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Guide : Rain Coats and Waterproof Clothing

Wind and rain are still two climatic conditions that are difficult to handle for those who love the great outdoors. In the past, only wind breakers and rainwear could protect us against inclement weather: the first protecting against the wind, but not the rain; the second providing shelter against the weather, but retaining body humidity.

Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue of outdoor fans. Now, there are many types of clothing that are waterproof, but that also release body humidity.

Buying

To make a fabric waterproof, manufacturers generally use one of the following two techniques:

  • applying a waterproof coating on the outside of the material;
  • laminating a microporous membrane inside the material.

In the past, the coated material would block the rain, but retained humidity inside, which made it quickly feel as though one were walking around with a sauna. Now, the coatings used are far more effective: in addition to waterproofing materials, they allow at least a part of the moisture from transpiration to be released.

Microporous membranes (or waterproof breathables) wick the bodys moisture away from the skin through billions of tiny pores, far smaller than drops of water, while totally preventing water from penetrating inside the clothing. The result? The body stays dry and warm. The best known of these membranes is Gore-Tex.

In order to enhance the waterproofing in the clothings raw material, manufacturers also apply a rain-repellant to the external surface. It is designed to form beads of water, which prevents the clothing from being soaked.

If no rain-repellant is used, the breathability of the clothing may be affected. Indeed, although this type of clothing is well designed, there is always a certain quantity of moisture that remains between the piece of clothing and the person. During extreme weather conditions, condensation of this moisture may release very intense humidity. The person wearing the piece of clothing could then feel soaked, especially if the outside humidity is higher than that inside the clothing.

To limit condensation, several techniques have also been developed:

  • openings under the arms, at the back, around the chest or in the pockets;
  • velcro to make these openings more effective;
  • jets applied along the zippers;
  • waterproofing of jets;
  • sealed seams.

Two or three layers

A piece of clothing with a waterproof breathable microporous membrane includes two or three layers. In the first case, a membrane is attached to the internal surface of the material, which is then protected by a lining or insulation to protect against abrasion. Although this two layer clothing is very practical for general use, its lining can prevent air circulation. This results in a certain amount of humidity being retained, which limits the breathability of the material. However, clothing produced using this method is more flexible and comfortable than three-layered waterproof breathable.

Three-layered clothing includes an external, anti-abrasive material on which a microporous membrane is laminated, followed by a light interior knit. These three layers are bonded together to feel like only one and without a separate lining this piece of clothing is lighter while providing better aeration, which is beneficial for more demanding activities.

In certain cases, yokes of "three-layer" type materials are attached in certain strategic areas of two-layer clothing (knees, elbows, shoulders) to increase the life of the piece of clothing without sacrificing its flexibility or lightness.

Use

Waterproof, breathable clothing can be grouped in two families: hard shells and soft shellsHard shell clothing is worn as an outer shell and protects the inner layers during bad weather. Whether it has a coating or membrane, the material resists very well to water and wind, but the one with a coating probably provides better value and is ideal for occasional users who do not see performance as the be-all and end-all.

When they include a membrane, hard shells are however more longer lasting and effective, which is more appropriate for outdoor extreme sports fans.

For its part, soft shell clothing is made of elastic material that partially resists bad weather and has a certain amount of insulation and is highly breathable. Some models do not have a membrane and are therefore less effective against wind and rain, but are very flexible: they are perfect for those who love aerobic sports, such as joggers and cross-country skiers, and are being used more and more as a second layer in a multilayer system. Other soft shells include a membrane and better resist the elements although they offer less breathability. They are most often chosen for their ability to break the wind.

Maintenance

Over time, dust and sweat block the pores of breathable membranes, which adversely affects their breathability. Therefore, it is important to regularly but gently wash them.

First of all, buy a good specialized detergent . Next, wash the piece of clothing in the machine (ideally in a front-loading washer) or by hand, after reading the manufacturers instructions. Rinse thoroughly, putting it through a complete washing cycle without soap.

Once the waterproof breathable piece of clothing has been washed and thoroughly rinsed, hang it on a hanger and spray with a waterproofing product, so that it regains is waterproof, breathable properties. Some waterproofing products can be directly added to the washer as long as the clothing being washed does not have a hydrophilic lining.

End by drying in the dryer on medium.

Although the waterproofing loses its effectiveness when it is contaminated by impurities, it can also deteriorate just through normal use. In this case, microscopic tears form, allowing water to penetrate the material. To fix this problem, simply dry at a high temperature and tumble dry the piece of clothing: the waterproofing will slightly soften up and fill in the tears. To do this, however, make sure you carefully following the manufacturers instructions.

General Maintenance Tips

In general, wash technical clothing as soon as it needs to be.

Wash and dry clothing at the highest setting indicated on the manufacturers label.

Always thoroughly rinse clothing to remove any excess detergent. Avoid fabric softeners, especially with waterproof breathables: they encourage water penetration in the tissues, and tend to remain in the clothing fibres.

When travelling, rinse with fresh water any piece of clothing exposed to salt water .

Never dry clothing near a fire (especially because of the sparks) or under the hot sun.