It is important to keep in mind that the weather can change at any time whether backpacking for a hike or for an adventurous travel. Your backpack should always include rain gear, and what could be better than a rain jacket that will shield you from the heat and wind in addition to keeping you dry and safe from the rain?
What is a Rain Jacket?
For those who don’t mind about semantics or subcategories, rain jackets are the clothes you wear that keep you dry while allowing your body to breathe when you’re working out. These are the most significant and widely debated of their numerous features, which we’ll dissect in more detail below.
How to Choose a Rain Jacket
It will be easier for you to find the jacket that keeps you dry—and the one that suits your budget—if you are familiar with some key terms and the basics of rainwear technology. Continue reading for a thorough explanation of the terminology and the fundamentals of rainwear technology.
Types of Weather Protection
A certain degree of water resistance is provided by every rain jacket. You can evaluate the level of protection a specific jacket has by understanding the terminologies.
1. Waterproof vs. water-resistant
When a jacket’s water resistance is high enough to withstand heavy rain, we refer to it as “waterproof.” Although test specifications are disputed among manufacturers, you can be sure that any gear marked as “waterproof” by a reputable manufacturer can withstand a significant downpour.
- Waterproof/breathable: Performance rainwear moves sweat back through to the outside while preventing rain from seeping through to your skin. This is the kind of clothing you need if you’re planning any physical activity because both precipitation and perspiration can drench you.
- Water-resistant: This gear is lightweight, breathable, and capable of withstanding mild rain for a brief period of time. Examples include windbreakers and jackets. These won’t be adequate if precipitation persists or begins to fall sideways.
- Waterproof/nonbreathable: Consider an emergency poncho or rain slicker. This gear works well—and is inexpensive—if you only need to keep the rain out when sitting or standing around. However, if you exert yourself in any way, the inside of your rain slicker will also be slippery. Furthermore, it won’t take much wind to render a poncho largely useless.
2. Windproof vs. wind-resistant
In the same way that “water-resistant” and “waterproof” are related, when test results surpass a predetermined threshold, “wind-resistant” turns into “windproof.”
- Windproof: Any jacket that is waterproof is also windproof. That makes sense if you take into account the fact that a barrier intended to block driving rain would also stop the wind that is pushing the rain. There are also jackets with windproof technology that are merely water-resistant, often made of a laminate.
- Wind-resistant: This is usually a lightweight garment that fits neatly into a pocket and functions essentially the same as a water-resistant jacket. It was designed for quick trips and favorable weather conditions, but it won’t provide much protection during a strong storm.
3. 3-in-1 Jackets
This design goes above and beyond rain gear by fusing a raincoat with a fleece jacket or an insulated shell. Usually, the inner component zips inside the rain jacket so you can wear either portion separately.
Types of Weather Shells
Despite being frequently used synonymously with “jacket,” “shell” can also be used to describe pants, parkas, and ponchos. It’s a term that emphasizes the fabric composition over the garment style. The following types of shells are important to understand as you choose your weather protection options.
- Hard shell: This is another name for outerwear that is waterproof and breathable. Although more supple hard-shell fabrics are being developed, most hard-shell materials are typically stiffer than those in soft shells. Your warmth will come from an underlying base layer and midlayer since hard shells are not insulated.
- Soft shell: The traditional design incorporates a water-resistant shell and an insulating layer. The idea is to create a single piece that can function as both an outer layer and a midlayer. Greater breathability is given up for less wind, rain, and cold protection. For high-intensity activities when sweat is more of an issue, soft shells are better. The definition of “soft-shell” is a little hazy due to evolving designs. Excellent elasticity is another characteristic of many soft shells that is fairly uncommon in hard shells.
- Hybrid shell: This phrase is used to describe a wide range of constructions. In a soft/hard-shell combination, the front and top may have fabrics that are more waterproof and windproof, while the sides, back, and area beneath the sleeves may have fabrics that are more breathable and flexible. Or you could discover a conventional soft or hard shell that has a tougher fabric on the outside or in high-wear areas..
- Insulated shell: Most puffy jackets are water-resistant, breathable, and typically filled with down or synthetic fill for warmth. You benefit from a higher level of protection if the jacket is made of waterproof/breathable fabric. But to be entirely waterproof, it needs to be seam-sealed.
What is Breathability?
The source of competitive advantage in waterproof/breathable rainwear is breathability. Nobody wants to go outside and play in a wearable sauna. The key to preventing that outcome is “moisture vapor transfer,” which is what we truly mean when we say “breathability,” according to scientific purists.
The warm, moist air inside is drawn to the colder, more arid air outside, which contributes to the transfer of sweat vapor through a shell. How dry or clammy you feel depends on how effective that vapor transfer mechanism is, and outdoor brands have been working to increase its effectiveness for decades. You’ll hear a variety of performance promises that are in competition with one another, which essentially just means that Gore-Tex® rainwear is no longer your only choice.
Despite the fact that there is no independent certification agency or universal test standard for measuring breathability performance, modern jackets do certainly breathe far better than those from the past.
A low level of “air permeability,” the scientific word for classic breathability, is also present in some manufacturers’ products. Although they advertise this strategy using different language, they typically highlight improved or quicker breathability. A more direct air exchange has the drawback of releasing warm air as well. Therefore, you need to wear a warmer insulating layer underneath these jackets than you would under a traditional waterproof/breathable shell.
The coating or membrane that achieves the technological trick of preventing rain while simultaneously enabling sweat vapor to escape is the important component of your rainwear fabric. A membrane will be laminated with a protective fabric because it is quite sensitive.
