Outdoor Jacket Guide- The Best Jackets for your Next Trek
A good winter jacket for trekking is an important piece of gear that everyone should really take the time out to research and then buy.
But there are so many types of jackets ranging from fleece jackets to puffy jackets and each of them use different types of coatings and membranes, that it can become really complex to narrow down to the one jacket that you do need.
I always found this process confusing and was always unsure on the kind of jacket I should buy. Or rather it was an educated guess but honestly I didn’t take the time to learn the technicalities. After researching a lot, we have put together a detailed list of the types of jackets available in the market in India which would help you buy the best suited jacket.
Types of Outdoor Jackets for Trekking
1. Wind Cheater
A wind jacket or wind cheater’s primary function is to protect you from the wind. They usually are quite breathable.
Windcheaters offer some degree of water resistance though not for prolonged periods.
They are ideal for use in windy conditions or if the need is for a lightweight jacket. Windcheaters are a good jacket to wear while traveling to destinations.
Good protection against the wind.
Good warmth in combination with a fleece.
Not completely waterproof.
Not enough protection on its own.
2. Rain Jackets
The primary function of a waterproof rain jacket is to protect you from the rain. They come in different ratings and its best to check this rating before buying one.
They do not offer any insulation from the cold. It should be used in combination with a soft shell jacket while trekking.
Good protection for its size.
No insulation from cold.
The waterproof coating will diminish with age and wear and tear which is normal.
Ponchos are the most suited type of jacket to have in an emergency downpour. They are lightweight and will take up the least amount of space when compared to any other form of jackets.
They do not hinder movement and can be easily worn on the trail. They will cover your backpack and other carry-ons too.
But, they are not suitable for trekking in extended periods of rain.
Easy to wear in an emergency situation.
Light and compact.
Not suitable for extended periods of heavy rain.
4. Fleece Jackets
Fleece Jackets are the first type of jacket you should buy if you are trekking in cold climates. Fleece jackets are usually made from a polyester fabric and are an ideal mid layer.
Fleece Jackets are lightweight and offer decent warmth in chilly weather. They offer some extent of protection from the wind but not in the rain. Paired with a softshell or hardshell, they can offer superior protection in any winter trek.
While fleece jackets aren’t compact when folded, they are still more packable than a thick winter jacket.
Flexible and Breathable.
Durable and easy to wash.
Keeps you warm.
Not packable and will take up space in your backpack if you’re not wearing it.
Gilets are warm insulating jackets without sleeves. They can be worn in combination with a base layer and a soft shell.
A gilet offers the insulation of a down jacket but gives you the flexibility of a softshell jacket. It provides you with more warmth than just a base layer.
They are made in different types of fabrics ranging from down, fleece or other polyester fabrics.
Since they are lightweight and sleeveless, they can be mixed and matched with any type of shell.
Not very practical as they might cost as much as a soft shell.
6. Soft Shell Jackets
Softshell jackets are a great addition to a trekker’s gear haul. Softshell jackets are lightweight when compared to a thicker hardshell jacket. They offer more movement for use in aerobic activities like trekking and climbing.
During outdoor activities, your body tends to perspire.
This perspiration needs to escape or it will start to condense leading to a sweaty t-shirt or base layer.
A sweaty t-shirt or base layer will reduce your body temperature.
Once this starts to happen, your jacket will no longer help you stay warm.
Good jackets with air vents near armpits and breathable fabrics prevent this.
Softshell jackets are abrasion and wind resistant.
They are suited for cold dry environments but will not offer protection against heavy rains.
Soft-shell jackets lack an inner waterproof membrane made from companies like Gore-Tex. Instead, they rely on PU coated fabric or PU Lamnate and or a DWR treatment on the outer fabric to give the jacket its waterproof abilities.
In simple terms, a DWR spray keeps the water droplets in a round bead shape. And this helps it roll off the fabric rather than absorb into it.
Paired with a fleece and a woolen base layer, soft-shell jackets offer affordable insulation against the cold.
The addition of a poncho or rain jacket would make it suitable for rains.
Good comfort in cold climates.
Offer greater agility in outdoor sports.
Breathable and will dissipate sweat.
Not suitable in heavy rains.
7. Hard Shell Jackets
A hardshell jacket in a general sense is a jacket that offers superior protection from water and rain. They are usually firm to the touch and not as lightweight as a soft-shell.
A hardshell jacket uses a waterproof yet breathable membrane. Gore-Tex is one of the most popular manufacturers of this type of membrane.
This inner membrane is fused to the inside of a typical soft-shell jacket.
The seams are sealed with waterproof tapes to prevent any water from entering the jacket.
It is this process that makes the jacket fully waterproof. A third layer can be fused on the insides on top of the waterproof membrane to protect it from wear and tear.
Finally, the outer fabric is treated with a DWR or Durable Water Repellant spray which makes water roll of the fabric.
In simple terms, the coating makes water remain in a bead shape and easily roll of the fabric rather get absorbed into it.
It is this combination of the DWR spray and the inner waterproof membrane in a softshell jacket that makes it a hard shell jacket.
A hardshell jacket is not as breathable and lightweight as a soft shell. All these features come with a cost, making Hardshell jackets expensive.
So how do you decide between the two? It usually is a tradeoff unless you find a hybrid jacket. You would have to match the activity and the environment to the jacket that you need.
Really good protection in extreme cold.
Suitable for wind and rain protection.
Can be heavy and bulky.
Not very breathable if it doesn’t have vents.
8. Down Jackets or Insulated Jackets
Down Jackets are among the best winter trekking jackets you could buy. There are two types of down jackets, Natural down made from duck and geese down feathers and synthetic downs.
The biggest benefit of a down jacket is that they can keep you incredibly warm. Down Jackets are extremely packable and usually fold into one of its pockets.
The only drawback of down jackets is that they lose their insulating abilities once wet. You should ensure they do not tear or rock surfaces as they are not abrasion resistant.
Good warmth for its weight.
Packable, won’t take up much space.
Won’t offer insulation if wet.
Needs extra care compared to hard shell.
9. Winter Jackets or 3-in-1 Jackets
These are usually worn by people in very cold environments. While the temperature ratings ranges from manufacturer to manufacturer, the concept is the same.
They are a combo of a hard shell jacket and inner soft or fleece jacket.
Both can be worn separately if required.
But the combination of the two, sold as a set, offers great protection in extreme colds.
The outer layer is wind and water resistant and the inner traps air to keep the body warm.
Extremely good protection against the cold.
Can be bulky.
We really hope this article has given you a fair picture of the types of jackets available and what is best suited for your needs.
One of our biggest takeaways should be that one single jacket will not keep you warm and dry and its always best to be layering your clothing for you to reach you ideal body temperature.