It’s wet out there, but there’s no need to let that stop you from running, hiking, or just getting out in nature. Wet weather gear has come a long way since the rubberized fabrics used in rain slickers were the primary option for those looking to stay dry. The problem is, today’s situation is just the opposite – there are so many options available, how do you choose? And how do you make sure before you pay that what you’re buying will really keep you dry in a downpour or snowstorm?
Follow this gear guide to choose wet weather gear that really work.
Choose Your Fabric:
GORE-TEX: A two-layer fabric incorporating the same chemical used in Teflon, Gore-Tex revolutionized wet weather gear when it was introduced in that late 1960s, and it’s still one of the best options out there thanks to its combination of waterproofing and breathability.
Proprietary Fabrics: From the North Face’s Futurelight to Patagonia’s H2No, many sports manufacturers have created their own high-tech waterproof materials.
DWR (Durable Water Repellent): Applied to the outer surface of the fabric, DWR causes water to bead up and roll off, making them less likely to be absorbed. DWR is also available in spray-on form so you can reapply if it wears off.
Other Coatings: Fabric can be treated with various wax- and plastic-based surface treatments. For more detail, R.E.I. offers an in-depth guide to waterproofing.
Look for Protective Features
Many factors go into making sure outdoor gear is both comfortable and truly waterproof. Check possible purchases for these options:
Sealed/taped seams: Strips of waterproof tape applied and heat-sealed over stitched seams, where water is most likely to seep in.
Venting: Well-placed vents at the waist, underarms or along the sides where keep you from steaming up inside without letting in moisture.
Elastic cuffs: Gathering at the wrists keeps water from running down inside your sleeves as you move your arms while you run.
Thumbholes: Designed to keep sleeves from riding up, thumbholes also pull the fabric down over the backs of your hands while leaving palms and fingers free.
Hood visors: Some hoods feature an extended visor to keep water off your face.
Longer back jacket length: Jackets with an extended flap to cover your rear and the backs of your upper thighs keep water from splashing up behind you.
Zippered pockets: Essential if you want to bring your phone in the rain, zippered pockets also protect snacks and dog treats from getting soggy.
Packability: Some jackets have the ability to be stuffed into their own pockets or attached pouches – even cooler are those with straps so once folded they can be worn as an armband or clipped on to your waistband.
Learn the Rating System
Sporting goods manufacturers follow a rating system to indicate how waterproof a garment is. A separate rating tells you the article’s breathability. Look for this information on tags or ask salespeople to check.
- 5,000 or 5K or less: This is the absolute minimum, and offers protection in fog or drizzle but won’t keep you dry if it’s raining hard.
- 10,000, or 10K: Standard for lightweight shells and basic consumer raingear, 10K will keep you dry in light to medium rain and normal snowfall, but not for an extended time.
- 15,000 or 15K: A waterproof rating 15K will handle any weather condition except drenching rains or really wet blizzard conditions. 15K waterproof gear will keep you dry in most backcountry conditions.
- 20,000 or 20K: Designed to keep you dry in the most extreme rain and snow events, gear rated 20K typically have all the above features to keep water out.
- 10,000 g/m2: Outerwear rated 10K for breathability will allow some moisture/sweat release. Fine for an average activity level such as a walk or easy run or hike or downhill skiiing.
- 15,000 g/m2: A 15K breathability rating means a jacket will release heat and steam in most high-level activities where you are expending a lot of energy.
- 20,000 g/m2: Needed only for extreme exertion, 20K breathability allows a garment to release heat and water vapor even during extremely high-energy activity.