Whenever you are planning for trekking, there is one question which always will come to your mind; which trekking jacket should I buy?
A good trekking jacket should keep you warm and cozy during your trekking. Yet it is much more than just keeping you warm during cold weather. It should also allow you to stay active throughout your trail in comfort. Like the other trekking essentials like tents, shoes, backpacks, trekking jackets are of similar importance. A trekking jacket should be fully featured. It should be durable, waterproof, breathable, insulated and of high quality material. The tougher the treks are, the more you will perspire. You will always appreciate a jacket with good breathability that will help balance the temperature around your body, even in minus conditions. You don’t have to worry about adjusting your layers after every now and then when you are packed with a good trekking jacket. A good trekking jacket is versatile and also protects you from the elements like rain, wind and snow.
We have previously discussed the layers of clothing during our article on Layers of Clothing. Hence we will not be going into the same details again. But as you know there are three layers of clothing when it comes to the upper body which consist of base layer, mid or insulated layer and outer shell/layer.
As we know jackets does not fall into the category of base layer. Thus we won’t go into that but definitely will inform you about the types of jackets which are available in the market these days. You will be able to understand by the end of this article about your best option for trekking jacket. And at the end of the article we will be discussing a few factors which comes in place whenever we are choosing the right jacket for us.
Types of Trekking Jackets:
Let’s first go over the properties of mid layer or outer layer rather than jumping straight into different types of trekking jackets.
MID OR INSULATED LAYER:
The Mid Layer is an insulated layer that retains body heat and worn over the base layer. It includes fleece jackets, down jackets, woolen sweater and fleece sweaters. The main function of this layer is to keep you warm by trapping the body heat in its fibers. Also the mid layer should also be breathable otherwise the moisture will be trapped to your body. The mid layer needs to be quick drying and well packable which means it should not take too much space inside the rucksack. The layer is tight fitted to increase the thermal efficiency. The Mid Layer differs by materials and design including pullover, hooded jackets, zip jacket, etc.
Worn: Over the Base Layer
When: Moderate and Cold temperature
Function: Thermal Insulation
Material Used: Polyester Fleece, Goose Down, Merino Wool
SHELL OR OUTER LAYER:
The outer or shell layer will protect you from water and wind. While it allows the moisture to evaporate from the base and mid layer at the same time. It is worn over the base layer in normal weather conditions or over the mid layer when in cold weather. But it needs to be worn only in windy and rainy weather as it reduces the breathability of the cloth. The more the fabric or layer is waterproof, the less breathable it is. The upper layer consists of rain jackets, soft-shell jackets and insulated jackets.
Worn: Over the mid layer or directly over the base layer
When: During rain and windy conditions
Function: Protects from rain and water
Material Used: Gore-Tex, Gore Wind stopper
Now let’s start with the types of trekking jackets. The first three types can be worn separately or worn along with outer layer. It will all depend on the weather condition and type of the trail. The latter two are the outer layers which are worn with mid layer and in extreme conditions.
- FLEECE JACKETS
A fleece jacket is a key part of all the trekkers. It is usually constructed from polyester synthetic wool. It is commonly used as the base layer of layering of clothing. A fleece jacket will provide you with warmth and is highly breathable and moisture wicking.
However fleece jackets are not supposed to protect you from the wind or rain. Although some jackets you might find to be water resistance in this type. Another good thing about the fleece jackets is that they tend to have a long life. You can spend on these without any second thoughts.
- DOWN JACKETS
As the name defines, down jackets are made from Down which is actually the soft and warm feathers of ducks or geese. Hence Down is considered to be the best insulator and provides exceptional warmth and breathability. The performance of the down fill is measured by fill power. The higher the fill power, the more insulation will be.
A good down jacket keeps the body warm by trapping the body heat and restricting it from diffusing outside. Down jacket loses its warmth if it gets wet or exposed to moisture. And that is something which you don’t want. To add on a down jacket does not dry quickly.
- SYNTHETIC/INSULATED JACKETS
Synthetic jackets shares the same qualities of down jackets. Like down jacket, a synthetic also keeps you warm. Synthetic jackets tend not to lose their warmth even if they are exposed to moisture or water. But these jackets are not as breathable as down jackets. Nevertheless they are more affordable than down jackets. A synthetic jacket is actually more durable regarding abrasion.
