Photos: Dave Casey, Lachlan Gardiner & Louise WrightAll About Waterproof Fabrics | Waterproof Breathable Technologies Explained Matt Gugel June 4, 2017 Gear, Tips 10 Comments Long gone are the days of Burberry, Ventile and Gabardine. Where once these fabrics were de rigeur, now the name Gore-Tex reigns supreme in the world of waterproof outdoor clothing – or does it? Elsewhere on the Paddy Pallin Blog we talked about choosing a waterproof jacket. In this article we’re embracing our inner ‘tech nerd’ and exploring how and why these waterproof fabrics keep you dry and outdoors longer. Table of Contents Types of Waterproof/Breathable Fabrics Factors Influencing Jacket Performance Waterproof and Breathability Ratings Explained GORE Products Non-GORE-TEX Fabrics Which Jacket Should I Buy? The last 10 or so years have seen a number of outstanding new fabric technologies emerge to compete with or even outdo Gore-Tex, as the “best” solution to keeping us dry and comfortable in the outdoors. Fabrics such as eVent, Polartec Neoshell, HyVent from The North Face, and Marmot’s Membrain are just a few of the more popular options. What sets all of these fabrics apart from each other is their differing ability to keep us dry and comfortable in a wide variation of activities, from light drizzle through to driving monsoonal rain. The main purpose of a waterproof jacket (or what we often call a hardshell/shell in the outdoor industry) is to protect us from those nasty outside elements – water and wind – but at the same time allow us to remain comfortable whilst wearing them. This comfort is heavily dependent on the shell’s “breathability” (the ability of the garment to allow our sweat to escape). A good waterproof jacket will keep out wind and water, however, the best jackets will not only stop water and wind, but will also transport our sweat outside of the jacket efficiently. But how do they manage to do this? Types of Waterproof/Breathable Fabrics Micropourous Coatings or Membranes (PTFE) polytetrafluoroethylene and (PU) Polyurethane. These materials are constructed such that the fabric contains billions of holes per square cm and acts as a filter. Using surface tension, they inhibit water penetration but allow water vapour through. Think of it as being similar to stretched Teflon. Because oils from our body, sunscreen, funk, etc have low surface tension, they will invade the membrane and inhibit the pores from keeping out water. This is why most PTFE membranes (such as GORE-TEX) are now coated to stop these contaminants. These coatings can reduce breathability to a degree, but increase the overall durability of the membrane. The original GORE-TEX is the most widely recognised type of this fabric technology. This original GORE-TEX without the protective coating was extremely breathable however over time tended to leak. Other examples of these types of membranes are: eVent and Polartec NeoShell. How the layers of Gore-Tex, eVent & NeoShell function. Source: Outside Online. Continuous Hydrophillic Coating or Membrane These fabrics contain a microporous structure and are manufactured using a hydrophilic (water-loving) coating. They manage to move vapour away by a process called molecular wicking. This works by absorbing water molecules to the surface of the hydrophilic material and then passing along to the next molecule, which keeps going along throughout the thickness of the film. Garments made from these fabrics tend to be slightly less breathable than PTFE style fabrics (GORE-TEX and eVent) and their breathability is heavily dependent on temperature. Where they excel is in cold conditions hovering just above 0c. Examples of this fabric can be seen in Marmot’s Precip and NanoPro style garments, and also The North Face’s HYvent series. This style of garment also tends to be lighter and more packable. Bicomponent Micropourous and Hydrophilic Laminates Modern GORE-TEX is made from this. It is PTFE, and the pores are filled with hydrophilic polyurethane. This results in a much greater durability, and very hydrophilic polyurethane can be used. There are a few other construction methods, however the above represent the majority utilised in high end jacket brands Factors Influencing Jacket Performance DWR: Durable Water Repellency The DWR is perhaps one of the most important factors of a garment’s continued breathability and capacity to keep you dry and comfortable. A DWR is a coating that is applied to the outside of the fabric (either