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When you live in a country where it rains more than 100 days a year, waterproofing is a serious business. A proper waterproof coat or jacket is a wardrobe essential in stormy Britain, and it’s worth investing money in a decent one that will protect you from serious weather all year round.
What do you need in a waterproof coat?
A good waterproof jacket should be two things – waterproof and breathable. Cheap and cheerful macs-in-sacs and rain ponchos will keep you dry at a pinch, but they aren’t breathable – you’ll get sweaty and hot pretty quickly, which isn’t ideal out on hikes or cycle trips.
Look for a waterproof jacket that either uses branded technology, such as the reliable Gore-Tex, or own-brand technology to render its outer membrane waterproof.
Stay away from ‘water repellent or water resistant’
Waterproof jackets (check they aren’t just labelled water repellent or water resistant, which tend not to be fully waterproof) are also known as hard shells, and you’ll often see jackets rated by millimetres of waterproofness – as a guide, up to 1,500mm is water resistant (so not useful in anything more than drizzle), 1,500mm-5,000mm is waterproof and good for most wet conditions, 10,000mm and above is highly waterproof and great for mountain conditions and snow.
Tight or roomy?
Think about how and where you’ll wear your jacket. If you want something for casual use, a roomier design is good for layering underneath on cold mornings, and a longer parka-length jacket with some insulation will offer more warmth. If you’re planning fast-paced hikes or cycles, you’ll want something light and breathable and without insulation.
A good jacket should fit snugly but not too tightly at the waist, cuffs and neck and include taped seams, sealed or protected zips, zipped pockets and a well-designed hood (look for a helmet-compatible hood if you want to wear it for climbing and cycling). Underarm zips will stop you overheating.
If you’re out in extreme conditions, it’s smart to pick a brightly coloured jacket so you’re easy to spot in bad weather.
We tested all of these jackets in heavy rain and they kept us dry for multiple hours. To check a jacket is effectively waterproof, see if water spilled on its outer shell balls into droplets and rolls off the surface. If water starts to be absorbed after regular use you can re-waterproof your jacket by treating it with a technical wash.
Looking for a men’s waterproof jacket?:Best men’s waterproof hiking jacket UK 2021: beat the rain with these jackets from Rab, Columbia, Berghaus
Columbia Outdry Extreme NanoLite Shell Jacket
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: OutDry; Pockets: 2, Colours available: black, white
Travelling light? Pack Columbia’s OutDry Extreme NanoLite in your rucksack or bike pannier – it compacts down into its own pocket and is so lightweight you’ll barely notice you’re carrying it.
Columbia’s own-brand OutDry technology plus sealed seams offer reliable waterproofing if the rain starts up, and we wore this jacket for hours in grim weather without getting damp or sweaty.
While we like the looks of this jacket, we’d choose the black colourway over the white, which could end up looking dirty, and not everyone will like the rather shiny finish of the Extreme NanoLite.
Joules Shoreside Waterproof Jacket
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: waterproofed cotton; Pockets: 2, Colours available: gold, red, navy, pink, white
Not many fully waterproof jackets on the market look as stylish as Joules’ ever-popular Right as Rain collection of coats in bright primary colours.
The Shoreside is our top pick – the longer length protects more of your torso, there’s a well-fitting hood and the jacket is lined with soft cotton, which feels much nicer to wear against the skin than many plastic-y waterproofs.
The Shoreside may look casual, but the outer material is still fully waterproofed, and stood up to heavy rain when on test.
This jacket isn’t super breathable or lightweight – save it for relaxed strolls, dog walks and wearing about town in a downpour.
Red Original Waterproof Active Jacket
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: 5,000mm; Pockets: 1; Colours available: grey.
Red are best known for their popular paddleboards, and they’ve now taken their water sports expertise and created a waterproof jacket designed with paddlers and water sports enthusiasts in mind.
This lightweight shell packs down small for easy transportation and feels barely there once you pop it on, but it offers a decent 5,000mm of waterproofing, so it’s rainproof and splash-proof.
The zips are also water-tight, so you can carry your phone and keys along for the adventure. The Active jacket does fits snugly, and you’ll definitely want to go for a size up if you want to wear layers underneath.