From my experience I am not a fan of this category because down jackets tend to work for me during cold conditions. And in case of warm, I carry fleece jackets always.
- HARD SHELL JACKETS
Hard shell jackets will protect you from rain, wind and snow. They are made up of 2 to 3 materials. The functions of the layers are:
– Internal layer which enables the movement against the clothes and protect the next layer.
– Next layer is waterproof and breathable.
It is also another important trekking gear while going in extreme conditions. Hard Shell jackets are the toughest waterproof jackets. These jackets are bulky and heavy and cost usually more than other jackets. Thus mostly used by hardcore trekking enthusiast.
- SOFT SHELL JACKETS
Soft Shell jackets purpose is to provide you with warmth while allowing moisture to wick away from lower layers. The jacket is not waterproof but is water resistant, a light rain will work. Although it provides exceptional breathability. You can use soft shell jackets under the rain coat to get the waterproof quality.
Soft shell jackets offers great flexibility as compared to hard shell jackets which are little stiff. You can do the movements easily like stretch or climb.
Now as per my own preference these are the different weather conditions and accordingly the type of jacket which I would choose to wear.
Cold Condition –
If it is freezing condition then you would need a jacket to provide excellent insulation. Hence my best option will be Down Jackets. If in case the temperature is extreme cold then layer the down jacket along with fleece jacket inside.
Cold and Rainy Condition –
When the weather turns out to be wet/rainy along with cold then you will need something which keeps the body warm even if jacket gets wet. Also another thing to keep, the jacket should dry up fast. Thus, I will go for water-repellent down jackets or synthetic jackets.
Rainy Conditions –
During monsoon season if you are trekking and want to keep yourself dry then my choice will be Soft Shell Jackets. Soft Shell is reliable, waterproof, breathable and durable. Although you can go for Hard Shell but hard shell will cost more and allow less breathability.
You can certainly opt for a Rain Jacket but since these jackets have no lining. So if the weather turns out cold during rain then its best to wear them over a Fleece Jacket or merino wool mid layer.
Warm Conditions –
Warm temperatures can be sweaty, so definitely you need a jacket which will be highly breathable and moisture wicking. Plus trekking involves movements hence you will need something stretchable and flexible to allow full range of motion. Fleece Jackets which will be the ideal choice for such conditions. You can pair them with a quick dry t-shirt.
As we have discussed the major types of trekking jackets which are used right from an easy treks to expedition treks. However how you choose them or which one you choose will depend upon the following factors.
The first factor which we need to keep in mind is weather. What kind of weather you will be using your trekking jacket in? Or how long you will be using it like for weekend or extended treks? You need to know the climate conditions before heading out. Always check for low temperature and night temperature, it gives better idea about layering.
If you are going during rainy weather then waterproof jacket will be the best. But if you are going during winter then you might choose a down jacket. In case if your trek have great variation in weather and temperature, you might want to choose something more versatile like a jacket that comes with removable outer shell.
Trekking jacket is an investment and choose something which can behold you during almost all weather conditions.
SIZE AND FIT
The trekking jackets should be of your size. Keep in mind that different brands have different jackets in the same sizes. I would advise you to go out and try on the jacket before investing. As far as the fitting goes, a good trekking jacket should have some extra room to add a layer of clothes underneath and provide some space for air to move around. This will wick the moisture and keep you warm during trek.
Never go for one size up in case of jackets otherwise it will not hold your body or the layers beneath, which will result in loss of body warmth. The jacket will fail to provide you the insulation and that might cause cold and fever to you during your trek.
If the size and fit of the jacket is good, it will not only protect you but will provide you the comfort as well. You don’t want to be stuck in too-tight, itchy and non breathable jacket.
In the modern world when it comes to trekking jacket material, there are multiple options and technologies. Generally speaking you need something waterproof and warm with some level of breathability. The best jackets are waterproof, and made up of durable and tear-proof material on the outside. Different trekking jackets have different quality levels. Select a material which protect you from all elements like snow, water and wind and allow moisture to get out. A hard shell material jacket will do the work in this case.
