Apparel / News / January 3, 2013

5 Reasons Your Rainwear Isn’t Waterproof (and What You Can Do About It)

Photo: David Frandsen



One of the most common issues I hear is that a customer’s rainwear is no longer waterproof. Whether it has been a workhorse in the closet for years or it’s only had a single season of use, one of these 5 things is likely the cause of your soggy situation.

As you work hard going uphill you sweat and overwhelm the ability of even the best waterproof/breathable fabrics to move water vapor from the inside of your rainwear to the outside. As good as newer fabrics are, during high aerobic activity they just can’t keep pace with you.
Solution: If it is a light rain consider replacing that hard shell with a lightweight and breathable softshell. Softshells aren’t waterproof but are more breathable than hardshells and will dry quickly when wet if you continue to move and create body heat. If it’s cold take off a layer or two; if you’re sweating you’re too warm. If it’s a downpour and warm your only hope is to vent; pitzips become essential, but you can also vent using your front zipper, and just rolling up your sleeves sometimes makes the biggest difference.

Worn Out DWR
DWR stands for Durable Water Repellent, it’s a chemical that coats the exterior material and makes rain bead up and roll off. Over time (as quickly as 2-3 months depending on the formula) these chemicals wear off and the nylon or polyester exterior fabric begins to absorb water. This water won’t necessarily make its way through the waterproof layer of your rainwear (see the next section), but it does inhibit the ability of the garment to expel body moisture building on the inside. In other words if the outside is soaked your sweat can’t get out.
Solution: When you notice that water no longer beads on your rainwear, or when you notice water soaking in quickly, treat your garment with a water repellent product like Nikwax or Grangers. This should be considered standard maintenance of any piece of rainwear.

Even steel succumbs to enough water pressure so why expect your rainwear to fare any better? When you’re wearing a pack, sitting down, leaning on a tree, etc. you’re pushing the water on the outside of your rainwear against the waterproof layer. Under enough pressure your garment will leak.
Solution: There’s no surefire cure for this one. You can help your cause by treating your as recommended above to minimize the stagnant water saturating the outer layer.

This is the “duh” portion of the article. Holes in your rainwear allow water in. Though it is worth noting that holes are also an essential part of every piece of clothing; arms, neck, legs and torso all exit somewhere after all. Not to mention pockets, vents and zippers (there are currently no waterproof zippers in production for consumer outdoor outerwear).
Solution: For non-intended holes (tears, rips, etc.) repair with an inexpensive waterproof fabric tape available at most gear stores. For everything else, look for rainwear that has cuff adjustments, waist drawcords, a high collar with a drawcord hood and zippers that have a waterproof flap that covers them on the outside and/or on the inside.

In my experience very few garments delaminate, but it does happen. Technically speaking delamination occurs when the adhesive layer is no longer adhering layers together. When this happens the delicate waterproof membrane can become compromised. Seam tape can also delaminate, leaving all those thousands of tiny needle holes as an unprotected conduit to the elements.
Solution: Seam tape can be repaired easily in the field or at home with Seam Grip or repair tape. Delamination of the materials can’t be fixed unfortunately, at least not by average mortals. Check your manufacturer’s warranty, you might be covered, but if the garment is more than a few years old probably not (some companies are better than others on this point). Finally, most delamination I’ve seen can be narrowed down to a single cause: the customer dried it with high heat source like by the fire or in their dryer. Avoid doing so and you probably won’t ever have to worry about it.

If your rainwear is more than a decade old you just need to buy a new replacement. I know that some manufacturers, and Gore-Tex independently, have lifetime warranties, but the reality is materials degrade with time and use. Use your best judgment, but if you can remember using it on a trip where you were also discussing the Florida recount, it’s probably time to retire it.

-Tyler Noonan

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Tags:  waterproof waterproofing

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1 Comment

Sep 20, 2013

If you need to water proof try Dry Guy.

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