How To Choose Hiking Jackets

Hiking Jackets

Given the wide variety of jackets on the market that are appropriate for hiking, it can be confusing when you first start looking into this topic. There are many different types of outerwear, including hard and soft shells, windproof and waterproof jackets and many more. It can be a little perplexing if you’re unfamiliar with this.

Let’s first examine some of these major jacket categories to try and clarify what they are and how they differ from one another.

Types of Jackets

Fleece Jacket

Fleece jackets are a great option for mild weather. They’re soft, comfortable and keep you warm without making you sweat. The fleece jackets are made from a synthetic fabric called, you guessed it, fleece. Fleece is a lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking material able to trap a layer of warm air next to your skin. Additionally, it dries quickly, making it a good option for sweat-inducing activities like hiking or backpacking.

To add extra warmth, fleece jackets are frequently worn as a mid-layer in conjunction with a raincoat or hard-shell jacket to offer additional weather protection. As they are not as windproof or waterproof as some other types of jackets, fleece jackets are not recommended to be worn as an outer layer in bad weather.

The weight of the fleece should be considered when selecting a fleece jacket. A heavier fleece jacket might be warmer but also bulkier and less breathable. To add warmth and protection, some fleece jackets also have features like zippered pockets, a hood, or a full-zip front.

Down Jacket

Down jackets are insulated with feathers of ducks or geese, and are well-known for their warmth. These garments are also lightweight, making them ideal for long treks. The lightweight and compressibility of down jackets make them simple to pack and carry on a hike.

When selecting a down jacket, the fill power should be taken into account as it represents a gauge of the down’s quality. Higher fill power down is generally regarded as being of higher quality and is more effective at trapping air and keeping you warm. The fill weight of the jacket, which is the volume of down it contains, should also be taken into account. In general, a jacket with more fill weight will be warmer, but it could also be heavier and bulkier.

Down jackets have some drawbacks: they aren’t as waterproof as other types of jackets, so it’s best to keep your rain jacket handy if you need protection from rain or snow. They can be expensive too (although there are some great budget-friendly options), so make sure you know what’s worth spending on before dropping serious cash on a down jacket.

Insulated Jacket

With one significant exception, they serve essentially the same purpose as down jackets. As far as I can tell, the main distinction is that an insulated jacket is constructed of synthetic fibers rather than down.

The fundamental purpose is still warmth, as in a chilly camp evening. Of course, you can layer them underneath your outer shell jacket, however, they typically aren’t as breathable as a down jacket.

They do, however, retain heat much better when wet than a down jacket, so that is something else to keep in mind as well.

In my experience, I’ve only ever worn down jackets when I had to stop for a while (like when I stopped for lunch on a day hike during a cold day or when I set up camp for the night during a cold evening). For warmth and breathability while moving around, I pair a fleece with my lower layers.

That being said, as long as it works well for you in terms of allowing perspiration to escape, you could still use one an Insulated Jacket in place of a fleece. As with all hiking gear, you need to find what works best for you, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different combinations, in various conditions.

There are some insulated jackets available that can be folded neatly into their own pockets to fit neatly inside a daypack.

Rain Shell Jacket

If you’re planning to hike in rainy weather, a rain jacket is a must. To keep moisture from seeping through the fabric, tthese jackets are made from water-resistant material that’s been treated with special coatings or laminated.

The best rain jackets are made from waterproof and breathable materials, such as Gore-Tex, that allow perspiration to pass through while blocking water from getting in. Rain jackets also have sealed seams to prevent water from seeping through the stitching, as well as a hood to protect your head from the rain. Some rain jackets also have additional features like pit zips for ventilation, adjustable cuffs and hem to help seal out the rain, and reflective elements for visibility in low light conditions.

Softshell Jacket

Softshell jackets are designed to be breathable and water resistant. They’re usually made from a combination of synthetic and natural fibers, which makes them lightweight, packable, stretchy and breathable. The versatility of a softshell jacket is one of its main advantages. It can be worn as an outer layer alone (in moderate weather conditions) or as a middle layer underneath a rain jacket or hardshell jacket (in harsher conditions).

