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How we test gear.
Sheath yourself in one of these when you tackle outdoor projects or chores.
While there are many workwear jackets that are suitable for a range of conditions, different jobs often have different needs, depending on the work you’re doing. Some rely on the weather—if the rain starts falling, you stop working. For others, the work must continue in all but the worst conditions. So we tested a range of jackets to cover the needs of just about anyone wanting the best workwear for their job.
It should be no surprise that some of the top manufactures have been making hardcore workwear jackets for a century or more—some with styles and materials that haven’t changed much in all that time. Traditional cotton duck, a heavy canvas-like material, still holds a dedicated following with workers in trades that require tough, durable clothes. Modern technical materials have made in-roads though, especially when it comes to jobs that call for some water- and wind-resistance, insulation, and breathability. The bottom line is that determining the needs of the job will dictate what type of jacket to wear. However, in many cases you might be served by having more than one for varying conditions. And because activity levels vary from job to job, and temperatures fluctuate throughout the day—especially in the shoulder seasons—the ability to layer under jackets is important. So factor in the fit when making your decision, or size up if you could use a bit more room.
To find the best workwear jackets, we considered price, features, comfort, style, and the needs of a wide range of jobs. We wore these jackets in temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to just under freezing, in sunny, rainy, damp, and windy conditions. We cut firewood, trimmed trees, worked on carpentry projects, raked leaves, cleaned gutters, did landscaping, toiled in an unheated shop, and ran our weekend errands in these jackets to determine how well they performed. When we were done, we had a selection of workwear we could recommend for just about any type of job. Here they are.
Cat’s Triton quickly became one of the favorites in this test, as we discovered feature after feature. The shell is a heavy waterproof, windproof, breathable material that stretches in four directions. We were able to bend our elbows ninety degrees and pull them together in front of us with no binding whatsoever. While our hands were in front of us, we noticed the angled cut on the cuffs—shorter to the thumb side. This keeps them from getting in the way when we’re working with our hands (it’s also where they usually wear out). Heavier material reinforces the elbows, and the hidden storm cuffs fit comfortably without being too snug and irritating. The detachable hood integrates seamlessly, with the ends tucking into pockets to keep them from flapping around the chin. Front two-way, weatherproof zippers allow access to double pockets and provide maximum ventilation when needed. The shell is lined with soft, quilted insulation that we didn’t find thick or bulky. Finally, adjustable cord locks allow for a personalized fit around the hood and bottom of the jacket. The Triton will work well for anyone whose outdoor work or activity continues, regardless of the cold, snow, or rain.
You can’t go wrong with a coat or jacket from Carhartt—it’s been manufacturing work clothes using tough cotton duck longer than just about anyone else. The brand’s Armstrong Traditional is made with signature features that have stood the test of time. We appreciate the deep shoulder pleats, now enhanced with a stretch panel that let our arms move freely without binding (hence the Full Swing in the name). Add in pleated elbows, and this coat allows a lot of mobility, without riding up and allowing a draft up your back. Large patch pockets sewn on the front are big enough to get our gloved hands in—and they’re a lot more durable than pockets that cut in between the liner and shell. The latter often fail, releasing their contents to roam, trapped in the liner, which can become a constant source of irritation. The lining is quilted with 3M Thinsulate insulation, making this coat ideal for the shoulder seasons when temps can vary throughout the day. Layering appropriately, we’ll wear the Armstrong all the way through winter. This is a versatile coat that you’ll see on the backs of contractors, carpenters, arborists, landscapers, farm hands, and many others working outdoors or in unheated spaces.
Cutting its teeth outfitting prospectors during the Great Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, Filson has a long history making rugged clothing. This Ranch Jacket, like many of the brand’s products, features “Tin Cloth,” a light cotton duck material that’s wind-resistant and fends off chiggers, thorns, and burrs. We like the classic snap closures and corduroy collar of this no-frills jacket. These features have endured the decades for good reason: They’re durable, and they work. The unlined jacket is light enough to wear on cool summer mornings, but we view the Ranch Jacket as versatile shoulder season apparel. Our testing coincided with fall, so we often wore it in damp, cool weather from 50 degrees to temps around freezing. We layered it with either a regular or thermal undershirt beneath a flannel. The tight weave of the tin cloth does in fact resist catching on thorns, as we found when cutting back blackberry brambles. We ultimately used the Ranch Jacket as a chore coat and found it looked, and functioned, better and better the more we wore it. This type of jacket is popular with workers in forestry and the oil and gas industry, as well as outdoors enthusiasts of all stripes.
This jacket from Berne was a pleasure to wear right from day one. Although the company doesn’t say, the super-duty cotton duck feels to be pre-washed, so it was soft and comfortable without any break-in period. A heavy sherpa lining and tailored hood make the High Country cozy in the sub-freezing morning temperatures of late fall here in Pennsylvania. Being a jacket, rather than a coat, it’s cut a little shorter, so keeping the cold off the lower back can be a challenge. But the knit waistband and cuffs helped to keep drafts out without being too snug. As did the broad shoulder pleats and two small elbow pleats, which provided ample mobility without the back or sleeves riding up. The two patch pockets on the front were big enough to accommodate gloved hands and have brass rivets reinforcing the stitching at stress points. The three inside pockets—one with a zipper—had plenty of room for a cellphone, a wallet, and other odds and ends. While Berne’s heritage lies in agricultural work clothing, the High Country is for just about any kind of rough outdoor chore or activity.
Helly Hansen has been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to foul-weather gear, with a track record spanning well over a century. So we had high expectations when we started testing their Oxford—a rain jacket with a liner, taped seams, and a removable hood. And it did not disappoint. Examining the construction, we noted smart features that make the jacket durable and easy to wear. The waterproof shell is made from a breathable, polyester ripstop material, with orange highlighted touch points on things like zipper pulls and elastic fit adjusters. One of our favorite (and often overlooked) features is the Velcro adjustment strap on the hood. It allowed us to pull the front of the hood up and out of our faces. We tested through a couple of lengthy downpours, which helped us assess the waterproofing. The Oxford kept us quite dry, with no leakage at the seams or zippers. The jacket lining isn’t insulated, and though it was adequately warm into the upper-forties, we needed to layer appropriately when it got much colder.
Dickie’s Bomber Jacket utilizes a Cordura-cotton blend shell that displays qualities of both materials. We noted the soft flexibility of natural fibers, as well as a pleasing feel to the touch. At the same time, the fabric does have some of the dense toughness we expect from Cordura. Although it shouldn’t at this point, no matter how many times we test, Thinsulate insulation continues to surprise us. In this bomber, it felt almost unnoticeable, but in practice it performed well. While we haven’t hit the depths of winter yet, the Bomber has been more than warm enough for us on sub-freezing mornings—perhaps too warm depending on our activity levels. With layering, we’ll be wearing this jacket into the teens as the winter months march in. Being a bomber-style jacket, it has an elastic waist, hidden storm cuffs on the sleeves, and a Velcro storm flap on front. We had no shortage of storage, with 11 total pockets—three interior and eight exterior. Hoods—love them or hate them, it doesn’t matter because the one on the Cordura Bomber is removable, which we appreciate. Finally, you can have any color you want as long as it’s black, which is great for hiding dirt. However, that’s not always great for visibility in low-light conditions, so Dickies finished the jacket off with reflective accents.