|Jackets are an essential piece of equipment when it comes to winter pursuits. However, there are many types of them, each specializing in different areas, making it difficult to know where to start. Jackets also have a barrage of features to choose from, so keep in mind what features you need in addition to features you want. |
Jackets aren't simply waterproof or not, rather there is a wide array of different waterproof levels. Most jackets use a simple DWR spray-on waterproofing, which is great cheap protection. For a garment that will last a little longer and will be more waterproof, look for jackets that use a laminate-based waterproofing like Gore-Tex or Marmot's Membrane laminate.
Types Ski JacketSki
jackets are made to be waterproof enough to resist snow, and breathable enough to where they won't get stuffy inside. Expect a fairly traditional cut jacket with plenty of arm articulation room, easily accessed and warm pockets, lift ticket holders, and arm/bicep pockets.
Snowboard jackets, like ski
jackets, are made to resist the rigors of snow sports, while maintaining a high level of breathability. Unlike ski
jackets, snowboard jackets have a much more baggy cut that tends to give the wearer an extra amount of maneuverability.
Mountain Jackets are meant to be the 'jack of all trades' jackets. They tend to be made to be fairly lightweight (not as light as a rain jacket), but durable enough for mountaineering or backpacking. Usually their pockets are located just below the user's chest to accommodate a pack's hip belt, without rendering the jacket pockets useless.
A rain jacket is, obviously, going to be made to be very waterproof and very lightweight. Unlike other jackets, these are meant to be worn as a backup, so durability isn't a real issue, but making something lightweight and breathable is the ultimate goal.
These jackets are made to sacrifice a little bit of waterproofness for a huge amount of breathability. They have a softer feel to them, so they don't feel quite as "plasticy" as their hardshell counterparts. These jackets are great for people that are doing a very aerobic activity and need something that breathes very well.
Key Features Seam Taping
Traditionally, a major problem with waterproofing has been the seams of the fabric in question. Anytime a needle passes through a piece of fabric it creates a hole in the material that water can go through (which is a problem that seam welding takes care of). Many manufacturers today bond a piece of tape to the fabric along the seam that covers the holes and doesn't allow water to pass through. This method is very expensive, but highly effective.
Look out for garments that are "critically seam sealed." With those pieces, the manufacturer only seals up the seams that they think are important. This is one of the ways they can cut cost from a technical jacket.
To avoid holes created by needles required for stitching two pieces of fabric together, some manufacturers have elected to use radio frequency welding techniques to bond two pieces together. Others use a complicated gluing process. If it's done correctly, the two pieces of fabric act like one big piece.
A powder skirt is a piece of fabric often attached in ski
jackets and snowboard jackets that are made to fit tightly against the waist and keep snow from going up the bottom of the jacket. They work like an internal baffle, physically stopping anything from getting inside of the jacket. This type of construction also impedes airflow, and helps the jacket maintain a warm layer of air under the jacket.
Some skirts are made to attach to a matching pair of pants
(made by the same company, of course) to keep it from sliding up in the event of a feet first slide on the snow. Other skirts are completely removable from the inside of the jacket, making them more comfortable to wear during non snow sport activities.
One of the more recent innovations by jacket designers, waterproof zippers are urethane coated zippers that don't allow water or wind to go through them, like traditional zippers do. This eliminates the zipper flaps (and buttons, Velcro, or magnets that usually go along with them) allowing designers to make garments more simple to use (and a lot more accessible to people with gloves), all while allowing them to shave off weight without decreasing the weather protection
the garment affords.
The biggest downside to waterproof zippers is that they tend to be a lot stiffer and harder to pull open than a normal zipper.
Any consumer looking for a waterproof jacket should always be wary. Just because a manufacturer labels something as being "waterproof" doesn't mean that it really is. Jackets are often rated on the amount of water pressure they can resist. Gore-tex garments, for example, can resist over 30psi of water pressure, while some manufacturers will claim "waterproof" if their clothes can resist 1 psi of pressure.
There are many different kinds of laminate waterproofing layers, the most famous by far is Gore-Tex. A laminate waterproofing is a membrane that is usually porous to water vapor, but not to liquids. It acts as a waterproof barrier, keeping you dry. These laminates are usually sandwiched in between other layers of fabric, to increase their durability. Since they can't ever be washed away, the garment is waterproof pretty much as long as you don't have a hole in it.
Because the waterproof layer in a laminate system is sandwiched under an exterior piece of fabric, the outer layer has to have a waterproofing layer called a DWR (more info is in the next section). When this wears away, the top layer of fabric can begin to soak up moisture causing a condition called "wet out". This layer can be replenished by the use of after market treatments (see garment care and feeding below for more info).
DWR stands for "Durable Water Repellent" and is a waterproof coating (think of "Scotchguard") used on the outside of virtually every snow sport and outdoor related jackets. They are usually wax,
silicone or fluoropolymer based liquids that seal up the outside of a a garment.
Despite its name, a DWR finish eventually will wear away. Water will start to be absorbed by the fabric and if your garment doesn't have a waterproof laminate like Gore-tex under it, water will begin to seep through. A DWR layer can be replenished though, see garment care and feeding below.
Waterproofing vs. Breathability
One common mistake is for a person to ask if a garment is waterproof, when the real question should be "how waterproof is it?" Most people don't realize that there is a spectrum of waterproof levels that are, for the most part, inversely related to breathability. This simply means that as a jacket gets more waterproof, it becomes less breathable, and vice versa. There are plenty of technologies out there that increase breathability without sacrificing waterproofness too much, but as a general rule of thumb, it seems to hold pretty true.
Garment Care and Feeding
There are a host of cleaning chemicals
and waterproofing treatments
that can be used on waterproof jackets. For the most part, you should follow the manufacturer's recommendations for treatment on your individual garment, but keep in mind that regular cleaning increases the breathability of most waterproof garments.