A great waterproof jacket is essential for the slopes, no question. But finding the right one for you isn't always so simple. Finding a jacket with the right features, waterproofness and breathability for you will ensure many long days of shredding in comfort.
Different waterproof jackets are designed for different activities. Jackets designed to be lightweight and highly breathable, for example, are great for trail running or cycling, while a more hardwearing, stiffer jacket will be needed for dedicated mountaineers.
The first thing to do when you're choosing a waterproof jacket is to decide what features matter to you. Does it need to be lightweight, or would you prefer a heavier jacket with better weather protection? How intense is your activity, so how breathable does the jacket need to be? Does it need to be extra-durable?
A jacket's waterproofness is expressed as a rating called a hydrostatic head. Generally, a minimum of 5,000mm is good for both skiing and snowboarding in cold but clear conditions, especially if you'll be taking regular breaks. 5,000mm-10,000mm is ideal for those who spend long days out on the mountain in all weather conditions, while 10,000mm-20,000mm is best for those in wetter climates, or backcountry skiers and boarders.
GORE-TEX® is the most well-known waterproof membrane thanks to its durability and breathability - but it's not the only option out there. Some brands, including Rab and The North Face, develop alternative waterproof membranes, and others might use GORE-TEX® in some products and not others. Each one will offer slightly different benefits which will depend on your activity, so it's all about finding the right one for you.
Most waterproof jackets use a 2-layer, 2.5-layer or 3-layer construction.
All three construction types have a durable water repellent (DWR) coated outer fabric, or face fabric, which helps to protect the rest of the jacket against moisture. The second layer is the waterproof part: the membrane which gives the jacket its water repellent and breathable properties.
The final layer is the one which differentiates the constructions. 2.5-layer jackets have a thin polyurethane (PU) layer painted onto the inside of the waterproof membrane, to protect this layer from being clogged up with sweat and oils. 3-layer jackets have a thicker PU layer on the inside, making them the most durable choice, but are usually not as breathable or lightweight as 2.5-layer jackets.
Think about the fit of your hood: does it cover your whole head and allow freedom of movement? Does it need to be roomy enough for a helmet? Does the peak protect your eyes?
The number of pockets you need will, again, depend on what you'll be doing. Hand pockets are standard for most jackets, but if you'll be wearing it for climbing you'll need to make sure the pockets sit above your harness for accessibility. Large chest or inside pockets are great to have for storing maps and compasses.
A 3-in-1 jacket combine a waterproof jacket with a removable inner layer, usually a fleece or insulated mid-layer. They can be worn together or separated into their different parts and worn individually.
Your waterproof needs to seal around your head, hands and waist to effectively keep your dry. Look for Velcro hood and cuff closings and a good-quality draw cord when choosing a jacket.
A jacket won't be waterproof without taped seams: heat seals which prevent water coming in through the stitching. These are particularly important to have if you'll be using your jacket in prolonged heavy rain.
A chin guard is a soft piece of fabric on the inside of the jacket to protect your face from rubbing or catching the zip or waterproof fabric. This goes a long way towards preventing discomfort, especially in the rain, so is a great little feature to look out for.