A softshell jacket’s fabric is usually tightly woven with lots of tiny pores that help it keep out wind and rain but also allow for moisture to escape. Softshell jackets are a good option for activities that call for a wider range of motion because they are commonly more comfortable and less constricting than hardshell jackets.

Hardshell Jacket

Hardshell jackets are designed to be the primary layer of protection against wind and precipitation. They typically have a 3-layer construction consisting of a waterproof and breathable membrane between an interior liner and a durable exterior face fabric. Gore-Tex is a common membrane material, but other options include eVent and Polartec NeoShell.

Hardshell jackets often also have taped seams and a water-repellant DWR finish to further protect against the elements. These features help to make hardshell jackets water- and wind-proof, making them ideal for use in harsh weather conditions.

Winter Jacket

When the chilly months of the year arrive, a winter jacket is used to keep warm. They will offer rain resistance rather than waterproof protection and will have a wide range of weather protection features.

Though it’s too bulky for me to personally associate a winter jacket with hiking, I figured I’d include it here because it could be useful as a general jacket for warmth, say if you’re camped out in a cabin as a basecamp at the base of some mountains. It might be very convenient to have as you gather firewood or perform other camp-related tasks.

Things to consider when choosing a Hiking Jacket

When you’re buying a hiking jacket, there are a few things to consider. The first is the material: what kind of material will it be made of?


The materials that are currently available for your hiking jacket come in a wide variety of options and technologies. Generally speaking, you want something that is waterproof first, then has some level of breathability or access to ventilation.

Waterproofing uses Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coatings to keep the external fabric of your hiking jacket, and thus you, dry. Your jacket can breathe thanks to the popular fabric technology known as Gore-tex.

Of course, the quality of jackets varies in this regard. Some jackets will be waterproof and breathable, allowing moisture to escape while keeping water out. If you choose a DWR only rain shell jacket, you might want to look for other ventilation options in the jacket, such as pit zips, to ensure you can get some outer air circulation. DWR only jackets will typically only keep water out, so this is definitely something to consider when making your purchasing decision.

Check out the HyVent or the Gore-Tex technology for two of the most well-known examples of this technical science. It’s all very technical, but it all works to keep you dry, healthy, and hopefully smiling when you’re out in nature!

Additionally, take into consideration how stretchy the material is. Stretchy material is ideal for movement, and stretchy fabric allows you to move around freely in your jacket. Some jackets come with multiple layers that can be worn together or separately, depending on how cold you feel or how much rain has fallen recently.


Which weather conditions will you primarily use your hiking jacket in? Will you be using it for brief weekend hikes or for longer periods of time (weeks or even months) at a time? Are you primarily going to be in temperate, tropical, or both environments?

In order to determine what kinds of performance requirements it needs to meet, you must first identify the hiking environments you know you will be in.

Size and Fit

Most people are aware of the general category into which their jackets fall, such as large, small, etc. Look at the sizing of any jackets you currently own to get an idea if you’re not familiar with sizing. But keep in mind that even within the same hiking jacket brand, sizes can vary significantly. In general, it’s a good idea to leave some space underneath your jacket for additional layers of clothing and for air to move around. For a fitting, you can always walk into any store.


Of course, most people are taking this into serious consideration in these hard times. Today’s hiking jacket options and quality are truly exceptional, but the cost will also reflect this.

A good waterproof hiking jacket can cost a few hundred dollars, and a top-of-the-line hard shell jacket can cost up to a thousand dollars. Consider your needs and make sure to shop within a budget that feels comfortable to you!

The Good News!

Again, I believe that most hikers will be fine using a simple rain jacket option. Your price range in that category is roughly $50 to $250. Within that price range, you ought to be able to find a rain jacket that will serve all of your hiking needs.


The next aspect you should think about is weight, which is connected to and follows from the material used in the jacket style you select. Most of the time, you won’t be wearing your jacket; instead, it will be rolled up in a ball inside your pack. When choosing your jacket, keep in mind that you don’t really want to be carrying any extra weight, whether you’re going on a day hike or a longer trek.

