In part one of this two-part series, we explored the major differences between waterproof and water-resistant clothing. In this second part, we look at which activities are more suited to using either level of weather resistance, including how brands are beginning to vary their range to offer more tailored protection.
It is easy enough to assume that waterproof is automatically better than water resistance for the better protection offered. However, as technologies evolve, the approach to waterproof vs water resistant is now much more of a “horses for courses” matter. This is particularly true when you consider the level of exercise you are doing, as when you increase waterproofing, you reduce breathability, and vice versa.
One of the problems facing waterproof technologies is that, as soon as you begin to add elements to a jacket, you reduce the performance of the weather protection. A good analogy would be adding a roof rack and an extra pair of seats to a sports car – imagine what that would do to the 0-60 time! The principle is the same – adding insulation, shaping the jacket which requires stitching, and more pockets, all reduces breathability and increases weak spots in the protection.
Therefore, different approaches towards waterproofing and water resistance are needed for different environments, and different levels of activity.
When out walking in the hills in the spring and autumn, waterproof is usually the best way to go. Low intensity exercise generates little body heat and moisture, and the chances of being caught in a heavy downpour or sustained rain means that it is worth having the additional protection provided by a waterproof jacket.
During these seasons, you don’t need bulky additions such as insulation, and many hikers will take a good-sized backpack, meaning the necessity for multiple pockets in the jacket is reduced. Similarly, there is little to no need for insulation during the summer months, and during the winter extra layers can be added as required.
Therefore, a tough, high quality waterproof “hard shell” – without any insulation – is a very useful piece of kit to have when hiking, providing exceptional protection when the heavens open.
Leisure Skiing & Boarding
Skiing and boarding present a much more difficult conundrum. There has been a noted shift away from waterproof towards water resistance, or at least a lower level of waterproof protection, in recent years. A good example is Salomon, who have changed the waterproof protection rating provided by their jackets from 20,000mm3 to 10,000mm3 – this is the volume of water the material can withstand for 24hrs before failing, as part of the legal test to be considered waterproof.
However, this in no way is a downgrade. Salomon have placed an added emphasis on the fit and use of their jackets in a cold, mostly dry, performance-orientated environment, meaning the face fabric used is not as conducive to waterproofing as a tougher, more inflexible material.
They have also given careful consideration to the environments their jackets will be used in; a warm ski jacket will only ever be used in the mountains, where precipitation falls as snow, and so presents nowhere near the same challenge as rain. When it does rain, its considered brief enough for the waterproofing level provided to be more than sufficient. Finally, of course, when you add more waterproofing, you reduce the breathability; with a focus on racing heritage and performance skiing, Salomon have provided an exceptional combination to provide effective protection from precipitation and the cold without compromising breathability.
Along a similar line, there is a growing range of jackets moving towards a “soft shell” – water resistant – approach. This is particularly true of boarding jackets, where shedding heat built from hiking back up through sunny snow parks is far more important than keeping snow and rain off. The additional breathability gain from moving towards water resistant clothing is key for achieving this. We at the Ski Club are huge fans of Planks, who’s range of skiing and riding kit embraces water resistance for precisely this reason.
Similarly, water resistance is ideal for leisure skiers who might head for the hotel bar for a hot chocolate when the weather closes in! For sun seeking skiers and riders, moving to water resistant clothing can offer better breathability, but also a more fashionable jacket – much more can be done to a water-resistant jacket than a waterproof jacket to create a better fit, shape and style without affecting the performance. Poivre Blanc’s collection is a really good example of this.
Performance Skiing & Boarding
At the other end of the spectrum, jackets for more hardcore skiers and riders remain tough bits of kit. Usually constructed as shells – that is, with no insulation of their own – they can afford to add more “oomph” to their weather protection. Many will use a technology called Gore-Tex®, which sandwiches a layer of waterproof-but-breathable plastic between the face fabric and a protective liner. Gore-Tex’s® waterproof protection levels can be incredible, beyond 50,000mm3, and as such represents one of the most waterproof materials that retains its breathability. Brands also have their own equivalent technologies, such as Salomon’s AdvancedDry or North Face’s DryVent.
Stripped of material that hampers breathability - namely insulation – and with less shape to them to allow for full freedom of movement and multiple layers underneath, these jackets allow for full weather protection. They are ideal for when you will venture out in all conditions, rain or snow, and when the snow is not just coming from the sky! Most backcountry and freeride jackets are built with this heavy duty protection to provide against powder flung up by your ski tips or for the inevitable hiccup into a powder bank, where softer, less waterproof jackets would struggle to keep out the volume of water presented.