DWR (Durable Water Repellent) spray to the surface of the product. Make sure you check your garment’s care instructions first though, before you cover it with potentially harmful substances.
While the waterproof properties of a GORE-TEX membrane (or something similar) are pretty much permanent, the fabric that surrounds it will gradually lose its waterproofing and as such can become sodden or drenched in heavy rainfall. To avoid this, make sure you clean your garment regularly according to the manufacturer's guidelines and occasionally add a new DWR coating, if the jacket’s care instructions allow.
For more in-depth consumer advice, bone up with the rest of our Check Before You Buy series.
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