Ever heard the saying “upriver without a paddle?”
There are loads of ways to be stuck upriver without a paddle in bushcraft, and being without the right clothes is definitely one of them. The best bushcraft jacket or the best bushcraft shirt makes all the difference when you head out on an expedition. These are the only barriers between you and the harsh environment you face.
TV shows like Naked and Afraid like to get their viewers by forcing survivalists to attempt survival without clothes. While this can be entertaining to watch, every serious survivalist knows that it’s not truly worth trying to go out into the woods without the right clothes. A jacket will be your lifeline when you face challenging weather, and you need to be prepared with the right one.
While I’ve been out in the backcountry with every kind of jacket imaginable, there are a few jackets and shirts that I choose to keep on wearing.
Yes, you can survive in a thrift shop jacket, but no, you won’t enjoy doing it. Here are some great picks for the best bushcraft jackets and shirts.
Best Bushcraft Jackets
Swanndri Ranger Shirt
This shirt’s design comes from years and years in the rain-riddled environment that is the New Zealand bush. This is where the shirt got its ability to shed water right off the back and keep you warm. The wool that comes straight out of New Zealand once kept the backs of sheep dry while living their entire lives outside. Now it covers you to keep you warm and dry.
Ray Mears shows his great love of this shirt by wearing it for the Outdoor Survival Handbook cover. It’s a great option for a mid-layer that can be worn throughout every season. In the summer, wool keeps you cool. In the winter, wool keeps you warm and dry. It’s debatably the best material there is. For anything.
The tailor for this shirt, William Broome, named it the Swanndri for the way that water seamlessly runs off your back while wearing it. They haven’t changed the design since its creation over 100 years ago. There’s no need to.
Something of note is the sizing of this shirt. The Swanndri Ranger Shirt is made to be a bit loose-fitting. It’s designed this way to help you fit more layers underneath for the optimal layering experience. But, if you don’t like loose-fitting clothing, you may want to grab a size down.
Fjallraven – Men’s Skogso Jacket
This heavy-duty jacket from Fjallraven is another stellar option when looking for the best jacket for bushcraft. The 60% polyester and 40% cotton blend is a canvas-like material that’s thick enough to keep you warm but created to keep you dry. While it doesn’t keep you dry in a torrential downpour, it will stand up against light rain and heavy wind.
The benefit of it not being fully waterproof is the breathability of the jacket. Typical waterproof rain gear makes it so you sweat so much that you get just as wet as if you wore no jacket. The G-1000 Lite material is breathable, meaning you have the ventilation that you don’t always get.
All four pockets – two breast pockets and two side pockets – are covered with flaps to keep the rain out. The two-way zipper also stays safe behind a flap with buttons all the way up to secure it down. The cuffs use two different button placements to give you adjustability.
Be aware that the cuffs may not get as tight as other options. This is a small drawback, as even velcro straps get water down the arm the moment you raise your hand up. Other than this jacket not being fully waterproof, it’s a great choice to pack out with you before heading into the bush
Fjallraven – Men’s Skogso Padded Jacket
The Fjallraven Skogso has a lot packed into it to start with. To make the original jacket design more fit for cold weather, Fjallraven has filled the jacket with G-Loft Supreme. There’s 145 g/sqm of stuffing in the body of the jacket and 125 g/sqm in the arms. With the extra stuffing, you can choose this jacket to take out on those winter bushcraft expeditions we all tend to slightly fear.
The double zipper features allow you to sit comfortably or access the interior of the coat without letting all of the heat escape. This is a zip method that can be tough to get used to, but in the end, is a great feature because of the longer length jacket.
The drawcord adjustment on the bottom hem is another feature that makes this jacket fit for winter conditions. You can trap all of the heat tightly inside the jacket, as well as stop snow from coming up under a baggy lower hem. This jacket still isn’t fully waterproof but is made to deal with some lighter snows and rains.
This is the jacket to pick if you’re going out in the cold and want to be truly warm. However, make sure you aren’t in a space that’s looking at a lot of snow or rain.
Tru-Spec Men’s H20 Proof Gen2 ECWCS Parka
An outer shell that is made to combat all of the toughest elements Mother Nature can throw at you sounds like the best rain jacket for bushcraft. The Tru-Spec Men’s H2O Proof Gen2 EQWCS Parka is a lightweight parka that uses a 100% nylon construction to keep water out, but let your body breathe at the same time.
