The idea behind waterproof, breathable technology is that climbers, hikers, and your general outdoor types need to maintain their body temperature regardless of the weather. If you get soaked in the rain, your clothing could start to freeze and, needless to say, your body temp will drop rapidly. Similarly, if you’re sweating bullets under your gear with no way for it to dry, your clothes will get wet, also putting you at risk of hypothermia.
As a result, manufacturers are in large part dedicated to producing a material that prevents both of these scenarios, something that will both keep rain off you completely (none of this "water resistant" nonsense) and allow the sweat to evaporate. And they’ve succeeded in this in a few different ways.
Gore-Tex is perhaps the most famous waterproof, breathable brand, if only because they reportedly were the first to develop it. The center of their technology is something they call the Membrane and is incredibly thin and tightly woven. Some of the first waterproof, breathable materials were simply cotton, but with an extremely tight weave and a layer of proofing. The polytetrafluoroethylene membrane is similar, boasting 9 billion pores for every square inch, coated with polyurethane and attached to a protective lining. But Gore-Tex isn’t the only waterproof, breathable manufacturer in town.
System Three is a waterproof, breathable laminate used by Eastern Mountain Sports. In addition to being highly effective at blocking water and wind while allowing perspiration to escape, it comes at a great value. That can be the downside of waterproof, breathable technology—while it’s absolutely necessary to have in a wide variety of outdoor activities, it can be pricey. After all, extensive product testing in simulated adverse conditions isn’t cheap. But Eastern Mountain Sports is dedicated to offering a wide range of items at a reasonable price, without having to sacrifice quality.
eVent uses technology that reflects Gore-Tex’s membrane, but their product is more durable and as a result, doesn’t need the extra protection of a polyurethane coating. eVent functions under the belief that polyurethane holds sweat rather than letting it evaporate. Their materials are very tightly woven to keep water out without the coating, but are also very porous to give sweat an exit.
Precip is a product developed by Marmot and was first made into a pair of rain pants. Like Gore-Tex, it uses a special coating consisting mainly of polyurethane, but PreCip also uses extra protection in the form of silicon dioxide particles and ceramic particles. Their products are also lined on the inside, so you feel as dry as you are. Additionally, Marmot claims that many of their items can be easily compressed into a small, easy-to-carry package.
Membrain uses a polyurethane coating as well and is another product of Marmot. There are some subsets of MemBrain, including MemBrain 10 and MemBrain Strata. The latter is their newest concoction, and isn’t lined, nor is it constructed of three layers like the aforementioned technology. With 2.5 layers, it has gone through extensive abrasion tests to ensure the most durability possible. Like Precip, MemBrain Strata also claims to make the wearer feel dry.
HyVent is a The North Face subsidiary and, similar to Marmot’s MemBrain, some of their items only have 2.5 layers as opposed to 3. Their products have no lining and use a special strain of polyurethane coating with three components. They have several different kinds of HyVent, but most have the same desirable features. Types of the HyVent include the Alpha, 2L, 3L, DT, and DT EC. One of the major advantages of HyVent is that it provides you with a multitude of concise options to fit your needs.
We think Patagonia takes the prize for best name. They also put their products through the most strenuous tests, including one that they’ve patented. It’s known as the Killer Wash, and it works to imitate wear and tear caused by years worth of heavy rainstorms. H2No items have a water-repellent shell atop a waterproof barrier and interior scrim protectors. If you’re planning on living in a high-powered rainstorm for a few years, this is the waterproof, breathable brand for you.
Mountain Hardwear, like Marmot and The North Face, features technology that comes in a few shapes and sizes. Conduit is their form of waterproof, breathable and comes in SL, soft shell and silk. Conduit as a whole is the most breathable material in the game by some industry standards, even with three layers.
Other Features to Look For
Pit zips may not be the most appealing term, but the important thing is that they work. When you can, you need to ventilate yourself as much as possible. Even the most advanced technology in the world can’t help you if you don’t unzip your pits. And as with most clothing items, you should look for the model that suits your needs. Pockets and hoods aren’t always standard, so think about why you need this waterproof, breathable product before buying.
Return to Top