Once upon a time a waterproof jacket meant something was made with a plastic material (like PVC) or a traditional wax coated cotton. Today there is a huge variety of waterproof fabrics available that make up the range of waterproof jackets that we have today.
The fabrics used in the construction of waterproof jackets today are typically a coated or impregnated polyester. The more waterproof coatings that the fabric receives, the more waterproof it becomes. Like tents, a number of waterproof jackets these days are made with a fabric with some kind of number attached to is like, Isotex 5000 or Helly Tech 10000, etc. These numbers will usually indicate the Hydrostatic Head of the fabric that has been used in that particular waterproof jacket.
(Hydrostatic Head is the number of column millimetres of water it would take to force water through the surface of the fabric, e.g. 5000mm HH = 5 column meters of water).
In order to be called truly ‘waterproof’ a waterproof jacket must also have taped seams. This a process of bonding waterproof tape to the inside seams of a garment to ensure that no water can seep through the stitching holes in the fabric.
If a fabric is merely called ‘water repellent’, ‘water resistant’, ‘shower proof’ or only has a ‘DWR finish’ (durable water repellent finish), it usually indicates that the jacket is not fully waterproof or does not have taped seams. In reality these jackets will probably perform pretty well in light rain or showery conditions but will not provide adequate protection in heavy rain.
Breathability is the next most important issue. For the fabric used in a waterproof jacket to be classed as breathable, it must allow air to penetrate the fabric. If you are likely to be using your waterproof jacket for strenuous activities such as rock climbing, fell walking, etc. it is very important that you select a jacket that is highly breathable. Without breathability, condensation will build up inside the jacket and eventually make you or the garments underneath damp – something to be avoided. Even light exercise like walking the dog or doing the shopping, can be enough to generate condensation and so this should be borne in mind when selecting your waterproof jacket.
Good examples of waterproof and breathable fabrics would be Gore-Tex or eVent. Gore and eVent licence waterproof jacket manufacturers to use their fabrics in the construction of their garments. In addition, brands such as Helly Hansen, Berghaus, Craghoppers and Regatta have developed their own waterproof, breathable fabrics (Helly Tech; AQ2; AquaDry and Isotex respectively) as more cost effective alternatives to Gore-Tex.
After several uses, the performance of a waterproof jacket will begin to deteriorate. This is due to a general degrading of the fabric from use, UV rays, constantly getting wet and drying out again. However, its performance can be restored by washing the garment in an approved fabric re-proofing agent http://www.outdoormegastore.co.uk/clothing-footwear/accessories/waterproofing-care-products.html. Several companies manufacture re-proofing agent such as Grangers, Nikwax and Fabsil. Simply follow the washing or application instructions and you should be able to add several seasons to the life expectancy of your waterproof jacket.
You can spend between £10 and £250 on a men’s waterproof jacket. A non-breathable plastic mac, like the Regatta Adults Stormbreak Jacket at £9.99 will perform a service but please don’t think that this a good garment to go up Ben Nevis in because it isn’t. Conversely, you can pay significant amounts of money for a top Gore-Tex jacket like the Berghaus Carrock Men’s Waterproof Jacket which has exceptional performance and lots of technical features that serious outdoors people appreciate.
Women’s waterproof jackets have also moved with the times. Since Berghaus introduced ‘proper’ waterproof jackets for ladies in the 80’s to cater for the growing numbers of female outdoor enthusiasts, their design, look and technical features have very much kept pace with that of men’s waterproof jackets.
The same can be said of kid’s waterproof jackets. Parents now demand good performance in their children’s clothing and the waterproof jacket is the one vital clothing item on which corners should not be cut.