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Alpine Jacket in the rain

How to Choose the Best Waterproof Jacket in 2024

A complete guide to buying a waterproof jacket for your outdoor adventures.

Overview

A good waterproof jacket is an essential piece of gear for your outdoor adventures. Arguably, it’s the most important outdoor clothing item of them all and you should always carry one in your pack no matter how good the weather forecast looks when you set off. Choosing the best waterproof jacket for you is about finding the right balance of waterproof rating, breathability, windproof performance, and durability. In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about buying a waterproof jacket so you can stay dry and protected on your next adventure.

The Right Rain Jacket for Your Adventure

The first step when choosing a waterproof jacket is to ask: What will you be using it for. This instantly helps to narrow down the type of jacket and performance you’ll need. So to kick things off, we’ll provide some examples of how different rain jackets are best suited to different outdoor activities.

The Packable “Just in Case” Jacket

These ultralight, minimal waterproof shell jackets are a popular “just in case” option to have in your backpack. Even if the weather forecast is good when you head out on an adventure, we always recommend taking a waterproof jacket with you. Weather is unpredictable, especially in mountainous areas, so it’s best to be prepared. This is where a packable “just in case” jacket comes in as you can easily stuff them in your pack when you’re heading out for a hike or hunt and they take up barely any space. These rain jackets or waterproof pullovers are also popular with runners, mountain bikers, and walkers due to their lightweight design. The waterproof performance of these jackets can be impressive — up to 20,000mm — but they offer very little warmth, wind resistance, or durability. These packable rain jackets are suited to light to moderate rain and their sole purpose is to keep you dry. If you’re expecting to encounter rugged terrain, bush bashing, or bumps and scuffs of physical labour, we recommend a more hard-wearing jacket. Best rain jacket for: Hikers, runners, walkers, cyclists, and commuters  Best match: New Bushbuck lightweight, packable jacket (coming soon)

The Hybrid Performance Jacket 

These waterproof jackets are designed for hiking and more rigorous outdoor adventure and are typically too heavy-duty for regular exercise. They typically have a more durable, 3-layer shell system that’s waterproof, windproof, breathable, durable, and lightweight. More high-performance models may also incorporate innovative, stretchy materials that flex with your body movement. These jackets are made to perform in heavy rain, high winds, and even snow. The outer fabrics are typically ripstop or abrasion resistant. Best rain jacket for: Hikers, adventurers, fishers, boaties, people regularly exposed to wet weather Best match: Bushbuck Alpine Jacket 

The Impenetrable Fortress Jacket 

Defender Jacket on the farm

These waterproof jackets are built for total protection and durability and are more suited to hardcore adventurers, hunters, farmers, tradies, and anyone who puts their gear through the wringer. Similar to the Hybrid Performance Jacket, they tend to be made from a 3-layer system that’s highly waterproof, windproof, and breathable. What sets these jackets apart is the durability. They’re designed for bush bashing, working on the farm, rugged environments, and unforgiving weather. The trade-off here is that these jackets tend to be more heavy and bulky so they aren’t the most convenient for stashing in your hiking pack or day bag. Best rain jacket for: Farmers, tradies, forestry workers, hikers Best match: Bushbuck Defender Jacket OR Bushbuck Typhoon Jacket

The Insulated Winter Waterproof Jacket 

Insulated rain jackets or waterproof puffer jackets are designed to keep you warm and dry in winter conditions. If this is your first time hearing of 100% waterproof puffer jackets, let us introduce you to them. These are down puffer jackets with a waterproof outer layer and fused (not stitched) seams. They can perform as well as traditional rain jackets in the wet while providing warmth and comfort in freezing conditions. They can often be too warm for rigorous physical activity, such as hiking, but can come in handy when the temperature drops below zero and the wind picks up. They’re more suited to chilling at the campsite or hut, working around the farm, or standing on the sideline at a sports game on a frosty winter morning. However, you can get more lightweight insulated waterproof jackets that are designed for wearing on the move, which have features such as pit zips for offloading body heat. You can also get insulated rain jackets for cold conditions, similar to jackets used for skiing and snowboarding. Best rain jacket for: Winter temperatures, hikers, farmers, tradies, and everyday use Best match: Bushbuck Furnace Waterproof Puffer Jacket OR Bushbuck Igloo Waterproof Puffer Jacket

How Do Waterproof Jackets Work?

