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 – look for a hood that is removable or one that rolls up. Sometimes you’ll want to get the hood out of your way. Also, check to make sure the hood fits your head and is adjustable – you might want to sneak in a hat underneath. Can you see properly when using the hood? 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 jacket should have a collar that can be buttoned, zipped or pulled close with a drawstring to adjust against wind and rain. Fleece lining on the inside of the collar feels warm and soft against the face.
- Two-way zippers – allow you to unzip it a bit from the bottom for better leg and hip motion.
- Interactive second zipper – this is used to zip a fleece liner into the jacket for added warmth.
- Drawstrings – at the waist to allow for fit adjustment and a sleeker look.
- Pockets – in the places and sizes you want them. Look for mesh backing behind chest pockets for added ventilation.
- Double seams – the seams are usually the first places where leaks occur.
- Waterproof zippers – some zippers have a fabric flap that rests overtop the zipper to keep out rain. There are also waterproof zippers that do the job without the extra fabric. Some wearers find the latter more stylish.
- Cuffs – comfortable closure with elastic or with a Velcro tab.
While the price tag for a new all weather jacket can be discouraging, it doesn’t have to be. There is a whole range of jackets available. The key to successful shopping for this product is to know how you’ll use it.
Types of Jackets
Plastic Ponchos – made from plastic, these are available for a few dollars at most thrift stores. They fold up into a tiny envelope and while they look flimsy, are actually good at keeping the rain off. Ponchos lose effectiveness in the wind, which can blow up and drive rain in. And since plastic doesn’t breath, plastic can make you sweaty in the warmer climates.
Rain Slickers – Rubberized/vinyl rain slickers are a step up from ponchos. Look for those labeled "waterproof", rather than "water-resistant". Though they do keep the water out, these jackets are not breathable and can smell like rubber. Look for styles with vents to allow perspiration to escape.
Water Resistant – water-resistant is not waterproof. Make sure you know what you’re getting by checking the label. With a water-resistant jacket you’ll get wet in anything except a light shower.
Waterproof – there are two types of waterproof jackets:
- Non Breathable. These are made of nylon, rubber or a material called PVC. They will keep the rain out but they aren’t breathable. As you get hotter there is nowhere for the perspiration to go, so you can become clammy inside. Some of these jackets try to minimize this problem by putting air vents under the sleeves and across the back to keep you cooler.
- Breathable. These jackets offer all the qualities of waterproof fabrics, plus the added feature of breathability. Using various methods and materials, moisture vapor is moved from the inside of the garment to the outside. This is done on a molecular level, so you cannot see any holes or vents in the products, but you will certainly notice the difference, especially during strenuous activity.
The original waterproof fabric and the one everyone’s familiar with (and the most expensive) is Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex is a thin film of Teflon-based material that is both waterproof and breathable. It keeps rain or splash on the outside of the garment, but will let sweat evaporate so that it doesn’t soak our clothing underneath the Gore-Tex.
Gore-Tex was first introduced in 1976 and has been modified and improved several times since then. Gore-Tex is a registered trademark of W.L. Gore and Associates, a company based in Maryland, USA. Several competitors to Gore-Tex hit the market in 1998, when the patent on one of the market leader’s required processes ran out. Now, there are several other similar waterproof/breathable barrier systems on the market, many of which will also suffice for heavy-duty outdoor use.
Making it Waterproof
A waterproof/breathable material is made by laminating or coating a thin membrane on the underside of a nylon or polyester face fabric. Gore-Tex is a laminate. Others achieve this by layering a liquid coating to the underside of the fabric.
The outer layer of the fabric may appear to get wet, especially once the original outer fabric treatment has worn off but rain should not penetrate. Your clothing underneath should stay dry.
Here’s how that works: the outermost layer is treated with an ultra-thin polymer coating called durable water repellent, or DWR. This coating penetrates the fibres and lowers the surface tension of the fabric, causing water to bead up and roll off the garment instead of being absorbed.
Most jackets consist of the outer layer, the inner layer, the liner and the other bits (pockets, etc). The outer layer is what provides durability. Trademark names you’ll hear most often are Nylon, Oxford Nylon, Cordura, Kevlar and Denier. Oxford Nylon is just a type of nylon.
Cordura is a registered trademark of DuPont. It is a heavy nylon and is the most commonly used material in jackets. You'll normally see a number associated with it, which refers to the denier count. The larger the number the heavier the material. Because Cordura comes in denier counts ranging from 160 to 1000, you’ll find this durable fibre in a variety of products, including backpacks luggage and hiking boots.
All weather jackets range in price from about $100 to over $600, so it’s important to shop around. Outdoor gear is one category of consumer goods that, like clockwork, goes on sale at the end of every season. So shop around and decide on the make, colour and size you want. Then sit back and wait for the sales.
How Will You Use It
There are different types of jackets for different uses. Before you go shopping, you need to decide what you want the jacket for.
- Joggers, X-country skiers, mountain bikers: look for a shell that will break the wind and whisk away sweat well. Since you want to feel fast, cut and weight are concerns. 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: look for a heavier and longer jacket to keep you warm if you’re not going to be working up a big sweat or need to withstand freezing temperatures. But don’t go too heavy. You can always add extra layers for the coldest climates. Look for interactive zippers so you have the option of a fleece for extra warmth. Also look for fleece lined pockets and collars.
Try It On
Are men’s and women’s jackets any different? The differences can be huge. Typically, for any given size the sleeves will be up to three inches shorter, the neck opening up to one inch narrower, the chestsize up to three inches smaller, the torso up to two inches shorter and the waist-to-hem is up to two inches wider. The hood on a woman’s jacket is also usually smaller.
Regular wear and tear, exposure to dirt, insect repellant and other impurities cause the durable water repellant coating to fail. The most effective way to maintain your Gore-Tex or like material jacket’s water and stain repellency is to wash it, rinse it and put it in the dryer. The washing removes contaminants and the heat from the dryer helps redistribute the durable water repellant coating on the fabric surface.
If water fails to bead up on the surface of your cleaned and tumble-dried garment, it means the durable water repellant coating has reached the end of its life. But don’t worry, there are spray-on products available that can restore that coating. Talk to your retailer.