Understanding which type of outdoor clothing you need depends greatly on the type of activity and climate you expect to encounter. A 5k, 2-Layer water-resistant jacket that protects you from light rain on a moderate walk in the South Downs will react very differently to the challenges of a high energy ascent during a sustained downpour in the Scottish Highlands.
With this handy guide we hope to give you a better understanding as to the types of construction and technology available to help you select the right garment for your travels.Buying a waterproof garment need not be daunting - follow our advice and you will not go wrong! Please phone during our shop opening hours or email a question any time. We are here to help.
The vast majority of good quality jackets on the market are technically water-resistant. A Wellington boot is waterproof and if you’ve ever spent the day yomping around in a pair you’ll know that the thick rubber shell keeps the rain and muck from getting in but on the downside creates its very own micro-climate; often resulting in a pair of soggy socks and sweaty feet by the end of the day. Nothing gets in, but nothing gets out either.
The trick with waterproof clothing is to prevent rain moisture from getting in whilst allowing heat moisture (perspiration) to escape. This transfer of moisture vapour from the jacket’s interior, through to the face-fabric where it can evaporate in the open air reduces the build-up of sweat, which keeps under-layers dry and allows you to enjoy high energy activities in greater comfort and warmth.
Every brand has its own way of achieving this but the basic principle remains the same:
It’s all about the molecules…
In basic terms, each garment features a water-resistant membrane made up of micro-pores (in some cases over 9 billion per square inch!). These pores are so small that a single water droplet is unable to penetrate. At the same time a smaller water vapour molecule is able to pass right through, essentially enabling the layer to ‘breathe’, drawing sweat to the outside. Think of a one-way street with larger traffic blocked from going one way yet smaller traffic allowed to pass in the opposite direction.
Membrane construction varies in density (pore size) with each garment carefully designed to perform in certain conditions, from light rain to heavy downpours. Each design is then rigorously tested to determine its waterproof rating – this provides us with a rough guide as to the level of protection the garment affords and thus the type of activities and conditions it is best suited too.
A waterproof rating (anything from 1K – 40K+) is the standard guide to measuring a garment’s waterproofness and comes from the Static Column Test. The Static Column Test uses a 1-inch diameter cylinder positioned vertically over the material to be tested. Water is added to the cylinder and the point at which the material leaks (measured in mm) becomes the waterproof rating. So that 5K jacket you got for the South Downs leaked at the 5’000mm mark giving it a rating of 5K (or 5’000mm). Great in light showers but the density of those pores means it will let in water in a sustained downpour. Thinking of that Spring trek around the Black Mountains? Then you’re going to want a jacket with a higher rating to ensure dryness.
There’s no hard and fast rule to determining the level of protection afforded by higher ratings as waterproofness is affected by the pressure of water (exacerbated by wind) working upon it. In real terms a higher rated waterproof construction will keep moisture out for longer.
As a rough guide:
Protection in light showers. Great around town and casual hikes with no heavy storms in the forecast. Exposed to sustained downpours they’ll eventually leak.
A solid level of waterproofing - the kind of jacket the experienced walker and outdoor professional would want in their kit.
High-alpine and expedition level gear. Built with storm-level protection to withstand sustained downpours and high winds. These will give you guaranteed protection under pressure.
In order to keep you dry and comfortable a waterproof jacket must be able to repel water moisture from the outside and let moisture vapour escape from the inside. Construction differs between brands and intended use, with jackets geared towards rock-climbing and winter sports often featuring a more rugged, abrasion resistant fabric than casual lightweight rain shells. The most obvious thing to look for when choosing a waterproof jacket is the layering – these typically fall within three categories: 2-layer, 2.5-layer and 3-layer constructions.
In each case these comprise a DWR face fabric with waterproof/breathable membrane backer (such as Gore-Tex) with the main difference occurring in the liner or innermost layer. Here’s a quick guide to understanding the pros and cons of each type:
A DWR coated face fabric laminated to a micro-porous membrane backer with a separate fabric or mesh liner. The DWR coated shell works alongside the membrane backer to prevent water moisture penetrating while the inner liner gives you next-to-skin comfort. The downside is that the liner adds weight and bulk as well as placing another layer for water vapour to pass through before escaping through the membrane. Great for everyday rain protection where durability isn’t an issue.
Click this link to view all of our 2-Layer garments.
A DWR coated face fabric laminated to a micro-porous membrane backer with a printed or sprayed on partial protective layer (in place of a separate fabric liner) to guard the waterproof membrane from becoming clogged with dirt and grease. This provides the wearer with a lightweight and highly packable design and forms the standard waterproof construction for everyday use with a great level of waterproof-breathable protection. The downside is that the added layer reduces the membrane’s breathability and can be less durable due to the lack of a separate fabric liner.
Click this link to view all of our 2.5-Layer garments.