There’s a lot of science and engineering that goes into making modern waterproof jackets. They use specific materials and layering systems that prevent water and wind from getting in, while allowing body heat and moisture to escape. Rain jackets typically use a 2 layer, 2.5 layer, or 3 layer system as well as seam seals and a water-repellant treatment (DWR). For a deep dive into how waterproof jackets work, check out our blog on waterproof and breathability ratings here.

What to Look For in a Waterproof Jacket

Now that you know what you’ll be using your rain jacket for and have some idea of how the technology works, let’s get into some of the key features to consider when choosing a waterproof jacket.

What Does a Jacket Waterproof Rating Mean?

When you’re shopping for a jacket, you’ll notice they have different waterproof ratings such as 10,000mm or 20,000mm. But what do these numbers mean? A jacket’s waterproof rating is a universal indicator of how waterproof the jacket is. The rating is determined by a test to determine the jacket’s “hydrostatic head” (how much water pressure it can handle). The higher the rating, the more waterproof the jacket fabric is.

The Different Types of Waterproof Ratings

There are three main organisations that oversee testing and rating textiles for waterproof performance: ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials), JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard), and International Standard (ISO). Each of these organisations have a hydrostatic head test as part of their waterproof standards. However, their methodologies differ slightly, which means there can be a lack of consistency across the outdoor industry. A jacket that undergoes ASTM testing will generally have a lower number (mm) than a jacket that undergoes JIS testing. For example, a 20,000mm (JIS) jacket will have comparable waterproof performance to a 10,000mm (ASTM) jacket. This can be confusing for consumers as people generally think "the bigger the number, the better the performance", but it's helpful to know what these numbers represent.

What’s the best waterproof rating for a rain jacket?

A jacket’s waterproof rating is a good indicator of what activities and conditions it’s designed for. Here’s a quick guide to waterproof ratings to help you choose the best jacket for you (note: for this article we'll be basing the ratings on the ASTM standards):

5,000mm - 10,000mm

  • Entry-level waterproof rating.

  • Conditions: Light to moderate rain.

  • Suitable for daily wear, light outdoor activities, and commuting in urban environments. Not ideal for prolonged exposure to heavy rain.

10,000mm - 15,000mm

  • Mid-level waterproof rating.

  • Conditions: Moderate to heavy rain.

  • Suitable for hiking, trail running, cycling, and other outdoor activities where you might encounter heavier rain but not for extended periods.

15,000mm - 20,000mm

  • Description: High-level waterproof rating.

  • Conditions: Heavy rain and wet snow.

  • Ideal for hiking, hunting, skiing, snowboarding, farming, and working outdoors. Suitable for prolonged outdoor activities in heavy rain.

20,000mm - 30,000mm

  • Professional-grade waterproof rating.

  • Conditions: Intense rain, snow, and wet conditions.

  • Best for serious outdoor enthusiasts, mountaineering, and extreme weather conditions. Offers excellent protection for extended exposure.

Seam Seals

You probably know that various parts of a jacket — arms, hood etc — have to be stitched together. This creates tiny holes where water can get in. This is why it’s important for a waterproof jacket to seal the joins in the fabric. There are two main ways this is done: seam taping and seam welding. Seam taping is a process where waterproof tape is heat sealed to the inner lining of a jacket. You can see this tape with the naked eye and it can be replaced when it wears out. Some jackets only apply seam tape in the most exposed areas (shoulders, back, chest etc) while high-quality outdoor jackets are usually 100% seam taped. Seam welding is a special process where fabrics are melted together using hot air, radio waves, or high-frequency sound waves to create a watertight seam. Seam taping is definitely more common. It’s the type of seam sealing we use at Bushbuck and we reckon it provides the best balance of performance and value. It’s also a bonus that you can easily replace tape and extend the life of your jacket.

