How much waterproofing do you really need, and what factors affect how waterproof your jacket will be?
Membranes: When people picture high-end outerwear, they’re thinking of jackets with a waterproof membrane. This is where you’ll generally find the highest waterproof and breathability ratings. If you’re really getting after it and expect some nasty weather, then this is what you want. The only real downside is that membranes themselves aren’t very durable, so most jackets with membranes include a light inner layer for added protection. Only the most minimal, ultra-light jackets skimp on this.
Laminates: Laminates tend to be much cheaper than membranes, and for many users (if not most) they’ll do just fine. They’re extremely durable, so jackets can be built with only a laminate and an outer layer and still last for years. Waterproof ratings can be nearly or just as good as membranes. The big downside is that laminates suffer from relatively slow evaporation, so they tend to feel a bit clammy if you’re sweating hard during your day in the hill.
DWR Coatings: A DWR coating is simply a polymer applied to the outer-most layer of your garment. This is what makes water bead up and roll off when you’re out in the rain. While this is pretty standard on most jackets, those with only a DWR coating and no additional membrane or laminate can be quickly overwhelmed by heavy rain and become saturated. As a stand-alone, DWR is only really useful in very light rain or snow.
DWR coating can be re-applied by the user with either wash-in or spray-on products. This should be done when your garment gets worn and water no longer beads up.
Waterproof Ratings: Saying that something is waterproof is a lot like saying that something is heavy. Everything is relative. Waterproof enough for Utah may not even come close to keeping you dry in Washington. To make things even more complicated, many manufacturers use different rating systems, which makes it hard to compare one jacket to another. However, here is a pretty simple explanation of what to expect.
Seam Taping: Seam taping is exactly what it sounds like. When the jacket is built, a waterproof tape is applied over the top of the seams to keep water from leaking through. There are several different types of taping, including welded seams, but they all fall into three basic levels of protection. Like waterproof ratings, what works fine in one region may not be sufficient in another.
Breathability Ratings: Even the best hardshell jacket will get a bit clammy if you’re working hard enough, but as with waterproof ratings, things generally get more comfortable as the numbers get higher. Here’s a short breakdown.
Check out this infographic for more info and tips on caring for your waterproof apparel: