Everyone knows that good outerwear is key to a great day on the mountain. But why does one jacket cost $500 and another $150? The $150 jacket may have 10 pockets, a powder skirt, and it comes with a bandana, while the $500 one may look like a simple shell. The value of a jacket rests in its ability to keep you warm and dry, and the difference is all in the fabric’s membrane. Here at evo, we love playing outdoors, and are well aware of what it takes to stay warm and dry. Let’s take a look at the ingredients that make up a piece of outerwear.
The outermost layer of a jacket or pant is the face fabric that you see. This can be made of a wide range of materials. Its main goal is to be durable, protective, and of course, stylish. Despite popular misconception, it is not the face fabric that makes a garment waterproof.
You know how water beads up and rolls off a brand new jacket? This happens because the face fabric was treated with a coating of Durable Water Repellency (DWR), which keeps water from penetrating or soaking the outer material. The DWR coating, however, can be temporary and may wear off with use. You can reapply DWR with a spray or wash, such as Nikwax.
The membrane is what truly makes a jacket or pants waterproof and breathable. Although you can’t often see this layer, a microporous membrane laminated to the inside of the face fabric works to block water while simultaneously enabling water vapor (sweat) to escape. To help with breathability, a membrane like GORE-TEX® is not only waterproof, but it contains 9 billion pores per square inch, which are 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet and 700 times larger than a water vapor molecule. GORE-TEX® is typically found in high end jackets, like those from Arct’teryx and Patagonia.
Whether it’s down or one of the many types of synthetic materials, insulation adds considerable warmth to your garment. An alternative to insulation built directly into the jacket is layering. Using a shell jacket in conjunction with mid layers and base layers allows you to fine-tune your temperature.
This is the inner most layer of your jacket or pants. Highly waterproof 3-layer (3L) garments consist of the outer material, the membrane, and a protective backing layer, all bonded together. There are also 2-layer (2L) garments, which consist of the outer material and the membrane. For a more comfortable fit, 2L garments have a loose, floating lining like taffeta, nylon, or mesh that acts as a barrier between your skin and the membrane. 2.5-layer garments substitute a simple screened pattern (the .5 layer) for the lining, as seen on many rain coats.
Most waterproof materials break down if water gets in through the seams, so impermeable tape is used to seal the stitched seams. Some garments are only critically seam sealed, meaning seam tape is only applied to high exposure areas, like the hood and shoulders of jackets or seat section of pants.
Waterproof ratings are measured by the amount of water, in millimeters, a piece of fabric can withstand in a 24-hour period before it soaks through. More simply, the higher the rating, the more waterproof the garment. It is equally crucial that your outerwear is breathable, as much of what makes you soaked is your body’s own sweat.
For more, check out our Waterproof Ratings and Breathability Guide and our How to Choose Insulated Garments Guide. We hope you have found this useful. If and when you’re ready for new outerwear, please drop us a visit.