Although it might seem that buying a waterproof jacket should be as straightforward as walking into a shop and buying the first thing you see, in actual fact there are a lot of factors to take into account. For starters the term waterproof is not absolute, there is no set standard as to what is classed as waterproof - only general guidelines - so although two jackets may be water resistant to what extent could vary quite considerably between the two.
It is a good starting point to consider the fabrics that are used on a coat, as there are a number of waterproof fabrics out there each with different advantages and disadvantages. Recently there have been three new coats released with different materials, including the launch of the Goretex Active Shell, the Polartec NeoShell and the Mountain Hardwear's DryQ Elite. Each of these have had big claims made regarding their breathability and water resistance, however the test of time will prove these claims to be right or wrong. For now, membranes such as the Goretex Pro Shell, which have been tried and tested, are known to be effective and furthermore you will not be paying extra for the novelty of cutting edge fabric.
Breathability is another important factor as while you want a coat to keep the rain out you also want something that will let your sweat escape. There are number of ways that this is achieved, the most common of which is known as the membrane principle, this is used by Goretex and others. Droplets of liquid water (rain drops) are far larger than molecules of water vapour that are produced by your body, so with small enough holes in the membrane it acts as an unidirectional barrier, where moisture is able to permeate from the inside but not from the outside. This venting process is driven by the difference in humidity between the inside and the outside of the jacket.
When choosing a jacket you will probably come across the option of having a lined or unlined model - this lining refers to the mesh on the inside of some jackets. This mesh is there to hold the fabric away from your skin and reduce the feeling of clamminess, however it is arguable that this lining actually just adds excess weight to the jacket. Because the materials used to make modern shells is so breathable there is little point in buying a jacket with a mesh lining. On the whole it's probably fair to say that you get what you pay for to a certain extent, a larger price tag should mean you're getting an effective breathable membrane, face fabrics and the best balance between durability and lightness.
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