Function: Will it keep me dry? When new, rainwear touted as "waterproof" is rain-worthy. Over time, however, rainwear fabric requires care to revive its water-shedding ability. (Such maintenance is often overlooked.) What about soft shells? Most are "water-resistant," meaning they can withstand light precipitation but not a drenching rain.
Comfort: Will I swelter inside it? While waterproof/breathable fabric technologies can make rainwear comfortable to wear during vigorous activity, so can other factors: use of vents, individual metabolisms, humidity, temperature, the clothing worn underneath rainwear, and more.
Durability: Can it handle hard use? Face fabrics (nylon or polyester, usually) come in different weights, or denier, a spec not always provided by manufacturers. Though 70-denier (70D) is a common weight, outerwear fabrics can range from 15D (wispy) to 450D (burly). Aim for midweight (70D, often found in 3-layer designs) or higher if you like to climb, scramble or bushwhack off-trail. Sticking to trails? Save ounces by choosing a lightweight design.
Appearance: How do I look? Rainwear designed for the trail aims for low weight, easy packability and pocket positioning that won't interfere with backpack straps or a climbing harness. Rainwear for travel or around-town use is styled with a fuller cut, more pockets and less fussiness over weight.
Price: Why such disparity? High-end rainwear usually features a waterproof/breathable laminate, meticulous seam-taping and exceptional detailing, right down to tiny protective awnings over zipper heads. Lower-cost rainwear is cut looser and often uses waterproof/breathable coatings (generally less breathable than laminates). Still, coated rainwear is quite adequate for moderate activities, and it's light and easy to pack.
Tip: Use your past experiences to help you shop. Are you seeking something more breathable? More durable? Lighter? Something exactly the same? Consider the typical intensity level of your activities and your personal metabolism, too.
Recommended users for rainwear using laminates (membranes):
Recommended users for rainwear using fabric coatings:
Laminate vs. Coatings
A nutshell comparison of waterproof/breathable technologies.
|Think of it as:||Wallpaper glued to a wall||Paint spread on a wall|
|Made from:||Expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE), polyurethane (PU) or polyester membrane
||Many formulations of polyurethane (PU)|
|Popular brands:||Gore-Tex; eVent; Dry.Q||HyVent|
Laminates and coatings are relatively delicate, and abrasion can create tiny leakage channels. Thus WP/BR jackets usey some type of skin-facing inner layer for protection and are described as 2-layer, 3-layer or even 2.5-layer designs. Here is a brief primer:
These comparatively basic garments have a membrane or coating applied to the face fabric to form 1 layer. The second layer is often a loose-hanging liner, usually mesh, that is stitched into the interior of the jacket. This suits many people, though some find the liner a bit too loose and bulky-feeling. The liner is needed to protect the laminate or coating from abrasion. Two-layer jackets are a touch heavier and less breathable than other designs, and they are primarily intended for day trips or urban activities.
These use a low-weight face fabric (first layer), a polyurethane-based WP/BR laminate or coating (second layer) and a bare-minimum protective inner layer (more like a sheen than an actual layer, which is why it is considered a half-layer). These garments, typically 16 ounces or less, are intended for ultralight wilderness travel and weight- and space-restricted travelers. Two top-selling examples: the Marmot Precip and REI Ultra Light Jacket. Backcountry travelers who favor more breathable soft shells as their principal outerwear often toss a 2.5-layer jacket into their packs just in case a deluge hits. If abrasion-resistance is not one of your key concerns, 2.5-layer garments (particularly those with laminates) deliver high performance for a moderate price.
Jackets in this category offer rugged yet low-weight WP/BR protection. No coatings are used here, just laminates, with a membrane tightly sandwiched between the face fabric and a body-facing liner. Jackets in the category offer a sleek, athletic fit and face fabrics that can handle less-than-gentle treatment. This makes them well-suited for serious climbers and backpackers. Products in this category aspire to high breathability, high durability and relatively low weight, albeit at a somewhat higher cost.
Little things can make a difference in your jacket or parka. Some to watch for:
Seam taping: Seam tape seals puncture holes created when sewing needles stitch together fabric panels. Virtually all top-brand WP/BR garments offer factory-taped seams. A few high-end manufacturers use narrow seam tape, which saves a few grams. Some skiwear items offer "critical" seam taping. This means only seams in high rain exposure areas are taped; side seams, for example, may be omitted in an effort to keep costs down.
