Mountaineering & Expeditions

Mountaineering Equipment: How To Choose The Best Mountaineering Jacket

When it comes to buying mountaineering equipment, what should you look for in a mountaineering jacket?

When buying mountaineering equipment, what should you look for in a mountaineering jacket? Photo: iStock

Mountaineering jackets – how do you go about choosing the right outerwear for mountaineering? Like mountaineering gloves, there’s no such thing as one perfect jacket. You always need to layer jackets when climbing at altitude.

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Typically there are four layers to mountaineering jackets:

  • Soft shell jacket
  • Medium insulation jacket (essential)
  • Hard shell jacket (essential)
  • Mountaineering parka jacket

Choosing the right mountaineering jacket for you depends on where you will be climbing, the time of year and how much you want to spend. Needless to say, the best mountaineering equipment isn’t the cheapest on the market.

Here’s a quick rundown of the basic mountaineering jacket layers you should think about when buying for the first time.


Soft shell mountaineering jackets are a good breathable mid-layer. Photo: Patagonia

Soft shell jackets are best worn relatively close to your skin. Ideally you would wear a soft shell after your thin insulated jumper or fleece but before your insulated down jacket.

Why do you need a soft shell jacket? The idea is it gives you a breathable layer, particularly if you are aerobically exercising and building up a sweat, while protecting you from wind and light rain.

They work brilliantly while you are on the move, but as soon as you are standing still, you’ll need an insulated jacket on top.

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For dry but cold conditions, it’s the perfect starting point to your mountaineering jacket layering system.

We wouldn’t recommend buying a soft shell as your first mountaineering jacket. It’s more of a luxury piece after you’ve bought an insulated jacket and hard shell (see below) which are crucial for mountaineering.

Patagonia Adze Hybrid Hoody (£200) is a great soft shell for climbers taking on cold, windy conditions, made with breathable fabric and stretchy side panels to stop you overheating.


You need a insulated down jacket as part of your mountaineering equipment bag. Photo: Haglofs

A medium insulation jacket is basically a warm mid-layer jacket, such as a down jacket or synthetic version.

So should you choose a duck feather down jacket or a synthetic jacket? Well, it depends what you are using it for.

While down jackets are warmer for their weight, they don’t work when they get wet – they can only be used in dry weather – plus they are a pain in the ass to wash. Synthetic jackets meanwhile perform better when wet and aren’t as expensive as down jackets.

You can also choose between different weight down jackets. A medium weight jacket is probably a good place to start when buying your first down jacket.

A medium weight down jacket can be worn over a soft shell or jumper in dry weather and under a hard shell when the weather turns wet and nasty. You want the fit to be fairly snug to keep you warm.

The Haglofs Essens III Down Jacket is a synthetic jacket which works perfectly for mountaineering. It’s very lightweight, compresses down well to fit in your backpack and is covered in durable water repellent treatment.


Arcteryx make some of the best hard shells and mountaineering equipment in the world. Photo: Arcteryx

A hard shell jacket is an essential part of any climber’s mountaineering equipment. This is your waterproof and windproof outer layer that will keep you dry when tackling wet and windy conditions in the mountains.

Compared to your standard rain jacket, a hard shell is much more durable and breathable – but it’s also more expensive. You are looking at around £400.

Most hard shell jackets will be made from Gore Tex (or similar material), a waterproof, breathable fabric. The jackets are then covered in a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating – this keeps you dry by causing any water to bead up and roll off the surface of the jacket, while keeping the jacket windproof.

It’s a good idea to keep your hard shell clean because dirt wears away the DWR coating, so wash it regularly with Nikwax Tech Wash to keep its waterproofing.

Arc’teryx make some of the best Gore-Tex hard shell jackets on the market. The Arc’teryx Men’s Alpha FL Jacket and Arc’teryx Women’s Alpha SL Jacket come with climbing features such as a mountaineering helmet compatible hood.


These are the kinds of mountaineering parka jackets you would need on an expedition up Everest. Photo: Rab

The parka jacket is a very specific type of mountaineering jacket. If you are climbing Ben Nevis, you’re not going to need a mountaineering parka jacket. However, if you are attempting Everest, then you will.

Mountaineering parkas are made for extreme cold temperatures, usually for expeditions above 6,000m or polar expeditions.

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Parka jackets like these form the upper end of your kit bag – they are big, bulky and very warm. They are essentially heavier versions of your medium insulated down jacket – with around 800 fill down. These mountaineering jackets are generally worn at rest breaks on the mountain to keep your body heat in.

Rab have an excellent selection of mountaineering parkas like this. The Rab Neutrino Endurance Jacket is a great lightweight jacket for climbing peaks in the UK.

If you want something for 6000m peaks or polar expeditions, however, try the Rab Andes Mountaineering Jacket or the Rab Expedition Mountaineering Jacket if you making your way up Everest.

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