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HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT HIKING OR TREKKING JACKET?

As a hiker or a trekker, a waterproof jacket is an important element of your kit. Not to mention that choosing the right jacket is essential to guarantee an enjoyable adventures (especially when the weather isn't guaranteed). However, sometimes it's difficult to find the right pair. So, here is a comprehensive guide to staying dry on your hikes!

The selection of your hiking or trekking jacket should be guided by 3 main criteria: the duration of your trip, the weather risks you'll be taking on, and of course the intensity of your activity. These criteria will help you find your ideal waterproof jacket, so that you can enjoy care-free adventures in comfort! Once you're well-equipped, all that's left to do is enjoy your hike - knowing you'll stay warm and dry!

SO, WHY IS A HIKING JACKET SO IMPORTANT?

The final element of an  efficient 3-layer system, a hiking jacket will keep you protected from the elements while you enjoy the great outdoors. So, not only will you be sheltered from weather elements such as the wind, rain and snow, you'll be protected from other natural elements that you may come against, if you're a fan of venturing off the beaten path. For example, your jacket can protect you from thorny vegetation, sharp rock edges, and dense undergrowth, all whilst evacuating your sweat!

HARDSHELL OR SOFTSHELL JACKET?

Before getting into the details of the selection criteria for your waterproof hiking jacket, let's first look at how waterproofing is defined.
The waterproofing of a fabric refers to its capacity to prevent water penetration (rain, snow, spray or even humidity). The applied treatment enables the jacket to protect you from the rain during humid or rainy hikes.

Waterproofing depends on several criteria: its component and its construction.
The component of a jacket can have a coating or membrane, which will provide some degree of protection against the rain.
- The coating is similar to a paint layer applied to the inside of the fabric. It makes the component waterproof whilst remaining breathable. It is often less costly than a membrane, although it does require a lining for protection.

- As for the membrane, it is a kind of very thin plastic film (polyurethane) that makes the component waterproof whilst remaining breathable. It has the advantage of being more flexible, lighter, more durable and often more breathable than a coating.

Still with us? Let's carry on, then! On top of this, there's the construction of the component, which we evaluated based on its layers.

The 2-layer component: The membrane is glued only to the outer fabric; the inner protective lining is free. This construction is applied for comfortable jackets.

The 2-layer component ½:  The membrane is glued under the outer fabric and is protected inside by a fine film. This construction is used for lightweight jackets.

The 3-layer component: The membrane is glued between the outer and inner fabric. This construction is used for high-resistance and high-performance jackets.

SPOTLIGHT ON WATERPROOFING

The waterproofing rating is measured by the fabric's resistance to water pressure, expressed in terms of the height of a water column in mm (test based on the ISO 811 standard). The higher the pressure, the more waterproof the fabric. A component with a 10,000 mm waterproof rating, i.e. it can withstand the pressure of the 10,000 mm column of water. This is also equivalent to 10,000 Schmerbers. 1 Schmerber = 1 mm water column = 0.1 mbar.

Now that you've got to grips with the concept of waterproofing, let's take a look at how to choose the right waterproof jacket. During your hikes, you're sure to come across bad weather at some point. That's why you need to choose a waterproof jacket that will keep you warm and dry! There are several types of hiking jackets, with varying levels of waterproofing, so your choice will depend on the following criteria:
> The duration of your hike
> The weather
> The intensity of your activity

2) THE WEATHER

The region and the season can also impact the protection level that you'll need. Whatever it is, the weather will be a defining factor when choosing your hiking jacket.

So, what if the weather is mild when you set off? You'll just need a rain jacket, that can be slipped into your backpack before heading out... In this case, no need to look at the more technical jackets. Clothing that will guarantee protection from rain shows will be more than enough. However, make sure you always have one with you, because you never know when a rain shower is going to creep up on you! Especially if you're taking on mountains!

On the contrary, if you're a hardened hiker and long hikes in the middle of winter don't scare you: you're going to need a jacket with more protection. Not to mention a jacket that is more compact and more lightweight (so that you can easily carry it with you).

So, what if the weather conditions are looking pretty chaotic? In this case, opt for a jacket with a high waterproofing rating. Just what you need to take on storms and heavy rain, even halfway up a mountain.

Note that, for each jacket, the waterproofing rating is scored on a scale from 1 to 5. These scores result from technical laboratory tests, the higher the score, the more waterproof the jacket (this rating is available on the technical information sheet for each jacket).

3) THE INTENSITY OF YOUR ACTIVITY

The final criteria to consider is the intensity of your hike. The higher the intensity, the more likely you are to sweat, so we would recommend that you choose a ventilated jacket. Because hiking jackets are designed to give you maximum breathability, ventilation zips are used to reinforce this breathability.

We talk about mechanical ventilation when there's a ventilation zip. These are generally located under the arms, but some pockets also have mesh which helps with sweat wicking. For even better ventilation, wear breathable clothing under your jacket and remember to keep your sleeve cuffs and jacket bottom open.

Just remember this: for a hiking jacket to offer you the comfort needed for your activity, it is essential that it offers good breathability. When choosing your jacket, don't forget to pay attention to this criteria. Opt for a technical jacket with pores (just like the ones in your skin) that are relatively small, to prevent water penetration, whilst still being big enough to ensure optimal sweat evacuation!