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11 best women’s waterproof jackets: Windproof raincoats and more

From lightweight layers to hiking designs, these wet-weather heroes are the real deal

Lisa Buckingham
Monday 24 July 2023 11:22 BST
<p>A good raincoat is one of the best investments you can make </p>

A good raincoat is one of the best investments you can make

Our Top Picks

British weather is notoriously unpredictable, whatever the season – during the summer months, we need to be prepared for heavy downpours and heatwaves alike. Because of this, a good waterproof is an investment for year-round use, particularly as we’ve seen plenty of rain showers and storms recently. When shopping for raincoats, it’s worth making sure the one you choose suits your purpose, whether that’s heading on holiday, walking the dog or venturing into the mountains.

A jacket’s hydrostatic head (HH) rating will tell you how waterproof it is – the minimum to be considered rainproof is 5,000mm, which would be able to tolerate being caught out in a shower. At the other end of the scale, 20,000mm or higher will keep you dry in heavy, prolonged rain and in between the two will suffice for day-to-day waterproofing.

Breathability is also key. If you want to run, cycle or hike in the jacket, it will quickly start to feel like a steam room inside if it’s not breathable. If you’re moving at a more leisurely pace, you don’t need to worry so much. Many brands will rate the breathability between 5,000g/m² and 15,000-20,000g/m², with the latter being the best.

Looking for a jacket that’s “seam-sealed” means it stops water seeping in at the seams, and more-technical jackets tend to have three layers – an outer layer, the membrane and a fully bonded inner layer.

Last but not least, consider the impact of your jacket on the planet. The environmental cost of waterproofs can be high, and many brands are now reducing this by using recycled materials and changing the fabrics/technologies/chemicals that are used for waterproofing to avoid using “forever chemicals”. For this review, we have chosen only jackets that use PFC-free waterproofing.

How we tested

We tested these jackets on somevery wet days. We wanted the jackets to keep us dry (obviously), but we also considered the fit, how many layers they can fit underneath and flexibility of movement, especially for those designed for activities such as hiking or scrambling. Warmth, wind protection and breathability were evaluated, as well as important details such as hood design, pockets and sleeve length.

The best women’s waterproof jackets for 2023 are:

  • Best overall waterproof jacket – Finisterre stormbird waterproof jacket: £250,
  • Best hooded waterproof jacket – Rab downpour ECO waterproof jacket: £125,
  • Best everyday waterproof jacket – Fjallraven vardag hydratic anorak: £275,
  • Best lightweight raincoat – The North Face summit superior futurelight jacket: £270,
  • Best waterproof jacket for hiking – Columbia mazama trail waterproof jacket: £147,

Finisterre stormbird waterproof jacket

  • Best: Women’s waterproof jacket
  • Sizes: 6-18
  • Colourways: Black, dark burgundy, field, seaspray

A technical, three-layer waterproof shell with a 20,000mm HH rating and 15,000g/m² breathability – both of which perform very well – as well being great at keeping the wind off, this is a stellar choice. Made from 100 per cent recycled fabrics, it’s soft on the inside and feels nice againt the skin if you’re just wearing a T-shirt underneath. Plus, it has hugely capacious pockets, which we love, as you can stash so much in them to avoid having to take a bag on and off or simply for burying your hands inside. The inside chest pocket is also enormous.

It moves well with your body, the sleeves are a good length and as the fit is quite straight it has more of a unisex look which we like. We also found it great for putting layers underneath without feeling restricted. The hood, which is fully adjustable, as are the cuffs and hem, is beautifully structured and is the perfect depth for us. Seams are taped, too, and zips are waterproof (the only addition we’d like is armpit zips to really add to the ventilation).

Overall, this jacket feels durable and bound to last you for years. The brand also scores top marks for packaging, arriving in a water-soluble bag packaged in a brown paper bag.

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Helly Hansen verglas infinity shell jacket

helly hanson .jpg
  • Best: For mountain adventures
  • Sizes: XS-XL
  • Colourways: Black, crushed grape, jade green

This technical shell doesn’t put a foot wrong. It’s designed for backcountry skiing, hiking and mountaineering, so it goes long on durability, breathability and waterproofing, all of which perform beautifully. So, of course, this is reflected in the price.