Although the specific materials used in each will vary, almost all rainwear is constructed using either a laminate or a coating.
1. Durable water repellent (DWR)
The majority of outerwear has an additional durable water repellent (DWR) finish, including all waterproof/breathable rainwear. Rain physically beads up and rolls off when a jacket’s exterior fabric is “water resistant.” Keep in mind that this differs from a fabric being “water-resistant,” which refers to a general assessment of its capacity to withstand water penetration.
Maintenance of the DWR finish is essential if you want your high-tech jacket to continue doing its magic, but it is sometimes ignored after purchase. A jacket’s surface fabric may become wet when the DWR loses its effectiveness. While the surface fabric is wet, the underlying membrane or coating will continue to keep water out while slowing the escape of sweat vapor. The clammy interior may even stick to your skin, giving the impression that the jacket is dripping.
It’s interesting to note that modern DWR products wear out faster than previous DWR products since they are more environmentally friendly. As a result, you should include routinely reapplying a DWR coating in your rainwear maintenance routine. Reapply after the rain stops beading up or when you feel chilly areas on a damp surface.
2. Rainwear Layers
The membrane or coating of a jacket is enclosed in extra layers for protection. While an inside layer guards against body oils and wear and tear from the interior of the jacket, the outside layer prevents abrasion and repels rain.
A 2-layer, 2.5-layer, and 3-layer design are the three different types of construction employed in rainwear. Here is a quick overview:
2-Layer: The Quietest
To create a single piece of material, the membrane or coating layer is put inside an outer fabric layer. Inside of that, a loose-hanging liner is put to safeguard the membrane or coating. Urban and travel rainwear typically has a 2-layer design since it is quieter (less “swishy” when you walk). Whatever the purpose, this style can be seen in reasonably priced jackets..
2.5-Layer: The Lightest
The word “layer” can be a bit perplexing in this situation. The first layer of this design, like that of two-layer and three-layer designs, is made of a lightweight but strong outer fabric. A polyurethane laminate or coating was put inside the first layer to create the second “layer.” Over that second layer, a shielding sheen or print (a “half layer”) is applied.
Although 2.5-layer systems may fall short of other approaches in terms of breathability or durability, they are frequently lighter and less expensive. 2.5-layer jackets have a reputation for feeling damp, but “dry-touch” patterns are changing that.
3-Layer: The Most Robust
Here, there are no coatings employed; only a membrane that is tightly sandwiched between a durable face cloth and a liner In general, 3-layer designs are employed in rainwear meant for the harshest wilderness settings since they are the most resilient and breathable. These jackets will also sell for a high cost.
Rain Jacket Features
While fabric technology plays a major influence in the price of rainwear, construction details also matter. Robust feature sets are reflected in the price of jackets. If the goal is lighter design, you can find a jacket with premium materials but few additional features, especially pockets.
- Seam taping: Since there are so many seams involved in manufacture, a true rain jacket needs to have all of its seams taped in order to be completely waterproof. Since this is how all waterproof jackets are produced, you don’t need to take seam taping into account when making your purchase. Though it’s a frequent practice on merely water-resistant garments, don’t believe a jacket is entirely waterproof based purely on the presence of seam tape in the hood and shoulders. Also, don’t assume that a soft-shell jacket or other water-resistant clothing lacks seam taping because doing so would just add complexity that is unnecessary for the intended use.
- Zippers: Most jackets have several zippers, including those on the front opening, pockets, and pit zips. Rubberized coating or a storm flap are required to prevent water from leaking through zippers. It is more difficult to zip up and down coated zippers, also known as laminated zippers. In order to protect the tiny gap at the end of the zipper track, they also require a cover, often known as a zipper hut or zipper garage. Full flaps are less popular since they add weight, but coatings will eventually degrade and become less effective.
- Hood design: In order to precisely modify the size of the opening, most hoods feature brims and adjustments on the sides and in the back. Jackets without those modifications are made for more casual settings. Some jackets also include detachable or roll-up hoods that can be stored in the collar.
- Vents: Almost all backcountry rainwear features pit zips (underarm vents) because even the most breathable clothing can become too heavy during arduous activity. Some coats go it a step further by including mesh liners in the pockets on the body, which can also serve as additional vents.
- Adjustment features: In addition to the hood adjustments mentioned above, the bottom hem of jackets frequently has a drawcord. There may be a drawcord at the waist on longer jackets. The majority of technical rainwear will include adjustable wrist closures. You may make tight closures using all of these modifications to prevent rain, wind, and cold from seeping into the openings of your jacket. To improve the overall ventilation of the jacket, the modifications can also be loosened.
- Pockets: The cost of a jacket will increase if it has pockets, particularly if they have waterproof zippers. You may be tempted to ditch your pack if your jacket has a lot of pockets. In order to allow access while wearing a pack, some jackets incorporate hand pockets that are situated above the hipbelt and away from the shoulder straps. Nowadays, many jackets come with a pocket with a cord port so you can use your phone or music player. Additionally, travel jackets occasionally conceal pockets along seams or inside storm flaps, out of the reach of pickpockets.
- Packability: A jacket is usually easier to pack when made of a lightweight, non-bulky fabric. Some jackets take it a step further by creating a pocket that serves as a storage pouch. Some jackets have this feature or include their own stuff sack.
One of the best backpacking items you can acquire to protect yourself from strong winds and rainstorms is a rain jacket. There are many options available to you on the market, so be sure to carefully weigh all the aspects before choosing the ideal option. For practically everyone, a simple rain jacket with some additional layers would be ideal.