fluropolymers, silicones or hydrocarbons), that increases the contact angle or surface tension of the fabric when water comes in contact with it. This causes the water to bead and to simply roll off your garment, instead of allowing it to flatten and seep into the fabric. All jackets are treated with this DWR layer during manufacture, however it will wear away with use over time. Abrasion, oils and dirt will all degrade the DWR, and as such it will need to be re-applied at intervals all determined by how often you use your garment and how well you care for it. Once the DWR has been worn away, the garment will be less breathable and also may “wet out” – a term that basically means that the face fabric will absorb water. This will severely hamper the fabric’s ability to transfer moisture away from the jacket. Even though your garment will still be waterproof, its ability to remove your sweat will be diminished significantly and you may think that the jacket isn’t waterproof anymore, or that it is leaking. What actually is happening is that the water vapour is condensing back into liquid when it hits a wet face fabric. Good quality DWR reproofing products include Nikwax TX-Direct and Gear Aid Revivex. Read this article on caring for your rain jacket to find out how to reproof your waterproof properly at home. An example of two very similar Gore-Tex Active Shell Jackets – On the left a brand new jacket with robust and effective DWR, on the right a jacket that’s been heavily used for several months with a face fabric that is starting to wet-out slightly. Waterproof Ratings Every waterproof jacket you buy will most likely come with some sort of waterproof rating, which is essentially a guide to how well and long the jacket will keep out water. Fabrics are tested using a Hydrostatic Head (HH) tester – a machine that determines the resistance of fabrics to water penetration under pressure. The fabric is placed around the bottom of a cylinder, then water is added until it leaks through the fabric. The machine measures the “head” (pressure) of water that can be applied to a fabric before water penetration is observed. The minimum standard to call a fabric “waterproof” is 1000 mm HH, over a period of 24hrs. There are many figures and claims made by companies and outdoor academia as to what HH is required to keep all water out in normal conditions, however there is no definitive answer. 10,000 mm HH will certainly be sufficient! Waterproof rating should be used only as a guide between similar styled and brand garments. Many other factors such as the design, features and construction of the garment factor heavily in the overall ability to keep you dry. Breathability This term is probably the most often discussed feature or quality of the modern waterproof jacket. When humans are active, we perspire or sweat and create a moist atmosphere inside the garment we are wearing, and as exertion/activity increases, moisture from sweat builds up inside the garment. This moisture is a problem as not only does it make us more uncomfortable, it also increases the potential to overheat whilst active, and at rest can cause us to get cold. Being wet in very cold conditions can lead to hypothermia. So how is breathability measured? – Great question! There are many different scientific tests carried out by various companies to measure breathability, yet unfortunately there is no universally accepted standard. There is the RET (Hohenstein Method), the Inverted Cup Method and a few others. One of the most commonly used tests measures the amount of water vapour in grams that can pass through a m2 of the chosen fabric in a 24 hour period, simply known as MVTR (Moisture Vapour Transmission Rate). The higher the MVTR, the better the breathability right?! Unfortunately, not quite always! A garment’s breathability is heavily dependent on the environment. In order to breath and transfer moisture to the outside of your jacket, there must be a humidity differential between the 2 sides of the fabric. If it is more humid inside a garment than the outside air, then naturally the water vapour will want to pass through to the outside. However if the opposite exists (as exists in very temperate climates), then the breathability will be less and at times feel like it isn’t working at all. Hiking in say Tully Northern Queensland or the Papua New Guinea Jungle (very humid climates) will significantly slow the noticeable breathability of a garment. On the other hand, if you