The North Face Apex Flex Futurelight Jacket
Best for: best all-rounder
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: DWR; Pockets: 3, Colours available: green, blue, khaki, black.
The North Face’s designs are having a bit of a style moment, but whether or not their jackets give you street cred, we can’t fault their function and fit on test in the great outdoors.
The Apex Flex Futurelight is our favourite of their waterproof offerings for women – and we reckon it makes a great quality all-rounder if you’re after one storm-proof jacket to rule them all.
Fully waterproofed, lightweight enough to stuff in a rucksack at 450g and so well-cut and flexible that you’ll barely notice you’re wearing it, the Apex Flex is an easy choice both for hillwalking and more casual strolls – we especially rate the comfortable high neck and the adjustable hood.
Chrome Storm Salute Jacket
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: 10,000mm; Pockets: 3, Colours available: black, olive
On your bike – we think Chrome’s Storm Salute jacket is perfect for cyclists and commuters who need a waterproof and functional outdoor jacket that also looks the business in the city.
This smart jacket boasts plenty of great design features, from well-placed zippered pockets to reflective detailing to light you up on night rides. A drop tail and adjustable hood stops splashback in wet weather, and the jacket is waterproofed to 10,000mm, so it can withstand the stormiest cycle.
Well worth it if you get out in any weather and need a jacket you can rely on.
Proviz Classic Women’s Waterproof jacket
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: 10,000mm; Pockets: 4, Colours available: one
Proviz are all about reflective outdoor wear that makes you light up like a Christmas tree in the night – we’ve tested their cycle and insulated jackets in the past and have been impressed by both their quality and the extra safety they offer when you’re out in dark and stormy conditions.
Their women’s waterproof jacket is a chip off the same block – this is a fully waterproofed jacket with 10,000mm of protection in the day time, and come night, well-placed reflective panels on the arms and back make you more visible when hiking or cycling after dark.
We also like that parts of the jacket are made using recycled bottles. Well-priced, too.
Nobis Terra Jacket
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: DWR; Pockets: 2, Colours available: black, red, grey.
If beautiful quality is top of your shopping list, look no further than new apparel brand Nobis’ jackets – they may be eye-wateringly expensive, but these jackets are also durable, storm-proof and rather elegant.
The Terra is only described by Nobis as ‘water-resistant’, but we found heavy rain beaded right off on test. A longer parka-style length keeps your body warm and works for winter use, and the Terra also has a great-fitting hood and deep pockets.
This design also looks very flattering, with a drawstring waist creating a slim silhouette – a great jacket to wear daily in city and country alike, so you’re likely to get your money’s worth out of it.
Jack Wolfskin Go Hike Jacket
Best for: keen walkers
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: Texapore Ecosphere; Pockets: 5, Colours available: light blue, dark blue, red, black
Go Hike – a very fitting name for this jacket, squarely aimed at female walkers.
Impressively lightweight at 378g, Jack Wolfskin’s design will never weigh you down and is ideal for fast-paced hikers who want to pull on a waterproof if the heavens open while they’re out on the trail.
This may be a light jacket, but it still sports no less than five pockets, making it easy to store valuables. The Go Hike, which is made with recycled materials, is surprisingly soft, comfortable and flexible to wear.
We also rate the colour-blocking design of the indigo version of the Go Hike, which reminds us of retro outdoor gear. A softshell version is available for dry conditions.
Finisterre Rainbird Waterproof Smock
Key specs – Waterproofing technology: 10,000mm waterproofed polyester; Pockets: 1, Colours available: navy
When is a waterproof jacket not a jacket? When it’s Finisterre’s Rainbird smock.
This anorak-style waterproof outer layer is designed with adventures in mind: taped seams and 10,000mm of waterproofing repel rain effortlessly, and we found this half-zip design also kept us warmer than a fully zipped jacket would, thanks to an inner neck panel that traps in body warmth when you zip up the Rainbird or pop the hood up.
We love the ‘marsupial’ front pouch, ideal for storing any essentials you want to grab quickly. Like with all of Finisterre’s clothing, this is a sustainable design, made with 100% recycled materials.