The biggest storm should be water off a duck’s back in these rugged offshore waterproofs. The YM team put six oilskins to the test to see which perform best
Long gone are the days of plastic oilskins and the steady trickle of water leaking down your neck – top-end offshore waterproofs are serious business these days.
And you are spoilt for choice if you want a suit that will hermetically seal you in against even the foulest weather, so that you can stay dry and, more importantly, warm, wherever and whenever you are sailing.
Technology keeps advancing as manufacturers send their oilskins hurtling around the Southern Ocean on the backs of the world’s top sailors.
The most noticeable changes in the offshore waterproofs we tested were in the efforts made to reduce weight, bulk and slow- drying fabrics.
Gone, on the whole, are the linings, replaced instead by durable laminated fabrics. Gone are the thick, cosy fleece linings that soak up water, replaced by lighter-weight microfibre fabrics.
The outer shells have also lost weight whilst gaining (so the manufacturers claim) improved waterproofing, breathability, durability and flexibility.
Established and new brands
New brands are also entering the market and shaking things up a bit.
Decathlon, the French one-stop sports shop, has made an asserted foray into the budget end of the market, and with impressive results.
Zhik, on the other hand, grew out of an Australian Olympic campaign and is bringing plenty of innovative ideas to the table.
All of this comes at a price. We set an upper limit of £1,000 for this test, and it would have been possible to go over budget on this.
Most of these offshore waterproofs don’t come cheap, but I’ve never met a sailor who wasn’t glad of every bit of protection they could get in the face of a cold and spray-lashed watch on deck.
But do you really get what you pay for?
HOW WE TESTED THE OFFSHORE WATERPROOFS
On test were six sets of oilskins, in both men’s and women’s versions.
As with our coastal waterproofs test earlier in the season, the only way to test them is to don a set and receive a soaking.
So that’s exactly what the YM team did.
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To put them through their paces, we examined each of the offshore waterproofs for features and new ideas.
We then wore them out on the water, both on our test day for side-by-side testing, and throughout the season in good weather and bad, to get a good idea of what we liked and didn’t like.
For most, an investment of this kind will be expected to last several seasons, not something we could easily measure, but we did pay attention to quality of construction and practicality.
Finally, we subjected ourselves to having a large bucket of water dumped on us from one metre above head height, and a thorough hosing down under pressure to the front and the back for several minutes.
That done, we checked the grey t-shirts worn beneath for leaks.
**Best budget buy**
Jacket £170; Salopettes £170
A relative newcomer to the marine clothing market, Decathlon has hit the ground running with their top-end Tribord Ocean 900 outfit.
They may be £400 less than the nearest competitor, but these are not some flimsy imitation.
The fabric is slightly lower rated than other products, but not by much.
The weather can be sealed out with a high fleece-lined, elastic-edged collar and a novel face guard that is integral to the body of the jacket – very secure, though it didn’t roll away quite as neatly.
The hood includes volume and side adjustment, a reinforced peak and a drip gutter.
The jacket closes with two storm flaps over the double-ended zip and another storm flap inside.
It is reinforced over the seat and includes printed reflective patches.
The Velcro tabs for the inner and outer cuffs are joined together via a slot in the outer sleeve, giving a single adjustment for both cuffs; very easy to use, but not quite such a good seal.
The jacket has only chest hand-warmer pockets.
The women’s jacket we tested has a slightly different design with separate cuff closures, and no face guard, but the collar can be snugged in with an adjuster.
The women’s salopettes did not have a drop seat, but they do have the option of high-waisted trousers.
These had a small cargo pocket on the thigh, but no other pockets.
We liked the removable padding in the seat and knees; great for deck work and for comfort on watch.
The men’s version features a dry-suit zip, eliminating the need for a waterproof gusset.
The inner face of the ankles are rubberised to help ensure a good seal to your wellies.
These offshore waterproofs had an amazingly solid feeling given the low price point and would be well worth a try.
The suit performed well in the water test, although there was a slight leak at the cuffs.
Decathlon has obviously worked hard to incorporate the features of the more established brands into their clothing as well as coming up with some of their own innovative ideas.
Technology: 3-layer hydrophobic fabric
Cargo pockets: 3
Women’s version: Yes, trousers
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**Runner up best buy**
Jacket £395; Salopettes £265
Henri Lloyd has been one of the pre-eminent sailing clothing brands for decades.
Much effort has gone into making these innovative, technically advanced oilskins lightweight but robust.
The Gore-Tex Pro fabric used is extremely lightweight, but still offers the same protection.
Fleece linings have been swapped for soft mesh that holds much less water, and hood stowage is enclosed by Lycra, all to aid drying and save weight.
The high collar can be snugged close to the head with elastic adjustment, though the ends of the elastic stick up like antennae.
The comfortably contoured face guard can be positioned as you want it, attached on one side by elasticated fabric.