DWR coated face and membrane but with a lightweight fabric laminated on the back side of the micro-porous membrane. This offers the highest performance and most durable construction of the three, making it ideal for mountaineers and outdoors enthusiasts traversing challenging terrain. Downsides are a slight reduction in comfort and flexibility in the fabric. The added level of construction also gives 3-layer garments a higher price point.
Click this link to view all of our 3-Layer garments.
Each brand uses differing levels of waterproof/breathable construction between their products. While there is a degree of crossover between brands some utilise their own in-house fabrics. Follow the guide below for a closer understanding as to the specific types available.
GORE-TEX PRO: Built to withstand the harshest of storm conditions. This pro-level construction offers performance water-resistance with up to 28% more breathability than its predecessors. The face fabric uses a DWR finish to bead and repel water on contact. Beneath this layer is the all-important Gore-Tex ePTFE-based membrane made up of tiny pores (up to 9million per sq. inch). These microscopic pores prevent liquid moisture (rain, snow, sleet) from penetrating while allowing smaller moisture vapour molecules to escape from the inside where they evaporate on the jacket’s surface. Check out all GORE-TEX Pro garments here.
GORE-TEX C-Knit: 3-layer Gore-Tex construction with C-Knit backer technology adding comfort for more active outdoor enthusiasts. The Gore-Tex membrane system is bonded to a dense yet lightweight circular knit to form a soft, lightweight construction that’s up to 10% lighter than previous 3-layer Gore-Tex and an improved breathability of up to 15%. Less bulk with a smooth, soft to the touch feel that slides easily over base and mid-layers. Check out all GORE-TEX C-Knit garments here.
GORE-TEX® PACLITE® 2.5 layer: Extremely lightweight and highly packable for high energy hikers and cyclists where weight and space are an everyday concern. Designed to keep you dry and cool during physical activity yet warm when not on the move. Check out all GORETEX PACLITE garments here.
GORE-TEX® PEFORMANCE SHELL: DWR coated shell with a micro-porous membrane to keep rain moisture out and allow water vapour to escape. A 2-Layer construction gives you a soft, lightweight and versatile garment. A 3-Layer version gives you a more robust design for those undertaking more challenging activities in more extreme climates.
HYDROSHELL: Berghaus’ in-house waterproof construction is designed to protect against anything from showers to torrential downpours. It features a sustainable design with a longer lasting DWR that requires less re-proofing. The Nylon face fabric features a DWR coating to repel rain moisture with a PU membrane beneath that works to prevent moisture from penetrating while allowing moisture vapour to escape. The HydroShell range gives you lightweight, tough, abrasion resistant shells with Argentium backer making them more resistant to odours. Check out all HYDROSHELL garments here.
Hydroshell™ Elite: Best for multi-sport activities with advanced waterproof technology for storm level protection and all-round comfort. Waterproof rating of 15k / Breathability of 20,000g/m2. Check out all HYDROSHELL ELITE garments here.
Hydroshell™ Elite Pro: Geared towards mountaineers and climbers with a focus on greater storm level protection and durability. Waterproof rating of 20k / Breathability of 20,000g/m2. Check out all our HYDROSHELL ELITE PRO garments here.
Buffalo Systems offer all-weather construction with a unique single shell design featuring their very own DP System (Double P – Pertex and Pile). The hard-wearing Pertex face-fabric uses a DWR to repel water while the soft pile lining works to wick moisture from the skin, transferring it through the densely woven, yet micro-porous, fabric to be dispersed across the Pertex shell. This helps keep the wearer warm and dry with venting to provide further cooling. For best results Buffalo recommend wearing their jackets and shirts next-to-skin. Check out all PERTEX AND PILE garments here.
DRYtech Premium™: 3-Layer storm level protection designed for mountaineers and climbers looking for absolute wind and rain protection with the highest level of breathability for high-energy activity in challenging terrain. Check out all DRYTECH PREMIUM garments here.
NanoPro: 2.5-Layer construction works with Dynamic Air Permeability for rapid air exchange that quickly removes moisture vapour without reducing waterproof functionality or wind protection. The NanoPro coating comprises a micro-porous construction with a 30% smaller pore structure than previous designs that works to keep out rain moisture while allowing moisture vapour to escape. Waterproofness: 10,000 mm minimum / Breathability: 17,000 gm / 24h minimum. Check out all NANOPRO garments here.
NanoPro Membrane: Available in 2.5 & 3-layer constructions this technology features Marmot’s most dynamically air permeable design to date. The new micro-porous lamination boasts a pore structure 200% smaller than previous designs for maximum waterproof/breathability and a reduction in adhesives for a softer feel and greater comfort. Waterproofness: 10,000 mm minimum / Breathability: 20,000 to 47,000 gm / 24hr. Check our all NANOPRO MEMBRAIN garments here.
NanoPro 3-Layer: Increased waterproof/breathability in a durable 3-layer construction that offers the benefit of working with a stretch fabric for greater range of motion and active comfort.