Weather Cuffs

The other seals that are often overlooked in waterproof jackets are the weather cuffs. This is one of the few intentional holes in a waterproof jacket where water can get in and run up your arms. Wrist cuffs can either be Velcro straps or some kind of stretchy fabric like neoprene that seals around your wrists.

Waterproof Treatment (DWR)

Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment is the industry-standard for improving the waterproof performance of jackets and other clothing. It creates a hydrophobic surface on the jacket that causes water to bead and roll off, rather than soaking into the fabric. At Bushbuck, we’ve adopted C6 DWR, which is more sustainable than most other DWR treatments as it’s free of PFCs and its application uses less water and energy. While there are moves to create a more environmentally friendly alternative to DWR, it’s currently the best option for long-lasting, durable waterproof performance.  As you can see, the waterproof rating (mm) is a reliable measurement of waterproof performance, but you should consider overall jacket design and construction as well.

Waterproof Jacket Fabrics and Durability 

Waterproof jackets are typically made from several different fabrics that are layered for maximum waterproof performance. The most common fabrics are nylon and polyester, which have natural water-resistant or hydrophobic properties that can be enhanced with DWR. The fabrics used in waterproof jackets are particularly important if you’re hiking, hunting, trail running, climbing, or working as they influence durability, flexibility, weight, and packed size. Outer-layer fabrics like ripstop nylon or oxford nylon and heavy duty polyester provide a good amount of durability without being too bulky, heavy, or restrictive.  Mid-layer fabrics are typically porous polyester or polyurethane that’s fully waterproof and highly breathable. Inner-layer fabrics are typically a lightweight polyester or mesh material that prioritises breathability.

Is GORE-TEX® the best waterproof fabric?

GORE-TEX® is probably one of the most well-known waterproof fabrics, but it’s not necessarily the best. GORE-TEX® is simply the brand name for a waterproof membrane that has thousands of tiny pores that prevent water from getting in, but allow water vapour and heat to escape.

There are many similar porous membranes on the market today and most major outdoor brands have their own trademark fabrics. At Bushbuck, we developed StormArc Technology, which is a technical 3-layer fabric system that includes a waterproof, windproof and breathable mid-layer membrane similar to GORE-TEX®.  While fabrics — and the special names given to fabrics — will vary a lot between waterproof jackets, most rain jackets will utilise some kind of fabric layering technology.

What Does Jacket Breathability Rating Mean?

Alpine Jacket breathability

Breathability in waterproof jackets is determined by how effectively the fabric allows moisture vapour (sweat and body heat) to escape from the inside of the jacket. Breathability is important because the main purpose of a rain jacket is to keep you dry, but if your jacket doesn’t breathe you may end up soaked in sweat, especially if you’re hiking, hunting, or working hard. We recommend looking for a jacket that has a breathability rating that's similar (or the same as) the waterproof rating. Eg. If the jacket has a 10,000mm waterproof rating, it will ideally have around a 10,000g breathability rating. The reason being, if a jacket is super waterproof but not very breathable, it's probably not going to be very comfortable once you start warming up. There are several tests and metrics used to rate the breathability of fabrics, but the most common in the outdoor industry are the Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate (MVTR) and RET (Resistance to Evaporative Heat Transfer).

Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate (MVTR)

  • Measures the amount of moisture vapour that can pass through a fabric over 24 hours

  • The breathability rating is grams per square metre per 24 hours (g/m²/24hrs). It’s often shortened to just “grams/g” (eg. 10,000g). 

  • Higher MVTR values indicate better breathability. 5,000g/m²/24hrs is low breathability, 5,000-10,000g is moderate, 10,000-15,000g is good, 20,000g+ is good/excellent.

RET (Resistance to Evaporative Heat Transfer)

  • Ret measures the resistance of a fabric to moisture vapour transfer.

  • The breathability rating is pascals (unit of pressure) per square metre per watt (Pa/m²/W).

