Hiking Jackets And Walking Jackets Guide
1 – Introduction To Jackets For Hiking & Walking
Hiking jackets or walking jackets are one of your most essential layers when it comes to protection against Mother Nature.
Hiking Jackets serve two main functions:
- Repel moisture whilst remaining light and breathable, and
- Keep your skin dry and warm.
Hiking jackets or walking jackets ensure you remain dry, of course.
They can also protect you from the cooling that occurs when the water and sweat on your skin begin to evaporate.
Whatever the weather hurls at you, be it sun, rain, wind, snow or hail your hiking jacket should be able to repel it.
Your requirements for a hiking jacket or walking jacket will vary depending on where you do your hiking or walking.
Waterproof jackets (e.g. Gore-Tex) may be excellent for a rainforest.
However, if you do all your hiking in the desert you’ll probably be wasting your money and be better off choosing one that offers more protection from the sun.
Walking & Hiking Jackets Guide Video
This video summarizes this post by outlining the benefits and features of Hiking Walking or Outdoor Waterproof Jackets.
Contents On Jackets For Hiking & Walking
Use the following guide to aid you in your choice of hiking jackets and walking jackets and to help you select the most appropriate features you need and stay protected from the elements:
- 1 – Introduction To Jackets For Hiking & Walking
- 2 – Jackets And Your Needs
- 3 – Levels Of Water Protection
- 4 – Waterproof Jackets Technologies
- 5 – Hiking Jacket Types
- 5.1 – Hard Shell Hiking Jackets
- 5.1.1 – Lightweight Hiking Jackets for Lowland Walking or Rambling
- 5.1.2 – Mid-Weight Hiking Jackets for Hill Walking or Trekking
- 5.1.3 – Heavy Duty Hiking Jackets for Mountaineering Activities
- 5.2 – Soft Shell Hiking Jackets
- 5.3 – Hybrid Shell Hiking Jackets
- 5.4 – Windproof Hiking Jackets
- 5.5 – Insulating Hiking Jackets
- 5.6 – Fleece Hiking Jackets
- 6 – Walking Jacket Features
- 6.1 – Hiking Jacket Lengths
- 6.2 – Hoods
- 6.3 – Hood Height
- 6.4 – Zips
- 6.5 – Zip-in-Compatibility
- 6.6 – Armpit Zips or Core Vents
- 6.7 – Pockets
- 6.8 – Seams
- 6.9 – Drawcords
- 6.10 – Adjustable Cuffs
- 6.11 – Velcro
- 7 – Use and Care Of Your Jackets
- 7.1 – Using Your Hiking Jacket
- 7.2 – Reproof Your Hiking Jackets
- 7.3 – Two Main Cleaning Product Manufacturers
- 7.4 – Hiking Jackets With DWR Coating
- 7.5 – General DWR Hiking Jacket Cleaning Procedure
- 8 – Some Brands of Jackets For Hiking And Walking
- 9 – Summary On Jackets For Hiking & Walking
2 – Jackets And Your Needs
Finding the right hiking jacket that best suits your needs can sometimes feel daunting. There are an amazing variety of jacket styles and features to consider.
While functionality should be your most important concern, with the wide range available, you should be able to find one that you think best reflects your personality.
The following considerations should help you determine the most appropriate type for you:
- Type of hiking – Decide what kind of trips you take most often. Regular day hikers will probably need a light but warm jacket that can fit easily into a daypack. On longer trips involving overnight stays or intensive trails with significant altitude gains, you’ll need to consider a heavy duty hiking jacket with a number of layers to keep you warm and dry.
- Fabric durability – A 3-layer hard shell fabric is usually the most durable. You can get fabrics in a variety of weights, or denier, but this not always identified by the manufacturers. A mid-weight 70-denier fabric is the most common and is used with 3-layer designs. You can get fabrics from 15-450 deniers. Choose a higher denier if you like to climb, scramble or bushwhack off-trail. However, if you will be staying on trails, you can save ounces by choosing a lightweight design.