Considering it’s high price tag, you won’t be shocked to learn that the fit and flexibility of movement is also impeccable. It has helmet, backpack and harness compatibility and a RECCO transponder (a battery-free reflector that makes you searchable if you get trapped in an avalanche). Plus, it zips up well over your mouth and the hood is the perfect size, stiffness and is adjustable at front and back.

The jacket also keeps the wind off well and the hem and waist toggles in to prevent it from blowing upwards. The pockets are high, huge and deep, and you can zip them up or down with double zips. Armpit zips are there too in case you get too warm – although we found they weren’t needed even when working hard going uphill. If there’s one downfall on this jacket (blown budget aside) it’s not fully recycled, but it does use 54 per cent recycled polyester, so we aren’t being too precious about this. And we found it to still fit true to size even with a couple of layers underneath.

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Columbia mazama trail waterproof jacket

Columbia mazama trail waterproof jacket.png
  • Best: For hiking
  • Sizes: XS - XXL
  • Colourways: Purple tint, black, ancient fossil and black

A great-looking jacket with longer than average sleeves (we like this – it stops your gloves getting wet), a nice deep hood and a soft-touch inner that feels nice against the skin.

It’s a good length (a drop hem at the back comes well down over the bottom on a 5ft 5in tester), with sealed pocket zips and front zip, underarm zips if you get hot, and a small popper to keep the two sides together if you want the jacket open but not flapping, which is a nice touch.

The sizing is fairly generous – you can easily fit a warmer layer or two underneath, if you need it. The jacket keeps the wind out well and drawcords in both hem and hood gather it in, if needed. Its two-way stretch gives it a good amount of flexibility when you’re moving, too.

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Rab downpour eco waterproof jacket

  • Best: Hooded waterproof jacket
  • Sizes: 8-16
  • Colourways: Purple, black

This is a soft, lightweight, breathable (20,000g/g/m²) and very comfortable 2.5 layer jacket with a high waterproof rating (20,000mm) that stood up to prolonged downpours. It achieves hood perfection for us, zipping up high with a super-soft chin guard to leave a small window for your face. Toggles pull the hood in closer as they do at the hem, while the front and pocket zips are protected by storm guard flaps as are those under the armpit, which ventilate the jacket if you need it.

There are no internal pockets, however, and the brand states that the external ones can build condensation so this won’t be suitable for a phone. But it does have a tapered fit that allows for a layer underneath (fine for spring/summer) so you could stash it away in there instead – though you should size up if you want to wear more layers in the colder weather.

As well as having PFC-free waterproofing, it’s 100 per cent recycled and designed to be recyclable at the end of its life as it’s made from a single polymer. Not to mention that it packs down into its own pocket, so is easily stashed away when not in use.

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Fjallraven vardag hydratic anorak

fjallraven .jpg
  • Best: Everyday waterproof jacket
  • Sizes: XXS-XL
  • Colourways: Mustard yellow, dawn blue, black

A thoughtfully designed anorak, this comes with side zips to enable you to get it on and off easily (if you’ve worn an anorak before, you’ll know what a wrestle it can be) and a popper at the bottom means you can keep those side zips open for ventilation. Its breathability is 10,000g/m² and it has a 10,000mm HH rating, which kept us dry on a day of showers.

The pockets are kangaroo-style at the front, with one that zips across the abdomen and another to stuff your hands into that’s accessed through two side zips and goes all the way across the anorak. It’s also a great length if you’re average height – it came down well over the bottom of our 5ft 5in tester – and the hood is adjustable at the rear and has good depth and structure.

While it doesn’t have adjustable cuffs, they are elasticated and the sleeves are suitably long. It also has that classic baggy anorak fit (size down if you want a closer fit) and a drawcord at the hem can bring it into the body on especially blustery days. And it packs down neatly into its own pocket, so is easy to have with you all the time around town or if you’re out on a walk.