As a general rule, rain shells will be lighter than hard shells.


No matter what kind of jacket you choose, regular maintenance is essential to extending its lifespan. Take good care of your jacket to get the most use out of it because everything from your lovely sweat to general scuffing and abrasion will affect how long it lasts.

Additionally, your jacket will inevitably lose its ability to repel water over time and may even “wet out,” or become saturated with it. When this occurs, your jacket’s waterproofing abilities are effectively lost, so you must reproof it. 

Advice: Be sure to carefully read all cleaning and maintenance instructions! A DWR jacket’s outer protective coating, for instance, could be ruined by washing it. To get the most out of your waterproof hiking jacket, strictly adhere to the care and maintenance instructions!


Which brand do you prefer? There are many options, and in my opinion, this is a very personal decision. It’s possible that you’ve used some of their products in the past, which is usually a reliable indicator of whether you’ll like more of their offerings.

Additional Features

Every waterproof hiking jacket will come with a few standard features. The qualities listed below are indicative of a quality jacket:


On my jacket, I like to have as many pockets as possible. The placement of the pockets on the jacket is the main factor to be taken into account. You typically have the choice of having breast pockets, waist-height pockets, and possibly one or two on the side of the arm.

The main factor to take into account is having access to your pockets while moving or, if it applies to you, while wearing a backpack. The waist pockets on your jacket should be higher up so that they are accessible when carrying a backpack. For a day hiker using a small day pack, this isn’t really an issue, but it’s nice to have the choice. Mesh pockets are another thing to watch out for.

Last but not least, a Napoleon breast pocket—so named because it sits about two thirds up the outside of your jacket, typically on the left side—is a nice but not absolutely necessary addition on a hiking jacket. This pocket is very useful for storing a map or compass so you can easily access it while hiking.


Every waterproof hiking jacket has a hood, which is a crucial component of the garment. So that you can comfortably fit the hood to your head, it should be adjustable. Usually, the back of the head and the left and right sides of the hood’s base are where adjustments are made.

A peaked hood is a hood design that might be nice to have. This aids in shielding your face from the rain. A hood that can be rolled up and tucked inside the jacket’s collar is also useful, though in my opinion it is not necessary.

Any unique requirements you may have for your hiking expeditions should be considered. Will you ever be required to wear a helmet underneath your hood, for instance? If so, you will require a little more space inside to accommodate it.

Adjustable Hem Draw-cord

Every decent jacket ought to include this as standard. You can tighten the jacket around your body by adjusting the cord. Not particularly complex, but practical and essential. If your jacket is longer, you may find these at the bottom or at the level of the waist.

Angel Wing Movement

Because of this feature, the jacket won’t ride up your back when you move your arms in a circle. Good to have and simple to use. Even though it might not always be mentioned specifically, it is still important to check.

Adjustable Cuffs

These cuffs can be adjusted so that they fit snugly around your wrists. These can have Velcro-flapped cuffs, which is the preferred option, or elasticized cuffs. A nice addition to have on your jacket, undoubtedly.

Waterproof Zippers / Storm Flaps

These are made to prevent water from entering the zip area. On the inside and outside of the jacket, you should find storm flaps that you can seal over the zip. The zippers that are described as waterproof are exactly what they claim to be.

Usually, a combination of these features is included in jackets as additional protection. They should advance all the way to the hood’s chin line.


Okay, well, we’ve talked about a lot here, and in some ways, I believe we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s available. You can delve deep into each brand’s technology, but I don’t think most people would find that interesting.

I find the products on the market right now to be amazing. You’ll no doubt discover a ton of fantastic options there to satiate all of your hiking requirements.

You must choose what is best for you, but for the average hiker, I advise wearing a rain shell jacket over your other layers.

In conclusion, there are many factors to take into account when selecting the best waterproof hiking jacket for you and your hiking requirements. Spend some time reading through this entire post several times to make sure you choose the one that will provide you with many future happy, dry, and comfortable hikes!