The Waterproof Jacket: A Complete Buying Guide

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Thinking to spend some spare time inside a cave? Buying a good quality waterproof jacket is necessary. It is your best barrier against the humidity or typical damp conditions of a cave.

And not to toot our own horn, but some of our gear recommendations are receiving a lot of praise from new customers. However, there are still some queries that are puzzling for some people. We have included everything you’ll need to make the right buy when it comes to your waterproof jacket.

Experts have designed waterproof and water-resistant jackets for demanding conditions like heavy rainfall and snowfall. However, unlike before, now they are created with lifestyle in mind. Today, they come in different styles and have many features. 

A number of options are available in the price sector too. Therefore, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly which waterproof jacket is the best.

Our expert guide, updated for 2023, should help you figure out what features to look for in your new waterproof jacket.

Why is a waterproof jacket better than a normal jacket?

This is the first question you may have asked. Everyone has a jacket and maybe even a decent water-resistant jacket in the closet somewhere, especially if they live in a colder area of the world. So why bother with buying a new jacket just for caving?

The first factor is humidity. Even though the temperature drops in the darkness, and justifies having a jacket on its own, the humid environment in many caves is another issue entirely. Normal jackets are sufficient for an open environment. They slow down the loss of heat and keep your body warm in cold conditions, but they don’t work well in the environment of a cave.

The environment of a cave is a tad diverse; you need a jacket that can not only keep you warm in the cold, but release body heat in the certain atmospheres too. In caves, the sweat can soak your clothes pretty quickly as you continually move around, especially if it’s rather humid.

A well lit outside look of a Kenyan cave.
Some caves may be wet but not nearly as cold as others – then humidity becomes an issue.

What if the environment isn’t humid?

Waterproof jacket perception is based, to a very large extent, on comfort. We understand it is for the rainy, humid environment but cavers associate them with ease. Even if the environment isn’t humid, cavers know that they can deal with a pond of water or wet rock formations. This is very common in wild caves. Moreover, the surface can be muddy and slippery; you won’t like to put your feet on a muddy, slippery surface if you are wearing a normal jacket.

Using a Trench Coat Instead of a Waterproof Jacket

Time after time, women ask this question as some trench coats are waterproof. Yes, a good trench coat keeps you stylishly dry on a rainy day and complements your fashion sense, but don’t use them for any intense kind of activity. For a show cave or tourist cave, you can certainly use a trench coat with a pair of rain boots, which will suffice for most casual horizontal caving adventures. But for anything beyond that, they may fall short.


What you want instead, is a good combination of layers in a waterproof jacket.

Brands use the ‘layering’ term when they combine multiple layers to create a jacket. People who are not aware of the layering system think that it is used to keep them warm. But this isn’t the entire truth.

Without a doubt, it keeps you protected and warm during your outdoor pursuits, but this system has some other benefits too. Rather than making you rely on the jacket, they customize it fully. You can regulate your temperature with your own hands by adding or removing the layers in the jacket.

It isn’t common in waterproof jackets but some brands are introducing the layering system now so that their customers can easily manage the demands of the weather situation effectively. Having this as an option allows you to deal with more humid or perhaps colder environments without needing to have a separate jacket for separate caves.

North Face's Futurelight design, a spiderweb-like layer for waterproof jackets.
North Face’s Futurelight design, a spiderweb-like layer for waterproof jackets.

Waterproof Membrane

The layer that most requires attention is the waterproof membrane in a jacket.

This is the thin layer of microscopic pores that allows sweat vapors to pass through from the inside, while preventing the rain droplets from getting in. Companies know the quality of their jacket relies on it. They work with membrane brands to have a great waterproofing feature. In other words, for the most part, a waterproof jacket is a combination of two brands.

The thing most people don’t perceive is the quality of the membrane depends on its brands. The factor that contributes most to the ability of a jacket is the pore ratio. Jackets that are “waterproof/breathable” are manufactured with pores in the material. These pores are made small enough to keep moisture from piercing through, but also large enough to allow sweat vapor to escape and evaporate. Each pore is 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, which makes a good jacket utterly waterproof. That’s why you don’t feel clammy or get any sweat on your body despite feeling insulated and protected.