The hood has been extended forwards with transparent windows on either side to preserve peripheral vision.
This is one of the few jackets to have lifejacket attachment loops.
The large cargo pockets have secure closures with a generous fold-over and there are two sets of hand-warmer pockets.
The women’s salopettes include a drop seat with a zip down each side, protected by a double storm flap.
The shoulder straps are elasticated and fabric covered.
There is a large cargo pocket on the thigh as well as hand-warmer pockets on the front; on the women’s version this was a tunnel pocket across the chest.
A tiny amount of water got in through the neck on the water test, though this could have been how we were wearing it.
The wrists were totally dry.
Overall, these are very serious waterproofs made of top-quality fabric, with a tough taffeta inner face that should last well.
They were well thought out with some nice new ideas to reduce drying times.
While the mesh lining was not as cosy as the old fleece, they will keep much dryer.
Technology: Gore-Tex Pro
Cargo pockets: 2 + 1
Hand-warmers: 4 + 2
Women’s version: Yes, drop seat
Jacket £500; Salopettes £350
We tested the Race version of Helly Hansen’s Aegir range as the full Ocean suit would have taken us significantly over budget.
The Aegir Race offers the same quality and style as the Ocean, but with less bulk.
The jacket was one of the least bulky on test.
Despite this, it still offers plenty of cosy protection with a good tall microfleece-lined collar.
The face guard offers loads of adjustment at both ends and stows away neatly into a little pocket in the collar.
The elasticated nose piece helps ensure a good fit, but was a bit bulkier than the more contoured panels on other jackets.
The hood is held securely in place by Velcro on the collar and it stows away into a mesh panel to allow it to dry.
A waterproof zip closes the jacket with a single storm flap inside, but does away with external storm flaps.
Despite being shorter than the full Ocean jacket, we still found it plenty long enough.
This was the only jacket not to have large cargo pockets, opting instead for zipped pockets, and chest hand-warmers.
These were the only salopettes to offer a full-body fit rather than adjustable straps, with the body made of lightweight, soft-shell fabric.
This reduced bulk, but does not offer adjustment for body length.
The trousers included a large cargo pocket on each thigh, but hand-warmer pockets weren’t present.
The women’s version includes a drop seat with a waterproof zip around the seat rather than up the sides.
Just make sure you close it properly.
There was plenty of reinforcement on the knees and seat and the legs were wide enough to fit over our wellies.
There were no leaks in our splash test, and the jacket offered great flexibility thanks to its pared-down design.
Made of Helly Hansen’s own Helly Tech Professional fabric, these felt good quality with a high standard of finish.
The only shortcoming was the absence of hand-warmer pockets on the salopettes and cargo pockets on the jacket.
Technology: Helly Tech
Cargo pockets: 2
Womens version: Yes, drop seat
**Best on test**
Jacket £500; Salopettes £400
Musto Offshore suits have long set the standard for foul weather gear, and the MPX Gore-Tex has been around for a long time.
As with the other suits, efforts have been made to reduce bulk and improve drying time.
The rugged MPX Gore-Tex fabric, slightly heavier than some others on test, feels reassuringly tough and durable.
The fit of the jacket was more generous than other makes, and offered some of the best protection on test.
A very high collar reached almost to the top of the head, which felt very sheltered, whilst being easily folded down, and included elasticated adjustment around the top, though the toggle was a little uncomfortable when the hood was up.
The face guard has a brushed microfibre lining, contoured fit and adjustment at both ends.
The hood offered a snug fit with plenty of movement, with a swept-back fit.
The jacket had hem and waist adjusters, all on the outside of the garment so they can easily be tweaked while wearing.
Chest hand-warmer pockets had zip closure, and another set of hand-warmers were hidden behind the large cargo pockets.
The salopettes offered different fits for men and women, but the women’s trousers did not include a drop seat.
Both had large cargo pockets on each thigh with good roll-down Velcro closures, as well as fleece hand-warmer pockets on the chest.
The elasticated fabric shoulder straps were comfortable, but it would have been nice to have a wider range of adjustment.
There were no leaks on our test, and the pared-back hood was very effective.
One of the heavier-weight offshore waterproofs on test, and with a generous fit, we found these slightly bulky, so sizing is important, but these should withstand the worst of the elements.
The suit includes all the right features exactly where you’d want to find them.
Technology: MPX Gore-Tex Pro
Cargo pockets: 4
Women’s Version: Yes, not drop seat
Jacket £499; Salopettes £425
Australian brand Zhik’s Isotak 2 range is one down from their top-end Isotak Ocean offshore waterproofs.
It includes many of the same features but aims to do so at a lighter weight and slightly lower price, bringing it in at under the £1,000 mark.
The own-brand fabric is claimed to remain both waterproof and breathable for longer than the other products.
The jacket, has a high fleece-lined collar with large hi-vis panel.