But in case looking for something more of a warmth property and easy to pack, you can do this with soft shell jackets. However you can also go for water resistant down jackets as well. Likewise you have to check for the material which you need and which will be comfortable for you. Gore-Tex, goose down, fleece, synthetic, etc are some common materials used in recent times.
A good trekking jacket material will keep you dry, in good shape and will certainly bring a smile on your face when you are out in the trek.
BUDGET AND BRANDS
Make a budget first to narrow down the jackets in the market. The choices and quality of jackets which are available are exceptional and it reflects in their price as well. Few trekking jackets can be really expensive. But you can definitely find an affordable once if you do your research right.
Evaluate your needs and ensure you buy something with your budget that is comfortable to you.
Another factor you should consider is the brand. What brand do you like? There is an immense pool of jackets to choose from. But this is your personal choice and preference. Select a brand which you have already used in the past. As we told you different brands have different properties even in the same size. Going with a previously used brand will give you more confidence and comfortable during your trek.
MAINTENANCE AND WEIGHT
Maintenance is the key thing to extend the life of the jacket, regardless of the type of jacket you are using. If you take care of the jacket then only you get the best out of it. From sweat to scuffing and scraping, everything will have an impact on the longevity of jacket. The jacket might loses its water resistant quality at some point. If this is the case then you need to reproof the jacket.
Make it a point to read the cleaning and maintenance instructions carefully. And follow them to the letter to get the most out of your trekking jacket.
For example a jacket with DWR(Durable Water Repellent) coating washed in a washing machine, then it can destroy the protective coating.
Although every factor does help in choosing the right trekking jacket, the weight is also one of them. You won’t be wearing the jacket and it will be packed in the backpack. Whether it is a weekend trek or extended one, no one likes to carry extra load, hence keep this in mind while choosing one.
Choose for something which is lightweight and compressed, it will fit in the backpack easily and can be worn with no hassle. Imagine wearing a heavy jacket will restrict your movement and slow you down during the trek. It will increase the load at both times, while you have worn it and while it is rolled in the pack.
So these are few factors which you can keep in mind before investing in a trekking jacket. Although we have picked the best trekking jackets for both men and women. You compare the best for you and can purchase using the links mentioned with them.
But apart from these factors, you should also be looking for a few of these features in a trekking jacket.
- Hood: Not all trekking jackets will have hood attached with them. You might have to pay a little extra for hooded jackets. But it is a very important part. Make sure that the hood is adjustable so you can fit your head comfortably. These adjustments are usually on the left and right sides of the base of the hood and sometimes on the back of the head. When it is cold or wet or snowy, you will need a hood that can protect you from these elements. A peaked hood can be a good style in hood. This will help to keep the rain off your face. Nevertheless you can also go for hoods which can be rolled up and stored in the collar of the jacket.
- Air Vents: Although most of the trekking jackets have the breathable quality in them. But if your trek is difficult and requires intense activity, you will need to dry off quickly and easily. This is where the air vents will play the role. They will help to wick moisture away. Air vents also saves you from the hassle of removing the outer protective layer or for that matter any layers.
- Zipped Pockets: This might sound a minor detail to you but it actually a life savior. During the extreme cold weather when you are wearing thick gloves, zipped pockets becomes easy to pull. Now the location of the pockets on the jacket also matters. The general location available are waist height pockets, breast pockets and on the arm sometimes. Although the number of pockets will be your personal preference. Make sure you have enough pockets to keep the gears like compass, maps, etc and it is easy to open and close with gloves.
- Adjustable Cuffs: The cuffs on the jacket should be adjustable and seal around your wrist. They will help you to keep the warmth in and allow you to put gloves under or over the sleeves. These can be either elastic cuffs or cuff flaps made from Velcro. Again this is a minor detail but is a nice thing to have on the jacket. You will be amazed to know how much heat you can lose with inappropriate cuffs.
- Adjustable Hem Draw-Cord: In simple language it is a cord that you can adjust to tighten your jacket around your waist. Although these draw-cords can be at the bottom of the jacket, if it is long. This is functional and necessary, turns out of more use during rainy and windy conditions.
Phew, we have finally completed the guide and covered a lot here. In today’s market there are so many different types and models of jackets available to choose from. It can spin your head though. It is up to you to decide which trekking jacket is best for you.