Waterproof? Water-repellent? Water-resistant? and yet Breathable?

When searching for our next outdoor gear, we would often see the terms water-resistant, waterproof and water-repellent being thrown around. Do we actually need waterproof? Is water-resistant good enough? How could fabric be waterproof and breathable altogether? Before we decide what we really need, let’s get a clearer view of what these terms actually mean, so that next time we will be able to select the perfect coat or jacket for the perfect use case.

To start with, there is one method that is commonly used to test waterproofness which is by measuring how much pressure a fabric can take before letting moisture in. A double open-ended cylinder is placed on top of a fabric and gradually filled with water. Measurements (in millimeters) are recorded to see how much exposure to water the fabric can withstand before liquid penetrates. The higher the number, the better the quality of waterproofness.

Starting from the definitions:

  • Water-resistant items can handle low-level exposure to water such as rain and can not withstand any heavy water exposure. Anything above 1,000mm would be considered water-resistant.
  • Water-repellent items are very difficult for water to penetrate, they often use hydrophobic treatments to repel water. Water repellent fabrics will score somewhere between 5,000 – 10,000mm making them good for rain and snow, but not so great in a serious high-pressure downpour.
  • Waterproof items are impervious to water which means water cannot get through the, even if the fabric seem to absorb some water. Normally with a 10,000+mm rating.

What Does Water-resistant Mean?

Water-resistant fabrics can resist the penetration of water to some degree but not entirely. Water-resistant jackets are usually made of fabrics that have some resistance against small amounts of water, such as Nylon or that are difficult to wet, such as Polyester. This is due to the tight weave that creates a wall to block out the moisture.

What Does Water-repellent Mean?

A level up from water resistance, another name for water repellent is ‘hydrophobic, Water-repellent jackets are usually supported by an outer coating to survive a watery encounter. Nanotechnology coating is commonly used to make a jacket able to repel water, such as DWR (durable water repellent) coating.

Ultra Hoodie is built with water-repellent fabric and a fleece inner layer to keep you dry, warm, and comfortable.

What Does Waterproof Mean?

Waterproof fabrics are impenetrable by water and can keep water from penetrating even in storms and heavy snow. One great way to achieve a waterproof material that is also comfortable is to layer materials in the clothing that have different purposes. For example, Ultra Coat is designed with a 15,000mm rating outer layer with Eco²sy® multi-layer insulation inner layer to keep you warm under cold weather. Also, waterproof materials often have sealed seams to block out any risk of moisture passing through.

So, how could waterproof materials be breathable? If you think it this way, water molecules are way larger than air molecules and with modern technology, it’s possible to block water from entering while allowing vapour and air to pass through. Ultra Suit collection is a good example of how this magic comes to life.


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