If you enjoy spending lots of time outdoors, then you need to be optimally protected against the elements. Whether you opt for a waterproof hardshell jacket, an insulating down or synthetic jacket or a softshell jacket that can protect you against the wind, it will entirely depend on where and how you’ll use it.
While functional base layers form the innermost layer of your clothes, a jacket is able to keep the rain, wind and cold at bay. You can either wear it as a second, third or as an outermost layer.
There’s a huge range of jackets available on the market. To help you out, we’re giving you a few tips on the different types of outdoor jackets and their features.
The fit matters
Various types of activities, be it mountaineering, ice climbing, trekking or trail running, require different features and a specific cut. The fit is especially important, because the jacket needs to fit right in order for its features to work at their full capacity.
For example, moisture-wicking properties are important during strenuous activities, such as trail running and ski touring. The jacket should, therefore, fit snugly to ensure that moisture can be effectively transported through the base and mid-layers to the outside, keeping you dry in the process. As for insulated jackets, they actually require a looser fit. Since air is the best insulator, having a small air cushion between the layers is optimal.
This also prevents the fill from being compressed and creating cold bridges. In addition, whilst trying on a soft or hardshell jacket, remember that a mid-layer (a fleece, synthetic or light down jacket) should be able to fit underneath.
So, we recommend that you wear more than just a T-shirt whilst trying on jackets. Another important factor to consider, especially if you’re a climber, is that your arms and shoulders should be able to move freely. The jacket should also be long enough so that it won’t constantly slip out of your climbing harness.
Categories and properties of outdoor jackets
Outdoor jackets have one of two purposes: to provide protection against the elements or to insulate.
Whether you opt for a heavy or compact model, a waterproof jacket should be both waterproof and windproof. High-quality hardshells are equipped with a permanent DWR treatment to ensure that it remains breathable by preventing the outer from soaking up moisture and blocking the membrane. Technical waterproof jackets are particularly suitable for mountain sports, thanks to their high side pockets that can be accessed even whilst wearing a climbing harness. Plus, their hoods are flexible and adjustable to provide enough space for your helmet. Even if these jackets are super durable, you should always pay attention to the outer’s toughness. For example, ultralight hardshells aren’t ideally suited for heavy mountaineering backpacks. In such cases, you should only use triple-layer models with at least 40D thread thickness, otherwise the membrane can get damaged in the long run. Plus, many jackets are reinforced at high-wear areas, such as the shoulders and the hips to prevent premature wear.
Softshell jackets are somewhat softer and stretchier than hardshells. Softshells are usually very water and wind-resistant, but not waterproof. Only models with a windstopper membrane can keep out 100% of the wind. However, unlike hardshell jackets, they don’t feature taped seams.
Fleece, synthetic and down jackets
The primary purpose of these jackets is to insulate by retaining and storing warm air. They can unleash their full power when worn under a hardshell or softshell jacket. In addition to retaining heat, they also prevent your body from cooling down in windy conditions (wind chill effect). You can find out how warm a jacket is by looking at the fabric’s quality. While you should look at the weight per unit area (g/m²) for fleece and synthetic jackets, you’ve got to check the fill power, the down to feather ratio and the fill weight when it comes to down jackets. In general, when you want the best possible thermal performance, the following rule applies: the more, the better.
3-in-1, ski and winter jackets
3-in-1, ski and winter jackets offer a great mix of weather protection and insulation.
Some other important details to look out for include the arrangement of the pockets, the structure of the hood, adjustment options at the cuffs or an extra pocket for your ski pass. Jackets that you’ll wear as a mid-layer should have thumb loops to prevent the sleeves from riding up. A powder skirt, additional ventilation under the arms and reflectors that allow you to be visible in the dark are some other practical features of a great outdoor jacket.