This brand is also a pioneer in finding alternatives to PFC waterproofing, having developed its first PFC-free hardshell material in 2011 and phasing out PFCs across its whole range of clothing and bags by 2015. As such, this anorak is made from 65 per cent recycled polyester and 35 per cent organic cotton.

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Artilect intersect doubleweave jacket

artilect .jpg
  • Best: Stylish waterproof jacket
  • Sizes: XS-XL
  • Colourways: Black, dove grey, ember

In a nutshell, this is a soft, stylish, breathable and stretchy jacket that effectively keeps the rain out and has a fleece-like feel on the inside that also provides a little warmth.

It’s made from 100 per cent recycled polyester and its waterproofing comes from an interesting technology that uses no water in the production process. The hood isn’t a deep one though, which is fine if you don’t like deeper hoods that come out past your face – and though it does have a rear toggle adjustment, we found that that it just pulled the jacket away from our face, exposing it to the rain so best left alone in stormy showers. It also has adjustable cuffs (with very durable tabs for this) and a drawcord at the hem.

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BAM longaford waterproof recycled jacket

BAM .jpg
  • Best: Waterproof jacket for festivals
  • Sizes: XS-XL
  • Colourways: Honey, sage

This stylish and flattering jacket is perfect for keeping to hand in any size of bag, as it packs down into its own side pocket. Made from 98 per cent recycled materials, it has a breathable membrane with a 10,000mm HH and 10,0000g/m² breathability. In fact, it’s so light and soft that it has a barely-there feel.

In terms of function, it has two large inside pockets, chest and back openings beneath flaps keep you from feeling clammy and there’s a drawcord at hood and hem. The hood could be a touch deeper in our opinion but it’s fine in a shower. And while the zips aren’t sealed, they’re covered with flaps, which seems to do the job of keeping rain out.

The jacket is a reasonable length but wouldn’t suit very tall people, but is a great spring/summer waterproof as it fits one layer underneath well. We also like that it arrives in very minimal, recyclable brown paper packaging with a compostable bag inside – a pleasing touch that not all brands have adopted.

Unfortunately this jacket is currently out of stock, but we will keep you posted if it becomes available again.

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The North Face summit superior futurelight jacket

north face .jpg
  • Best: Lightweight waterproof jacket
  • Sizes: XS-XL
  • Colourways: Black, LED yellow

Made from 100 per cent recycled polyester, this breathable, three-layer shell is designed for running/racing. It has reflective detailing, blocks the wind well for such a lightweight jacket and not a drop of rain gets through.

It feels durable despite its light weight and the sleeves are long enough to cover the back of the hands when you stretch your arms forward. And while it is minimalist – meaning that it has no external pockets except for one internal pocket which will house a map or phone – it feels soft and silky against bare skin, moves well with your body as you run and it’s lightweight enough to wear a close-fitting hydration pack over the top of it.

A nice extra feature is a small, stretchy hand strap for when you want to pack the jacket away into its own pocket. This means you can hold on to it as you run, so you don’t have to tie it around your waist or even stop to put it in a backpack.

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Pearson Cycles Streets ahead waterproof commuter jacket

pearson .jpg
  • Best: Waterproof cycling jacket
  • Sizes: XS-XL
  • Colourways: Navy

We’ve dubbed this one as the best for cycling because, well, the clue is in the brand’s name. It’s also soft, flexible, breathable, and is packed with thoughtful features such as a flap that folds down from the rear to stop your seat getting wet (this works best if you ride in a more upright position) and stops you getting a wet behind if you don’t have mud guards. Reflective patterning and strips are also found on this jacket, including reversible cuffs, which is perfect for cycling in darker conditions.

It also stretches nicely, even if you’re down on drop handlebars and the hood has a perfectly rigid peak which is fine enough to fit under your helmet. Our only tiny gripe is that we prefer adjustable cuffs so that they’re more easily pulled over gloves but it’s something we could learn to live without here.