are at the ski fields of the Snowy Mountains, or deep in the Wolgan Valley of the Blue Mountains during August, then your shell will breathe a lot better. The truth is that in some climates – no matter how good your jacket is, there are some conditions where it just plain won’t breathe! Other factors that can affect the breathability of a fabric are how clean the garment is. If your jacket is dirty, and contaminated with dirt, grime, oils, etc. Then the pores that the vapour is trying to escape through will be blocked. Also, one of the most important aspects of breathability is how good the DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating is on a garment. Waterproof and Breathability Ratings Explained Below is a list of waterproof and breathability ratings of various fabrics. BRAND WATERPROOFNESS (mm) BREATHABILITY (GM/M²/24HR) GORE-TEX 3L >28,000 17,000 GORE-TEX Pro 3L >28,000 25,000 GORE-TEX Paclite 2.5L >28,000 15,000 GORE-TEX C-Knit 3L >28,000 >20,000 eVENT 3L 30,000 >20,000 eVENT DVstorm 3L 10,000 >30,000 MARMOT NanoPro 2.5L >THAN 10,000 17,000 NORTH FACE Hyvent 2.5L >THAN 15,000 ~12-15,000 NORTH FACE FUTURELIGHT 75,000 PATAGONIA H2No 2.5L 10-20,000 ~12-15,000 Helly Tech® Performance 2.5L >10,000 >10,000 MONT Hydronaut / Pro 3L 30,000 >20,000 / 28,000 PERTEX Shield+ 2.5L 20,000 20,000 RAB Proflex 3L 10,000 30,000 So based on the above table, what do these mean, in relation to outdoor activities? Waterproofness Ratings: 5,000mm: This is where a rainproof jacket begins, however in a really horrendous downpour you’ll eventually get wet. 10,000mm – 15,000mm: This is where a waterproof garment becomes practical for real-world use. These jackets will withstand some pretty serious downpours of rain, as well as some heavy, wet snow. However, if you subject them to pressure (like crashing in wet snow, kneeling or sitting down in the case of pants, or the pressure of heavy pack shoulder straps & hip belt) then they’ll soak through over time. 20,000mm and Up: Driving rain in the tropics or the south west of Tasmania? Not an issue. Wet slushy snow in Perisher? Yep! This is the jacket you want if you’re planning on being out in all conditions, carrying a heavy load and want to know you will stay dry. Breathability Ratings: 5,000 – 10,000g/m²: This jacket would work fine for resort skiing, urban travel or hanging out in camp while it’s pouring rain. However you would get pretty clammy if you had to do much hiking. 10,000 – 15,000g/m²: This jacket would be ok for more adventurous travel, hiking, and backcountry skiing. Again if you’re bush-bashing straight uphill, breaking trail through snow or travelling in highly humid locations, you may feel a bit clammy. 15,000 – 20,000g/m² & above: You definitely want something in this range if you’re heading out into the hills for an extended trip, travelling through South East Asia with a plan to trek or any other trip where you can see yourself working hard and perspiring heavily. Breathability is heavily influenced by the environment, activity levels, cleanliness of the garment and its DWR. Ratings are only a guide and should not be the sole factor in choosing which garment to buy. In order to maintain breathability, the garment must be cleaned and reproofed regularly. A jacket’s breathability has limitations: nothing will work in extremely humid, wet environments. Lighter fabrics will normally breathe better than heavier ones, however won’t have the same durability long term. Types of Waterproof Fabrics and Brands There are many types of waterproof breathable jackets on the market. Some claim to be better than others, and some are more popular because of the “cool” factor and marketing hype. The following are just a few of the types available. Each has their own merit, and will perform depending on the conditions the garment is used in and for. Gore Products (GORE-TEX) Introduced in 1978, Gore Tex led the way in the WPB (waterproof/breathable) market for many years with its award winning ePTFE membrane. The original Gore Tex was extremely breathable, however was susceptible to being degraded by oils from our body, sunscreen, grime and general funk. It wasn’t until they bonded a PU coating to it, to stop the oils invading the membrane, that made it the leader for many years in the overall outdoor wet weather market. Gore has continued to pave the way as a market leader and now produces a number of different fabrics to cater to the outdoor market, and is the most well known