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How to choose a waterproof jacket for running

Living in the UK brings so many great things – fish and chips; proper cups of tea; a stiff upper lip; and the Great British weather.  Without it we’d have to think of new topics to instigate small talk, but in reality we can’t avoid the joy that is the British climate.

Unless you only want to run for a handful of days a year, you’ll have to get used to some runs being in the rain.  Whether that’s the torrential, soaked-to-the-bone type rain or the light, refreshing summer shower, it’s inevitable you’ll be getting wet at some point in your running adventures.

So we thought we’d bring you our definitive guide on how to choose the best waterproof jacket for running to suit your style.

What type of jacket do you need?

The first question to ask yourself is how often you anticipate running in the rain and when?  Are you an out-in-all-weathers type, leaping across the fells in the driving rain like a mountain goat?  Or are you a quick few miles in town in only the best weather type, where you’ll only get caught in the most unexpected shower?  What type of running you do, where and when all play a part in what type of waterproof jacket you might need.

Water-resistant/Showerproof

The base or entry level, if you will, is a water-resistant or showerproof jacket.  These jackets are suitable for light, brief showers and will keep you dry provided the rain isn’t too heavy or prolonged.  Typically they’re made from fabric treated with a light water repellant coating to prevent the water being absorbed.

However, water-resistant or showerproof jackets will not have taped seams and are not sold as being waterproof (i.e. impermeable to water).

These types of jacket are ideal for fair weather runners, so it’s unlikely they’ll be out in the rain, who don’t stray too far from home.  Water-resistant jackets are typically fairly light and are less expensive to buy than fully waterproof options.

Waterproof

Waterproof jackets are treated with a waterproof coating on the outer fabric and will typically have fully taped seams, to prevent any water entering through the tiny holes where the seam has been sewn together.  Some may have a built in membrane lining that aids breathability.

Waterproof jackets tend to be slightly heavier than their water resistant counterparts and also more expensive.  Runners who are outside in all weathers and who run further from home or on trail should choose a waterproof jacket over a water-resistant option.

Just how waterproof is my waterproof?

All waterproof jackets will have a rating called a hydro-static rating which tells you how waterproof the jacket is.  To test how waterproof a fabric or garment is, researchers use a column or tube of a set diameter with the fabric they are testing sealing off one end.  The hydrostatic rating is what the maximum height of the water reaches in the cylinder before the water starts to seap through the fabric.

For example, a 1500mm hydrostatic rating (the minimum for a garment to be labelled waterproof) means the water in the column would be 15m high before it started to penetrate the fabric.  A rating of 30,000mm would mean the column of water was 30m high before it seaped through the fabric.

What hydrostatic rating should I look for?

In short, the higher the hydrostatic rating, the more waterproof the fabric that makes the jacket will be.  Figures of 20,000mm or even 30,000mm are not uncommon in jackets, that may need to contend with driving rain as well as pressure from hip and shoulder straps from race vests or packs too.  These added elements mean that a higher-rated waterproof fabric may be used to create the jacket.

Many long-distance or trail races will specify on the mandatory kit list that a waterproof jacket of a certain rating is required, typically either 10,000mm or 20,000mm depending on the event.

If you aren’t participating in organised events and are generally running for less than an hour, not far from home, in generally fair weather, then you could select a lower-rated jacket as your need for protection will be less.

So I just buy the highest rated jacket I can find then?

Well….no!

Sadly, it’s not quite that simple.  Whilst we want our waterproof jacket to keep the rain out, we also want to make sure we’re not keeping moisture in.  We’ve all had them… those crisp-packet pac-a-mac’s that our parents made us wear on that disastrous trip to the seaside, that make us all sticky and sweaty inside.

For runners, breathability in a waterproof jacket is incredibly important.  After all, we’ll be running and working hard, creating heat and the sweat that goes along with it, and we don’t want to end up like a boil-in-the-bag kipper!

So we want to look at another rating – the breathability rating.  The breathability of a fabric (measured in g/m²/24 hours) tells you how many grams of moisture vapor can pass through a square meter of the material in 24 hours.

We’ll be generating plenty of moisture whilst running so we would ideally look for a breathability rating of above 15,000.

The balance

The key with waterproof jackets is to strike the balance between waterproofing and breathability.  It goes without saying that the better (and inevitably most expensive) waterproof jackets are those that balance the two such as the OMM Kamleika which offers a hydrostatic rating of 20,000mm and a breathability rating of 18,000g/m sq.  The OMM Kamleika is one of the jackets I see most at ultramarathon events but comes with the premium price tag to match.

Needless to say, buy the best you can afford but don’t spend more than you need – think carefully about the when, where and how long you’ll be running and choose the most appropriate option that suits you.

What else to look for

It’s not all about hydrostatic and breathability ratings – there are other factors to consider when buying waterproof jacket:

  1. Fit – typically you’ll want to ensure the jacket is movable for running, with some stretch.  It’s personal preference, but I like to make sure the back of the jacket is long enough to cover my bottom so I’m not getting rain down the back of my running tights or a cold and wet back.  You make sure the arms are long enough to prevent water coming up at the wrists.  And opt for a jacket that is adjustable where possible.
  2. Hood – the hood should be big enough for you to wear a beanie if you need extra warmth and adjustable to make sure it’s secure, particularly if you have that most horrendous combo of wind and rain.  I prefer a stiffened peak so that the fabric doesn’t flop into my forehead and cause water to run down my face.  Consider whether you would prefer a roll-down hood that can be stowed when you’re not using it or a fixed hood.
  3. Venting – because even if the jacket is super-breathable, you may want to get a bit of air flow or adjust your temperature whilst running.  Many waterproof jackets have ventilation or zips under the arms that can be opened to increase breathability.
  4. Price – get the best you can afford but don’t break the bank.  Look for lesser know brands that might offer similar specs without the premium price tag.  It goes without saying of course, that a good waterproof jacket may save you from getting soaked and the potential risks (hypothermia, for one), not to mention keeping you much more comfortable, so it’s worth investing.
  5. High visibility fabric or reflective detailing – especially if you run on or near the road, this is particularly key.  Most waterproof jackets are dark coloured and I’ve only seen a few that come in brights so it’s worth ensuring that extra safety feature.

Most importantly, once you have spent your hard-earned cash on a waterproof jacket, look after it.  Wash it sparingly ensuring you use a suitable detergent and re-proof regularly to extend it’s life.

And there you have it – our guide to what to look for when buying a waterproof jacket.  At Team Runnerverse we love to talk all things kit so, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

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