Waterproofness: 20,000 mm minimum / Breathability: 13,500 / 24h
PERTEX SHIELD + AP: Lightweight and durable with a micro-porous construction that delivers great all-weather protection in the harshest of conditions. Waterproof (hydrostatic head): 20,000mm / Breathability (MVTR): 20,000g/m²/24hrs. Check out all PERTEX SHIELD + AP garments here.
Dri1: A 2.5 layer construction with a face fabric laminated to a printed membrane. Soft and lightweight with a low profile for high-energy activity. It features a hydrophilic moisture transfer system over a microporous construction. Waterproof: min. 20,000 mm. Check out all DRI1 garments here.
H2No: Patagonia’s benchmark standard for waterproof/breathable wear featuring a range of DWR treated constructions tested to extreme levels to ensure they can withstand harsh weather and terrain. Waterproofing: 20’000mm
2-Layer H2No: Windproof, waterproof and breathable – designed for a range of uses this design uses a water-repellent shell with a taffeta or mesh lining to protect the waterproof/breathable fabric for breathability and comfort.
2.5-Layer H2No: Differs from the 2-layer by using a water-repellent shell with a waterproof/breathable membrane and protective top-coat barrier that replaces the need for a lining fabric. Lightweight, highly packable with DWR protecting the outer layer from becoming saturated to allow the breathable membrane to transfer moisture vapour.
3-Layer H2No: High performance waterproof/breathable construction that uses a water-repellent shell with a waterproof/breathable membrane bonded with an lightweight knit backer. Built to withstand exposure to extreme weather conditions.
Check out all H2NO construction garments here.
Powertex: 2, 2.5 and 3 layer constructions offering different performance levels of breathable, waterproof and wind-proofing using a DWR shell with a polyurethane membrane that reduces internal condensation, wicking moisture vapour away from the skin for comfort. Check out all POWERTEX garments here.
Helly Tech offers 3 levels of protection: Helly Tech Professional - ultimate protection with 20,000mm+ waterproofing and breathability. Helly Tech Performance - technical sporting layer with 15,000mm waterproofing and breathability. Helly Tech Protection - for all activities in wet, cold and windy weather - 5,000-15,000mm waterproofing and breathability. Check out all ADVANCE-SKIN DRY garments here.
AdvanceSkin Dry: 2.5 layer waterproof/breathable micro-porous construction with DWR face fabric and membrane laminate. Great lightweight packable design for fast-paced activities. Check out all ADVANCE-SKIN DRY garments here.
DryVent 2-layer: DWR shell with a waterproof-breathable construction and a mesh/fabric protective inner layer to give you a versatile all round waterproof layer. All DryVent branded products feature fully sealed seams. Check out all DRYVENT 2-LAYER garments here.
Refers to the process of ‘Moisture Vapour Transfer’ (MVT) – or in simple terms the ease at which sweat passes through the waterproof membrane. The speed/ease at which this occurs is heavily dependent on a variety of factors – not least the individual and the activity being performed – but can be determined by the nature of the material’s construction. The more porous the material the more efficient the rate of moisture vapour transfer. More technical layers (such as Gore-Tex Pro and NanoPro Membrane) offer a high number of micro-pores (per sq. inch) for rapid MVT. High energy pursuits such as climbing, running and cycling are better suited to lighter, more breathable constructions that let heat moisture escape faster.
Micro-porous membranes can become clogged over time with dirt, grease/oils and insect repellents. This greatly reduces their ability to function and so should be maintained with cleaners and restorers on a regular basis.Follow the link to see our selection of technical cleaners & repair kits
DWR – Durable Water Repellent: Is a polymer applied to face fabrics. It’s absorbed into the fibres and causes water to bead and roll off on contact. It provides an initial barrier to rain moisture and works alongside the breathable membrane to prevent water getting in. DWR coatings can wear off with repeated wear leaving the membrane to do all the work. While a good quality membrane will continue to prevent water from penetrating, the lack of an effective DWR means the fibres can become waterlogged and clogged with dirt and oils. This greatly reduces the membrane’s ability to breathe which leads to the build-up of condensation leaving you damp on the inside.
In order to provide reliable water-repellence, garments should be regularly cleaned and maintained with waterproof cleaners and restorers.
Follow the link to see our selection of waterproofers and technical cleaners
Gives you a quick cooling option. Great for high energy activities in fluctuating weather conditions. Open a vent and cool down on the go.
Taped seams are critical to waterproofing a garment. Without taping, a seam can be a weak point where moisture can seep between the joining of two fabrics. Seams are taped from the inside to keep water out. Taped seams are an essential feature if you’re planning on venturing out into heavy rain.
Use our Buying Guide Index to explore tonnes of useful information about equipment, clothing, footwear and more. These guides are not just for climbing and snowboarding - all of our sports are covered.
No question too big or small. Our experts are here to help and have all been there before.
Send us an email any time. We often reply outside of normal working hours including weekends.