- Degree of comfort – Consider the degree of comfort you want whilst hiking. For example, how does your pack fit on your shoulders and will the hood pocket of a detachable hood interfere with the comfort of your pack? Are you able to access the pockets provided when you are carrying a backpack? Will you feel comfortable with the extra weight of a heavy-duty jacket, or are you attempting to go lightweight? Answering these questions will help you make a decision on the type of jacket you need.
- Fabric Noise – Some jacket fabrics cause a swishing sound when you swing your arms. Nylon is usually slightly more audible than polyester. Soft shells are typically quieter than nylon or polyester hard shells.
3 – Levels Of Water Protection
There are all kinds of terms used to describe the levels of water protection a hiking jacket provides which can be very confusing. Each type of fabric can have a different weight, feel and durability, so be sure to check out all your options before making your selection:
- Water Resistance – This term is used to describe a fabric’s ability to shed water in light to medium rain with little wind. Fabrics that provide this are not the most effective. However, they are more affordable and satisfactory for shorter day hikes and overnight stays without significant elevation gain.
- Waterproof – This means that a fabric is watertight. However, they may not provide any breathability capacity, so your body temperature would rise during concerted exercise.
- Waterproof-Breathable – This describes fabrics that keep you dry in the majority of storms you may encounter. It also enables air to ventilate and keep you from overheating.
4 – Waterproof Jackets Technologies
As a general rule, waterproof fabrics, are either natural or synthetic fabrics that are either laminated to or coated in some sort of permanently waterproofing material, such as “Polyurethane”.
Waterproof-Breathable fabrics have the ability to block out rain and snow, whilst allowing vapour from sweat to evaporate through. The means by which hiking jackets can be waterproofed can be summarised by the following three types:
4.1 – Coating
The hiking jacket fabric is sprayed with a coating of “Polyurethane” prior to being made. In addition, the inside of the hiking jacket is sprayed with waterproofing and then the seams are sealed.
A “Durable Water Repellent” (DWR) finish is also given to the outside of the hiking jacket to form a seal which is impenetrable by the elements.
Most manufacturers have their own waterproof technology. Some names include: Isotex, AquaFoil, HydoDry, HyVent, Triple Point, AquaDry, and DryLight. Over time, a durable water repellent finish tends to wear off and will have to be applied again.
4.2 – Membranes
With membranes, a plastic based PTFE layer is laminated to the outer fabric. The hiking jacket is then cut to shape and the seams are then sealed and the hiking jacket is ready for you to use!
There are a number of membrane technologies available: Gore-Tex Performance Shell, Gore-Tex Paclite, Conduit, AquaDry Membrane.
There are two more which are the most breathable, allowing the most sweat out: Gore-Tex Pro Shell and eVent.
4.3 – Advanced Moisture Management (Paramo)
With advanced moisture management technology, the outside layer repels most of the water.
However, when water does penetrate the outer layer, it then comes into contact with the “pump liner” which forces any moisture back out of the hiking jacket.
In essence, the “pump liner” dries at a faster rate than it gets wet. It works in a similar fashion to animal fur, compared to normal waterproof technologies that operate more like a sheet of plastic.
5 – Hiking Jacket Types
In order to aid your selection from amongst the wide range of hiking jackets available we have classified them by the following types:
5.1 – Hard Shell Hiking Jackets
Hard shells are usually waterproof and include hoods, providing a barrier between you and the rain. They will shield you from the wind and cold.
Hard shells are usually a little more bulky than soft shells and can be divided into the following broad categories:
5.1.1 – Lightweight Hiking Jackets for Lowland Walking or Rambling
These hiking jackets are best when you are doing either casual walking, hiking or rambling and don’t anticipate the need to wear the hiking jacket all of the day, or if you are doing lightweight hiking and are therefore wanting to reduce you packing weight and volume. You can wear them for: hiking in general; a day trip during the summer; everyday use on the street; or a fun day out when there is a possibility of rain. Lightweight waterproof jackets are also compulsory for runners during a lot of the races and marathons in the fells and mountains.
5.1.2 – Mid-Weight Hiking Jackets for Hill Walking or Trekking
These hiking jackets are practical and designed to provide the greatest degree of protection against the elements for hill walking and trekking enthusiasts.
The materials these jackets are made from will be more durable and the designs will be more technical to provide you greater performance at altitude.
