All-Weather Jackets

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

If youíre an outdoor enthusiast or live in a rainy climate, an all-weather coat can shield you from the cold, wind, snow and heat. We find out which coats stay warmest and driest by talking to the experts and battling the elements in the great outdoors to test some jackets.


The Basics

  • All weather jackets range in price from about $100 to over $600, so it’s important to shop around. Outdoor gear, like clockwork, goes on sale at the end of every season so time your purchase wisely, but do your research ahead of time.

  • There are a few types of jackets to choose from in a wide range of prices:

    • Plastic Ponchos are available for a few dollars at many different stores. They fold up into a tiny envelope. While they look flimsy, are actually good at keeping you dry. However, in the wind, they don’t work very well. Also, since plastic doesn’t breathe, they’re not great for hiking or warmer climates.

    • Rain Slickers are rubberized/vinyl jackets, a step up from ponchos. Those labeled "waterproof" rather than "water-resistant" will keep you driest. They are jackets are also not breathable and can smell like rubber, so look for styles with vents to allow perspiration to escape.

    • Water Resistant jackets are not waterproof, but are good to keep the wind out. You’ll get wet in anything more than a short, light shower.

    • There are two types of waterproof jackets:

      • Non-breathable are made of nylon, rubber or a material called PVC. They are great at keeping the rain out but can become clammy inside if you begin to perspire. Look for a jacket with air vents under the sleeves and across the back to keep you cooler.

      • Breathable jackets offer all the qualities of waterproof fabrics, plus the added feature of breathability. Using various methods and materials, moisture vapour is moved from the inside of the garment to the outside on a molecular level, so you cannot see any holes or vents in the products. You will certainly notice the difference, especially during strenuous activity.

  • There are different types of jackets for different uses:

    • Joggers, X-country skiers, mountain bikers should use a windbreaker type shell that also whisks away sweat. Since speed is part of the sport, look for a close cut and light-weight. Less is more, so if it’s too baggy or too long or more than about 15 ounces, keep looking.

    • Walkers, hikers and those spending time in cold conditions should look for a heavier and longer jacket for warmth if you’re not going to be working up a big sweat or need to withstand freezing temperatures. Try to keep it light but roomy enough to add extra layers underneath. Look for interactive zippers so you can add a fleece for extra warmth. Also look for fleece lined pockets and collars.

  • Today’s jackets come with a multitude of features, some more useful than others.

    • Vents and underarm zippers allow for greater ventilation of perspiration.

    • Hood that are removable or that roll up are the best options. Check to make sure the hood fits your head, is adjustable, and doesn’t flop into your eyes. A drawstring for pulling the hood close to your face and a beak at the top (for keeping rain off your face) are also recommended.

    • Neck Protection, a collar that can be buttoned, zipped or pulled close with a drawstring, helps protect against wind and rain. Fleece lining on the inside of the collar is warm and soft bonus.

    • Two-way zippers allow you to unzip it a bit from the bottom for better leg and hip motion.

    • An interactive second zipper is used to zip a fleece liner into the jacket for added warmth.

    • Drawstrings at the waist allow for fit adjustment and a sleeker look.

    • Pockets of good size and placement, may include mesh backing behind chest pockets for added ventilation.

    • Double seams are usually the first places leaks occur.

    • Waterproof zippers have a fabric flap that rests overtop the zipper to prevent rain seeping in. There are also waterproof zippers that do the job without the extra fabric.

    • Cuffs, or a comfortable closure with elastic or with a Velcro tab helps keep wind and cold out.

  • Men’s vs. women’s styles can have huge differences in sizing, so be sure to buy the right one for your body type. E.g. men’s have longer sleeves, wider necks, larger shoulders, and longer torso lengths.

Other Considerations

  • With regular wear and tear, the water repellent coating can fail. A good way to maintain the repellancy is to wash it, rinse it, and put it in the dryer. Washing removes any contaminants, and dryer heat helps redistribute the coating on the fabric surface.

Be Aware

  • If water no longer beads up on the surface of your clean and dried garment, it means the coating has worn off completely. There are spray-on products available to restore the coating, however.


We tested these four all-weather coats with breathable linings on a hiking and kayaking trip:

  • Coast Mountain (lightweight): $179
  • Marmot (lightweight): $160
  • Mountain Hardware (heavyweight): $425
  • Sidewinder by Arcteryx (heavyweight): $640

Wear Test

  • The Mountain Hardware coat kept Kristina warm and dry, and was a great all weather jacket.

  • The Sidewinder’s streamlined design, small hood (which is great for women) was Anna’s favourite, except for the price.


Choosing the right jacket for your situation is important, so remember to consider all of the factors listed above. For our trip, the two more expensive jackets were the favourites, but for everyday use commuting to work, they would be overkill.


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