of the WPB manufacturers. The absolute top brands in outdoor garments continue to use Gore products as their mainstay of WPB garments. GORE-TEX Regular GORE-TEX is available in both 2 layer and 3 layer versions. The 2 layer fabric has a separate mesh style liner which drapes nicely against the body and breathes well. The 3 layer is similar to the older well known XCR fabric that was around for a few years. This version is the tried and tested laminate. It is used in everyday outdoor garments and is usually found in the more affordable range of Gore shellwear. The most used laminate in the Gore range, it still offers the same combination of waterproof and breathable attributes but at a more reasonable price than Pro. The Patagonia Women’s and Men’s Triolet GTX jacket both use a 3-layer Gore fabric. GORE-TEX PRO This laminate is used in the higher end jackets of the best leading outdoor gear brands. Designed for sustained use in severe environments and for those that abuse their jackets. It is made up of multiple layers of ePTFE bonded to the face fabric (usually a high abrasion resistant denier fabric) and a gridded backing textile. This new fabric has no oleophobic PU layer and is over 25% more breathable than the previous Pro Shell fabric. Jackets made from this fabric are ultimately very durable and reliable in the most severe conditions. The top tier offerings from Arc’teryx and Patagonia use Gore Tex Pro fabric in their best outerwear. Examples include the Arcteryx Beta AR (men and women) and Alpha SV (men and women). 3-layer GORE-TEX fabric with GORE C-KNIT Uses backer technology that optimises comfort while providing durable, waterproof and windproof protection. The reliable and proven bi-component GORE-TEX® membrane system is bonded to an extremely thin, dense yet lightweight circular knit to form a patent-pending laminate. Weighing up to 10 percent less than previous 3-layer GORE-TEX® fabric, this new laminate improves breathability by as much as 15 percent in a less bulky, more robust 3-layer construction. The smooth texture of the knit backing is soft to the touch, and makes the garment easier to slide on and off over other layers. GORE-TEX Paclite Paclite is ideal for exactly what the name suggests, packing light. This fabric is a 2.5 layer construction and whilst its waterproof ratings are solid, it’s more suited to travel and urban wet-weather gear than strenuous rough outdoor activities. The Marmot Minimalist Jacket (men and women) employs Paclite, and would be perfect for your next trip exploring European cities for example. Non GORE-TEX fabrics eVENT This 3 layer membrane is by far the biggest competitor to Gore’s fabric. eVent is similar to GORE-TEX in that it is an ePTFE, however the pores of the membrane are lined with an oleophobic and hydrophobic (oil and water hating) chemical. This means that eVent remains air permeable. Rather than moving moisture out of the garment by means of diffusion, eVent fabric vents moisture directly to the outside of the fabric. Some scientific tests have stated that eVent in a 30% humidity scenario is almost 200% more breathable than the best Gore-Tex fabric, and over the years since its inception, this is something many users of this fabric will attest to, however the downside to this fabric is that the membrane isn’t protected as well as GORE-TEX and requires more regular washing to maintain its high performance. If the user can look past this, eVent fabric has for many years been used in some of the best made garments from the very best brands, such as Rab. eVENT DVstorm eVent have recently moved into offering different versions of their membrane, with varying performance specifications suitable for different types of activity or garment. An example of this is DVstorm. This 3-layer membrane is designed to be lightweight, maintain a solid waterproof rating, but offer exceptional levels of breathability. Of course a lightweight garment using DVstorm will likely be less durable compared to a traditional tougher eVent alternative. THE NORTH FACE DryVent The North Face’s original proprietary branded fabric, DryVent is a hydrophilic polyurethane coated fabric. Using diffusion, moisture or sweat from your body is moved from the warm/moist environment inside your jacket to the cooler/drier environment outside. DryVent is available in 2, 2.5 and 3 layer fabrics. The 2 layer version uses a hanging liner to protect the PU film, whereas the 2.5 layer incorporates their own “Dry