5.1.3 – Heavy Duty Hiking Jackets for Mountaineering Activities
Heavy duty hiking jackets are specially designed for activities such as rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering in the summer or winter. They have to be suitable for wet winter weather environments on the steep slopes.
Heavy duty hiking jackets are made from tougher, high performance fabrics, with more demanding specifications. The fabrics tend to be more durable and will generally have more features but will probably be more expensive than lighter ones.
Armpit zips under the arms for ventilation; a larger volume; a visor; volume adjusters; cheek flaps and chin guard may be incorporated into the hoods to allow improved shelter from the elements.
5.2 – Soft Shell Hiking Jackets
Soft shell hiking jackets are designed for strenuous, highly aerobic activities in cool conditions or when the greatest precipitation threat is a light shower, mist or dry snow.
Soft shell fabrics are usually tightly woven yarns that stretch, are abrasion resistant and highly breathable. Alternatively, they are uncoated fabrics that are treated with a durable water repellent finish. They are water resistant and breathable but their water resistance only delays penetration by water and does not prevent it.
If it rains, avoid letting your soft shell get soaked, put on a waterproof hard shell and adjust your insulation as necessary. During light showers, test its water resistance and your comfort level.
5.3 – Hybrid Shell Hiking Jackets
Hybrid hiking jackets are a recent development and are an alternative to waterproof garments, combining the insulation layer with the outer layer of the 3-layer system.
Soft shells are normally lighter, more flexible and breathe better than hard shell hiking jackets. They are designed for active people, and do not need to be fully waterproof or windproof as the activity of the user keeps them comfortable.
Hybrid jackets have high wind and water resistance and the insulation they provide makes them very versatile.
The breathability of a hybrid shell hiking jacket is no different than hard shell hiking jackets but they have the advantage of the extra stretch found in soft shell fabrics.
5.4 – Windproof Hiking Jackets
A windproof hiking jacket, as the name suggests, is used to protect you from the wind. For example, when you walk to the start of a climb or going uphill you generate a lot of heat. In these situations you may only need shelter from the wind.
You can more easily maintain a moderate body temperature and feel more comfortable when wearing a lightweight windproof hiking jacket, as they are generally more breathable than fully waterproof garments. They can be used in light showers, as although they get wet they dry out rapidly.
Windproof hiking jackets tend to be very lightweight and can be an excellent alternative to a windproof fleece hiking jacket.
5.5 – Insulating Hiking Jackets
When you just need maximum warmth from your clothing and don’t want to mess around with layers, either a “down” garment or insulated hiking jacket can be a good choice.
You can choose a hiking jacket, smock or gilet depending on the level of insulation you want. With either synthetic or down filling they offer everyday comfort as well as shelter and warmth from the cold.
5.6 – Fleece Hiking Jackets
This is the modern alternative to the woolly jumper but more breathable. Fleece hiking jackets are available in a variety of styles and weights. This allows you to pick fleece hiking jackets to suit your activity and the weather.
Fleeces are also available in wind resistant and windproof fabrics to allow for more varied use. You can find fleece hiking jackets to match the amount of insulation you need for your chosen activity.
6 – Walking Jacket Features
As with most products, there are several features to consider when selecting a walking jackets or hiking jackets as outlined below:
6.1 – Hiking Jacket Lengths
If you want to sit on a rock or patch of grass to eat your lunch whilst on a hike, especially in wet conditions, then hiking jacket length can be important. Hiking jacket length is typically taken from the hiking jacket hem to the base of the collar:
- Long Hiking Jackets – Hiking jackets with a drop tail are great if you want to sit down without getting a damp patch on your bottom. A drop tail makes sure there is no gap between your hiking jacket and your over-trousers, providing good protection from wind and rain. Long hiking jackets usually have a shorter front due to the material usage and fit. They can also limit your movement compared to shorter hiking jackets.
- Mid-Length Hiking Jackets – This length is the most common available on the market. It provides protection from the elements to both your waist area and the top of your legs.
- Short Hiking Jackets – A short length is more lightweight and can normally be packed down to a smaller size. Short hiking jackets are intended for use with harnesses which allows for more freedom of movements. However, a gap could occur around your waist when bending forward or sideways, or stretching upwards.