Weight: Rainwear designed for rugged use tends to weigh more; fewer conveniences (pockets, zippers, wrist adjustments) result in lower weight. Low weight vs. convenience—it's the eternal outdoor explorer's conundrum. For casual ramblers, it may be wise to aim light and resist the temptation to over-fortify yourself when a lightweight, 2.5-layer Marmot Precip (13 oz., men's medium) or REI Ultra Light (16 oz.) will do.
Fit: Be aware that many technical jackets ("technical" is typically a code word for higher-cost, higher-performing gear) feature a trim athletic cut. They look sharp on a corresponding body type, but may feel snug to some people and could make layering a challenge.
Hoods: Some are extra roomy to accommodate a climbing helmet. Such hoods can appear enormous on a helmet-free noggin, so be aware that it may require some adjusting to keep it from flopping in your face. For a sleeker appearance, look for a detachable or hideaway hood. Hoods with stiffened brims have become fairly commonplace; they offer a nice rain awning that keep drips out of your face.
Vents: Nothing hastens the evaporation of sweat as well as direct air exposure. A jacket's biggest vent is its front zipper; some are 2-way, meaning you can unzip them from the bottom—a handy venting option. Some chest pockets or hand pockets double as core vents, which is another plus.
Armpit zippers: Minimalists will complain that they add weight (and they're right), but "pit zips" are a splendid air-circulation feature. Jackets that offer such an extra may also provide wrist adjustments that can be tightened or loosened to regulate airflow on your arms.
Articulated tailoring: Articulated sleeves, gusseted underarms and so-called "angel-wing" construction allow sleeves to bend naturally without causing cuffs to ride up your forearm. Also, when you raise your arms overhead, your lower torso remains covered. Very helpful.
Linings: Those aiming to save space and weight should choose a 3- or 2.5-layer design (described above).
Chin guards: Some jackets offer soft material at the top of the front zipper channel so nothing but fleecy goodness touches your chin when the jacket is zipped up. It's a nice extra.
Storm flap: Front zippers sometimes come with a draft flap. It stops wind from slipping through the teeth of the zipper, but adds a hint of weight to the garment.
Pockets: Fewer are found on technical jackets than on urban-minded designs. Designers shrewdly position them to avoid conflict with backpack straps and hipbelts or a climbing harness. Options include music pockets (with headphone ports), inner mesh pockets for storing climbing skins or keeping water bottles from freezing, and zippered security pocket for IDs.
Back length: REI.com includes this spec—the distance between the between the base of a garment's collar and the bottom of its hem. This measurement can help you envision how a rain jacket will fit. Most rainwear is jacket-length, with the hem resting just below the hips. Some are parka-length designs, which cover a wearer's backside.
Drawcords, snow skirts: Drawcords in a jacket's hem allow you to snug the fit to avoid whipping winds. Snow skirts, usually found only in winter parkas, accomplish the same task at waist level.
Noise: Some jacket fabrics create a swishing sound during arm swings. Nylon is usually a little more audible than polyester. Soft shells earn high marks here; they are typically much quieter than nylon or polyester hard shells.
Soft shells rate a mention as an outerwear option when rigorous, highly aerobic activities are involved. Some experienced, high-energy adventurers even prefer them over traditional outerwear.
Two types of soft shells (not always easy to tell apart) are available:
Traditional soft shells: These offer a water-resistant, tightly woven fabric distinguished by excellent stretch and breathability.
Soft shells with a WP/BR membrane: These offer more stretch than a WP/BR garment, but with a reduced level of breathability (though one usually comparable with higher-performing WP/BR hard shells).
Tip: Most soft shell users carry a no-frills "hard shell" for hard rain, heavy wind or a touch of extra warmth. A hard-shell/soft-shell combo adds up to some extra ounces, but it could offer you a just-right mix of protection.
Breathability matters most? Consider...
Waterproofness matter most?
Warmth matters most?
Weight matters most?
Durability matters most?
Flexibility/maneuverability matters most?
Cost matters most?
Convenience and comfort matter most?
Versatility matters most?
To learn about the more technical aspects of rainwear, please see our companion article Rainwear: How it Works.
By T.D. Wood
Read Author Bio
Last updated: Thu Jan 31 11:06:57 PST 2013
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