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Patagonia granite crest jacket

patagonia .jpg
  • Best: Waterproof jacket for climbing
  • Sizes: XS-XXL
  • Colourways: Red, black, sage, plum, blue, grey, dark grey, navy

A soft, well-fitting, three-layer jacket with great freedom of movement. The hood is protective without being too deep to see out of and has a good peak, and it’s helmet compatible if you’re climbing. It’s lightweight and packs down into its own pocket so it’s easy to stash in your backpack, too.

Armpit zips are there for ventilation and it felt breathable on a fast hike. The chest pocket and front zip are sealed but the handwarmer pockets are normal zips protected by a flap – we’d like those pockets to be a little deeper but they suffice. And as it’s made from 100 per cent recycled nylon from fishing nets, it gets extra eco points for that.

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Berghaus elara gemini 3in1 jacket

  • Best: Waterproof jacket for extra warmth
  • Sizes: 8-20
  • Colourways: Black, green

The Elara provides some warmth for when a cold wind blows – the two-layer outer jacket has a zipped-in fleece and kept us warm with a thin layer underneath (size up if you want to wear anything thicker or if you have a bigger chest or hips as it falls on the smaller side). If the weather warms up en route but it’s still raining, you can just zip the fleece out and wear the waterproof shell. Equally, you can wear just the fleece and pack the outer away.

We found that the four-way stretch of the outer could be felt more when the fleece wasn’t inside, as the fleece doesn’t have much give, but it’s fine for leisurely walking. It has a nicely structured hood with good adjustability there and at the hem and cuffs.

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Waterproof jacket FAQs

What are PFCs?

To explain what PFCs are, we asked Professor Crispin Halsall, an environmental organic chemist at Lancaster University and a specialist in how industrial chemicals, pesticides and pharmaceuticals behave in the environment.

PFCs stands for perfluorinated chemicals. You may also read about PFAs, which stands for perfluorinated acids (a chemical sub-group belonging to the wider PFC class). PFAs include chemicals like PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonic acid) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid).

PFC is a somewhat dated name and the correct name that encompasses the myriad per- and polyfluorinated chemicals is “per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances” (or PFAS).

Why are these chemicals used in waterproofing and what’s the problem with them?

Certain fluoropolymers (polymeric PFAS) prevent the transfer of water but have micropores that allow water vapour to pass through, so have very useful properties for outdoor sports clothing. Other similar fluoropolymers are used to coat textiles/fabrics (eg school uniforms, carpets, etc) so that the treated fabric repels both water and lipids (eg stain-resistance).

The problems arise in the production of the fluoropolymers as the PFAs used as processing aids enter the environment either during the manufacturing process (released in waste water) and/or as residues in the fresh polymer coating on the fabric. These PFAs are extremely persistent in the environment (hence them being known as “forever chemicals” as they don’t break down) and many bioaccumulate, meaning the build up of chemical residues in fish, birds, mammals and biota in general. Also, PFAs have known health effects in humans and biota, such as suppression of the immune system, liver toxicity and reproductive toxicity.

The fluoropolymer industry largely moved away from using PFOA (C8) as a processing aid and switched to shorter chain length PFAs such as C6 and C4. Hence some clothing with a durable water repellent (DWR) treatment might be labelled “PFOA-free” rather than simply “PFC-free”. Unfortunately, C6 and C4 chemicals are just as persistent in the environment and there is some evidence that they also bioaccumulate. This is why some outdoor clothing companies are (or are striving to be) entirely “PFC-free”.

Are there any drawbacks to PFC-free waterproofing?

Some brands will state that water-repellent properties are maintained but not dirt/stain repellency, therefore more frequent washing of some garments may be required relative to a fluoropolymer-based durable water repellent (DWR) garment. PFC-free reproofing sprays are available.

The verdict: Women’s waterproof jackets

The Finisterre stormbird ticks the planet-friendly boxes, as well as performing beautifully as a waterproof. It’s not the cheapest jacket we featured but we feel its durable feel justifies the price tag. The Helly Hansen verglas infinity shell would get our best buy award for the higher end of technical jackets, as we couldn’t fault it on any aspect of its design and performance. The Rab downpour eco is also a great choice if you want a lightweight, packable but still technical jacket.

Looking for more rainy-day essentials? We’ve rounded up the best wellies for women

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