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How to Choose a Waterproof Jacket

How to Choose a Waterproof Jacket

So, it’s raining.  You’re going outside and need to stay dry. So let’s buy a jacket that will do exactly that.  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.

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 taking a lightweight run 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 a whole host of different products each with unique characteristics for what they were designed for.

Once you’ve established your needs, you can get to work on water proofing.  But let us first be very clear on something that might come as a bit of a shock given the content of this page so here goes….”there is no such thing as waterproof clothing”.

We know….that was a biggie we accept.  But the facts are these.  If something is “waterproof” it must be totally sealed like a plastic bag.  If it’s 100% waterproof, then it won’t let water in but equally it won’t let water out either. 

Imagine wearing a bin liner that’s sealed all over with absolutely no gaps.  Your body won’t stop producing heat and moisture (remember you are 70% water after all) and all that moisture will get trapped between the skin and the bin liner.  Within a few hours you’ll be swimming in sweat….literally.  Not very pleasant and to be fair, not very healthy either.

Waterproof clothing is a compromise.  It has to breathe so by its very nature it cannot be regarded as totally waterproof.  As long as you can accept this and accept that there is most likely going to be “some” degree of water penetration, then you’ll be fine.

To our mind, waterproof garments 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 shower proof garments have been treated during manufacturing with an un-detectable water repellent treatment usually but not always, involving a silicone based washed-in or sprayed on treatment that helps to reduce the amount of rain absorbed into the garment. 

These days with ever-advancing technology and our wish to become ever more ethically minded, there are a number of Organic waterproofing treatments on the market that brands are beginning to use that are less harmful to the environment than silicone based options.

We’ve all seen ducks on a pond and watch them dive for food and come back up only to watch all the water droplets fall off their feathers leaving them totally dry….it’s where the phrase “water off a ducks back” comes from.

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

This manufacturing 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 against water penetration.

This kind of treatment is applied to all sorts of garments from Hoodies to Jackets and Coats to Trousers.  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 so the best garment care here is to wear often and wash infrequently. 

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 or Storm protection.

Level 2 Water Proofing - Fully Rain Resistant

Now we’re getting into the more bespoke areas of rainwear garments. In general again, the garment will usually have been treated with an un-detectable water resistant treatment at manufacturing but is also a garment specifically designed for outdoor use in wet conditions so it will have more weather resistant features. 

The garment is usually a Soft-Shell or Hard-Shell fabric face finish and usually a 2 or 3 layer construction thereby keeping the garment away from the skin.  Usually classified as "breathable" garments, they sometimes involve an integrated plasticised membrane that is impermeable to rain. 

Again when washed, the protective treatment can often wash 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.  Top end waterproof products are 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 more expensive garments of this nature usually have a GoreTex breathable membrane as well which offers some of the best water resistance/breathability properties 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 that 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 regarded by many as the best breathable membrane out there due to the very unique properties of the product.

So in summary, establish what you need it for then choose the warmth and protection capabilities for the best garment to suit your needs.

Finally, if something is too cheap…..there’s usually a valid reason.  Expect to pay for a decent coat or jacket but it should last you years if you do.