Best waterproof jackets for men and women to keep you dry in winter 2023, tried and tested by experts
It rains a lot in Britain, writes Tomé Morrissy-Swan – 133 days a year, according to the weather researchers at Current Results – and you never know when you might get caught. In this country, finding the best waterproof jacket for you is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make (along with finding the best wellington boots).
A brief glimpse at online clothing stores will confirm there are many types out there, from lightweight running jackets to waterproof walking coats, sturdy hiking jackets and hardcore mountaineering jackets. You’ll find polyester numbers, Gore-tex linings and even wax coatings, often in different designs for men and women.
With the big brands like North Face, Rab, Berghaus, Lululemon and Helly Hansen all competing for the best coat, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by choice. Further down this guide you’ll find our full reviews of the best on the market, each one chosen for a different purpose. But if you’re in a rush, here’s a quick summary of the top five:
Which are the best waterproof jackets? At a glance
- Best overall — Helly Hansen Verglas Infinity
- Best hiking jacket — North Face Dryzzle
- Best for running (women’s) — Lululemon Break A Trail
- Best for running (men’s) — On-Running Waterproof
- Best packable waterproof jacket — Jack Wolfskin JWP
What should you look for in a waterproof jacket?
“Being waterproof’s a good start,” says Oliver Tezcan, formerly CEO of online clothing store The Idle Man. “I don’t say that to be facetious. There’s quite a lot of confusion about what ‘waterproof’ actually consists of. Very few jackets are genuinely waterproof.” Many are water resistant, which means they’ll hold back the tide only for so long.
“The top level,” Tezcan continues, “is Gore-Tex, a breathable fabric membrane.” With Gore-Tex, you’re getting a sheet of membrane fused into the fabric of the jacket, which lets air out but not water through. As you can see in the diagram below, Gore-Tex is porous, but its holes are tiny, allowing air – but not water – to pass.
Gore-Tex is expensive, but very good. Then there are brands which have their own breathable membranes. A North Face waterproof jacket may use Futurelight, for example, which is made from recycled materials. Finally, the budget options usually have waterproofing sprayed on. “It’s effective, but it can wear off gradually,” Tezcan advises.
To find the best waterproof jackets for both men and women, I asked Richard and Sarah Madden, who’ve been writing hiking guides for The Telegraph for years and recently recommended the best walking boots, to test the most popular makes and models of coat. Here’s what they found out.
How we tested the best waterproof jackets
As outdoors writers, Sarah and I spend much of our lives in cold, rainy, windy weather, writes Richard Madden. It’s been the perfect training to be reviewers of waterproof jackets. But we also run and cycle, so we were keen to see how this year’s crop of jackets handled those conditions too.
We tried out these jackets in the most extreme weather possible — you may remember storms Dudley and Eunice — and later tried our own version of the hydrostatic head test, used in the industry to gauge waterproofing.
In the “HH” test the water-resistant fabric is stretched taut and a tall open-ended tube placed top. Water is poured into the tube, building up water pressure. The test measures how tall the column of water gets before any water leaks through. In the UK, a fabric is defined as waterproof at 1500mm (ie, a 1500mm column of water is enough to make it leak) but top level jackets are often 20,000mm waterproof or more.
To mimic the HH test at home, we stretched a section of each jacket over a bowl, covered it with water, and came back in the morning to see if any water had seeped through. All of the jackets reviewed here passed this test with no leakage.
Breathability is rated using something called the moisture vapour transfer rate (MVTR), measuring the amount of moisture that passes through a square metre of fabric over 24 hours, but this requires specialist equipment. We settled for jogging uphill and cycling hard to test how comfortable the jackets were to wear while perspiring.
The best waterproof jackets for women
1. Rab Arc Eco
Full price £200, currently £139.97, Go Outdoors
Best designed, 10/10
Sarah liked: the high-tech fabric and tailored sleeves
Rab’s hi-tech fabrics are among the best and the Arc Eco is made from a three-layer Pertex Shield material which combines a 20,000 Hydrostatic Head (HH) rating with a 15,000 Moisture Vapour Transfer Rate (MVTR). As Richard explains in the introduction, these are the industry tests for waterproofing and breathability respectively. They are qualities that can work in opposition to each other, so it’s finding the right balance that’s key and Rab seem to have found it here.
