Waterproof vs. water repellent vs. water resistant

Don’t find out the hard way that your jacket won’t keep you dry. There are big differences between waterproof, water repellent and water resistant. Find out what they are – and why you should care.

Ever invested in a jacket thinking it would keep you dry in a downpour only to find out – the hard way – that it doesn’t? When it comes to water, the fact is not all jackets are created equal. There are significant differences between waterproof, water repellent and water resistant. And that is without adding breathability to the mix. 

So, let’s break down what waterproof, water repellent and water resistant actually mean. And figure out which is right for you. 

Water Resistance

This offers the lowest level of water protection. If a garment resists water, it is usually because the fabric itself is acting as the barrier between you and a light rain shower. Tightly woven fabrics offer a degree of water resistance because it takes some time for water to seep through the material. With the addition of a coating or impregnation however, you can make the fabric water repellent. 

Water Repellent

Water repellency is a step up from water resistance, which means water cannot easily penetrate the material. Instead, water beads on the outside. The technical term for this is “hydrophobic”.  

You can also enhance the water repellency of a fabric with impregnation coatings. The G-1000 Eco material for example, is a densely woven blend of organic cotton and recycled polyester that offers some water resistance. If you coat the material with Greenland Wax however, it becomes water repellent. (Greenland Wax also prolongs your garment’s life span by making the fabric more durable, but that’s another story.) 


But what if the skies opened up and released a torrent of rain? Hopefully you are wearing a waterproof jacket, because the added pressure of an intense shower would make water seep through the fabric to your skin.

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The amount of pressure you can apply to a jacket before you start getting wet varies, but you can easily find such information by checking a jacket’s water column. The new High Coast Hydratic Jackets for example, have a water column of 10,000 millimetres. That means you would only start getting wet if a single point of the jacket’s was hit with a 10-metre column of water. That is a lot of water, but jackets made with Fjällräven Eco-Shell can handle even more. The Keb Eco-Shell Jackets have a water column of 30,000 millimetres!

All that being said, what good is a waterproof jacket if you are sweating inside of it? Breathability is vital. And in this case, breathability refers to the jacket transporting moisture away from your body to the outside of the jacket. This is where hydrophilic materials come in. Such materials attract water and are sometimes developed by treating a naturally water-resistant fabric with a durable water repellent, or DWR. Using a hydrophilic fabric in combination with a water-repellent outer layer makes a superior waterproof jacket, because it keeps you dry outside and comfortable inside.

Seems complicated, but here is what you should take away from all of this:

  1. Water resistant jackets are often made of a tightly woven fabric that can protect you from light showers for a short period of time.
  2. Water repellent jackets, like those made of hydrophobic materials, are appropriate for rain showers.
  3. Impregnation products likeGreenland Wax increase the water repellency of jackets. You will need to reapply these if you want to ensure your gear is in tip-top water-fighting mode.
  4. Waterproof jackets, like the Keb Eco-Shell or the new High Coast Hydratic and Vardag Hydratic Anorak, are best worn in rainy and wet conditions.

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