Before buying a waterproof jacket or membrane, if you are concerned with the breathability of the product, directly ask the manufacturer about the pore count per square inch and its size.

Let’s say you buy a GORE-TEX membrane; its performance is exceptional and it is a well-respected brand in the industry. This brand has 9 billion pores per square inch. This pore ratio is perhaps the best available, because it allows heat to escape quite well. However, compare this to Hyvent Alpha, a fabric developed by North Face. It has only half a million pores per square inch. This results in trapping more warmth, which helps for people dealing with extreme cold weather, but it may not be nearly as comfortable for caving.

Diagram showing the different layers of a Goretex waterproof jacket.
How a waterproof jacket works in a nutshell.

Good Quality Membrane Manufacturers

Some companies, like Texapore, Aquafoil, Isotex, and Aquadry, develop their own membrane too instead of focusing on other brands.

Some membrane manufacturers are easily recognizable and respected, such as GORE-TEX. Their membranes are used by some famous and expensive brands, such as Sprayway.

Another great example of a membrane jacket is Páramo.


The membrane and fabric of Páramo are very different from other brands. This exceptional brand has a cult-like following among hikers and mountaineers. The best feature, arguably, is its design mimics animal fur, which provides incredible comfort. Furthermore, just like any quality membrane jacket, it pushes moisture outwards while providing good insulation.

Páramo is great but it has a couple of drawbacks also. First, it is expensive. If you are buying from an original, ethical brand, you have to pay a bit more. Occasional cavers might think twice before investing in this brand. It is good for everyday use, but not for a “once every couple months” type of caver.

Second, it is a bit heavier than other jackets; this feature can push away some customers. If you’re going for a very light and sleek feel, this could cause concern.

Membrane jackets are lighter and commonly do perform better for people with an active lifestyle. So first, figure out whether you need speed or maximum protection from moisture.

What is Breathable Technology?

Although this “guaranteed to keep you dry” Breathable Technology is presented in every other waterproof jacket, some customers still don’t fully comprehend what it actually is. They think it is presented only in the membrane, which is true to some extent, but sometimes it is created by combining different textile layers. For instance, professional manufacturers use a lamination process for bonding the membrane textile layer. They use their own unique methods too (in reality, the basic construction stays the same), and call it a unique breathable technology, and associate it with their brand to stand out. Some websites use a “Breathability Rating” to compare different fabrics and products.

Coating: Is it a Worthy Substitute for a Truly Waterproof Jacket?

What if a jacket has a coating and no membrane?

You will see some coated jackets in the market. This means that rather than using membrane, the company has utilized coating, a rubber-like layer, to make it waterproof. Sometimes, the rubber-like layer is also painted or sprayed on the inside of the layer. The paint also acts like a waterproof feature that prevents water from getting in.

But the question here is why the manufacturers count on the coating instead of the membrane, which is undoubtedly more useful for humid and rainy conditions? The coated layers are primarily used for lowering the cost of the product, both for the buyer and the manufacturing process.

We see coating in the jackets developed for everyday use. It serves as a simple barrier that keeps rain out, but it’s more for general usage than anything else.

Coated layers are not good for sports players, cavers, or other hobbies that demand intense activity. Although it prevents moisture from getting inside the jacket, it also hinders the moisture (sweat) from getting out. For that reason, sports players and active cavers or hikers or other hobbyists don’t rely on coated jackets much. For horizontal, slow-paced show caving, this can be enough, but if you are a professional caver and thinking to try vertical caving, we recommend not buying a coated jacket.

A pair of waterproof or water-resistant jackets, navy blue, and a dark beige/grey.

Fabric Quality

The quality of the jacket you bring is one of the main factors that will determines the comfort level of the entire caving expedition.

The fabric is the first indicator that shows how much attention the manufacturer gave to the style and quality of their product and what kind of use the product is intended for.

It is hard to list all the various types of fabric that are used in a waterproof jacket. Let us define a few important ones that we frequently see in the most jacket. 

The first is the combination of Nylon and Polyester. Created with a tight weave system, these fabrics are quite water-resistant. To make them utterly waterproof, though, companies use a polyurethane layer on them. You’ll often find this layer in the interior side of the fabric. It makes the jacket waterproof without a doubt but it makes the jacket less breathable. In a very humid or hot environment, this will surely cause some discomfort.

