Spring into Style. Dissecting Rainwear Technology
With spring upon us comes the need for lightweight jackets and rain gear. This year’s trends include everything from classic trench coats to rain jackets with cheeky prints, and waterproof rubber jackets to packable or hooded pieces. Designers are even showering this spring season with transparent plastic rainwear. But do you ever feel like you’re lost in a sea of choices?
Which is best? And how does it all work? Understanding some key terms related to raingear technology can help you find the right jacket that offers the protection you need at the right price.
Essentially, the terms water-resistant and waterproof designate the degree to which rain is kept from getting through the jacket. Let’s break down the terms.
Water-resistant jackets offer the lowest level of water protection. These jackets are often breathable and can handle light rain for brief periods of time. Typically made from a lightweight fabric, they’re great for chilly mornings or outdoor workouts that might take you through a brief rain shower. Ultralight, nonbulky fabric always makes a jacket easier to pack. A few jackets go further, designing a pocket to double as a storage pouch, much like Storm Creek’s Extreme Lightweight Packable Jacket.
Waterproof jackets, like rain slickers or ponchos, offer the highest level of rain protection and simply keep the rain out. But there’s a drawback. They’re typically not breathable. The rain stays out, but any type of body movement leaves you feeling sticky. This gear does just fine if you’re sitting or standing around, and it costs the less.
Waterproof/breathable jackets are best-suited to keep you the driest if you’re headed outside in a rainstorm, while still allowing your skin to breath. This type of performance gear keeps you dry and allows for the sweat to escape to the outside world. It’s perfect for the active lifestyle.
The fabric plays a huge role in the construction of waterproof/breathable jackets and has the largest impact on the cost. The technology best known for being waterproof/breathable is Gore-Tex® fabric, invented in the late 1970s. But since then, there have been revolutionary strides with other fabrics, such as nylon and polyester working the same. How? They’re coated with a delicate, inexpensive membrane that blocks rain while also allowing sweat to escape.
The membrane bonds to the inner mesh, much like paint on a wall, to fully-seal the inside. For protection, a jacket’s membrane or coating is sandwiched inside additional layers. An outer layer stands up to abrasion and repels rain, while an inner layer protects against both body oils and wear-and-tear from the inside of the jacket. The three types of construction used in rainwear include a 2-layer (the quietest), 2.5-layer (the lightest), and 3-layer design (the most robust).
Brands test waterproof/breathability in a lab using a variety of testing methods. Water resistance is measured by the amount of water pressure (in millimeters) a fabric sample can withstand before leakage occurs. The higher the number, the better the proofing. For example, Storm Creek’s 2.5 Layer Waterproof Breathable Jacket offers 5,000mm of waterproofing. Breathability is measured by the amount of water vapor (in grams) that can pass through a square meter of fabric during a 24-hour period. And wind resistance is measured by the maximum wind speed a fabric can block.
While fabric technology is the largest factor related to cost, construction details also play a role. Features such as seam tape, zippers, vents, and adjustment features are some of the major ones. Let’s take seam taping for instance. Because jacket construction requires so many seams, a true rain jacket must be fully seam taped (or sealed) in order for it to be waterproof. Most quality brands include this automatically, but it’s a good thing to double check.
Next, the zippers must have a rubberized coating or a storm flap to keep the rain from seeping in. Most rainwear also includes a cover (zipper hut or zipper garage) to shield the tiny opening at the end of the zipper track. Because even the most breathable rainwear can get overwhelmed during strenuous activity, many jackets include underarm vents. Some go a step further, having mesh-lined pockets that can double as additional vents. Finally, jackets often have adjustment features like a draw cord at the bottom hem or the waste line. Most technical rainwear will also have adjustable wrist closures and zipper pockets. All of these adjustments let you create tight closures to keep rain, wind, and cold from sneaking into the openings of your jacket.
Want more information? Contact Storm Creek to find out about our rainwear line. Email [email protected] to schedule an appointment.