This wind and waterproof jacket has adjustable sleeve cuffs and a drawcord waist to help you seal out all of the weather trying to get in. The 3 layers of nylon, with reinforced elbows, make this a heavy-duty choice that can stand up to a lot of tests. The interior has an Advanta inner lining and Bemis taped seams to add extra protection against water.
A two-way zipper is designed to keep the jacket from freezing shut and zippered openings in the armpit let you breathe even more. The main zipper stands up all the way through the collar and features a storable hood and drawcords. The sleeves have pockets and there’s even a hidden pocket for maps when you need them most.
Overall, this is a great option to take a look at if you want to stay dry in extreme conditions. It’s not going to be the only jacket you need, but will work as a functional outer layer in difficult conditions.
Helikon-Tex Pilgrim Anorak Jacket (Bushcraft Line)
The Helikon-Tex Pilgrim Anorak Jacket is a 63% polyester, 34% cotton, and 3% elastane blend that gets you a durable, water-resistant, and comfortable jacket. The bushcraft line has an elongated construction that helps to protect more of your body while out in the bush. This is great for muddy and cold environments.
This jacket is made for those that want accessible pockets, no matter what position they are in. There’s a huge number of pockets that let you store anything, and always be able to get at it. The big kangaroo pocket was lowered on this model to let the zip go lower and give you more ventilation when you need it most.
The Helikon-Tex is a beautifully crafted material that’s made specifically for the bush, which is why I love it. It is resistant to sparks from the fire, will dry a whole lot faster than cotton will, and you can incorporate wax into it to add an extra layer of water protection.
One thing to look out for with this jacket is the sizing. It tends to run a little big for most people, and you may get a better experience from going one size down. If you want the extra room to add layers, which is highly recommended, then stick to your normal size but expect something a bit larger.
Helikon-Tex Level 7 Lightweight Winter Jacket
This beast of a jacket is going to become your favorite pick for the wintertime. If you’re living in, or exploring in, severely cold conditions, a jacket that keeps you warm no matter what is crucial. The Helikon-Tex Level 7 is a 100% nylon jacket that uses Climashield Apex insulation that keeps you warm no matter what.
The insulation in this jacket is hydrophobic. If you get trapped in a winter rainstorm, it will keep you warm even if it’s wet and will dry much faster than most other insulations. You get a beefy collar with this jacket that houses the hood and protects your neck from the elements.
One great aspect of this jacket is that it can compress easily and pack down to a smaller size. With bushcraft, this is incredibly important because you’ll often be on the move. When you start moving, you won’t want such a warm layer on, but you need to carry it easily for when you stop moving. This one compresses down, but doesn’t lose any of its insulation abilities.
The side pockets on this jacket have lanyard D-rings that let you clip important things in. If you get into a tough tumble, you’ll be glad that you clipped your compass in. Inside the jacket, there are two mesh pockets. These pockets are great for using your body heat to dry any wet items that you have along with you. This jacket gives the heat necessary to turn you into a functional dryer.
Arc’teryx Zeta SL Gore-Tex Jacket
Every piece of Arc’teryx gear that I own, I probably wear every single day. It’s a brand that’s well-known and loved in the outdoors industry, for a lot of good reasons. It’s an expensive brand that delivers products that are worth every penny. You’ll need to look at this one as more of an investment. I would easily put this as the best rain jacket for bushcraft that you can find.
The Zeta SL Gore-Tex Jacket is a hybrid-style jacket that uses two different types of Gore-Tex to boost the waterproof factor but decrease the weight. Gore-Tex is widely known for being one of the best materials to keep you dry without having to bring a lot of weight or not being able to breathe through it. In the high-use parts of this jacket, it’s triple-layered for ultimate protection.
The features on this jacket are endless. The DryCuff laminated adjustable cuffs do a great job of keeping your arms safe from rain, wind, and snow. The WaterTight zippers are paired with Rain Shield zipper sliders. The hood has adjustable drawcords and a laminated brim to carry the rain away. The chin guard even has crushed microsuede to be gentle on your face.
It’s a jacket to make you comfortable. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be durable, however. Arc’teryx has found the perfect construction for comfort and durability in all of their products. This is a jacket that’s sure to last you years on end with the great customer service to back you up.
