Finding a good jacket for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, backpacking, etc. – whether it’s a bomber jacket or a rain jacket – is a difficult task for people of all skill levels, as these can vary just as much as everyday jackets for wearing in the city.
Outdoor jackets need to have a perfect amount of breathable material while also fitting whatever weather condition the wearer is hiking or backpacking in. It’s finding that balance of comfort and resistance that can be extremely difficult.
If you want a little tip to finding the best outdoor jackets, the secret is in the different types of jacket fabrics you can find. Some will suit different weather conditions and activities, while others can be surprisingly well-rounded.
But so long as your jacket fabric type fits your most common outdoor activity, it’s likely that you’ve found the ideal jacket for you.
Different Types of Jacket Fabrics
Before getting into the best types of jacket fabrics, it’s important to mention one of the worst. As many hikers and REI Co-Op can tell you, cotton is one of the worst options you can choose for most hiking clothes, primarily because it fails to dry quickly while you’re sweating, and it does not insulate you well.
Cotton can sometimes be used well as a lining inside other materials, but it still is generally advised to avoid cotton fabrics when looking for a good outdoor jacket.
This material can be remarkably comfortable, but the more intensive your hiking gets, the worse it’ll feel and the colder you’ll potentially be. It’s the worst type of jacket fabric for most outdoor activity needs.
If you want something with the softness of cotton but would prefer it feature some faster drying and stronger insulation, wool is a much better material to look for in outdoor jackets.
Despite some people finding it quite uncomfortable, it’s a strict upgrade to cotton in terms of the main features you’re looking for in a warming jacket. It provides great heat while also helping pull sweat off your body.
The main issues with wool jackets are that the wool is often only in the inner lining, and the material itself is not weather-proof. It’s generally better for you to use wool as a material for sweaters and socks instead of jackets.
However, wool will last for an extremely long time, making these products a great investment if you want a great natural fabric.
Unlike the prior two types of jacket fabrics, Polyester is significantly better against rain and water. This is because the polyester fabric is hydrophobic, meaning it doesn’t naturally aim to absorb water.
Since it’s also quite light, this can lead polyester to be a great fabric for rainy weather, as it’ll dry quickly and repel rain from your body while hiking.
Polyester isn’t without its concerns. Technically, being a plastic makes it significantly more vulnerable to higher temperatures, meaning it can struggle to maintain its quality in high temperatures.
That said, it’s a great material for lighter rain jackets if you want a thinner fabric that can resist a number of conditions.
Also known as Polyamide, Nylon is much more similar to polyester due to it being a synthetic fabric rather than a natural one.
It’s also much more recognizable as a fabric due to its hard surface, which you can find in everything from rain jackets to tents thanks to its thin and resistant material.
It doesn’t dry very well, but it makes up for it by not absorbing the water and keeping its shape after it fully dries. It has some mild weaknesses in terms of insulation, as nylon is a fairly thin material, but this makes it much better for warmer temperatures than polyester.
It also is thin enough to hold other insulation quite well, as many nylon jackets will have fabric linings like wool to make up for the more resistant material.
Silk is an especially strange material, with different types of silk showcasing its diversity. Rather than other soft fabrics like cotton and wool, silk is mainly defined by its thinner threads. That creates a surprisingly soft texture, while silk is also mildly resistant to water.
That being said, this can make it quite expensive as a fabric for jackets, even if it’s going to often create a good mix of softness and water resistance. It’s an excellent fabric to have for a jacket for mild weather activities, but it’s definitely not the most common.
It’s also higher end than many hikers might need, and it’s not very likely to give you the warmth you want compared to fleece and wool.
Fleece jackets are somewhat similar to wool coats thanks to the material’s remarkable softness, but fleece’s thinner nature makes it almost more similar to cotton.
Jackets with this type of material, which is made from Polyester, end up being extremely light and are often both water-repellent and fast-drying, but their greatest strengths show themselves in dry heat thanks to fleece’s remarkable breathability.
That said, despite being water-repellent and fast-drying, it also can have some trouble when put in humid or wet environments since it’s hardly as resistant as other synthetic fabrics.
This makes fleece an excellent material for spring and fall jackets if you manage to avoid the rain, or it can be used as an insulating layer under a more water-resistant material like polyester and nylon.
Common Outdoor Jacket Fabric Questions
What Is the Best Fabric for Jackets?
There isn’t a totally clear answer for this question, as different fabrics can accomplish different goals; it’s very much a matter of what kind of activity you’re going to do.
For example, as already mentioned, fleece jackets have great comfort and heating in drier colds, while materials like polyester will absolutely thrive against rain and water.
The worst jacket fabric is undoubtedly cotton, as it has neither the resistance nor absorption of any fabric listed so far. Nylon and polyester are frequently combined as well, making them some of the most common fabrics you can find on outdoor jackets since it’s easy to layer underneath.
Finally, you can find many jackets of various materials lined with fleece, as the combination of softness and warmth make it a great internal material.
What Kind of Material Is Best for Winter Jackets?
There are all kinds of winter jackets with different material options, but for the most part, you’re going to primarily find nylon and polyester on the exterior of these jackets.
This is because their water resistance is equally effective against snow, and their thinner makeup means they can easily be insulated with other fabrics like wool, fleece, and down.
That being said, nearly any rain jacket can function well enough if you are properly insulating otherwise, such as layering wool sweaters underneath to provide warmth while the nylon and polyester blends keep it trapped in.
However, having it in one package is often going to be more comfortable, so don’t feel like you shouldn’t purchase a winter jacket on account of your layering options.
You might also like: How To Layer for Skiing and Snowboarding: A Guide (With Examples)
Which Lining Do You Want Your Jacket Made With?
The best jacket lining fabrics are usually going to be the ones you’re most comfortable with, but the key thing to be aware of is that cotton is a dangerous option for any jacket.
This will not absorb sweat properly in shirts, and as a jacket lining, it won’t provide nearly enough insulation to keep you as warm as your other fabric options, either.
Fleece is hard to go wrong for lining any jacket, as a thicker exterior with a different fabric will allow your fleece to keep you warm without its downsides in wet or humid environments.
Wool lining is in a similar category, as this fabric is exceptionally warm, and different types of wool can potentially be more comfortable as a loose lining fabric than a tighter sweater.
Jacket fabrics won’t always tell you everything about a jacket, but they’re extremely valuable in understanding what your jacket might be capable of.
Each of these fabrics also has its own subtype, and many jackets will involve a blend, meaning different fabric variations can sometimes add to their strengths or take away from their weaknesses.
At the end of the day, the ideal jacket is going to be the one that you feel most comfortable in and fits the weather you’re going to be hiking, camping, or working in.
If you hike in a wider variety of conditions, you should definitely expect to purchase a wide variety of jackets, because no single type of jacket fabric is going to give you the support you need in every situation you land in.