It’s time to talk waterproofing.
Modern waterproof textiles are wonders of science. Keeping water droplets out but allowing water vapour to easily pass through has given us garments that keep us dry and comfortable in the worst conditions winter can throw at us.
But what separates a £50 jacket from a £200+ jacket, how do wonder materials like Gore-Tex actually work, and how do we keep them performing at their best for as long as possible?
WaterPROOF or WaterRESISTANT?
Waterproof materials, like Gore-Tex, use a membrane of expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon, to give a high degree of waterproofing and breathability. This membrane is covered in microscopic pores which are large enough to let water vapour molecules escape from inside but small enough that no water can penetrate the material.
This waterproof and breathable membrane is sandwiched between an outer layer, which protects the fragile membrane from dirt, and an inner layer adding comfort to the jacket. This gives the jacket a total of 3 layers of fabric sandwiched together. It’s for this reason that waterproof jackets tend to be bulkier and less packable than a water resistant jacket. A durable water repellent (DWR) finish is applied to the outer layer of the jacket, meaning that rainwater beads straight off, and fully taped seams seal off any additional modes of entry for rainwater, helping you keep dry in heavy rain.
Typically a water resistant jacket will be all about lightweight and packability, so the materials chosen will feel thinner and more lightweight than a full on waterproof jacket. Commonly made from either ripstop Nylon, or Polyester, these lightweight jackets give great windproofing but are reliant on a DWR coating to give them their weather resistance.
If the weather is looking changeable throughout the day and there’s a decent chance of getting caught in showers, a water-resistant jacket that packs down small is the perfect choice, easy to stow away and forget about until you need it. However, if you’re guaranteed to get rained on, or it’s raining as you head out, a waterproof jacket will keep you driest for the longest.
The Waterproof Test
So you’ve just bought yourself a fancy new waterproof jacket with all the bells and whistles. Water beads up and rolls off and you stay warm and dry all day. But after a while water starts to build up on the surface and is absorbed by the fabric of your jacket, leaving you feeling cold and clammy. This is known as wetting out and happens to every jacket.
A quick and easy way to test the performance of your waterproof kit is to look for this beading. A garment that doesn’t bead is in need of reproofing.
A properly cared for and treated jacket will perform better than an unwashed and wetting out jacket. Besides the obvious benefit of keeping you dry, carefully washing and treating a jacket increases its breathability, keeping you more comfortable when you're working hard on long climbs. A garment that is saturated with water can lose up to 70% of its breathability!
Reproofing is a very simple process to revitalise your jacket’s performance.
- Wash the garment in technical fabric wash to remove mud, dirt and skin oils.
- Once washed use either a spray on, or wash-in reproofer to restore performance. Wash-in products have given us better results, but spray on is more convenient.
Once re-proofed your jacket should keep you drier and more comfortable in poor weather so get out there and make the most of these wet and slippery conditions!
Good waterproof kit can make winter riding a lot of fun, but it can be expensive to buy. Knowing not only how to care for your waterproof kit, but also restore its performance, increases the useful life of your kit, meaning more winters of full commitment to wet weather riding.
We hope to see you out on the trails this winter!