Many people have discovered the joy of walking this year, but whether you’re power hiking or just striding off the Sunday roast, a versatile jacket will ensure your plans aren’t derailed by the British weather.
The first thing you need to consider is whether your outdoor pursuit would benefit from a hardshell or softshell jacket – or both.
Hardshells are often hooded and great if you’re multi-day hiking and backpacking, as they offer a waterproof shell that is durable, but won’t take up valuable space in your pack.
Softshells are less about waterproofing and more designed towards breathability and lightweight wear, so that you stay cool no matter what your walking pace.
We tested the current crop of jackets on a multi-day backpacking trip on Dartmoor that threw everything at us from wind, rain and sleet at the very top of exposed tors, as well as some very welcome autumnal sunshine too.
We were looking at jackets to hit a sweet spot offering warmth, water and windproofing, as well as breathability and the jacket’s design needed to be well thought out, for example, hand pockets positioned so that they weren’t blocked by rucksack straps and enough room for good movement and layering, if necessary.
Our final edit includes a range of shells from the impressively technical to some real all rounders to ensure that no matter what adventures you have planned, you can take it all in your stride.
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The North Face 1994 retro mountain light
A packable and versatile hard shell featuring the brand’s “futurelight” material that increases the breathability that you get along with some advanced waterproofing. Considering the parka length coverage that you get with the jacket we never felt weighed down or restricted and the soft, light material moved and vented extremely well when the environment we were walking began to get more challenging. Added to this were an array of pit zips, bungee cinches, cord locks and Velcro that made the jacket supremely customisable according to what the British weather is up to.
Adidas terrex techrock GTX pro jacket
This hardshell from the adidas’s outdoor line provided a breathable barrier against some pretty gnarly weather and the Gore-tex pro membrane kept us dry and warm even in unrelenting rain on the high moor. One of the standout features that appealed to us most was the high collar which really came into its own when we were battling hard into the wind and rain on the exposed moorland and there are underarm zips to ensure a nice flow of air when we started working really hard. The spacy external chest pocket will easily fit a map, phone or similar and the yellow colourway ensured that we were nice and visible even when the mist came down.
Arc’Teryx atom LT hoody
A lightweight and very versatile softshell that you can use as your outermost layer on cold days, or as some central heating in a layering system if you’re expecting some weather. The atom LT is water repellent and compresses down easily, but we really liked the fit and movement that it allowed if we were doing something a little more technical than a relaxed ramble.
If you always like to take your camera with you when out walking then this utility jacket is perfectly suited to help you to share the load of lenses and other kit. There are eight easily accessible pockets for everything from a camera body to spare SD cards and there’s minimal material noise, so you can get up close to your subject without spooking them. The absence of rustle (which can be a problem with some waterproof membrane jackets) is because the pajaro uses nikwax analogy waterproofing to keep out the weather and we found it offered good protection against rain and cold. The hood has a wired peak that allows for excellent peripheral visibility and doesn’t get in the way when operating the camera.
This hard shell combines the waterproofing that you’d expect from its layered Gore-tex with good breathability, making it a good choice for a soggy day hike. Roomy enough for layering up if it’s cold, the jacket is ready for the rough stuff too as it’s made from durable ripstop fabric that won’t get beaten up by rugged terrain. We also liked the rollaway hood and handwarmer pockets to thaw out exposed fingers and hands.
Jack Wolfskin eagle peak
If you’re headed out for a post-lunch winter wander across open ground and you’re not battling through snagging branches and dense woodland then this insulation jacket has a good slim fit that holds in the heat created by the 50/50 synthetic fibres and merino wool, while still allowing lots of movement in the upper body if you need to get a bit more active.
One for those cold and crisp days, this is a warm soft shell that compacts down really well and won’t take over your rucksack. You could even use it as a mid layer underneath a lighter waterproof if you know you’re headed into some rain. The key to a good insulation jacket is the ability to regulate and dump any unwanted heat, which this jacket did well so we didn’t feel like a boil in the bag meal when we were working hard.
Berghaus finnan 2.0 reflect
The updated Finnan is one for the winter months when the wind really starts to bite, as it’s a softshell, with PFC-free water resistance that offers effective heat retention. This is largely down to an internal mesh that efficiently manages your body heat and traps it around your core and arms, so you don’t have to walk harder than you need to just to stay warm. Good layering potential and plenty of movement combine with packability for successful winter hiking.
Picture organic Atlantis
This nice-looking, pullover jacket with a half-zip which is incredibly lightweight considering the amount of protection and warmth it affords the wearer, especially as it leaves plenty of room to layer up beneath it. The elastic that surrounds the hood, cuffs and hem made it easy to get on and off and also kept the elements out of any nooks and crannies. The jacket’s sustainability credentials are second-to-none as it’s made with 100 per cent recycled polyester and features a PFC-free Teflon treatment to keep the worst of the weather out. We also liked the expansive chest pouch for storage, which also doubled as a styling detail.
Another sustainability champion whose outdoor jackets reflect that ethos, filled with synthetic material made from 92 per cent recycled polyester and FC-free, so that no chemicals make it into the environment. This versatile jacket doesn’t feel bulky to wear (unlike some down jackets), and yet its recycled insulation definitely does the job when temperatures start to tumble.
Good water repellency and breathability, it also has the added benefit of being packable and having a voluminous internal pocket.
Picture organic horse
This water repellent jacket is ultra lightweight and designed with dynamic walking in mind. Supremely comfortable, the jacket offers a slim fit but works with you as you walk thanks to stretch material panels under the arms. It was one of the best jackets on test for regulating temperature and on a particularly cold day it kept us nice and snug as we set off, but kept us nice and cool as we began to work harder.
The verdict: Men’s waterproof jackets
Offering high performance The North Face 1994 retro mountain light futurelight is a versatile jacket that covers all kinds of walking, while we also liked the warmth-to-weight ratio of the Picture organic horse jacket.
For more challenging walking adventures the Adidas terrex techrock GTX pro jacket is built for purpose and will keep all the elements at bay, while allowing freedom to move over the terrain.
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