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How to Choose a Waterproof Garment

How to Choose a Waterproof Garment

So, it's raining.  You're outside and need to stay dry.  Easy eh?  Well maybe not.......so many options and so many brands so we thought we'd try and offer some simplified detail to help you decide.

So first and foremost you probably need to narrow things down a bit and decide....what is it going to be used for?

A heavyweight coat for example is probably not the best garment to go for a run in and indeed, taking a lightweight run specific jacket on a ski trip, really won't help a great deal.

By the same token, part of the reason for such a huge variety of garments in this sector is that they are designed for specific uses.  Therefore you may find the need to have several garments that to all intents and purposes, do the same job.

It's kind of like shoes......a shoe is a shoe and they all cover your feet but you're not likely to go hiking in a pair of City brogues are you?

Establishing what you need it for is essential.  Leisure use, hiking, mountain climbing, rugby or running will give you products each with unique characteristics for what you intend to do.

Once you've done this, now we can get to work on what level of water proofing you need but there's one thing that EVERYONE should understand.......there is NO SUCH THING AS 100% WATERPROOF CLOTHING with the expection of Oil Skins or a plastic bag.  Problem is if you wear something that doesn't breathe, you'll simply get wet with condensation.  It's a compomise.

Waterproof garments mainly fall into 3 main categories:

Level 1: Shower Proof

Level 2: Rain Resistant

Level 3: Storm Proof

 

Level 1 Water Proofing - Shower Proof

In general, you'll find that the garment has been treated during manufacturing with an un-detectable water repellent treatment usually involving a silicone based washed-in or sprayed on treatment that helps to reduce the amount of rain absorbed into the garment.

We've all seen ducks on a pond and watch them dive for food and come up to watch all the water droplets fall off their feathers leaving the dry....water off a ducks back.

Ostensibly the ducks have the equivalent of a silicone secretion from their bills that constantly coats and re-coats their feathers.  This is principally the process used in manufacturing garments using a silicone film but the difference is it's only done once.

This treatment doesn't usually have any ill effect on the look and feel of the garment and is simply there as an additional protective "film" to help.

This kind of treatment is applied to all sorts of garments from Hoodies to Jackets.  This kind of protection is ideal for light rain or where there might be some possibility of a shower or when the air is damp with fog or mist.

The downside of this treatment is that it will ultimately wash out over time through washing with detergents.  When you can, wash such garments without detergents as this will preserve their water integrity longer.  Sponging works well or let dirt dry and brush it off.  Water repellency can however, be re-introduced quite successfully with wash in treatments that re-establish the resistance to water penetration of which there are several on the market including NikWax ranges.

 

Level 2 Water Proofing - Fully Rain Resistant

Now we're getting into the more bespoke areas of garment rainwear. In general again the garment will usually have been treated with an un-detectable water resistant silicone or organis ODWR organis treatment at manufacturing but is also a garment specifically designed for outdoor use in wet conditions. 

The garment exterior is usually a Soft-shell or Hard Shell fabric face finish and usually a 2 or 3 layer construction and can also be a padded thermal garment thereby keeping the garment away from the skin.  Often classified as "breathable" garments, they often involve an integrated plasticised membrane that is usually impermeable to rain. 

Again when washed, the silicone treatment can often was out with the continuous use of detergents but can be re-generated using appropriate products to revitalise the fabric such as the products available from NikWax.

 

Level 3 Water Proofing - Full Storm Protection

Thermal and non-thermal. Coats and jackets, Ski wear and much more.  Product is usually constructed using a 2 or 3 layer system with excellent external water repellent capabilities from the introduction of a silicone based treatment that offers reduced water penetration characteristics. 

In addition, garment construction is usually (but not always) a Hard Shell fabric finish offering excellent wind protection as well as rain resistance.  This level of garment quality is usually found in high end outdoor products and golf waterproofs.

This quality of protection is applied to garments where the use is guaranteed to be in very bad weather conditions and where exposure to severe rain or water exposure is assured such as out at sea, mountaineering, skiing and holidays in the Cairngorms!

Additionally, garments almost always have bonded seams and storm flap pockets meaning the seams are far less likely to allow water penetration.  Most importantly the very best garments of this nature usually have a GoreTex breathable membrane as well which offers the best water resistance available due to the unique trademarked properties of GoreTex.

Whilst the external shell is usually always treated with an un-detectable silicone treatment such as that supplied by NikWax can wash out over time as with other rain resistant garments, the GoreTex properties will still allow the garment to maintain much of its waterproof characteristics and performance.

Whatever your needs for a level 3 waterproofed garment, you should expect to pay.  GoreTex isn't cheap, it's a product that is licensed to brands under strict controls but is equally the best breathable membrane out there due to the very unique properties of the product.



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