Row of Coloured Waterproofs Including Rab and Berghaus

Waterproof Buying Guide

Understand the features and which waterproof is best for you...

Waterproof jackets are a year-round essential, whether you’re hiking, climbing or just commuting. Tech-loaded jackets with all the latest features are great to have, but can often lead to confusion when trying to select a jacket. We’ve picked out the most common features that you’re likely to come across and removed the jargon – so you can choose the best waterproof jacket for you without the stress!

Whatever the activity, the requirements of all waterproofs are the same

Firstly, they have to keep you dry, no matter how hard it is raining.

Secondly, they need to breathe. This means that sweat vapour produced can escape.

Finally, they need to keep you comfortable. This not only means keeping you dry, but is also about helping your temperature remain consistent.

What do you need your jacket for?

Many waterproof jackets are designed with a particular activity in mind.


Some are made for high-intensity activities like running or cycling. These make breathability their main feature; helping to keep you comfortable by allowing all the extra heat to escape.


Others balance durability, waterproofness and breathability, and are for sports such as mountaineering or ski touring. These use hardwearing waterproof fabrics that may feel stiffer on the body but can stand up to the demands of the mountains, such as abrasive rocks or carrying a heavy rucksack.


Most people, however, are usually looking for a jacket that provides everyday protection and sits between these two extremes. The selection of these jackets is much wider, covering a range of brands, prices, fits and colours, with some lighter in weight and others stronger depending on your preference.

How is a jacket made waterproof?

Some jackets have a waterproof membrane - a highly sophisticated material with microscopic holes across its surface, which are so small that liquid water cannot get through but vapour can pass freely.


Other jackets have a ‘coating’ or ‘laminate’ instead, which involves covering the jacket in a rubber-like material that dries to seal the jacket in a similar way to a membrane. Jackets waterproofed in this way tend to be cheaper. You can read more by going to our Waterproof Technology page.

Does it have to be Gore-Tex®?

GORE-TEX® is by far the best-known waterproof membrane and is the choice of many brands thanks to its durability and reliability. However, some brands are so confident in alternatives that they choose not to use GORE-TEX® at all, whilst others choose to use it in some items and develop their own membranes in others. At Cotswold Outdoor, we stock a wide variety of options, so you can choose which one is best suited to you.

What features should I look for?

Now you are familiar with the ins-and-outs of waterproof jackets, we can look a little closer:

A comfortable fit

How a jacket should fit is entirely subjective: you should simply choose the one you are comfortable wearing. Some like a jacket long enough to cover the waistband, whereas others prefer it short and tailored. However, if you’re buying a jacket for a specific activity, there are a few things to consider when trying on. With climbing, for example, are the pockets high enough to be clear of your harness, or can you still see your feet? Or if you want it for running, is it tailored enough to sit close to the body and reduce drag?


More general considerations include: do the sleeves cover your wrists as you move your arms around? Is the material too tight across the shoulders and underarms? Remember, you may wear the jacket in a range of temperatures, so think carefully about the number of layers underneath and choose the fit accordingly.


To keep water out, some jackets use what is called a hydro-seal zip: a rubber mechanism that binds shut when closed. Others use a storm baffle, which is a piece of material that folds over the zip. Both methods are effective; a hydro-seal zip is lighter and less bulky, while a storm baffle tends to be more durable.


Some jackets also have pit-zips, which follow the underarms and can be opened if you get too hot. All jackets should be breathable, but this addition is great for comfort if you know you are prone to overheating. 

Internal lining

A waterproof jacket acts as a shell, protecting you and the layers underneath from the elements. This means that many waterproof jackets have no insulating properties. However, 3-in-1 jackets are available which have a detachable insulating layer, and make a great choice for everyday wear as they can be adapted to suit all weather.

The hood

A hood’s function is simple: protect your head and face from the elements. A well-designed hood can make even the heaviest rainstorm feel like a light shower.


Some hoods feature a wire peak, which enables you to ‘customise’ the fit and shape of your hood. Other jackets have larger hoods to accommodate a helmet, which is useful if you plan to wear your jacket for climbing or cycling.


When putting the hood up, make sure it firmly fastens around your head and face without obstructing your vision; that the peak forms a protective shield for your eyes; and that it is easy to turn your head without limiting your movements.

Pull cords and Velcro

Waterproof jackets should have good quality draw cord or Velcro seals at the head and wrists, to effectively keep water out. Velcro tabs should be easily accessed and sealed, and elastic pull-cords should be intuitively placed. 


Wondering whether it’s time to replace your waterproof? Read our guide to see whether it’s time to reproof, replace or repair.