  • Lower RET ratings indicate better breathability. A RET value below 6 is considered very breathable, 6-13 is good, 13-20 is adequate, and above 20 is poor.

Our Alpine Jacket is our most breathable waterproof jacket with a breathability rating of 20,000g/m2/24hrs.

Are Waterproof Jackets Windproof?

High-quality waterproof jackets are typically highly windproof as well. Windproof performance is largely achieved through the multi-layer fabric system, which is primarily designed to prevent water getting in. However, the tightly-woven face fabric and microporous mid-layer membrane also do a great job of buffering wind. A 3-layer waterproof rain jacket will be the most windproof, followed by a 2.5 layer and, lastly, a 2-layer. Layered over a warm, windproof mid-layer, you’ll have all the protection you need from wild weather.

Waterproof Jackets: Extra Features

Weight

Rain jacket weight is an important factor when you’re hiking or hunting. Too heavy and it can become a burden, too light and it will lack the durability and waterproof performance needed for wild conditions. Waterproof jacket weight can vary greatly, but to give you an idea, our most lightweight hiking rain jacket weighs 430 grams (size M) and our heaviest weighs 1.5 kilograms. For hiking and backpacking, we recommend rain jackets under 1kg, but for hunting, farming or other outdoor work, you can go heavier.

Packability 

If you’re looking for a rain jacket for hiking, hunting, or backpacking, you’ll likely want one that packs down to a compact size for carrying in your backpack. Weight is a good indicator of how packable a jacket will be as lightweight fabrics compress more easily.  Some ultralight rain jackets are specially designed for packability and fold away into a built-in carry pouch. Just be aware that some packable jackets may lack the durability and waterproof performance you’re looking for.

Zippers and Storm Flaps

Zippers can be one place where water can get into a jacket, so it’s important to choose a jacket that has waterproof or water repellent zippers or a storm flap (waterproof fabric that covers the zips).  Brands don’t always advertise the exact zippers they use, but you can sometimes tell if a zip is water resistant as they can be a bit more “grippy”, appear more tightly sealed, and sometimes have a slightly glossy look to them. At Bushbuck, we use YKK AquaGuard® zippers on most of our waterproof rain jackets. These zippers have a water-repellent polyurethane film coating on one side and a DWR coating on the other.  The exception is our Typhoon Jacket, which has a full-length storm flap to prevent water reaching the zipper.

Pockets

Pockets in waterproof rainwear are all about the convenience of easy access to essentials, such as snacks, a smartphone, knife, camera, sunglasses, beanie, or compass. Pockets can increase the cost of a rain jacket, but the added functionality tends to be worthwhile. Waterproof or water-repellent pockets are a bonus and provide peace of mind when carrying your digital devices.

Insulation 

Most lightweight hiking rain jackets don’t contain insulation, they’re purely for keeping you dry and warmth is created by wearing layers underneath. However, if you’re someone who gets cold easily or you’re exploring in winter, some insulation can be a good idea. Whether that’s a waterproof down puffer jacket, or a lightly insulated rain jacket, you can choose a jacket that keeps you both warm and dry.

Prepare for Wet Weather Adventures

Selecting the right waterproof jacket is crucial for enjoying your hiking and adventure experiences to the fullest. By considering factors such as waterproof rating, breathability, windproof performance, and durability, you can find a jacket that meets your specific needs and keeps you comfortable in various weather conditions.  Whether you're heading off on a hiking trail, hunting in the deep wilderness, or getting stuck in on the farm, the right jacket will ensure you stay dry, warm, and protected. Invest in a quality waterproof jacket and set off on your next adventure with confidence, knowing you’re prepared for whatever weather comes your way.

Check out Bushbuck’s range of waterproof jackets 

Jonathan-Carson
Jonathan Carson

Jonathan Carson is a Content Writer and Copywriter at Bushbuck. He's a wordsmith who handles most of Bushbuck's website, marketing copy and oversees our blog, The Campfire. 

Outside of work, he's big on hiking and dabbles in surfing and bouldering. His favourite wilderness area in New Zealand is Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Blue Lake, home to the clearest known freshwater in the world.

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