HOW TO CHOOSE RAINWEAR
With the multitude of options available in the world of rainwear choosing the right jacket for you can be overwhelming. Here is a breakdown of available options that will help you to make sense of all the choices.
TYPES OF RAINWEAR
Water Resistant: These jackets are designed to keep you dry in a drizzle or light rain, they will delay water penetration but will ultimately not prevent it. They are great in very warm temperatures, for highly aerobic activities where a waterproof breathable jacket may not be able to breathe fast enough to handle the output of perspiration, or for those “just in case it rains” times where you want something small to toss into your pack or purse. Softshell jackets, windbreakers, and jackets treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) fall into this category.
Pros: Very breathable, often lighter and more packable than WP/BR shells, usually less expensive than WP/BR jackets.
Cons: May not have hood, most do not have sealed seams, don’t insulate well, fabric will become saturated in heavy rains.
Waterproof/Breathable (WP/BR): This is generally the most popular and versatile category of rainwear. WP/BR fabrics keep water out but allow perspiration vapor to escape. They are great for a variety of activities including: backpacking, mountaineering, trail running, paddling, day hiking, traveling, and much more. Unfortunately not all WP/BR jackets are created equal. There are two ways to make a fabric waterproof and breathable, laminates and coatings. Both are equally waterproof but laminates are more breathable and durable than coatings. Laminates are also more expensive. Examples of laminates are Gore-tex, eVent, and Omni Dry (Columbia.) Many companies in the outdoor industry have their own proprietary waterproofing systems which, depending on the performance of the jacket use either laminates, coatings, or both. Dry Q(Mountain Hardwear,) H2NO (Patagonia,) HyVent (The North Face,) are a few examples.
Pros: Comfortable for active individuals, one jacket can be used for many activities, long lasting
Cons: Most expensive type of rainwear, many choices/options with no universal standard for performance
Here are a few additional tips to consider when looking at WP/BR options: (a) Generally the more expensive the jacket, the more long-lasting and breathable it will be; (b) There is no universally accepted standard for breathability so performance is hard to measure. If you know that you tend to perspire a lot make sure your jacket has features like under arm vents and mesh lined pockets you can open for more venting.
Waterproof/Nonbreathable: These are the traditional PVC or vinyl rain jackets. They are made of fully coated fabrics that keep water out but also keep perspiration in. They are fine for very low level activities (like being a spectator at sporting events) but once you get moving at all they tend to lead to being hot and clammy. If you go this route consider a poncho because the open nature of the garment allows for some venting.
Pros: Inexpensive, ponchos can be tossed on over a pack to keep you and your gear dry
Cons: Often loud, stiff, and/or sticky fabrics, can feel hot and clammy
FIT OF RAINWEAR
You should fit a rain jacket so that you have room for layering underneath and have full range of motion since very few rain jackets have stretch to them. However, it is important that it not be too big because if there is too much space in the jacket perspiration will condense to liquid form before it has a chance to escape leading to wetness from inside.