Touch ” texture which raises the coating away from the skin and gives the fabric better durability and comfort. The 3 layer is similar to most other tri-layer WPB fabrics on the market, however unlike GORE-TEX which uses ePTFE for the membrane, The North Face uses a PU coating. The 2 and 2.5 layer fabrics are seen in their ever popular 3 in 1 style Men’s and Women’s Triclimate range of jackets. The North Face FUTURELIGHT FUTURELIGHT is the newest high-performance, highly breathable waterproof technology from the North Face, and their first membrane that uses air permeability. Through a unique production method called nanospinning, FUTURELIGHT uses an innovative nano-fibre structure to add air permeability to the waterproof membrane, creating a lightweight and ultra-thin fabric that doesn’t compromise on performance. This nanospinning process deposits a polyurethane solution from over 200,000 nozzles onto a surface where it’s collected in a randomised matrix to create the membrane. The solution is then used to create a breathable-waterproof film that is bonded to backer and face fabrics. The resulting FUTURELIGHT garment is extremely breathable, lightweight and nimble for comfortable movement without restriction during high aerobic outdoor activities. It received a 100% waterproof certification from UL and has been tested by elite athletes in the toughest conditions in the world. The Dryzzle Helly Tech PERFORMANCE Helly Tech® is designed for any outdoor activity where performance is key and time in the rain is inevitable. This 2.5 layer waterproof and breathable fabric moves water away from the body efficiently, thus keeping you dry and allowing you to perform your best. Patagonia H2No The 3-layer H2No Performance Standard shell fabrics are completely waterproof, windproof, breathable and highly packable. Because 3-layer H2No Performance Standard shell fabrics are so lightweight and compressible, they’re excellent choices for backpacking, alpine climbing and backcountry skiing and snowboarding. They combine a water-repellent shell fabric with a waterproof/breathable membrane and protective top coat barrier without the need for a protective lining fabric, which makes it lightweight and highly packable. Additionally, a distinctive raised print layer is applied for decreased surface tension when layering and increased moisture management. 3-layer H2No Performance Standard shell fabrics are coated with DWR (durable water repellent) fabric finish that repels light rain and snow. In conjunction with a waterproof/breathable barrier, the DWR finish keeps the outer fabric from becoming saturated so that the breathable barrier can do its job. The classic Patagonia Torrentshell range in men’s and women’s uses the 3 layer H2No fabric. MARMOT NanoPro This is Marmot’s own 2.5 layer Micro-porous coated fabric. Another of the air permeable fabrics, Marmot’s new technology claims it to be up to 43% more breathable than their previous coating technology. Performance wise, it is similar to both Patagonia H2NO and North Face HyVent. Garments in that it is aimed towards the value conscious customer who wants a light, breathable waterproof jacket at a reasonable price. The new Eco version of the NanoPro is made with recycled face fabrics and a PFC-free coating. Their Precip Eco Jacket for men and women is a fantastic example of a mid-priced, well-functioning WPB jacket for everyday use. MONT Hydronaute & Hydronaut Pro Mont has been a stalwart for durable, bomb-proof wet weather clothing in Australia for some time. In the past they have used other companies fabrics, but their greatest success was achieved using their in-house membrane based 3L Hydronaute fabrics. Hydronaut Pro takes the already bomber foundation of the original Hydronaute and adds increased breathability for those high-output pursuits. A big part of what makes Mont outerwear so ideal for rough conditions is the face fabrics that demonstrate excellent abrasion resistance, tear strength and pinhole resistance. The Men’s Mont Austral Jacket & Women’s Siena Jacket use the original Hydronaute, whilst the Men’s Odyssey Jacket and Women’s Odyssey Jacket use the higher performing Hydronaute Pro. PERTEX Shield+ Pertex have been making top quality outdoor fabrics for quite some time. Whilst they are better known for their super light and durable face fabrics for garments like down jackets and sleeping bags, in recent years Pertex have produced a range of high performance waterproof/breathable