Mountain Hardwear Exposure/2 GORE-TEX PACLITE Stretch Jacket
Another great lightweight and waterproof jacket comes from Mountain Hardwear. The Exposure/2 Gore-Tex Paclite Stretch Jacket uses a 2.5 layer Gore-Tex Paclite stretch fabric that combats water both inside and out. The jacket also uses a CO PFC-free DWR finish to give even more protection from water and stray drops of ketchup.
This jacket is the perfect choice for when you set out on physically active adventures. With the stretch in the fabric, there’s no restricted movement and you’re free to move. The YKK zipper is fully waterproof and seam-sealed. A drop-tail hem is incorporated to help protect you when the weather really takes a turn for the worst.
A rain jacket needs to have optimal space underneath for both the base and mid-layers to keep you warm. The Exposure has a standard fit that doesn’t make the jacket super baggy, but isn’t too tight to restrict adding layers. The layer system is the best way to go in the bush. It helps you make finer adjustments to your system, and this jacket is a great addition to your other layers.
Any Mountain Hardwear product I have ever owned has lived up to its name. The brand brings you a highly durable product that will protect you in the mountains. There’s a lot of tech that goes into this jacket, and it all pays off.
Jack Pyke Galbraith Smock Brown
The pullover smock design hasn’t really found its way onto our list yet, but here it is. The Jack Pyke Galbraith Smock is a water and windproof polyester jacket that uses a lot of great features to keep you dry.
This smock has a huge front pocket that uses a weatherproof zip to keep its contents dry. The elastic inner cuff bands help to keep your sleeve in place, in a comfortable position. There is an adjustable drawstring in the bottom hem that helps you cinch it up tight and keep unwanted breezes and water out.
It’s a simple design that gives you everything you need to stay dry, for a more affordable price. This jacket isn’t going to do much other than keep you dry. You’ll need to be sure to bring the right layers to keep yourself warm because this one won’t do it.
Swazi/Ray Mears AEGIS Tahr XP Anorak
Ray Mears is a survivalist well-known by thousands, and his word carries a lot of weight when it comes to the quality of any piece of gear. The Swazi Tahr Anorak is a piece of gear that the man has taken and tested in demanding environments. The Ray Mears AEGIS Tahr XP Anorak is an improved version of the old Tahr Anorak.
The AEGIS fabric is new to Swazi, but it makes this jacket the perfect outer layer for any activity where you’re facing extreme weather. It’s windproof, waterproof, and breathable. There are three different layers to the fabric to protect from every element and there have been extensive tests performed on it. Needless to say, it’s passed them all.
The hood on the jacket has a framed-design that allows for your peripherals to be wide open but still protecting you from wind and rain. The neoprene stretch cuffs help keep water out when your hands go above your head, but widen to let you push up your sleeves. The cut is extra-long which gives extra protection but also includes a drawcord to cinch tight around the waist.
This was made by the best, for the best. That being said, it comes with a pretty high price tag. It will keep you dry and warm for years on end, but you have to pay for that. It would be hard to tell you it’s not worth it.
How to Choose the Best Bushcraft Coat
Type of Jacket
When looking for the right jacket, it’s necessary to know exactly what kind of jacket you’re looking for. It would be nice to buy an all-in-one, does-it-all, perfect piece of clothing, but that’s not normally an option. Different jackets do different things, so we need to understand what jacket you need for what situation.
A hardshell jacket can be anything from a rain jacket to a different non-permeable material. A hard shell is meant to be worn on the outside of all your other layers to give you protection from all the elements.
You need a hard shell as part of your layering system to stop wind and water from breaching into the deeper layers. This layer isn’t really about warmth, although it does provide some. The warmth comes from stopping the wind and water so effectively. A hard shell is a must-pack on every expedition.
Your mid-layer can often be considered a soft shell if it is a jacket. This layer isn’t going to be waterproof or very windproof, but it will insulate you well. These jackets are often made of wool, fleece, cotton, or another soft, fuzzy material that makes you feel warm both inside and out.
If you’re going out in the middle of summer, and you know the temps won’t drop too much at night, a soft shell isn’t necessary. It’s still a good idea, but you can get away without it. This layer is about warmth in addition to your base layers. Often you need to use a hard shell on top of a soft shell to give you full protection.
Insulating jackets are almost the perfect all-in-one I mentioned earlier. These winter, or late fall/early spring, jackets are typically made with a hard shell that is filled with an insulator. Big puffy down jackets that hip-hop stars from the early 2000s wore are extreme exaggerations of insulating jackets.
