Adventure Essentials: Rain Jackets

MMO weighs up different rain protection types and how to choose the best jacket for your adventure...

By Cally Bishop
CityROCK Operational Director

Whether you’re facing Cape winter rain or Highveld summer thunderstorms, no adventure pack is complete without a dependable rain jacket! Far too many times have I been enjoying a beautiful sunny day at the Waterval Boven crags or in the Magaliesberg kloofs, only for a post-lunch thunderstorm to come showering down out of the blue. My recent trip to Rocklands had a full day of rain squished in amongst crystal clear, sunny winter days. In other words, to head out on any adventure without being prepared for rain is a recipe for soggy, grumpy climbers. Luckily, I’ve always got my go-to rain jacket packed – the Black Diamond Stormline Stretch.

Black Diamond has assembled a solid lineup of quality rain jackets and hard-shells over the last few years, and the Stormline is one of their best. Its calling card is the stretchy face fabric, which adds superb comfort and flexibility. The result is an impressively lightweight, weatherproof, durable, and mobile rain shell that pairs well with activities like climbing, hiking, biking, and running.

Not many other rain jackets can provide such excellent mobility, while still offering solid rain protection. However, First Ascent and Quechua have some great competitor products boasting higher water columns and added warmth for deep winters. So, how do you pick between all the options on the market?

The first things to consider are (a) how much rain you you will be dealing with and (b) the different types of water protection available. And, of course, there is always the price to consider – a dependable, durable and versatile waterproof jacket may cost a little bit more, but you’ll find that those extra pennies are worth it when your cheap and nasty water-resistant number is savaged by a raging storm. If you’re an avid adventurer, it’s worth the investment.

If you’re just looking for something that you can carry with you on days you’re not expecting rain, or something that will keep you dry on short missions less than 5km (like going from your tent to the campsite toilets, or walking into the crag from the parking lot), a 2000mm to 8000mm water column jacket will do the job. A jacket with this rating will also work well as a windbreaker and outer layer to keep you warmer in winter. If you know you’ll be facing rain and you’re heading out on a big hiking, multi-pitch or trad mission, then you’ll want to go for something that can withstand heavier rain and will keep you dry for longer, i.e. 9000mm to 20000mm water column. If you are in misty weather and just want a layer to keep the damp off, a light water-resistant jacket will do just fine.

Kirsten Lotter hiking in her Black Diamond Stormline Stretch Rain Shell and making use of her JR Gear Lightweight Rain Cover.


The terms “waterproof”, “water-repellent” and “water-resistant” are often used synonymously, but these are actually three different levels of water protection…


Waterproof apparel offers the best performance in wet conditions. Designed with an outer shell that is impervious to water, these jackets feature fully taped seams (meaning the seams don’t have ay small holes for water to seep through) and a durable water repellent (DWR) outer coating – this works to keep water from entering the jacket’s surface, while still allowing perspiration to escape so you don’t get all damp and steamy (ew). Black Diamond has their own patented waterproof technology – BD.dry™ – that blends effective water protection with stretch and breathability. This, in combination with a great DWR is what makes the StormLine Stretch Rain Shell such a formidable barrier against rain and wind. First Ascent uses a similar technology called VapourTex in some of its products (such as the X-Trail Jacket and Flash Flood Pants), which offers comparable waterproofness and breathability, but without the impressive stretch of BD.dry™.


Water-repellent products are hydrophobic, meaning that the fabric (unsurprisingly) repels water and thus it beads on the jacket’s surface and eventually runs off. This keeps the interior of the jacket dry during moist conditions or light rain, but it does not provide full waterproof coverage. Water-repellent jackets are designed using special techniques, materials and fabrics, and use a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating, but the seams are typically not tape sealed.


Water-resistant products are not fully waterproof, but they are generally lightweight and offer resistance against small amounts of water for a brief time. These jackets are typically coated with a light of DWR layer, which gives the garment a protective layer and assists in increasing the endurance of the jacket when exposed to moisture or light drizzle conditions. But, ultimately, if you are stuck in the downpour on the side of a mountain with just a water-resistant jacket to save you, you’re going to have a bad time. And regrets… lots of regrets.


We spoke a little bit about water column ratings earlier… but what do they mean? The water column rating of a garment is tested through placing a glass tube filled with water over the surface of the fabric and measuring how much water (in millimetres) the jacket can hold before it penetrates through the fabric. This test is conducted by an independent laboratory or in-house by the manufacturer.

For a better understanding off what water column ratings mean in practical terms, have a look at this snazzy table from First Ascent:

2000 – 5000mmNo resistance to some resistance to small amounts of moisture.Drizzle/Snow
5000 – 8000mmWaterproof under drizzle or light pressure. (The First Ascent X-trail jacket is light and compact – perfect for light rain conditions._Light rain
9000 – 15000mmWaterproof under light to moderate pressure. (The BD Stormline Stretch has a water column of 10000mm, keeping you dry in most SA rain conditions for a few hours.)Moderate rain
16000-20000mmWaterproof under high pressure. (The Quechua Waterproof Mountain Jacket, better suited to long rainy trails in the mountains, will keep you bone dry for days on end.)Heavy rain

When the rain comes down, good gear can be the difference between type one fun and type three fun… head to your local gear store and choose your rain protection wisely to enjoy an adventure rather than a sufferfest!