I took the Rab on one of my longer testing walks and also on a bike-ride and found it faultless on both occasions. Despite my deliberate attempts to work up some sweat, my body stayed dry and my pet hate – the wind – was kept at bay. The hood has adjustments at both the back and the front and there are vents under the arms. The pockets are plenty big enough for a map and are also easy to unzip even when you’re wearing a backpack. Rab also tick all the sustainability boxes by using PFC-free, recycled materials.
The Arc Eco also has a fleece lining on the chin guard and the back of the hood. This means you don’t get that scratchy feeling on your neck that you so often get with cheaper waterproofs. Finally, the sleeves are tailored to slope inwards towards the wrists which means that it’s harder for the wind to get in, but you still have plenty of room to move your shoulders around. Fab Rab!
Key features: 20,000mm HH; 15,000 MVTR; three-layer chemical-free recycled Pertex® Shield fabric, hood with wired and laminated peak, fleece-lined chin guard
2. The North Face Dryzzle Futurelight
Best light hiking jacket, 10/10
Sarah liked: good protection from the elements, but light enough to jog in
The Dryzzle has been around for a few years now, but this year’s offering is made from a new fabric called Futurelight that uses nano-spinning technology to add air permeability to the waterproof membrane. In laywoman’s terms, this means it’s designed to be more breathable than last year’s model.
First impressions were that it was fitted, stylish, and very light. I had no problem with sweat build-up after a high energy jog. It also happened to be very windy that day and I felt well-protected against the gusts, especially with the hood up and the storm flap in place around the neck.
This is not a jacket that stretches lower at the back, so I wouldn’t recommend it for cycling when your backside is more exposed. However, it does have a zipped chest pocket which is great for a mobile. It’s perfect for easy hiking and is well-made, like all North Face products.
Key features: FUTURELIGHT™ fabric; adjustable hood; storm flap with snap closure; chest and side pockets; pit-zip venting.
3. Berghaus Highraise
Best for wind protection, 9/10
Sarah liked: the high-side design around the neck
I really like the feeling of being protected around the neck as that’s where the wind and rain seems to penetrate first. And I don’t like wind! So I was immediately attracted to the Highraise with its distinctive collar. It makes for a very practical jacket that keeps the elements at bay while also managing to look slimline and stylish.
It has enough pocket space to carry a map or two in its outer pockets, something that Richard is very keen on, while also having an inner pocket with plenty of space. It’s other really clever design point is that the outer pockets can be adjusted so that they open from either the top or the sides. The Highraise is also very comfortable with a soft inner lining.
It’s made of Gore-Tex which performed very well keeping the wet out. I did feel a little sweaty after returning from a two-mile jog, but I think that was more to do with wearing too many inner layers than anything to do with the breathability of the jacket. Overall, though, this is a stylish and very practical offering.
Key features: GORE-TEX two-layer fabric lined with taffeta; versatile dual-entry pockets; sustainable Bluesign® approved fabric
4. Lululemon Break A Trail Jacket
Best for jogging, 9/10
Sarah liked: the chic tailoring – it’s particularly nice in pink
This is a flattering jacket that’s designed for running (and if that’s your passion, check out The Telegraph’s guide to the best running shoes for women and the best fitness trackers). But it can just as easily be used for cycling and walking. The one I tested was pink, which was such a cheerful colour to be wearing under grey, English skies. It has two small pockets at chest height which double as air vents, two large double-zipped vents and two side pockets for extras like gloves, one with an internal section for a mobile.
The hood isn’t big enough for a helmet, but has toggles at the back and side so there was no problem with peripheral vision. The logo is made of a reflective material which keeps you visible if you’re out after dark. The left sleeve also has a clever little zipped opening over the wrist for checking your watch. I wouldn’t use this in winter as there’s not enough room for multiple layering, but it’s a great choice for a wet day when the weather’s relatively warm.
