As with sails, engines and winches, sailors tend to be brand-loyal when it comes to foulweather gear. But what actually makes a good set of foulies?

The Fabrics

Take one look at the jackets on display at a boat show or sailing store and it’s clear that we’re not dealing with the Gorton’s Fisherman outfit anymore. “Waterproof and breathable membrane technology has moved forward significantly in the past decade,” says Bart Milczarczyk, design manager for the Australian-based Zhik company. “There is now an extensive array of different membrane technologies available.” Filippo Bovio, the U.S. distributor for SLAM sailing gear, agrees. “Gear keeps getting lighter, more breathable and more waterproof,” Bovio says. “You can now achieve the same level of performance once attributed to high-end ocean gear in a more affordable package.” And as technology continues to evolve, sailors everywhere will reap the benefits, as new materials will make foul weather gear that much better. “The performance of fabrics is much better now,” says Nico Bérenger, a professional sailor and the international wholesale manager for Musto. “The way things are moving we can soon look forward to the perfect sailing gear: Lightweight, super flexible, durable and fully efficient.”


Offshore vs. Inshore

Before you shell out the money on a set of foulweather gear, take a look at what kind of sailing you do and where you do it. Are you prepping for a long coastal passage in the Northeast, or are you getting ready for a weekend cruise in south Florida? “An offshore jacket is a shell that should provide total coverage over your mid layers and base layers, while an inshore jacket must be narrower and lighter to help you move more freely onboard,” says Musto’s Bérenger. “You can wear lots of warming fleeces and other mid-layers beneath an offshore jacket, but you don’t need that as much with an inshore jacket because you won’t be spending night after night on the boat.” Another main difference? The collar. “One sure way to tell what a jacket is made for is the height of the collar,” says Jerry Richards, national sales manger for Gill North America. “The longer the day on the water, the higher the collar.”

Strength in Layers

One important thing to remember when you’re looking for sailing gear is to keep in mind what it is designed to do—keep you protected from wind and water. What it isn’t designed to do is keep you warm. That’s where layering comes in. “The real key is the layering system,” says Gill’s Richards. “The base layer is the most overlooked piece, and it is the piece that is going to make the biggest difference in terms of comfort. No foulweather gear is designed to keep you warm. It’s what you wear underneath that matters.” Slam’s Bovio agrees. “Most people neglect the importance of layering,” he says. “The typical question is: ‘Will this jacket keep me warm?’ This is a mistake. Foulweather gear is not conceived to provide thermal insulation, but if you can stay dry then it becomes a lot easier to stay warm.”

Key Elements

There is, of course, a certain amount of personal preference when it comes to all of this—how you like the way one jacket looks or fits, for instance, or how much money you’re willing to invest. And really, personal preference is fine. “All of the top brands pretty much have it down,” says Richards. “The two main things are the cuff and the collar. The rest is pretty similar across the board. The fabrics are made for their purpose—if you’re going offshore, they’ve made sure the fabric is ready to go offshore.” How a jacket fits is also essential. “If the jacket doesn’t fit right, you won’t wear it,” says Jenny Daudlin, U.S. sailing and watersports sales rep for Helly Hansen. “When you are trying on a jacket, take your time, try it on with multiple layers to make sure you’re comfortable.” Also, know about the jacket you’re buying, do a little research and make sure it is the one you want. “A common mistake when picking out foulweather gear is perceiving weight and texture as quality,” Daudlin says. “Just because a jacket is heavier and feels more durable doesn’t mean it is. Consumers should be aware of how waterproof and breathable a jacket is, and not just rely on how it feels.”

Pick and Choose

Today we have more options than ever before when it comes to picking out a set of foul weather gear, and the choices are just getting better—more durable, more waterproof and more comfortable. And the bottom line is, no matter what kind of sailing you do and where you do it, there is a jacket out there that will suit your needs and look good doing it. So go forth, go sail and stay dry.



Henri Lloyd Ultimate Cruiser



SLAM Force 3



Helly Hansen Salt



Musto MPX Offshore



West Marine Third Reef



Zhik Aroshell



Gill OS 22 Offshore