Written by Neil Bryant
Questions frequently asked by runners are to do with purchasing a waterproof jacket. As seems to be the case with most
equipment now, the choice is endless, and what seems to be simple at first, after researching a little, turns into a bit of a head scratching exercise. How light?, how small?, hood or no hood?, jacket or smock?, how waterproof?, how breathable?, Maybe reflective patches are very important for you? Price? The list is endless. This article doesn't discuss particular jackets, but does consider some of the features that that you may need to think about when purchasing that potentially life-saving piece of equipment. I do hope it helps some of you make that all important choice of choosing the right waterproof jacket for running.
One of the most important factors for me and the thing I first look for, is a quality hood. By this I mean one with plenty of
adjustment so that it can be well secured during high winds. I have owned jackets in the past that had loose cords that would whip you in the face when it was windy which is something else to look out for. Also a huge thing if you want the jacket for terrible squally weather is a peak, possibly a wired peak which is stiffer and can be shaped. Believe me, if you haven't used one before in anger, then you will be very glad to have it if caught out on the moors or mountains. Of course some of the more minimalist jackets will just have a hood with elastic around the rim which will be stable in winds but won't protect your face at all. There is a market for hoodless waterproof jackets but I personally see no reason to buy a hoodless before a hooded and there is no need to have both as the hoods always tuck away neatly.
Fit is also a very important factor too. This is something that can truly only be tested by trying the jacket on. We come in many different shapes and sizes and for the jacket to work at it's potential then it must fit well. Arms need to be long enough so that when you are running they don't ride up, exposing your wrists. Mens jackets have longer arms than womens, so, ladies, if you can't find any womens jackets that fit, it could be worth trying a gents. The tail of the jacket needs to cover the waist area even when reaching up Overall, space needs to be minimal so that it isn't like wearing a bin liner blowing around in the wind, and has enough room to take those all important extra layers you will need when things cool down.
The wrist closure is important too. I don't like elasticated only wrists as there is no room for adjustment if you are wearing extra layers/gloves, and they can be fidly. Velcro, in my opinion is the best method we have for the wrists. It is strong, simple, weatherproof and lightweight. Sounds perfect doesn't it. The wrists need to be covered when cold as a main artery passes close to the skin meaning it is a quick way of cooling the blood. Also it doesn't want to be too tight (possibly with elastic) as this can disrupt the blood flow giving you cold hands.
Waterproofness and Breathability
The perfect jacket would be totally waterproof and completely breathable. This is of course impossible with current fabric technology, so we have to work out what would be the best compromise for our needs. Thankfully there is a system for measuring the waterproofness of a material using a hydrostatic head test. This is where a section of the material is pulled taught under a 1 inch diameter sealed tube of water. Over 24hrs the level at which water starts to come through the fabric is the hydrostatic head measured in mm. Anything below 1500mm is pretty low and will probably start leaking quite quickly. 1500mm to 5000mm will be quite effective for longer periods of time, and from 5000mm to 10000mm you are into the seriously waterproof gear. The breathability of a fabric is measurable but hasn't been standardised with most companies carrying out their own measurments. It can be worth checking out the web for some independent comparison tests. For a basic guide, the higher the figure, the higher the breathability. Breathability also comes down to ventilation, most obviously at the front zip, but also with the addition of 'pit zips' which are highly effective, venting panels and simply taking the hood down. There are many factors that come into play here, such as how hot you run, how much you sweat, Whether the jacket will be an emergency back up or worn all the time, etc. etc. As usual there is no perfect solution here for everyone.
Weight and packable size
Weight and size is an ever important factor in the runners demands. Many runners will buy their first decent sealed, hooded waterproof jacket because it's on the race obligatory kit list. The major concern then is whether it will fit in their miniscule bag. Fortunately fabric technology has taken such bounds that truly quality waterproof and breathable jackets really are super light and tiny with some models coming in at under 200g! There are of course compromises here. The lightest generally are the priciest. I find that if you are out in the rain for extended periods of time (and/or sweat a lot) and they eventually leak, then the thinner and less rigid the fabric (lighter), the more 'clingy' it gets. This is horrible and you feel less protected from the elements as there is no space between the jacket and you. A heavier more rigid jacket, hold it's shape better and even if it wets out, it won't cling to you which protects you much more effectively. So, again we hit the word compromise. I think that the majority of runners will opt for the lighter, smaller jacket, but some of us will want that little extra effectivness that an extra 100g could give.
Durability is something that certainly comes to odds with the demand for lightness and size. Most jackets are very thin and you would assume, very easy to tear. I have a Jacket made from Pertex Shield+ which is incredibly thin and feels very fragile though I have seriously abused this jacket over the past few years in all sorts of awful conditions and scraping it in many clumsy falls but it still shows not one rip! I am amazed. It is of course possible to tear and wear them and with that in mind, some jackets have some tougher fabric in key areas to help prevent this. Overall you need to really decide what is important for you with the type of running you do, where you do it and your expectations. I know that some people expect to stay totally dry and will be annoyed when they get damp. I expect to get wet if there is much rain and the key factor for comfort and self preservation is that it is windproof which protects you from the dangerous winds. You can spend a lot on jackets today and they are generally worth it if you can afford them, but that is not to say that the 'cheaper' jackets are no good. Try stuff on and think about what factors are important to you. Do a little research and finally, enjoy the rainy days by running in comfort and not hibernating.
Please feel free to comment below with any tips you have or if you disagree with me on any points. This would be a great reference point if there were many peoples opinions.