The term ‘waterproof’ is used quite often in the outdoor sphere, but what does this actually mean, and how does this sometimes mislead consumers as to what their garments are actually capable of? We’d like to fully explain, and to bust some myths surrounding waterproof fabrics in the process.
Let’s start by saying that ‘waterproof’ is, technically speaking, nothing more than outerwear that is extremely water-resistant.
One way to test how water-resistant a fabric is, is by conducting a static-column test.
Hydrostatic Column Test & How it Works:
Hydrostatic column testing is the most widely used waterproof test. A 2,5cm radius tube stands vertically over a piece of material. The tube is filled with water, and the water’s height in millimeters when leakage begins becomes the waterproof rating. A piece of fabric that can withstand 20, 000mmH20 of water pressure which will have a rating of 20, 000mmH2O or 20K.
What do these ratings mean for real-life situations when you’re caught in a downpour? Here’s the general gist:
0: Not waterproof at all
1-1K: Rain resistant, but not rainproof
5K-10K: Generally waterproof
10K-20K: Guaranteed waterproof during extended pressure and shallow submersion
Think high-end mountaineering jackets like the K-Way Men's Kilimanjaro Shell jacket and waterproof watches
How does construction affect waterproofing?
In short: GREATLY
There's no point in springing for a high-tech waterproof breathable membrane if water can seep through past the stitching.
Welded seams join panels of fabric via gluing or ultra-sonic bonding set for a seam that's stretchier and less bulky than a taped seam and significantly more resistant to chafing and friction.
PU laminates move moisture via an absorption-diffusion-evaporation process.
This is the same stuff used to coat non-stick frying pans. PFTE membranes work causing water to bead and roll off.
DWR (Durable Water Repellent)
This polymer is applied to virtually all face fabrics (i.e. a garment's outermost fabric). It penetrates the face fabric's fibers and causes water to bead up and roll off.
Ratings offer a vague notion of waterproof protection, but understanding construction is a much better tool for comparing and choosing outerwear.
2L (two-layer) garments consist of a face fabric bonded to a waterproof breathable membrane.
- Pros: 2L pieces are lightweight, breathable, and packable.
- Cons: They leave the waterproof breathable membrane vulnerable to abrasion and soiling. A 2L jacket may be an excellent choice for you if it has a separate drop-liner or mesh liner to protect the membrane. Compare a 2L garment to a hardback book that’s missing one of its covers. An example of this is the K-Way Men's Franklin Rain jacket.
2.5L garments protect the membrane with a partial protective spray or coating.
- Pros: They’re a good compromise between 2L & 3L when it comes to waterproof capabilties vs. packability and cost.
- Cons: A 2.5L might be a good choice for you if you’re concerned about both packability and waterproof durability. Think of a 2.5L garment as a book with one hardback cover and one paperback cover.
3L garments consist of a face fabric bonded to a waterproof breathable membrane that’s backed with a protective scrim.
- Pros: They’re extremely durable.
- Cons: They’re generally thicker, stiffer, and more robust. A 3L jacket might be a good choice for you if you plan to use it heavily and waterproof durability is your main concern. Think of a 3L jacket as a hardback book. Jackets like the K-Way Kilimanjaro Men's Shell Jacket is 3L garment.
How to care for your outerwear
Step 1: Wash it
Why? Washing your jacket removes oils and grime that can compromise the waterproof breathable membrane. Try the Storm 300ml Twin pack which includes a wash and proofer.
Step 2: Dry it
Why? Tumble drying helps redistribute DWR treatment, restoring your garment’s water-resistance.
Step 3: Re-DWR it
Why? Repeated wear and washing will eventually deteriorate the face fabric’s DWR treatment. Try the Storm Waterproof 300ml Spray.