Next, we have laminated cotton.

Laminated cotton is based on the concept of PUL material (a polyester fabric with a thin plastic coating). It is durable, breathable, and totally waterproof. We are not saying the laminated cotton is as effective as PUL but when it comes to environmental friendliness, it wins every time. It also stays comfortable under extreme weather conditions.

Apart from this, we see PVC fabrics at times, which are basically a coated polyester. It is slightly stiff compared to the other fabrics but we get a smooth finish on the inside that provides more durability and protection from the outside elements.

A polyester mesh showing its water resistance with water droplets resting on it.
This polyester mesh can resist water quite well.

Style: Get a Waterproof Jacket that Doesn’t Just Look Good

When it comes to style, it is mostly up to you to decide what you love the most. Since you will be in the dark a lot while caving, perhaps a lighter colored jacket would serve best. You don’t want to have your entire outfit blending in with the background of the cave. On the other hand, you could easily affix a light stick to your backpack or coat and let your teammates spot you easiest like that.

Some people like the hood in the jacket to cover their heads. It gives protection from the rainy weather without restricting your view. For a caving adventure, you have to see whether the hood is helmet-compatible and adjustable. You will likely have a headlamp on your head, especially if you are caving more often, so this may make or break a specific waterproof jacket choice. Check if your jacket allows you to remove the hood.

Similarly, checking the number of pockets in a jacket is essential. You have to see how many pockets you have in a waterproof jacket because you are probably going to need them in the dark passages of a cave. They become valuable for securing small items like your map, compass, and flashlight. You won’t need to fiddle through your backpack repeatedly if you can carry these important tools directly on you in your pockets. Also, the pocket should have zips to ensure that what goes inside, stays inside and dry. It can dampen the mood to find out something you had in your pocket at the beginning disappeared 20 minutes later after you turned horizontal, or even at a downward angle (for the more expert cavers).


You might ask yourself what the life of a waterproof jacket is. If you are planning to use your jacket occasionally, it will perform for a very long time. You don’t have to worry about it much. The durability of the jacket should be considered most by the wild cavers, who will often be in rougher and unexplored environments. They are going to inevitably rub their chest, arms, shoulders, and entire bodies with hard surfaces, sharp walls, and more, which can quickly wear out some jackets. This will affect the overall construction, especially glues and seams, and the quality of the jacket will eventually degrade. If you are one of these cavers, pay close attention to the durability before purchase, so you don’t end up needing a new jacket sooner than you expected.

Washing a Waterproof Jacket

Typically, you can go for standard washing, as there is no harm in that. But for our part, we prefer to stick to the care tag especially if our jacket is more expensive and luxurious.

The care tag has specific information about washing, which is pretty standard, but it’s safest to follow the company’s instructions. Otherwise, the standard method is essentially using a mild liquid detergent and a waterproof spray.

There are red flags though that you must keep in mind before washing a waterproof jacket.

Don’t use powder detergents on the fabric. Powder detergents are more powerful; they have harsh chemicals that not only affect the quality of the fabric but also damage the efficiency of the membrane. When you use powder detergents repeatedly, the membrane becomes weak, and it will eventually get compromised, allowing your nice waterproof jacket to start soaking up water like a towel.

Instead, use gentle liquid detergent; the light chemicals of the liquid detergent are more than enough to clear the mud, dirt, and debris on the layers. After applying detergent, rinse the jacket and dry it with a good dryer on low heat settings. This process guarantees that your waterproof jacket will last a long time.


After understanding these points, take a little time to know the options available and read the description of each product carefully. You will see why a $500 waterproof jacket is better than a $25 jacket and priced accordingly. You will understand why the expensive jackets are often quite unique and combine several important features that cheaper jackets may only have one of. Comparing these small differences will help you choose a product that’s right for you for years to come. So don’t skimp on the more important gear, like your waterproof jacket, headlamp, or shoes! That extra money will often result in a much longer lifetime of the gear as well.

What kind of waterproof jacket are you looking for, and what other features have you noticed while shopping? Share some of your thoughts in the comments below.

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