Orvis Guide to Adventure
THE PACKABLE LIGHTWEIGHT RAIN JACKET: ESSENTIAL TRAIL GEAR
Every seasoned traveler will agree the packable lightweight rain jacket is essential gear for the road: it’s a plucky little piece of outerwear, a compact, portable, utilitarian garment that promptly emerges from your pocket or bag to shield you from unanticipated drizzle at the cab stand or the sprinkle that insinuated itself on your Italian cathedral tour.
And so it goes for a day hike where weather at the summit might be vastly different from conditions at the trailhead: the packable lightweight rain jacket is indispensable gear that rises to the occasion so you won’t need to run for cover, even if you must sidestep a few puddles on the path. But they’re not all the same. A closer look suggests key questions to ask when choosing this essential piece of outerwear.
Q. WHAT FEATURES ARE IMPORTANT IN A RAIN JACKET?
Several details matter. When you choose a lightweight rain jacket, think about how you’ll wear it:
Q. ARE ALL RAIN JACKETS WATERPROOF?
No: “waterproof” describes a material’s ability to keep water on the outside. The extent to which it does this occurs along a continuum as indicated by the “column” test, where a one-inch diameter tube placed vertically over a piece of material is filled with water, and then the water’s height in the tube is recorded in millimeters when the material begins to leak. A fabric that withstands 20,000 millimeters of water, for example, earns a rating of 20K.
But the rating does not tell the whole story of a jacket’s impermeability against the elements—other important benchmarks include the construction of its seams, type of material and its thickness, and other design specs. While all material resists water to some degree, only a truly waterproof jacket will stand up to a squall.
Q. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WATERPROOF AND WATER-RESISTANT RAIN JACKETS?
A water-resistant rain jacket does exactly what its name implies—it resists water, shedding it in light to modest precipitation. A water-resistant jacket has no waterproof membrane. While it is exceptionally breathable and will protect you from a brief shower, the water-resistant jacket is not completely waterproof in steady or wind-blown rain. Its performance improves when it is treated with a repellent; this encourages water to bead up on the surface of the material and will keep it from seeping in if the treatment remains intact.
If a jacket is waterproof, it is also windproof by default. But it is possible for a jacket to be windproof and only water-resistant.
WHAT IS DWR?
DWR, or Durable Water Repellent, is a preparation applied to virtually all face, or outer fabrics in rain jackets; it causes moisture to bead up and roll off the material. This makes a jacket water-repellent, which is not the same as water-resistant or waterproof. The DWR treatment on a jacket is a maintenance item and must be reapplied occasionally (“reproofing”) if you expect it to continue to perform as it did when the jacket was new. And although allowing the DWR treatment to erode will not deplete a jacket’s waterproof qualities, it can affect its breathability. Reproofing your jacket with repellent is a fairly simple process.
Q. HOW CAN A RAIN JACKET BE WATERPROOF AND BREATHABLE?
Though this may imply sleight of hand, the terms “waterproof” and “breathable” are not mutually exclusive. We have science to thank for a special, technically advanced waterproof membrane or laminate layer with “pores” so small that water can’t get through from the outside, but vapor can still escape from within—it’s a process known as “moisture vapor transfer,” and it keeps you comfortable when you sweat. “Breathability” simply describes a jacket’s ability to do this.
A waterproof jacket without this impressive layer of material will assuredly keep water out (think old-style yellow rain slicker), but will also soak you to the core after any kind of exertion. Most modern rain jackets possess at least some degree of breathability.
Fast Fact: The first waterproof membrane was Gore-Tex®, pioneered in 1969 by W.L. Gore and Associates, but many other similar materials have emerged in the intervening decades.
Who knew the unassuming rain jacket could possess such a multifaceted personality? Fancy features notwithstanding, make sure your packable rain jacket
Who knew the unassuming rain jacket could possess such a multifaceted personality? Fancy features notwithstanding, make sure your packable rain jacket possesses at least these three:
Those will hold you in good stead for most surprise showers. There’s no raining on your parade with a packable lightweight rain jacket at the ready.
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