5 Best Waterproof-Breathable Wading Jackets

Bomb-proof wading jackets that last, and four more jackets to keep in the truck

Oregon’s coastal rivers in winter make an ideal test facility for evaluating waterproof-breathable wading jackets.
Oregon’s coastal rivers in winter make an ideal test facility for evaluating waterproof-breathable wading jackets.Travis Rathbone

With pelting rains, swirling gusts, and pushes of steelhead, Oregon’s coastal rivers in winter make an ideal test facility for evaluating waterproof-breathable wading jackets. Every aspect of the garment—from shell fabric to hood, cuff, and pocket design—gets a workout. I recently rounded up five jackets new for 2015, and spent seven days with my southern hemisphere immersed in cold water and my northern one exposed to the wind and wet, assessing jacket performance as I tried to entice steelhead to a fly. My score: almost a thousand casts, four grabs, two small cutthroats, and one chromer landed. Fortunately, the jackets made a better showing. Here’s the upshot.

The Test

Even in Oregon there’s not a full-blown deluge every day, so I first wore each jacket in the bathroom shower—­angling the head to simulate a driving downpour—to check watertightness, hood protection, and water-resistance of pocket closures. Then I took each jacket into the field to gauge breathability, the mobility afforded when casting and rowing, and the effectiveness of cuff closures against water seepage. To measure overall performance, I gave up to 20 points each for weather protection, breathability, mobility, functionality, and quality of construction, for a total maximum score of 100.

Simms G4 Pro Jacket (Best of the Test)

Simms G4 Pro Jacket
Simms G4 Pro JacketTravis Rathbone

Total Score: 94

Specs: Three-layer shell with Gore-Tex membrane • 23 oz. (for size L) • 11 pockets

Hits: Hood design effectively balances extreme-weather coverage with good peripheral vision. A fleece-lined, tunnel-style neck zips right up to your nose, shielding chin and throat whether the hood is up or down.

Misses: Sleeves could be cut a bit fuller for layering; cord locks on hood can be clumsy to operate with wet hands.

Superior wind and rain protection in a smart design that’s exceptionally angler-friendly: From built-in retractors to pit zips to the hideaway fly patch, this jacket is tricked out with real-deal features, not bogus eye candy. Nine storage pockets—four of them sized for the largest fly boxes—allow all but the most gear-intensive anglers to dispense with a pack or vest and fish right from the jacket, which increases comfort, convenience, and mobility.

It can be a little warm for summer temperatures, but it’s still practical for four-season service. This 2015 F&S Best of the Best winner is a total package—and had better be for the price.

L.L. Bean Gore-Tex PacLite Stowaway Wading Jacket (Best Value)

L.L. Bean Gore-Tex PacLite Stowaway Wading Jacket
L.L. Bean Gore-Tex PacLite Stowaway Wading JacketTravis Rathbone

Total Score: 90

Specs: Two-layer shell with Gore-Tex membrane • 15 oz. • 4 pockets

Hits: Gusseted, rubberized cuffs seal well and don't chafe. Two large fly-box pockets, vertically oriented and placed close to the main zipper, don't interfere with casting or rowing.

Misses: The hood is somewhat small and can feel restrictive when cinched. Sleeves would profit from more articulation and longer length to prevent cuffs from riding up the wrists as you fish.

This is the lightest, most supple jacket in the test. It compresses to a bundle slightly larger than a softball—highly practical for travel or tucking into a vest or pack for those just-in-case days. It’s low on special features, but with fly-box and handwarmer pockets, it does cover the basics. Extremely breathable, it’s a superb hot-weather rain jacket. For brush busting or winter wear, however, it puts a comparatively thin barrier between you and sharp branches, cold rain, or frigid wind. But there’s room for layers underneath, and with a solidly functional design executed in quality materials, you get a lot for your money here.

