When heading out on the trail, one of the most important pieces of gear is a good hiking jacket.
But with all the options out there, how do you know which level of waterproofing you really need?
As an avid hiker and used Arc’teryx jacket enthusiast, I’ve learned that the ideal waterproof rating depends on the conditions you’ll be facing.
Keep reading for tips on choosing the perfect level of water resistance for your adventures.
The first step is thinking about when and where you hike most often. Are you a fair weather day hiker or do you regularly venture into extreme alpine environments?
The climate you’ll be in determines how waterproof your jacket needs to be.
Here’s a quick guide to different levels of waterproof-breathable (WPB) fabric ratings:
- 5,000mm – Light rain and snow. Good for day hikes.
- 10,000mm – Moderate precipitation. Workable for most conditions.
- 15,000-20,000mm – Heavy rain, wet snow. Ideal for stormy hikes.
- 28,000mm+ – Extreme weather like monsoons. Necessary for expeditions.
The mm refers to the height of the water column the fabric can withstand before leaking.
So 20,000mm fabric could hold back water if submerged under 20,000mm or 20m of water.
For three-season hiking in the Pacific Northwest, my go-to is the Arc’teryx Beta SL jacket. With a 20,000mm rating, it provides ample waterproofing for our wet climate.
I’ve worn it through countless day hikes in drizzling rain and it’s kept me bone dry.
The Gore-Tex shell beads water even in heavy downpours.
During a particularly wet trek up Mount Constitution, my hiking partners in lighter jackets ended up soaked while I stayed perfectly dry thanks to the Beta SL.
Yet it remains breathable enough that I don’t overheat on sunny days.
The ventilation and pit zips are excellently designed. And it’s lightweight and packs down small – easy to toss in my pack just in case.
For cold weather trips or extreme conditions, I’ll upgrade to my Arc’teryx Alpha SV jacket which boasts a 28,000mm rating.
Last winter I brought the Alpha SV on a backpacking excursion in the North Cascades. The first night a massive storm hit with heavy snow and driving winds.
With the Alpha SV I stayed warm and dry as we continued upwards.
The hood fit over my helmet and the GORE-TEX Pro material shed snow like a champ.
While the storm raged on, the jacket lived up to its name as my top survival garment.
So for serious mountaineering or conditions where extreme precipitation is expected, I recommend reaching for a jacket with an extra high waterproof rating. You’ll be grateful for the added protection.
At the end of the day, think about your intended hike locations and conditions when choosing a waterproof level.
For many scenarios, 10,000-20,000mm offers ample water resistance. But don’t hesitate to invest in a 50,000mm juggernaut if you’ll be facing torrential downpours regularly.
The right hiking jacket keeps you comfy and focused on the trail ahead, not your soggy clothing.
So make sure to assess your personal needs and climate to find your perfect fit. Then get out there, roam the miles, and explore the wild – dry as can be!