Waterproof shells - features and fit
Fabric is only one third of the story. After all it's not what you've got, but what you do with it. Mountain users require a very different set of features to the dog walker; this is where design and innovation comes to the fore.
Hoods need to be big enough to fit a helmet underneath.
Hoods need to be big enough to fit a helmet underneath. Some hood designs use acres of fabric to compensate for poor fit. It's easier to cut, sew and tape fabric in straight lines and, let's face it, the head is a melon shaped object. Put on a glove and check how easy it is to adjustment the hood. Single pull cords are far superior in this area (especially when you can't see the cord lock behind your head!).
When the weather turns foul you need seal the hood around your face to prevent water ingress. A good hood will turn with your head. If it's windy and your hood isn't in use, some type of roll down facility is a nice touch. Winds tend to rush up vertical surfaces so it's an irritation to have your hood constantly flapping around (although if it's dry you may be able to tuck it inside your jacket). The 'thick-wire-in-the-peak' approach is now 'old hat' and recent advances in lamination and gluing have advanced the concepts and designs in hood bills (or peaks). Laminated fabrics are stiffer to provide better protection in a stiff wind and also trap less moisture.
Venting pockets backed with mesh are pretty cool (literally!). But then Gore-Tex pocket bags are good for storing wet gloves or hats (at the expense of better breathability). Multiple pockets are great for storing (and losing!) gear but lower pockets are often almost useless as they get in the way of a harness or rucksack.
It's a common mistake to think that a jacket is better because it has four pockets rather than two.
It's a common mistake to think that a jacket is better because it has four pockets rather than two. If you load heavy items in your outer shell you will find this quite fatiguing (especially when not wearing a pack), as the jacket will tend to hang from your shoulders. Two, well-located pockets are better than four over-loaded or inaccessible pockets! Access zips that allow you to store items in the pockets of your inner layers are a nice idea as they also double as a venting option.
Anything that allows you to get rid of unwanted heat is a good idea. True, you have a large zip in the front of all jackets, which is pretty effective for cooling off. But what if it's raining or you are climbing? Pit zips do offer fairly efficient venting and when used in conjunction with body or pocket vents, large amounts of cool air can be pumped around the inside of the jacket. In the past pit zips have added bulk and weight to jackets, but different types of new zip technologies have largely solved these problems.
Water resistant zips
Anything that allows you to get rid of unwanted heat is a good idea.
These shiny zips look pretty cool. These zips can't hold back any water pressure but water running over a surface (i.e. not falling onto it) has surprisingly low pressure, so when water-resistant zips are used correctly (with a small flap covering them) they are particularly effective at keeping water out, minimizing bulk and weight. If water-resistant zips are used exposed to the elements they must have a waterproof pocket behind the zipper to prevent the inevitable seepage of water entering the inside of the jacket.
Do these zips spell the end for the 'standard' zipper? No. Water-resistant zippers work well when they are flat and in a straight line, but if you bend them or crease them (e.g. under the arm) they tend to open up. Water-resistant zips are also fairly stiff in operation and particularly expensive. They are very durable but not practical in every application.
Waterproof stretch fabrics
It's a nice concept, conjuring up ideas of total freedom of movement. Current stretch fabrics, however, do require fairly high levels of mechanical force to engage the stretch and they also make some compromises on durability. Stretch panels in strategic places (away from main wear areas) make more sense than jackets made entirely from stretch material.