Jacket Buyers Guide
A jacket is your primary defense from the outside elements. It should serve as a barrier to block wind, precipitation and cold air out while keeping body-generated heat in. Take into consideration the conditions you'll be riding in most frequently (average temperature, amount of wind, type of precipitation) and personal factors (size measurements, body temperature, style preferences) when choosing a jacket.
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Types of Jackets
- for colder days, retaining body heat with a shell won't be enough to stay warm. Insulated outerwear has a synthetic or down fill to create added warmth & provide extra protection against moisture and low temperatures.
- jackets stuffed with a man-made polyfiber fill. Fibers are usually spun from polyester and are more affordable, more waterproof, and easier to take care of than down. They have a lower warmth-to-weight ratio though, so expect synthetic-filled styles to be slightly heavier/bulkier than down jackets. Ex:Primaloft, Thermolite, Thinsulate, but there are also many brand-specific versions.
- the fine, fluffy stuff found underneath a goose or duck's feathers. Down has the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any insulator, natural or synthetic. In addition, it wicks moisture, breathes and has excellent resilience & longevity. The signature puffer/quilted look comes from strategic stitching that prevents clumping, leaving cold, bare patches in other areas. (also see our article on choosing a down jacket)
- a lighter-weight jacket/pant designed to repel wind & water, usually made from a nylon- or polyester- blend fabric that's been treated with DWR. Best for spring conditions or spot-scouting when your body's generating enough heat (and better than a heavy, drenched hoodie).
- a versatile style that combines a waterproof outer shell with a zip-in breathable soft shell and can be worn multiple ways. A 3-in-1 easily allows you to adjust the jacket's insulation throughout the day or throughout the season.
Waterproof/Breathable (K) Rating
- outerwear pieces display a rating on their tags to indicate how well it will repel water and let precipitation/perspiration on the inside evaporate. This numerical rating gives a better idea of how the piece will perform based off laboratory standards.
Waterproofing/Breathability will be formatted like this: 10K/15K
The first number represents water resistance, the second for breathability. The scale ranges from 5K to 20K, with 20K being the most waterproof.
- Water resistance is measured by how many millimeters of water the fabric can keep out before it starts to soak through
- Breathability measures the rate water vapor can pass through in grams per square meter of fabric.
Critically (or Strategically) Taped Seams
- indicates that only certain seams on the garment are fully sealed for waterproofing. The seams that are deemed "critical" are at each manufacturer's discretion and therefore vary between brands. Generally you can expect to have the areas most exposed to moisture taken care of; hoods, shoulders, collars, front zippers, and knees. If you don't fall too
much and usually ride in milder conditions, critically taped outerwear is a great option (usually with a lower price tag too).
- stands for "Durable Water Repellent". DWR is a chemical coating and is often applied in addition to waterproof fabrics, but can also be purchased as a spray. Look for "DWR-coated/ DWR-treated" in any outerwear or technical shells that claims to be waterproof, but also know that it will wear off overtime and may need to be re-treated.
Fully Taped Seams
- every seam in the garment is reinforced (as opposed to only "critical" areas). A layer of waterproof material is placed between the overlapping fabrics and then double stitched to ensure extra protection from any wind or water that might find its way through.
- acts as seal or shield from the elements at vulnerable openings in your gear. Fleece/knit neck gaiters cover the space between your collar & beanie, a jacket's interior waist gaiter protects gaps between your jacket & pants, and wrist gaiters on gloves/mitts overlap your sleeves to guard your arms/hands.
- the most well known name in waterproof & breathable fabric. It's guaranteed performance is based on a patented process that combines 3 layers. The surrounding layers vary depending on garment, (commonly a nylon outer layer & fleece inside) but the common component is the Gore-Tex "membrane" or middle layer. This layer is a treated, microfiber fabric with densely packed pores that are too small to let water droplets in, but allow smaller, water vapors to pass through.
- if precipitation is a concern, consider a jacket with a detachable/packable/fixed hood. It'll retain body heat (especially if insulated) and give added protection from wind and harsh weather. A well-fitting hood will provide coverage that reaches your forehead and won't limit your range of vision (When looking side to side, the hood should move with you, not block visibility).
- a zipper/set of snaps on the inside of your outerwear that binds the jacket and pant together. Best for battling conditions like deep powder or harsh, windy weather
- a cinched, elastic waist in a jacket's interior that can be fastened to keep snow from going up the front or back. Comes in handy for deep powder days, unwelcome gusts of wind, or frequent falls.