Key features: Waterproof Glyde fabric; windproof, sealed seams; large air vents; hidden mobile pocket; adjustable hood
The best waterproof jackets for men
1. Helly Hansen Verglas Infinity
Best for extreme weather, 10/10
Richard liked: the RECCO radar-reflector and under-arm vents
Founded in Norway in 1877, the Helly Hansen brand has its feet rooted in the frozen north and its eyes on the cutting edge of fabric technology. The fruits of this potent combination can be found in the Verglas jacket and its Lifa Infinity fabric.
This is a microporous membrane which is both waterproof and breathable, blocking rainwater while allowing sweat to escape before it condenses and cools the body. When I went for a fast 15-minute uphill jog I couldn’t detect the slightest hint of residual sweat while the overnight leakage test suggested it would work well as a roofing material.
This Verglas also scores top marks in the environmental stakes using recycled chemical-free fabrics. Its three-layer construction means that while it’s arguably a bit heavy for hot summer hikes, it’s incredibly tough. This is the jacket I’d choose for an off-piste excursion on a mountain trek where I might get scraped by rocks or thorns.
It has large side pockets that easily can fit an OS map (hurrah!) and huge vents under the armpits that can let air in when your muscles are flexing. It also has two-way zips which means you can open and close the pocket both upwards and downwards. The hood – which can easily accommodate a helmet – has adjusters both front and back. It also moves with the head to left or right without obscuring vision which many hoods don’t.
Finally, the jacket has a RECCO reflector in the peak of the hood which reflects the beam from the radar detectors used by rescue teams. A potential life-saver. Expensive it may, be but you won’t find a competitor as tough and long-lasting as this one.
Key features: 20,000 mm HH; 20,000 MVTR; LIFA INFINITY™ membrane; recycled PFC-free three-layer fabric, underarm vents, double-zipped side pockets
2. Regatta Wentwood VI
Best 3-in-1 jacket, 9/10
Richard liked: its removable inner thermal layer
The Regatta Wentwood combines an outer rain jacket and a removable lightweight thermal layer. Worn together, they offer a high level of protection against the rain and cold. Worn individually, the outer layer makes for an effective rain jacket, while the inner layer offers a windproof and shower-proof option on damp, cooler days. Given its ‘three options for the price of one’ flexibility, the Regatta certainly offers value for money.
When fully assembled, the neck collar and hood nicely enclose the head without obscuring vision. The draw-cords are pretty ineffectual though. As well as its side pockets, the outer layer also has a phone pocket. Both the inside pockets of the inner layer were plenty big enough to store a map. No need to store them in a backpack or hold them in your hand, a considerable inconvenience when it’s wet.
Key features: 15,000mm HH; 100% polyester Isotex fabric; removable inner thermal; hood with reinforced peak; inner storm flap with chin guard
3. On-Running Waterproof Anorak
Best for running and cycling, 8/10
Richard liked: its athletic fit, although the price is steep
On Running is a Swiss brand renowned for its hi-tech products. Their running shoes scored very highly in The Telegraph’s review of the best running shoes for men and this incredibly light, thin jacket impressed me too. When I wore it on my regular 15-mile bike ride – a route with its fair share of steep ups and down – I found only a small amount of sweat on my inner layer afterwards, even though I had been deliberately pushing it harder than normal.
A word of warning, though. If you’re using the hood, it’s not designed to fit over a helmet as this jacket is primarily designed for running. It also only has a half-zip at the front. On the plus side, this means there’s less chance of leakage while the vents and the hydrophilic fabric let water vapour from sweat escape.
It has a relaxed but athletic fit with only room for one thin layer next to the body. Other clever bits: the cuffs of the sleeves extend over the hands – nice on a cold day – and the rear hem extends down over your backside, so the rain runs away harmlessly. It also packs away inside the hood. A lovely piece of kit. But the price is certainly on the high side.
Key features: 20,000mm HH; three-layer hydrophilic chemical-free fabric; multiple vents; small inside unzipped back pocket
4. Jack Wolfskin JWP Shell M
Best packable waterproof, 8/10
Richard liked: the clever way one of the pockets becomes its own carry case
This is a multi-purpose pick-up-and-go jacket designed for spontaneity. It looks good and has top-level waterproof and breathability ratings. It certainly performed up to billing during a blustery, beach walk in February and kept the sweat at bay during my running test. The finishing touch to this well-designed package is the stuff-sack that magically appears when the left-hand pocket is turned inside-out. It even has a loop for hanging it up.
