Whether you’re ice climbing on alpine glaciers or just braving the drizzle on your morning commute, there’s peace of mind to be found in knowing your jacket was built for the former. A piece of technical outerwear is something that should be hanging up in every man’s wardrobe, and there are more of them around than ever.
Classic outerwear may look the part, but when you’re caught in a downpour on your morning run, what would you rather be wearing: a suede jacket or a Gore-Tex hardshell? These performance garments are painstakingly engineered to keep water, wind and cold temperatures at bay. As such, they don’t tend to come cheap. That’s why it’s imperative to choose a brand that knows what it’s doing before parting with any cash.
From Arctic-worthy parkas to tricked-out rainwear, here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Technical Outerwear?
When we say “technical outerwear” we’re not talking about that light-up jacket David Hasslehoff wore when he inexplicably performed at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead, we’re referring to outerwear that uses innovative fabrics and utilitarian construction techniques in order to serve a specific function.
These are garments that put performance above and beyond all else, using textile science to get the job done. An insulating fleece, a waterproof windbreaker, a down-filled parka – the type of gear that’s created in a laboratory, not a design studio.
However, while this stuff is great at banishing sweat, battling extreme temperatures and keeping you dry, it wasn’t – until recently – designed with stylishness at the fore. This begs the question: why should a style-conscious man be investing in one?
It’s an easy query to answer, because in recent years, technical outerwear has been abseiling it’s way off the mountains and into the fashion spotlight. There’s a fixation with utility gear and a newfound appreciation for design that’s about more than aesthetics.
Somewhere along the line, outdoor clothing got cool. In other words, yes, a technical jacket will keep you warm and dry, but it’ll also keep your fashion credentials in check, too.
Key Technical Outerwear Styles
A hardshell jacket is a waterproof outer layer. Its goal is to keep rain out, while at the same time not locking moisture in. Some jackets achieve this through the use of ventilation zips, but a truly technical hardshell relies on the fabric itself.
Most outdoor brands have their own in-house material that gets the job done, but it’s widely agreed that Gore-Tex is the best. It’s lightweight, breathable, 100 per cent waterproof and pretty much every label’s top-tier models are made from it.
Stretchy, comfortable and warm, softshell outerwear won’t keep the rain out completely but it will keep the wind at bay.
Favoured by mountaineers, cyclists and other outdoorsy types, softshell material wicks moisture away from the skin and allows it to breathe. As a result, it’s not waterproof, however, many softshell jackets have a durable water repellent (DWR) coating, which will help water to bead off in light rain.
Technical Down Parka
There’s a reason Arctic explorers have been cladding themselves in down parkas since they first set foot on the polar ice caps. However, things have come a long way since those early days.
The definitive ‘big coat’, the best parka will keep you warm in temperatures below -30°C with nothing but a T-shirt underneath. It’s your own portable duvet and technical tweaks on modern versions have made it more weatherproof than ever before. We’re talking waterproof membranes, avalanche recovery trackers, the lot.
Granted, you probably don’t need all that to pick up some groceries, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you need it.
Best Technical Outerwear Brands
The North Face
The best-known outdoor label on the planet, California’s The North Face has been kitting out mountaineers, explorers since the ’60s and lots of east Londoners more recently. From Gore-Tex hardshells to Everest-friendly down parkas, TNF has it all covered.
There’s even long-running collabs with the likes of Supreme and Nanamica, for those who prefer their technical outerwear with a streetwear twist.
Canadian outdoor brand Arc’teryx is widely regarded as the best around, and the most expensive, too. It’s justified, though, because the label’s build quality is second to none. As an example, Arc’teryx’s lamination tech is miles ahead of the competition, allowing fabrics to be bonded seamlessly, eliminating the need for stitches.
It’s also responsible for some of the industry’s most important innovations – waterproof zippers to name just one.
Say what you want about the Swedes, there’s no denying they know their way around a raincoat. Not convinced? Just check out the innovative fabrication and razor-sharp cuts championed by Haglöfs.
The shell jackets even feature its own PROOF technology, which not only outperforms most competitors, but is made from either recycled or Bluesign-approved fabrics. Staying bone dry and saving the planet, how about that?
The preferred brand of those spindly spider people you’ll find doing weird stretches at your local climbing gym, Patagonia makes good-looking gear that’s built to last. In fact, shop here for your outerwear and it might even outlast you, thanks to the label’s Worn Wear initiative, which aims to reduce waste by repairing and reusing old garments.
For a cheaper alternative to the usual waterproof suspects, give Patagonia’s H2No fabric a go. It’s got a funny name but will leave a little more cash in your pocket.
There’s a common misconception that Geordies don’t like to bother with coats. Presumably, the people who subscribe to it have never heard of Berghaus. For more than 50 years, this outdoor brand’s technical outerwear has been putting the north east of England on the mountaineering map. Expect rugged build quality, plenty of Gore-Tex and lifetime guarantees as standard.
Further proving our point about Sweden and rainwear, Fjällräven may be best known for its boxy backpacks, but the G-1000 fabric they’re made from is the real star of the show. This breathable cotton material is used across most of the label’s outerwear and can be waxed at home to increase water repellency.
Styling wise, gear is on the classic side of things, with retro leather touches and old-school hardwear taking precedence over boundary-pushing tech. If it ain’t broke…
As far as down parkas go, it doesn’t get much cosier than Canada Goose. The coats of choice for those who actually live and work in Arctic conditions, these winter-proof technical jackets are capable of keeping the heat in and the cold out in the absolute harshest of conditions.
There has been some controversy about the brand’s use of fur, though, so maybe read up on that and form your own opinions before you go spending over a grand on one.