Insulating jackets are essential to a long, cold winter expedition. They give you a level of warmth that typically is hard to find with layers. I use my waterproof insulating jacket as my outer layer when temps drop below zero.
Wind works against us in cold weather. It draws the heat away from our body quickly and can make it feel much colder than it truly is. While we love windy days in the summertime, a windy day in the winter is brutal. With a 15 mph wind, the temperature (according to how your body experiences it) drops from 0°F to -19°F. Wind chill makes a difference.
To help our bodies stay protected, windbreakers are effective barriers that don’t add much insulation but stop the wind. These are good layers for when you are sweating and the wind will make you cool down too quickly and risk hypothermia.
While a rain jacket may be redundant after having a hard shell to protect you, I find it important to distinguish between the two. Often, hard shells are only technically water-resistant. At least, they should be labeled that way. Even three-layered Gore-Tex has failed me before.
Having a jacket set aside solely for protecting you from rain will save you the huge trouble of needing to dry your clothes. I love Gore-Tex, but if you’re in a true rainforest environment for a long time, it won’t cut it.
You may notice the several different materials listed in each jacket and wonder what each one means. There are a lot of different material types and more are being developed every day. To get a good understanding of what material to choose, here are some pros and cons of some popular materials.
- Cotton is cozy, warm, and reminds me of pajamas
- Cotton clothes are cheap
- It’s breathable to an extent
- Great for short expeditions in a dry environment
- Once cotton is wet, it will never be dry
- Wet cotton creates chafing
- Can be too warm, leading to sweating
- Synthetic polyester dries quickly
- Polyester is durable and will last a long time
- Great for long trips in wet conditions
- Polyester sticks to sweat like glue
- Less breathable
- Polyester brings out the scent of your week-in-the-woods body, and causes skin blemishes (if that’s important to you in the woods)
- Waterproof, and gets even more waterproof with more layers
- Incredibly lightweight and packs down easy
- Works well for rain layers in every condition
- More expensive
- Hard to repair
Brands try to put extra features into every jacket to give them an edge over the competition. Some of these features are just there to act as fluff, but some are helpful to you in a bushcraft situation.
Hoods are great to protect you from sun, rain, and wind. They also block your peripherals and can make it difficult to see your surroundings. Some jackets have hoods that are framed to give you a better peripheral view, which I love. There are also hood with small bills that help shed water effectively out of your face.
A lot of pockets can be great, but with too many, you may forget where you put something. For bushcraft, I love jackets that have breast pockets (for easy access to the small gear I need), side pockets (mostly to warm my hands in), and interior mesh pockets (to dry clothes with my body heat). Obviously, these jackets need to be protected from the weather with a flap and waterproof zipper system.
I don’t see much of a reason to ever buy a jacket that doesn’t use YKK zippers. They are the best. Full stop, end of sentence, nothing more to say. In defense of those jackets that don’t have YKK, however, zippers that offer protection from the weather will suffice.
The cuffs at the end of your sleeves are going to be important to not annoy the crap out of you as well as help keep stuff out of your sleeves. Poorly fitting cuffs will fall and interfere with your hands constantly, or cut off the blood going to them if the cuffs are too tight. Every time you raise your hands in the rain, expect water to pour into your forearms unless you have a good cuff.
Remember to Layer Up
Bushcraft clothing is like an ogre, a cake, an onion, whatever you prefer. The system is all about layers. Layers allow you to effectively regulate your body temperature to fit all different weather and times of the day.
Typical layer systems look like this: Base layer -> Mid-layer -> Outer layer. Easily understood also as: Underwear (or long johns) -> A shirt or pants -> a hard shell or rain jacket. As well as some other garments of clothing such as hat or gloves.
Sometimes in the winter, your layering system may look more like this: Base layer -> Lower Mid-layer -> Middle Mid-layer -> Outer Mid-layer -> Outer layer #1 -> Outer layer #2-6.
That’s what’s great about the layering system. You can modify it to fit the environment that you’re in. You need to bring the appropriate layers for where you end up. With the right layers, you can keep yourself warm, or keep yourself dry and cool. Plan ahead and prepare accordingly.
Layers will save you.
The best bushcraft jacket isn’t just one jacket. It’s an array of jackets that all serve different purposes and give you benefits that other ones don’t.
There are a lot of different jackets that will perform well in a bushcraft scenario, but there are even more that could ruin it. The right jacket will protect you, and let you keep moving forward. Get bundled up and get on out there.