options. Using a PU film construction, alongside fabrics with a soft feel and increased stretch, the Pertex Shield+ fabric heralds comfortable, solidly performing layers and is available in 2, 2.5, and 3-layer options. The Rab Men’s Phantom and Men’s Arc Eco Jackets both use Pertex Shield to offer comfortable yet reliable waterproof breathability. PROFLEX by Rab PROFLEX offers something quite a bit different to all of the other options. Developed by Rab, Proflex is a new 3-layer membrane fabric that is essentially a hard-soft-shell. This means it is soft, supple, highly stretchy and super breathable fabric (akin to a soft-shell) – but, it’s also got a 10,000mm HH rating. Constructed using a new proprietary membrane sandwiched between a face fabric and lining that are knitted, not woven as is the norm. Durability, and the ability to resist wetting-out are the two obvious trade-offs. Check out the Rab Men’s Kinetic 2.0 Jacket for an example of this innovative fabric. Which Jacket Should I Buy? In this day and age, realistically there are no really bad and good fabrics. If you are purchasing from a top tier outdoor shop, no matter what you buy, you are going to get a garment that will keep you dry. However, as this article shows, there is a huge difference in durability, breathability and long term waterproofness. What is essential is that you choose a jacket/garment that is designed well. A poorly designed and ill-fitting jacket will never perform or be comfortable, no matter its fabric qualities. Just remember that sure, there is marketing hype and a coolness factor, but buying a jacket is much like buying a good car – you get what you pay for. Remember that if you look after your jacket, then you will get many, many years of fantastic use from it. As clothing goes – the outermost “shell” layer is perhaps the most important part of anyone’s clothing system, so make sure that you do your research and make an informed decision. Now that you’re clued up on waterproof fabrics and technologies, check out our blog on Choosing a Waterproof Jacket if you want to work out which jacket will serve you best for your preferred activities. Shop our full range of waterproofs for men and women online or instore at Paddy Pallin. Save Save Save 10 Responses » REVIEW: ARC’TERYX BETA LT GTX July 28, 2015 […] high humidity where I feel slightly warm. More info on waterproof breathable/fabrics can be found here on our […] Reply Geoffrey Locke May 14, 2016 Solid review Matt. I’ve read a heap of waterproof / breathable fabric articles and they rarely come as short and concise as yours. Keep on telling it how it is! Glad to see it ranking well in Google! Reply Wet trip? Let’s talk water proof | BARCOM Rafting September 15, 2016 […] Choosing a waterproof jacket [Paddy Pallin] * All about waterproof fabrics [Paddy […] Reply Choosing a hardshell jacket - part 1: the fabric - Traveling To Somewhere February 4, 2017 […] There are more fabrics, but to be honest. I don’t know them that well. Fjallraven has created their own fabric, but in reviews they say it is less durable then Gore-Tex. If you wanna read more about the different fabric, I would recommend reading this article. […] Reply River February 26, 2017 Two thumbs up! This article is awesome! Save me so much pain from all the tech terms of different brands. Can’t express how appreciative I am. Millions of thanks, Matt! Reply Karlyn Tinkey July 26, 2017 This is what just what I was looking for. THank god I stumbled upon your website. Reply Borimas Chareonjitt March 28, 2020 I’m interested in the ptfe nano fabric that you have. If I could get more information about the fabric as well as the cost that would be great Sincerely, Borimas Reply Lori October 30, 2020 Every time I look for raingear, I end up on this post because it’s the only place I can find a handy quick-reference table of the actual waterproofness rating of more than 2 or 3 of the dozens of DWR fabric technologies on offer. (Numbers that I’ve found difficult to dig up even on maunfacturers’ websites.) Thank you, thank you, thank you! Any chance for a 2020 update with newer/additional options added to the table? Eg. Colmbia’s OutDry and OutDry Ex; Patagonia’s H2No® 3L… Reply Henry Nichols July 31, 2021 Wonderful post! very useful information about waterproof fabrics. Thanks for sharing. Reply Dennis March 22, 2023 Great info! I am bookmarking this for future reference too!! Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.