The JWP has a mesh lining around the torso and inside the hood with a polyester lining on the sleeves which is soft and comfortable. The hood has its adjustment toggle at the back which I find easier to adjust than jackets with toggles only at the front. It’s also does well in the eco-stakes, with a fabric made of recycled plastic and no PFCs.
Key features: 20,000mm HH; 15,000 MVTR; two-layer Texapore Ecosphere Stretch fabric; mesh lining made of recycled plastic; adjustable hood; two pockets, one of which doubles as a stow pouch
5. Finisterre Rainbird
Best for summer, 8/10
Richard liked: the rustle-free material
This was easily the lightest jacket on test, its fabric is recycled, and its waterproof and breathability credentials are top-rated. It’s not designed for warmth and should be worn with base layers on cold days, but is a great option for summer on easy downland or woodland walks or blustery strolls along the sea-shore. Without being tailored, it still looks stylish and has a bit of stretchiness in the fabric to accommodate some movement if you’re climbing or moving your arms a lot for short periods.
Its two external pockets have a narrow opening but will just about fit a map. The jacket’s inner surface has a ‘soft touch’ finish and makes far less of a rustling noise than most other waterproofs. Great for twitchers and nature watchers!
Key features: 20,000mm HH; 15,000 MVTR; PFC-free; 100% recycled polyester; two zipped external pockets; taped seams; waterproof zips
Waterproof jackets Q&A
Is Gore-Tex the best waterproof material?
In short, yes, writes Tomé Morrissy-Swan. The way it works is explained at the top of the feature. But many manufacturers have developed equivalent breathable waterproof fabrics, such as The North Face’s Futurelight and Helly Hansen’s Lifa, which Richard and Sarah found to be very effective. You may also come across names like eVent, MemBrain and a host of own-brand layers, which range from very good to mediocre.
With some cheaper jackets, waterproofing is sprayed on rather than sewn in. Oliver Tezcan says this can be effective, though it does wear off after time. The spray is replaceable, but that comes at a cost. On the plus side, jackets like this can feel lighter and more breathable.
What is the warmest waterproof jacket?
Tezcan is a big fan of Scandinavian raincoats, with brands like Rains, Helly Hansen, Grundens and Stutterheim making good examples. These often mimic old rubber fishermen’s or workers’ coats and are thus very good for cold weather, though on a warm rainy day you’ll find yourself in a pool off sweat. Many lighter waterproof jackets come with a fleece lining and are nearly as cosy.
What is the best packable rain jacket?
Shell jackets are designed to be light outer layers and don’t necessarily keep you warm, though they can be very effective at keeping you dry. Brands like Jack Wolfskin, The North Face, Patagonia, Mammut and Marmot make good examples. Because they’re so thin, you can scrunch them up and carry in a bag, making them ideal for showery weather.
What they don’t really do is keep you warm. Luckily, most are quite spacious, so you can fit a wooly jumper underneath.
How much should you spend on a waterproof jacket?
In our tests we found the sweet spot to be somewhere around £200 and the good news is that jackets costing considerably more seem to be quite frequently discounted.
“It depends how technical you want to go”, Oliver Tezcan says. “You can buy an entry level North Face HyVent shell jacket for about £100 or go all the way up to an Arcteryx extreme weather coat withfully fused seams that might cost you £700.”
“The nice thing about Scandinavian waterproofs [see above] is they’re really not very expensive. Rains are probably the cheapest, about £90, and you go up to the Stutterheims at about £250. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too much money for a good coat that could last a lifetime.”
“I actually think even £1,000 for a Burberry mac is a very good investment. It’s something you will wear for the rest of your life. On a pound-to-wear basis that’s a really good investment.”
How to clean waterproof jackets
Generally, the best way is with a sponge and a non-abrasive cloth, so you don’t damage the waterproof treatment. “If you really have to machine wash, do so at 30C,” says Tezcan. Use liquid detergent rather than powder which “can damage Gore-Tex in particular.”
“For more formal styles (e.g. designer macs), you would need to dry-clean, although it may then need re-proofing otherwise.”
Essentially, it’s always best to read the label for the best advice.
View the latest The North Face and Joules deals