Orvis Sonic Tailwaters Jacket

$298; orvis.com

Orvis Sonic Tailwaters Jacket
Orvis Sonic Tailwaters JacketTravis Rathbone

Total Score: 87

Specs: Four-layer shell with waterproof-breathable coating and membrane • 22 oz. • 5 pockets

Hits: Capacious exterior pockets have extra-long zipper tracks, making it easy to stow and remove even the largest fly boxes. The clean, uncluttered front has no corners, edges, or tabs to grab brush or loose line.

Misses: Fully zipped, the collar is barely chin-high; it could provide better protection. Unarticulated sleeves hamper arm mobility and can cause cuffs to ride up when casting.

A few basic features are the focus here, chosen for utility and generally well executed, including big pockets and an easily adjustable hood with good coverage. Your money goes mainly to the shell. Its low-bulk, sonically welded seams are strong and contribute to good flexibility, especially for the four-layer midweight fabric. Breathability is good, though not outstanding; this one can be a bit warm in summer conditions.Nonetheless, it offers solid rain protection that’s practical for year-round wear. And the one-piece, cape-style shoulder design eliminates seams beneath pack straps for increased comfort and durability.

Eddie Bauer Immersion Wading Jacket

Eddie Bauer Immersion Wading Jacket
Eddie Bauer Immersion Wading JacketTravis Rathbone

Total Score: 82

Specs: Three-layer shell with waterproof-breathable coating • 28 oz. • 6 pockets

Hits: It is amply cut for cold-weather layering. Shoulder design and good sleeve articulation allow freedom of motion when casting or reaching.

Misses: The two exterior cargo pockets won't accept large fly boxes. Cuff material is waterproof, but the facing fabric can get saturated and hold water against your skin. The hood's cord locks are cumbersome to adjust with cold hands.

The Cordura chassis is sturdy and abrasion-resistant; it stands up to harsh weather and hard use yet is cleanly designed to eliminate snag points with fly lines. And it’s stout enough to deflect branches and vegetation when you’re navigating the puckerbrush. While the interior mesh stash pockets and fleece-lined handwarmers are useful, in general the jacket is not strong on fishing-specific conveniences that one might expect in this price range; the small exterior pockets are particularly puzzling. In the end, the Immersion is durable, reliable, and gets the job done but is not long on performance details.

StormR Fusion Jacket

StormR Fusion Jacket
StormR Fusion JacketTravis Rathbone

Total Score: 79

Specs: Two-and-a-half-layer shell with waterproof-breathable membrane and high-stretch neoprene • 34 oz. • 8 pockets

Hits: Neoprene inner cuffs minimize water entry, seal tightly against wind, and provide excellent wrist mobility. Three interior mesh pockets supply extra storage capacity.

Misses: The wide neck opening can let in wind and rain. Also, water can seep through where the neoprene cuffs mount to the sleeves, especially if wrists are submerged.

This innovative shell’s high-stretch neoprene panels on the articulated sleeves and back minimize binding and create lots of comfortable give when you move. It is the heaviest jacket in the group, and with a full lining and the insulating qualities of neoprene, the warmest. But some of the materials reduce moisture movement through the shell, making the Fusion best suited to colder temperatures and to fishing that doesn’t involve high levels of exertion. So while hike-in anglers will want more breathability, this one filled the bill for my winter steelheading and had enough pocket storage to hold a fair amount of tackle. ––Ted Leeson

Four Rain Jackets Under $70 to Keep as Backup

You can spend hundreds on a tsunami-proof rain jacket. But when all you want is something to keep in the truck or stuff in a pack to keep you from getting soaked before the end of your hunt or your day on the river, you can get away with spending a lot less.

How much less? I found four breathable rain jackets—two medium-weight and two featherweights—that are well suited for hunting, fishing, or both and go for under $70 each. Here’s how they stacked up.