6.2 – Hoods
If we consider that you can lose over thirty percent of your body heat via your head, in cold environments it can be critically important to ensure that your head is sheltered and warm:
- Fixed, Detachable or Storable – Whether you choose a hood that is fixed, detachable or storable, make sure that it does not impair your view when done up. A detachable or storable hood is a good idea as they prevent the hood from moving around on your back. When they are removed or stored away at the neckline you can’t catch them on tree branches and other obstacles. You can therefore avoid being yanked backwards by the throat. Some hoods come with a visor which can keep rain from streaming into your face.
- Volume Adjusters or Drawcord Hoods – These permit the hood to be tailored to your requirements. They enable you to reduce exposure of your face to the elements. Loose hoods can let in rain or snow, which can be very unpleasant when it runs down your neck.
- Visor – A stiffened hood visor may be provided to resist the wind.
- Storm Flap – Front zippers are sometimes available with a draft flap that prevents wind from slipping through the teeth of the zipper.
- Chin Guard – These offer soft material at the top of the front zipper channel to protect you from abrasion, cold and frost.
6.3 – Hood Height
Ensure that the height of the hood is sufficient that when the hood is being used, the weight of the hiking jacket rests on your shoulders and not on the top of your head. If you want to wear either a helmet or hat under the hood then make sure you take it with you to test it out before you buy.
If the hood height is too short then the pressure on your head can prove very uncomfortable, as I have found out from experience.
6.4 – Zips
Zips are very important for closing your hiking jacket quickly.
A zip enables you to put on or take off your hiking jacket speedily when the weather conditions suddenly change.
Weather changes could be for the worse when you need to put on or zip up your hiking jacket easily or quickly for extra protection from rain or when it gets windy.
On the other hand, weather changes could be for the better, when the sun comes out and you want to unzip or take off your hiking jacket easily or quickly.
6.5 – Zip-in-Compatibility
To provide complete comfort and protection, some hiking jackets, such as hybrid jackets, have ‘Zip-in-Compatibility’, which means you can zip-in a specific fleece mid-layer into the hiking jacket using inner zips. This gives you a complete layering system to protect you from cold and wet conditions.
Fleece liners increase the flexibility of a hiking jacket: firstly you can use the shell by itself as rain gear; secondly you can wear the fleece by itself on cool dry days; thirdly using both layers keeps you warm, dry and comfortable in cold, wet or windy weather.
6.6 – Armpit Zips or Core Vents
Having either armpit zips and/or core vents enables you to cool down your body without the need to take off your hiking jacket.
An armpit zip is great as it enables you to reduce under arm sweat by providing fresh air.
Core vents, like front zips or ventilation flaps, enable you to dissipate your body heat, increase ventilation and hence keep you cool.
6.7 – Pockets
In order to be waterproof, the pockets of hiking jackets should have storm flaps, often secured by Velcro, that cover the opening of the pocket and help prevent the ingress of water.
In many recent hiking jacket designs, as a rule, the pockets have a mesh lining to improve ventilation through the hiking jacket when open.
Hiking jackets with good pockets are extremely “handy” (joke) when you’re on the move and should be easy to reach and use.
If you’re carrying a backpack, consider pocket placement as straps can interfere with pocket access.
Try all the pockets to ensure they’re not located in strange positions or awkward angles:
- Chest Pockets – Extra “Napoleon” chest pockets are a bonus (just imagine how Napoleon held his hand across his chest). These vary in size but most provide sufficient space for an OS map, and at a minimum, space for a mobile phone or snack to consume whilst on the move. With hiking jackets designed for mountaineering, they usually only have chest pockets because the harness usually limits access to pockets around the waist area.
- Hand Pockets – With the exception of mountaineering jackets, there should be a minimum of two hand pockets. Ensure these are at a comfortable position. Some manufacturers may provide elevated hand pockets which are uncomfortable because you have to hold your hands at rib-level in the pockets.
6.8 – Seams
The majority of good quality hiking jackets should have double or reinforced stitching, especially at high stress areas, to increase their durability. Seams that do not have reinforcement tend to pull apart or rip quicker than you’d like.
