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I'm relatively new to outdoors wear and was wondering if anyone had any advice on a lightweight outer layer/weatherproof jacket for my specific needs. I'd be layering it over a base layer, mid layer, and down jacket in order to stay comfortable/dry/wind free in chilly climates down to, at the very coldest, 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

It would mostly be used for:

  1. Walking around cities for long periods in varied weather
  2. Occasional hikes
  3. Frequent travel in unpredictable climates (mostly urban, but occasional trail use)

This would be my primary outerwear piece and would be wearing it daily, so if it's necessary, I'd be willing to consider paying more for a quality piece, but am not sure if it's worth the investment given my relatively mild requirements. The idea would be to enable me to be be outside as much as possible, regardless of weather conditions.

What sorts of features do you think would be essential for a jacket like this? For example, would it be best to spring for a 3 layer jacket? Or is a 2 layer budget option enough?

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    Hi @Ontic, and welcome to the site. I think this question could be improved by removing the specific product recommendations, and steering it more towards specific features that you should look for in an outer layer jacket. Product recommendation questions tend to become outdated (and thus useless) pretty quickly. – fgysin Nov 4 at 8:19
  • Makes perfect sense. I'll modify the question to be more feature rather than product specific. – Ontic Nov 4 at 16:31
  • Btw, @Ontic, in the future it is better to leaver your question unanswered for a couple of days - you'll get more answers that way. – fgysin Nov 5 at 6:47
  • Understood. Thank you! – Ontic Nov 5 at 14:38
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Definitely make certain it’s lightweight and waterproof. Protecting your down jacket from wet weather is essential. Wet down will not keep you warm. Armpit vents make it breathable and are helpful keeping you cool when active.

This is the Northface rain jacket I’ve had for 12 years. They still make it and it’s still available. This jacket is still in great shape, still waterproof, light enough to go over layers and heavy enough to wear by itself. Read the specs and whatever you choose, try to match the features of this great outer garment.

Northface

  • Thank you! This is super helpful. – Ontic Nov 4 at 16:34
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    My pleasure. I hope you find the right outer layer for you. I genuinely love this jacket and it has been through lots of adventures, urban and wilderness. For backpackers, this jacket weighs more than others but it has always kept me dry, dry, dry so it’s been worth the extra weight. For me, there is nothing more miserable than being cold and wet with out in the wilds. – M.Mat Nov 4 at 19:14
  • I think you ought to state that it is breathable. – Martin F Nov 6 at 5:19
  • I’ll do that. Thanks Martin. – M.Mat Nov 7 at 3:19
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What you certainly need:

  • Water proof - well that's a must as your top outer layer. Make sure to not simply get something water resistant (like some soft shells), but pick a jacket that offers some proper protection against rain.
  • Breathable - for hikes or even only when walking/biking your your home town breathability is key. Otherwise you'll simply get wet from the inside.
  • No thick lining - this will allow you to easily combine different layers to adapt to the temperature and weather.

Optional:

  • Light weight, small packing volume - these will generally decrease durability, so you'll have to find a compromise. Also light-weight often means more expensive.
  • Shoulder protection - some jackets are made with additional layers of fabric on the shoulders where backpack straps will lead to additional wear. If wearing backpacks is something you plan to do then this could be a feature to look out for.
  • Accessible pockets - these come in about as many varieties as there are jackets out there. My suggestion: if you already know which backpack you'll be wearing bring it to try out the jacket so you can make sure the pockets and zippers are all still accessible when wearing any hip or breast straps.

I think both a 2-layer or 3-layer outer shell will serve your purpose well. The 3-layer would probably win out in terms of durability, but given your description I don't think it matters a lot.

Here is a page explaining the difference in detail.

That should give you a first overview over the needed features. I'd still recommend that you head to a decent outdoor store and let the pros there give you some advice - if you describe to them what you did to us they should be able to give you some decent options within a range of prices.

Personally I'd go for a GoreTex jacket, but they come at a price. I my opinion they are worth it though, especially if, as you say, you'll be wearing it daily. I personally own a GoreTex 3-layer shell which I use for all my outdoors activities, but also for commuting by bike, or simply when I'm out in town when it's raining.

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