TRIED & TESTED / Wild weather warmers: Which is the driest of them all? Our panel rain-tested different waterproof jackets

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Buying a waterproof jacket is not easy. For a start, there's a bewildering choice of fabrics. Gore-Tex, the original breathable waterproof material intended to stop sweat building up inside your clothing, has been joined by a host of competitors. To understand the difference between them, you'd need a degree in physics. Then there are the design features - do you really need crotch strap attachment points or underarm ventilation zips? We asked a panel of testers to submit a selection of jackets, costing between pounds 30 and pounds 300, to the most rigorous of trials. Even if the nearest you get to the outdoor life is strolling down to the local off-licence, read on. Our guide will unravel the mystery, including which is most stylish if you're planning to wear your jacket on the city streets rather than en route to the South Pole.

THE PANEL

Brian Harman, head keeper for elephants, London Zoo; Trevor Vaisey, production manager, Anglia TV, currently on location filming The Chief; David Russell, ranger in the Lake District National Park; Kate Constable of the Independent fashion team.

THE TEST

The first three testers wore a different jacket each day and gave them a mark out of 10 for breathability (whether sweat collected inside the jacket), windproofing, comfort, freedom of movement, practical features and value for money. To test if the jackets are waterproof, Brian Harman wore each to give his elephant a five-minute shower, using more than 100 gallons of water. Their marks were converted into a best-buy star rating. Kate Constable also rated each jacket for its street fashion value.

*REGATTA WITHINGTON: pounds 37.95 Isotex coated nylon. Street Fashion Rating 5/10 - Not for crossing the Antarctic

This lightweight jacket was the only one not to score full marks on the waterproofness test; Brian Harman gave it only two out of ten. 'I was only under the shower for one minute when the water started coming in from the front.' Although the manufacturers say that the fabric is breathable, testers gave it poor marks for keeping the sweat at bay. In addition, it was deemed too flimsy for winter weather. 'Difficult to test properly at this time of year. It really is a lightweight summer rainproof jacket. As such it would probably perform very well, but I have doubts about its breathability,' said Trevor Vaisey. Two advantages, according to Dave Russell, are that it packs up easily to store in a rucksack and has good sized pockets. Kate Constable liked the light fabric. She added: 'Simple styling a plus. Good worn with Puma trainers.'

**REGATTA KESTRIAN: pounds 79.95 Isotex coated polyester/cotton; zip-in fleece liner available. Street Fashion Rating 5/10 - Reasonable price and good ratings, so worth a try

This got very similar ratings to the Lowe Alpine Robson and the North Face Stowaway II, but is far cheaper. It did not score particularly well on windproofness, but got good marks for freedom of movement. Trevor Vaisey said: 'A very comfortable jacket. An excellent hood - it does not require the usual movements of a 'honey monster' to see from side to side. All in all, excellent.' Dave Russell, who climbed to the top of Helvellyn in all the jackets, thought differently: 'I didn't find it at all comfortable. I was very damp after only a short walk. The hood was poor and gave little protection. The only good point was the length.' Brian Harman thought that 'it wouldn't be a bad jacket for my job. It gave me plenty of movement.' Kate Constable found it similar in style to the Regatta Withington, and liked the matt finish of the coated polyester/cotton.

**LOWE ALPINE ROBSON: pounds 160 Triplepoint Ceramic 1600 (zip-in fleece liner available). Street Fashion Rating 1/10 - Good ratings but you may find design faults

Scored well all round, although it wasn't picked out as outstanding. Neither Brian Harman nor Trevor Vaisey liked the hood, which comes well down over the face. 'It created a lot of blind spots. This is not practical when working around elephants,' Brian Harman said. But Dave Russell felt the hood gave good protection in bad weather. Trevor Vaisey also complained that the jacket was very noisy: 'Not good for film or TV work' and found that, as he wore it on a cold day, it wasn't warm enough without a zip-in liner. But Brian Harman found it a 'good heavy-duty jacket' and that 'the water just rolled off in the shower'. If you wear this, don't count on impressing others with your fashion sense: 'Deeply unstylish, even for those into inverted chic,' said Kate Constable.

***BERGHAUS GEMINI ZX: pounds 300 Gore-Tex Taslan (2-layer). Street fashion rating 8/10 - Scored highly but at a price

With the Gemini, you get two separate jackets, an outer waterproof one and an inner polyester 'bomber jacket' (although at pounds 300, it's hardly two for the price of one). It scored very well, particularly on windproofness. David Russell found it less breathable and more bulky when the inner jacket was zipped in, but very warm: 'Well suited to severe conditions,' he said. Brian Harman also found it very warm, and, for a bulky jacket, thought it gave him lots of freedom of movement. 'The colour was a bit bright and it got dirty from the elephants' trunks. They liked the jacket though and so did I' Trevor Vaisey thought the two jackets together a bit too warm: 'The inner liner was too much for East Anglia, although without it, the jacket was not warm enough.' He would prefer a sleeveless liner. Kate Constable's verdict: 'Purple and shocking pink colour not great, but simple shape, length and lack of ditsy detail

a plus.'

****PARAMO PRIMA: pounds 108 Polyamide, waterproofed with Nikwax TX10. i Street fashion rating 1/10 - Rated as highly as the Berghaus at a third of the price

Paramo use a different technology for waterproofing to the other manufacturers, based, the company says, on the way animals such as dogs keep warm and dry. It scored very highly on windproofness, comfort and freedom of movement and got good marks on the other criteria as well. The testers found plenty to praise: 'Very comfortable, soft and light to wear. Was warm and offered good protection. Packs down well for storage in rucksack. I'd be happy to buy one for my own use,' Dave Russell said. The fabric was so soft, though, that Brian Harman and Trevor Vaisey were worried it would tear. Trevor Vaisey added: 'One disadvantage: the softness of the material makes it very difficult to carry a bag on the shoulder for more than a few yards before it ends up round the ankles]' The only dissenter was Kate Constable: 'Attempt at Parka style unsuccessful. Really horrid shiny lining. Like wearing a nylon sleeping bag. Good length though (ie long).'

**NORTH FACE STOWAWAY II: pounds 139.95 2-ply Pongee Gore-Tex. Street fashion rating 1/10

Another lightweight jacket that folds into a small bag. The jacket scored quite well on all criteria. Brian Harman and Dave Russell didn't like the slightly shorter length. Brian Harman noticed that the jacket dried very quickly. Trevor Vaisey and Dave Russell again clashed over the hood: for Trevor Vaisey, 'looking at anything above the horizon results in severe neck ache]', while Dave Russell thought it was 'a good size, giving reasonable protection, especially for a hood that folds away into the collar'. Kate Constable said: 'John Major grey - not nice, nor the petrol blue trim. Nasty label on arm, makes a horrid noise as you move, so a bit trainspotter rather than urban groovy.'

Stockists: Lowe Alpine, 0539 724740; North Face, 0629 580484; Paramo, 0892 784477; Berghaus, 091 415 0062; Regatta, 061 7472971.

(Photographs omitted)

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