For hiking jackets to be classified as waterproof, the seams must be sealed. One exception to this is with the “Paramo Analogy”. This keeps you dry by operating as a “Pump Liner” that pushes liquid moisture outwards from your body.
6.9 – Drawcords
Drawcords or drawstrings are used to tighten or loosen your hiking jacket at various points. They should be made from elastic type material for improved flexibility to permit you to move without being restricted by the hiking jacket.
Around the hiking jacket hem a drawcord facilitates a snug fit and resists low-level intrusions from whipping winds. Toggles are used to adjust the drawcords and are usually positioned at the hem and waist level, and also by the collar to permit hood adjustment.
6.10 – Adjustable Cuffs
These can either be made of elastic or with Velcro type closures. My personal preference is for Velcro as it provides a variable adjustment from tight to loose very easily.
6.11 – Velcro
This is a great fastening method. However, be ware of how to use Velcro.
If the scratchy-loop part of the closure is unfastened and rubs against another part of the hiking jacket, it can quickly fluff or fur up the fabric and affect the integrity of the hiking jacket.
If the Velcro is properly aligned and fastened together with its opposing half there shouldn’t be a problem.
7 – Use and Care Of Your Jackets
Once you have purchased your hiking jacket you may think that is the end of the matter and all you have to do now is just wear it and it will look after you forever. Unfortunately, like most hiking products you purchase, hiking jackets need to be used properly and to be cared for, or maintained, every now and then.
7.1 – Using Your Hiking Jacket
If you feel too warm when hiking, it’s better to feel a little cool when active than too warm. Open some vents if your hiking jacket has some, take off a layer of clothing or slow down. If you feel too cool then either zip up; add an extra layer; put on a hat; eat something or pick up the pace. If you feel moisture collecting inside your hiking jacket then open any hiking jacket vents you have without risking getting rained on, or stop in a covered are to either remove your hiking jacket briefly or unzip it.
Try to keep your hiking jacket as clean as possible as this is important for maintaining its performance in terms of breathability and waterproof capability. Try not to get it dirty or grubby during your hiking activities. Also, try to avoid touching your hiking jacket exterior if you have grimy hands or face, as dirt and body oils, and also hand cream, can diminish its performance. When you have been on a hiking trip, make sure you allow your hiking jacket to dry completely after returning home.
7.2 – Reproof Your Hiking Jackets
A number of manufacturers recommend reproofing your hiking jacket every 3 to 6 months. However, this will depend on the material quality, method of providing the waterproof and breathability functions and the amount of use it gets. You will almost definitely benefit from reproofing your hiking jacket after a couple of years.
The need to reproof your hiking jacket will usually be indicated by wet areas showing up on the outer surface and is usually called “wetting out”. This can happen due to the accumulation of dirt or grime on the outer surface of the hiking jacket fabric or the waterproofing substance wearing away.
With “wetting out” the hiking jacket will look like it is leaking but that will not necessarily be the situation. Water can build up on the external surface of the hiking jacket fabric when the substance used for waterproofing fails. The breathability of the fabric then decreases and water vapour accumulates on the internal surface of the hiking jacket fabric. Ultimately, the clothing touching your body gets soaked.
7.3 – Two Main Cleaning Product Manufacturers
Please clean your hiking jackets as this optimizes performance. Regarding waterproofing and cleaning products there are 2 main manufacturers:
- Nikwax – The Nikwax proofing product covers the hiking jacket fabric with a layer of elastic water repelling molecules. This means that the Nikwax coating is able to flex, move and stretch with the movement of the hiking jacket fabric. This proofing product bonds to anything not already water repellent and also leaves the gaps between the fabric fibres clear and hence breathable. There is no requirement to treat the hiking jacket fabric with heat in order to activate the Nikwax waterproofing product, just let it air dry.
- Grangers – The Granger proofing product reproduces the water repelling ability used by the manufacturer of the hiking jacket fabric. Grangers use a fluorocarbon-based method which places molecules on the hiking jacket surface in a manner that enables the hiking jacket fabric to actively bead water so that it runs off the fabric. To maximise the water repellenct capacity of your hiking jacket, heat should then be applied through tumble drying after it has been washed.