The Rain Jacket Test

With my main focus on how the jackets handled water, I ran four different tests for waterproofness. First, I wore them each in the shower for 10 minutes. Then I draped each over the back of a lawn chair with a towel beneath and hit it for 10 minutes with a hose nozzled at maximum pressure from 4 inches away. Next, I nested each jacket over a towel, poured a quart of water into the depression, and waited 24 hours. Finally, I placed a 15-pound rock in each nest to see what the additional pressure and possible abrasion would do. I also spent days wearing each jacket to evaluate breathability, construction, and features.

$100; marmot.com • Outlet Price: starting at $60; rei.com

This is the lightest, smallest-packing jacket I tested.
This is the lightest, smallest-packing jacket I tested.Field & Stream Online Editors

Bargain Rating: Excellent • Waterproofness: Good • Breathability: Excellent • Construction: Excellent • Features: Excellent

Specs: Nylon ripstop shell with NanoPro 2.5-layer coating • 11.9 oz. (for size XL) • Multiple colors, no camo

This is the lightest, smallest-packing jacket I tested and shows excellent workmanship, including lots of stitches per inch, a beefy zipper, and long-nap Velcro that really sticks. The secondary front closure with snaps and Velcro tabs is nice, as are the 9-inch pit zips and adjustable back tab on the hood. It passed all the tests for waterproofness except the last, with the rock, and the fabric is a little crinkly. Best suited for fishermen.

$99.99; columbia.com • Outlet Price: $64.95; sunnysports.com

Compared with the Marmot, the EvaPOURation has more substantial and supple fabric.
Compared with the Marmot, the EvaPOURation has more substantial and supple fabric.Field & Stream Online Editors

Bargain Rating: Very good • Waterproofness: Good • Breathability: Excellent • Construction: Very good • Features: Good

Specs: 70-denier Omni-Tech Evap nylon shell with Omni-Tech 2.5-layer waterproof coating • 12.7 oz. • Multiple colors, no camo

The ultralight EvaPOURation packs into its own pocket. While the 12-inch pit zips and adjustable tabs on the cuffs and hood are pluses, the main zipper has the smallest teeth of the bunch, and there’s no secondary closure. It, too, failed on the final waterproof test. Compared with the Marmot, the EvaPOURation has more substantial and supple fabric. Best for packing light when moderate rain is a possibility.

Starts at $69.99; cabelas.com • Outlet Price: Same, but look for sales

it was one of only two jackets here that passed all four waterproof tests.
it was one of only two jackets here that passed all four waterproof tests.Field & Stream Online Editors

Bargain Rating: Very good • Waterproofness: Excellent • Breathability: Good • Construction: Very good • Features: Very good

Specs: Polyester tricot shell, nylon taffeta liner, and proprietary waterproof membrane • 1 lb. 9 oz. • Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity and Realtree Xtra

You can almost always find the FoulTech on sale, usually for $50 or less, and it was one of only two jackets here that passed all four waterproof tests. The microsuede ­exterior is fairly quiet and does not attract burrs. It’s a well-appointed jacket, though it lacks a tab adjustment on the back of the hood. The fit is a little boxy, but overall, this is a solid choice for wet-weather hunting.

Starts at $69.99; basspro.com • Outlet Price: Same

The beefy zipper is protected by a storm flap with snaps.
The beefy zipper is protected by a storm flap with snaps.Field & Stream Online Editors

Bargain Rating: Very good • Waterproofness: Excellent • Breathability: Good • Construction: Very good • Features: Very good

Specs: Polyester shell, polyester mesh liner, and Bone-Dry waterproof membrane • 1 lb. 13 oz. • Realtree Xtra, Mossy Oak Break-Up Country, and True Timber HTC

The Squaltex also passed all four water­proof tests and has the toughest outer fabric. The beefy zipper is protected by a storm flap with snaps. Velcro closures on the pockets are loud, and there’s no tab adjustment on the hood. Fleece-lined handwarmer pockets are a nice touch. Bottom line: If you can get the Herter’s for $50, it’s the better bargain. But this is a slightly better jacket. ––Bill Heavey