Storm Flap/Zipper Shield
- an extended fabric tab that covers your zipper, often secured with snap or magnetic closures. Useful for keeping wind and water from getting through a zipper's teeth.
Styles & Design Features
- a medium to heavy weight jacket, longer in length with a fur-lined hood. The outside is often quilted and made from waterproof fabrics, with down or synthetic insulation. Parkas are made for harsher conditions, providing head to thigh coverage in wind, rain, or snow. Depending on brand you'll find varying features and thickness, but most have a nice vintage-y, classic aesthetic. Since the longer length can be restricting, they tend to be best suited for streetwear rather than athletic activity.
- a waist-length jacket with a cuffed waist & sleeves. Classic bombers are often lined with shearling, have a short, wraparound collar, and two stand pockets in the front. They typically offer a tighter fit and many modernized styles come with hoods.
- a durable and functional jacket or pant with several patch pockets & military styling. Jackets usually have interior waist drawstrings & a combination of zipper and button closures. If you insist on riding with lip balm, tissues, gum, snacks, cell phone, etc., cargo outerwear is right up your alley. With all the seams, just be sure to check how they're taped if you're expecting any wind or precipitation.
- similar to varsity or letterman jacket as far as fit and style, but differ in weight and material. They're usually much lighter in weight, made from nylon, and may have a drawstring hood or bottom hem. Coach jackets might also have a small patch or name embroidered on the chest, rather than the large, fuzzy, chenille patches on letterman jackets.
- can refer to a garment's materials and/or production method. Suggests the fiber is natural, renewable, or sustainable and/or the dyes/treatments are made of little to no chemicals. It could also indicate patterns/production methods that create less waste. There is no textile industry standard for the term though, so what's considered to 'have less of an impact on the environment' is at the manufacturer's own discretion.
- if precipitation is a concern, consider a jacket with a detachable/packable/fixed hood. It'll retain body heat (especially if insulated) and give added protection from wind and harsh weather. A well-fitting hood will provide coverage that reaches your forehead and won't limit your range of vision (When looking side to side, the hood should move with you, not block visibility)
- a distinct look and texture created by repeated stitching. Quilts can be made in any geometric pattern, most commonly diamond-shaped or horizontal rows. Down jackets are often quilted to keep insulation in place, but many styles incorporate it solely for aesthetic purposes.
- fabric with a unique, multi-colored look. The effect is created using yarns that have been treated with 2 or more dyes, so the horizontal color variation in each piece goes all the way down to the stitching. It's often associated w/ a psychedelic, 70's look, but depending on technique can produce a variety of styles.
- a slightly puffy, mid-length jacket with snap front closures, elastic wrist & waist cuffs, and contrasting body/sleeve colors (reminiscent of high school athletes' jackets). Typically the body will be felted with an oversized chenille patch or embroidery over the chest, with leather (or synthetic) sleeves that lead into side stand pockets.
- to easily regulate body temperature look for outerwear that features zippered vents. They're usually located in the arm pits, chest, or upper back in jackets and inner/outer thighs in pants and either open directly to the layer underneath or have a mesh backing. Great for working hard on-hill, while still keeping that chairlift chill at bay.
- a dyeing technique where each individual yarn is dyed, rather than dipping the completed garment in a dye bath. It produces patterns like checks, plaids, stripes & also ensure better hue uniformity as opposed to piece dyeing which can sometimes turn out patch-y or the wrong shade altogether.
- standing with your arms at your sides, the sleeves should just about graze your knuckles. Make sure mobility in the shoulders and elbows isn't restricted and allows you to comfortably bend & reach (and throw high fives) without resulting in any gaps that won't be covered by your gloves/mitts.
- make sure there's no uncomfortable tightness, even with your thickest insulating layer on (hint: keep in mind any stash pockets located along the front zipper & how it'll affect the fit when filled)
. Stretch your arms over your head and make sure it's long enough to keep your stomach covered and that the jacket sits close enough to your body to be able to retain body heat/not have any unwelcomed snow/wind sneak in.
- as with your front, there shouldn't be any tightness that restricts movement or gaps that will let cold air flow through. Make sure you can reach overhead and touch your toes (to mimic strapping in or adjusting boots) easily..
- if you decide to go with a hood, make sure that when you look to either side the inner walls don't block your vision. The top should cover your forehead, hitting close your eyebrows (not so low that you can't see, not so high that any wind resistance will blow it off), and if you plan on wearing a helmet underneath, make sure the depth will allow room for it.
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