Whether you plan to hike across the Great Wall of China, trek through the Arctic snow under the Northern Lights in Lapland or set off over the desert dunes on a nomadic wander, it’s important to be correctly clothed, and to understand what you need from your outdoor jacket before you make a purchase. Breath-ability, weight, weather resistance, mobility and insulation are all important considerations, as are extra features such as hoods and pockets. The right walking jacket can save you luggage space, protect you from the elements while you walk and last through years of punishing adventures.
For damp terrain and spray-soaked coastline
There are two types of waterproof jackets: hard shell and soft shell. Many walking jackets claim to be waterproof, but over time, and with continued use, most rain-wear can lose its protective properties. You should consider the extra expense of a hard shell jacket if you plan to walk frequently in damp conditions, or are heading off on a protracted hiking holiday. A soft (or rain shell) should suffice for camping trips and short expeditions. There are ways to preserve the waterproofing of either type of jacket; when it’s not in use, roll it up and tuck it into its own hood, keep it clean and always pack a water repellent spray.
For windswept mountains and snowy excursions
A windproof walking jacket might just be the most versatile in your arsenal. Pertex is the material to look for; its outer layer is made of tightly woven material, while its inner, finer layer wicks any moisture away from the body. This also makes it highly resistant to a drenching. Generally, windproof jackets aren’t insulated, so think about buying one in a size big enough to accommodate mid and base layers.
For hot climates and desert dustings
While it might seem unlikely you’ll want to cover up with a jacket, the less skin you have exposed in the desert, the better. When you venture into this stark environment in a T-shirt and shorts, water evaporates away from your body faster, leaving you dehydrated. Hiking terrain like the Grand Canyon may require a windproof shell in colder months, and it’s always critical to bring a jacket on overnight stays in the desert, when the temperature drops rapidly.
The right jacket can make all the difference between being cold and miserable, or having the stamina to push on to the next leg of your great hiking adventure. Next to a pair of sturdy, broken in boots, it’s the most important protection money can buy, so make sure to get it right.
Image by natalielucier, used under Creative Commons license