The storm flap over the face had Velcro adjustment on both sides and could be snugged in securely, as well being fully removable.
The top of the collar was adjustable, though we found the same issue with the toggle pushing against the head when the hood is up.
The hood is easily adjustable with one hand and includes a drip gutter.
A flap folds over the hood for stowage, rather than a full pocket.
The sleeves had a comfortable articulated design, and there was reinforcement over the seat area, both inside and out.
Fleece-lined pockets behind the large cargo pockets were nice and warm, but there were no chest pockets.
Instead, there was a zipped pocket on the sleeve for a phone or knife.
The salopettes are of a unisex design, with no drop seat on offer.
There was a good amount of space in these salopettes with elasticated waist adjustment.
The soft neoprene shoulder straps were also innovative, with the loose ends being fed into the body of the salopettes and held securely by Velcro on either side – a neat alternative to buckle adjustment.
There are no hand-warmer pockets on the trousers, although there was a secure zipped chest pocket and two large cargo pockets on the thighs, as well as a small pocket for a knife.
On our water test, the PU inner cuffs gave the least effective seal other than the Decathlon jacket.
This could benefit from a softer rubber fabric.
A tiny amount of water got in through the neck, but the jacket was extremely comfortable to wear with a great range of movement – the design of the fit is excellent.
Technology: Isotak 2 Multilayer Membrane
Waterproof: >28.000 mm
Cargo pockets: 2 + 2
Women’s version: No, unisex
Jacket £435; Salopettes £335
Gill’s top-end offshore waterproofs feel solidly-made and practical.
The heavy-duty ‘5DOT’ fabric is not the lightest but felt durable.
The fit was comfortably generous, though we found the women’s slightly less so, but this could have been the sizes we tested.
The jacket included all the right features.
The hood includes a drip gutter above the reinforced peak, volume adjustment and cosy fleece lining around the inner edge. It all zips away into the medium height collar.
As with other jackets, the inner lining has been replaced with a scrim layer laminated inside the outer shell.
A waterproof-zipped chest pocket is hidden inside the storm flap.
It also has zipped fleece chest pockets, two large cargo pockets with fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets behind, useful when a lifejacket obscures the chest pockets.
Fit is adjusted at the waist and hem with the adjuster neatly hidden inside the cargo pocket.
Outer cuffs and PU inner cuffs ensure a good seal.
Men’s and women’s trousers ensure a good fit.
The women’s trousers are drop seat with crossover straps and two zips up the sides.
The men’s salopettes also had an additional fly zip on the gusset ‘for convenience’.
Both versions came with fleece-lined chest hand-warmer pockets, a thigh cargo pocket and a knife loop.
The legs were good and wide, with adjustment at the ankles.
These offshore waterproofs felt really sturdy and we liked the hand-warmer pockets (add a little bulk but a lot of comfort).
There was reinforcement in all the crucial places and the fit offered good flex, but the next size up in the women’s version seemed to come up quite small.
One minor issue was that the reflective patches on the sleeves sat in the fold from the cuff closure, making the sleeves bulky.
We would have liked to see a more generous storm flap over the face but, despite this, there were no leaks in the water test through either the collar or cuffs.
Technology: OS1 5DOT 4-layer fabric
Cargo pockets: 2 + 1
Hand-warmers 4 + 2
Women’s version: Yes, drop seat
Buying a new set of offshore waterproofs is certainly a significant investment for any sailor.
As with all of these things, going into a chandlers and trying on different makes and sizes, as well as checking the price tag, will have a big impact on your final decision.
Compared to lower-priced coastal or inshore waterproofs, going for an offshore suit will give you a number of features, whichever brand you pick: high collars with a face guard, fully adjustable hoods, double cuffs, properly sealed zips, longer body length and, perhaps most importantly, top-end fabrics that will stand up to wetter, windier weather for longer than before and that will last for more seasons.
The move towards lighter weight garments is welcome.
What’s right for you?
You just need to decide if you want a jacket with all the bells and whistles, with a little more bulk, or something more pared back.
Henri Lloyd was a lighter fabric than the other two, but all featured chest and waist hand-warmers, proper cargo pockets and hand-warmers on the salopettes.
Zhik and Helly Hansen were more pared back with fewer pockets and features overall, but both had really nice features, like clever hood stowage on the Zhik and excellent fit and flexibility on the Helly Hansen – these were perhaps the most ‘sporty’ on test.
Decathlon has really surprised the team at YM this season with the quality and thorough design of its garments.
These are no cheap imitations, but time will tell how they perform over several seasons.
Offshore waterproofs test winner
Ultimately, the Musto MPX suit was our test winner.
Because it’s a bomb-proof set of foulies with every feature you would want, with the exception of drop seat trousers in the women’s version, and for this, and its excellent hood, Henri Lloyd came a close second.