Waterproof vs. water repellent vs. water resistant
Ever bought a jacket, thought it would keep you dry in a downpour, only to find out - the hard way - that it doesn't? That's because not all jackets are created equal. There is a difference between waterproof, water repellent and water resistant, and when you start to add breathability into the mix, things can start to get a little complicated. So what do they all mean and why should you take note of the differences?
This offers the lowest level of water protection. If a garment resists water, it's usually because the fabric itself is acting as a barrier between you and a light shower. Tightly woven fabrics will offer a degree of water resistance, as it takes some time for the water to seep through the material. However, with the addition of a coating or impregnation you can make a fabric...
Water repellency is therefore a step up from water resistance. This means that water can't easily penetrate the material (the technical term is that it's hydrophobic). It beads on the outside instead. Let's take our G-1000 Original Eco material as an example. It's used in our new Greenland Half-Century Jacket (featured below).
The fabric is a densely woven mixture of organic cotton and recycled polyester and it offers some water resistance. Thanks to its Greenland Wax coating it also offers water repellency. However, as soon as you apply some pressure - like the skies suddenly opening and releasing a whole load of rain - water starts to seep in through the coating, the fabric and onto your skin. That's where shell materials, like our own Eco-Shell fabric, come in. They are:
Even when you put pressure on a waterproof garment, it will still be impervious to water. The amount of pressure you can put on the garment before you start to get wet varies, and you can find out what that amount is by checking the garment's water column. Our new Greenland Eco-Shell Jacket (featured below) has a water column of 16,000mm. So if a 16 metre column of water was put onto a single point of this jacket, you'd only then start to get wet.
This is because the material is hydrophilic. A hydrophilic fabric absorbs water; it basically sucks it up and spreads it evenly across the face fabric. However, due to the structure of the fabric, and usually a combination of layers, the water, in the form of rain or snow, doesn't reach your skin.
Hydrophilic fabrics are also impregnated with a durable water repellent (DWR). But if they inherently stop water reaching your skin, why do you need a DWR? Good question!
The DWR, as the name suggests, repels water, i.e. water droplets form on the outer surface (as we stated above). And this plays an important role in breathability. When we say a jacket is "breathable", we don't actually mean it breathes. What we really mean is that it transports moisture - sweat - from the inside to the outside of the jacket. For moisture to move from the inside to the outside but not the other way around, the face fabric can't be soaked in water. As we stated above, hydrophilic fabrics on their own keep you dry from rain from the outside - as they soak it up - but they won't keep you dry from your own sweat from the inside. So it's the combination of a hydrophilic material and a DWR that makes a jacket waterproof and breathable.
We did say this would get a little complicated! But what you need to take away from this is:
- Waterproofness is what you need to look for if you plan on wearing your gear in rainy or snowy conditions
- Breathability - i.e. transporting your sweat away from your skin - usually goes hand-in-hand with waterproofness
- Water repellency offers light rain resistance thanks to the impregnation
- You will need to reapply the impregnation, which could be Greenland Wax on G-1000 products or our DWR spray on Eco-Shell gear, regularly if you want to keep you gear in tip-top water-fighting mode
- In short: Eco-Shell is for rainy days, G-1000 + Greenland Wax is for the occasional shower