7.4 – Hiking Jackets With DWR Coating
Hiking Jackets normally have their own specific care instructions which the product manufacturer usually supplies when you purchase the garment. The care instructions provide information and advise on the method to be used for washing and drying the hiking jacket. The manufacturer should also include some form of guide on the recommended method of reproofing the material of the hiking jacket. Review the fabric care instructions and, if necessary, wash and reproof the hiking jacket according to the manufacturer instructions.
Many hiking jackets have a durable water repellent (DWR) coating applied to the external surface of a nylon breathable membrane, such as Gore-Tex, and also Omni-Tech and eVENT. It is the DWR that makes water bead and run off the hiking jacket.
The waterproof ability of the hiking jacket is not affected if the external surface gets dirty or wet. The waterproof membrane under the surface will stop you getting wet. However, the hiking jacket is affected as it will get heavier and colder as water soaks in.
The breathability of the hiking jacket is then reduced as condensation forms on the internal surface. This happens because warm air near the internal surface comes into contact with the cold surface of the fabric. You then get the impression that the hiking jacket leaks. Therefore, the DWR coating is a significant component of hiking jackets and should be re-proofed on a regular basis.
7.5 – General DWR Hiking Jacket Cleaning Procedure
If you don’t have any proofing instructions for your hiking jacket then the following provides general guidance on hiking jackets with a DWR coating:
- Washing – Wash your hiking jacket to revive its breathability and water repellenct capabilities. You can use either soap flakes, “Nikwax Tech Wash” or the “Grangers Fabric Cleaner”. Then thoroughly rinse it out and allow to air dry or tumble dry. Alternatively, you can use the “Grangers Universal Spray Cleaner” and allow to air dry.
- Reproof – If you feel this needs to be done then you can do this anytime or after washing using a wash-in proofing products such as “Nikwax TX Direct” and tumble dry or allow to air dry. You could also use the “Grangers Proofer” and tumble dry or allow to air dry. Another option is to use a spray-on product such as the “Grangers XT Proofer” and wipe off any residue.
- Wash & Proof – Alternatively, you could wash and proof your hiking jacket in one stage using the “Grangers 2 in 1 Cleaner/Proofer”.
Note: – You should only tumble dry your hiking jacket if the care label says that it is OK to tumble dry the fabric.
8 – Some Brands of Jackets For Hiking And Walking
A few well-known and popular quality brands are:
- Helly Hansen,
- The North Face.
Other suppliers of hiking jackets to remember are:
- Jack Wolfskin,
- Mountain Equipment,
- Mountain Hardware,
- Peter Storm,
- Royal Robbins,
- Salamon Sports,
If I’ve missed off a brand of hiking jackets, please let me know! Many manufacturers will have a range of hiking jackets. Do a bit of research to find out which brand offers the features you want at the price you want to pay. Either search for the website using Google or go to our post on hiking brands. Or how about taking a look at our list of hiking jacket brands in our post entitled Best Hiking Jackets Brands.
9 – Summary On Jackets For Hiking & Walking
Choosing your hiking jackets from reputable manufacturers or retailers is highly recommended, but make sure you research the alternatives. The most critical factor to consider when looking for your hiking jacket is its ability to shed water and keep you dry.
There are a few other things to look out for that may help you remain comfortable in your new hiking jacket when out and about.
Ensure your hiking jacket is compatible with your existing hiking gear, such as your hiking backpack, your belts, pockets and any other items you carry when hiking.
Make sure it fits properly with the capability of tightening the hood and armpit openings to prevent any unwanted water ingress. In addition, if you want to be able to wear layers beneath your hiking jacket, it’s important to avoid tightly fitting hiking jackets.
There isn’t a perfect hiking jacket but there are many good options available. Choose based on how well the features of a hiking jacket match your needs and preferences, not solely on the perceived prestige value of a logo or price.
A cheap hiking jacket might not cost much, but when exposed to the elements your investment may not be worth much. Many people choose “more” hiking jacket than they need and you can’t go wrong by buying quality.
As with most hiking equipment purchases, remember that you’re only as safe as your equipment makes you! We hope this content helps you obtain the right hiking jackets for your needs so that your adventures in the great outdoors are comfortable, safe and hence enjoyable.