Windproof, Waterproof, All-In-One and Headwear
For 90% of the time in the UK weather, most active outdoor people prefer just a windshirt and a base layer. These tiny seemingly flimsy products have changed the lives of everyone we know. Gone is the stuffy sweaty high humidity which builds up around your body under your waterproof. Once one of these is in your sack, you won’t know how you managed without it!
They make a terrific difference to our outdoor experience. Basically, wind makes it feel colder than the air temperature around us and putting on a windshirt establishes the equilibrium once more. Of course it needs to be windproof but also breathable. Many today are also water resistant but not waterproof. But there is a balance, the more water resident they are the less breathable they are!
Basically windshirts are lightweight (often smocks rather than jackets for that reason) if they were waterproof they would be heavyweight! Don’t be fooled by the flimsy nature of the fabric. It is designed to do the job and they are ideal for backpacking, hill walking, cycling and travelling etc. Some have a very thin lining which adds comfort and more warmth (and weight).
A smock style windshirt will be a more generous wider fit as they have to be pulled over the shoulders of the wearer. Certain activities demand a slim tailored fit and others more lose or baggy. For example you may want to wear it over a fleece or under a rucksack, so you won’t want it too tailored. Although windproof jackets are generally very breathable, extra ventilation is still an important consideration if the wind suddenly drops to save taking it off. Front zips are essential for this and pockets are often of mesh, which of course is lightweight, but again helps with core venting.
The great benefit of a windshirt is the weight and lack of bulk when packed, just in case. Once this little baby is in your sack it will never leave. Everyone we know who has one, swears by them. For the general UK climate they are perfect 90% of the time, as you wander the heat and moisture escapes but the chill factor is kept at bay.
If you used a 100% waterproof instead, you'll be that little bit too hot and conversely too cold with just a mid/base layer. Generally they all pack away into a small stuff sack and are kept in the rucksack side pocket. Some have hoods which are useful and additional adjustments, but on the whole the simplest shirts are the best. Less weight and easiest to stash.
This is the one occasion when you want to choose wisely and get the best value for money result. There is nothing worse than being caught in foul weather and for the first line of defence to let in water, either by bad design or poor features.
The main question you have to ask yourself is how and where will you be using the jacket? Do you need heavy duty performance, stiff wire hoods and long length if you are just walking across the moors during summer?
The fabrics used reflect the price and all perform with excellence. If your budget will allow it, you will find eVent is a sensation fabric and performs fantastically when you are working hard and need the moisture to pass through the outer later. All pockets have waterproof zips, fastenings that can be operated easily, even with cold or gloved fingers and wired hoods. Without exception all the jackets we recommend are light and pack down small.
The good news is that although these jackets tend to be expensive they wear incredibly well and technology is more likely to make your jacket redundant, than it failing to perform!
The All-In-One approach!
Various manufacturers claim they have an all-in-one product which will do it all for you without having to carry the layering system. As good as these products are, everyone I know who uses them, seems to suffers a lack of comfort at some stage or other, when I would put on or take off a layer!
For this reason they usually have countless vent zips, as the user tends to overheat in normal spring to autumn, even before you get on the hill and work hard. Once active they seem to work well with their ‘push – pull’ approach to removing sweat away from the body and keeping you dry.
However, many users seem to have one single concern. If the DWR is in good condition, they will keep you dry and warm, however you never know if it is or not, 'until' it rains! Recently I was on a trip when three people had this system and not 'proofed' their jacket prior to the walk in the rain. They were all soaked to the skin and it turned out to be a very long and depressing day for them. Thankfully, they were all able to do a DWR wash at the next hostel before continuing. As much as I like them for cooler days and country walks, I still prefer the 3 layer system for anything more remote.
Warm hats are great, some keep the weather out and have ear muffs to keep your neck warm and dry too but, they can be too warm! A chilly day walking and all of a sudden you find your head sweating and cold water running down your neck. So what do you do?
The newest item to catch on is the polyester neck tube, commonly known by their manufacturers name ‘Buff’, which do a variety of things. They are made from high wicking technical fabric, so wick moisture away very well. They can be made into hats, scarves, hair bands, face mask, balaclava and more.
Some people use them as towels, as a quick shake in the air virtually dries them out. They are colourful, fun, light, small and cheap. Very much like the windshirt, once you use one, you will wonder how you managed before! Although not a replacement for a warm hat when you need it, they provide the perfect head companion for 90% of the time.
Part 1 - Base layer, mid layer, insulation layer