If you’re wet, clammy, and miserable in the rain, you bought the wrong jacket. But are all rain jackets created equal? You probably already know that the light trench you’d wear around town doesn’t measure up to the thigh-length slicker reserved for kids’ soccer games or rainy days at the coast. But—with rainwear labels like water-resistant, water-repellent, and waterproof—how do you know what’s going to work best for you?
Here’s a quick overview of important differences to help keep you dry and comfortable no matter the conditions.
If you’re spending a short time in light rain, water-repellent
jackets are ideal. Most tightly woven nylon or polyester fabrics can provide some water resistance (unlike cotton, which absorbs like a sponge). If you’re just dashing from one place to another, that’s probably all you need. Most of the time, water-repellent jackets are treated with DWR to create a surface that sheds water, preventing it from soaking into the fabric as quickly.
Water-resistant jackets provide slightly more protection without going fully waterproof (water-resistant and waterproof gear is also water-repellent). Because they require less engineering, water-resistant jackets are often less expensive and are offered in a variety of stylish silhouettes
with or without hoods. But if you spend too much time in the rain or get caught in a storm, that water-resistant jacket may get saturated (also known as “wet out”).
If a dark sky turns into a hard rain, you’re hiking or fishing all day in nasty weather, or sitting in a stadium for hours getting rained on—you need a jacket that’s fully waterproof. Waterproof jackets both repel water and resist it for longer than water-resistant jackets. They’re designed to stand up to extended or extreme exposure and are engineered specifically to keep you dry over time, often featuring sealed seams and special zippers.
Not all waterproof jackets are breathable
. A rain poncho for brief excursions may not need to be, but jackets built for the long haul must achieve a balance between breathability and waterproofness. Plastic is completely waterproof but wearing a garbage bag will quickly turn you into a sweaty, clammy mess. Multi-layered construction
with fabric on the outside and a microporous membrane with taping on the inside protects you from the wet while allowing excess moisture to escape.
If you’re exercising or exerting yourself in the rain, a highly waterproof-breathable
jacket is essential. State-of-the-art rain jackets
feature external membranes with tiny pores that allow water vapor (from sweat) to escape while sealing out surface moisture, ensuring zero wet out. And by placing the membrane on the outside and fabric on the inside to manage moisture, unrivaled next-to-skin comfort is achieved.