Waterproof / Breathable Jackets
It may seem obvious, but not all waterproof jackets, are breathable. And there is definitely a time and place for non-breathable waterproof jackets. Rubber and plastic rain gear serves a great purpose at the right time, such as when you are car camping in a downpour. Anytime you plan to have some level of aerobic activity, however, a waterproof jacket that is breathable will keep you drier and therefore, happier.
There are a few different types of waterproof breathable jackets. There are jackets that are waterproof because of the materials with which they are made, and jackets that are waterproof because they are treated with a waterproof coating. There are also jackets that are both. Which one you want mostly depends on a) how much rain you plan to encounter and b) how much exercising you plan to do in the jacket. If your answer is a lot of exercise in a lot of rain, get the top end waterproof breathable jacket. If your answer is a lot of exercise in a little rain, consider a jacket that is simply a treated material. If you are somewhere in between, then a mid-range jacket will most likely serve you just fine.
Lots of exercise in lots of rain: The most waterproof jackets are made with a waterproof membrane, typically three layers of material that are bonded together in the manufacturing process using heat. The material is then treated with a waterproof coating to repel even more water. Gore-tex is the most recognizable brand, however several other manufacturers make excellent waterproof breathable materials as well. While you will most likely still get a little wet in a deluge (probably from your own body producing heat), a jacket made out of Gore-tex or a similar type waterproof material will keep you dry through some pretty wet conditions. The downside to these types of jackets is that they are simply not as breathable as other options. A jacket’s breathability is mostly significant if you plan to do high-aerobic activity in the rain.
Some exercise in some rain: Two-layer waterproof breathable materials that are then treated with a waterproof coating work well in most conditions. The two situations they do not work well in are when your body is producing a great amount of heat (they are not as breathable and therefore trap some of the heat and leave you sweaty and wet), or when there is a torrential downpour outside (they are just not as waterproof). Two-layer waterproof materials work best for light and sporadic rain, and some exercise.
A lot of exercise in a little rain: For trail runners, mountain bikers, climbers, backcountry skiers, the amount of heat your body produces will undoubtedly leave the inside of any waterproof and breathable jacket a little wet. The best option for aerobic activity in a drizzle is a softshell treated with a waterproof coating. This will allow all of your body heat to escape, or at least some of it, and will keep the moisture away from your under layers. Most “water-resistant” and “windproof” softshells are woven so tightly that they will in fact keep most of the moisture on the outside. After a while of being in the rain they will eventually become soaked, but for misty, foggy, or drizzly, or dry snow conditions a waterproof softshell will be just the ticket to your perfect adventure.