If you’re heading to the mountains waterproof gear is essential. Whether you’re playing in the snow, hiking, or climbing, outdoor weather can be unpredictable, especially in the mountains.
Waterproof fabrics are resistant to water penetration. This is typically done using a membrane or a coating that act as a barrier, preventing moisture from permeating the fabric, keeping you dry and comfortable.
Breathable fabrics allow sweat in the form of water vapour to escape from the inside of the fabric to the outside.
Whilst it is common for a fabric to be waterproof and breathable, there are different variations so some fabrics may prioritise certain properties over others. Some fabrics may be more waterproof and some fabrics may be more breathable to cater for the kind of activity that you are trying to do.
Waterproof fabrics have two or three layers: an outer layer, a membrane and a tri-coat mesh.
- The Outer Layer: Also known as a ‘face fabric’, this is made of nylon or polyester. Its main roles are to provide initial protection from the elements and look stylish. It is normally treated with DWR so it is water resistant. This is not the same as waterproof, think of it as the first line of defence against water as it will help prevent fabric saturation.
- The Membrane: This is where the magic happens. These are typically made of Teflon (ePTFE), which have small holes that stop water getting in but allow water vapour out. ePTFE membranes can become less effective at keeping out water if they are contaminated by oil or sweat so now they are coated with a Polyurethane (PU) membrane or another oleophobic coating.
- Inner layer: Finally, the 2-layer laminate (outer layer + membrane) is bound to a mesh. The mesh increases the breathability of the fabric and protects the membrane. Mesh can be used impacts the classification of the fabric, 2-layer fabrics will have a mesh or loose fabric lining whereas 3-layer fabrics will have a more lightweight mesh. The main difference is in its breathability, fit and price. 2-layers are bulkier and less breathable but cheaper. 3 layers tend to be more durable and breathable but are more expensive.
Sitting alongside their waterproof and breathability ratings, these fabrics are also typically classed in layers; either 2 layer, 2.5 layer, or 3 layer, often abbreviated to L.
2-layer will have a face fabric bonded to the waterproof/breathable laminate with a hanging liner to protect the membrane. The hanging liner isn’t glued or bonded to the membrane meaning it has a looser fit and can be a bit bulky. As there are only two layers it is very flexible and comfortable. It is also cheapest out of the waterproof constructions but this does mean you will compromise on breathability, durability and protection.
Like the 2-layer it will have a face fabric and a waterproof/breathable membrane but will have a partially bonded inner liner. This is the most lightweight option and is cheaper than the 3-layer, but it won’t be as breathable or durable.
This has all the layers, outer layer, membrane and a fully bonded inner layer. The membrane is fully sandwiched so it is completely protected, meaning it will last longer and provide more protection. As it is more durable they tend to more expensive and the 3-layer construction means it is bulkier.
This is the most advanced construction offering a protective, lightweight, durable, and most importantly breathable fabric, but it is more expensive.
If you are going to be outside in more extreme conditions, for instance, longer and more exposed hikes, then a hardshell with increased waterproof capabilities is your best bet. This will use a 3-layer construction with a durable face fabric that will be very resilient in a wide range of conditions.