Rainwear is grouped into three broad categories: water resistant; waterproof, breathable; and waterproof. Which category is right for you depends on how much time you’re going to be spending in the rain and the intensity of your activity.


Designed to keep you dry in a drizzle or light rain, water-resistant outerwear is exceptionally breathable and usually less expensive than waterproof, breathable outerwear. Someone adventure racing or bike racing in the rain might perspire at a greater rate than a waterproof, breathable jacket can handle. For that reason, they would be better off with something that’s less waterproof and more breathable. Soft shells and windbreakers are two examples of water-resistant outerwear.


Running, hiking, backpacking, kayaking the list goes on. If you exercise or play hard in the outdoors and aren't scared off by a little rain, opt for outer garments that are both waterproof and breathable.

Waterproofness There's a test that the outdoor industry conducts to determine the degree to which a garment is "waterproof." In this test, an open tube is placed atop a piece of fabric and filled with at least 5000 mm of water. If no leakage occurs, the garment is considered waterproof. But that's just the minimum standard. Some technologies can withstand 10,000 mm, or even 20,000 mm. While it would be easier if "waterproof" were an absolute term, it's not. It's more of a spectrum.

Breathability While a waterproof garment will keep you dry from the outside, without breathability, perspiration vapors can't escape and you'll end up as drenched from your own sweat as you would be from the rain. Fortunately, a number of technologies meet the 5000 mm waterproof minimum and are also breathable. These technologies include System Three from Eastern Mountain Sports, HyVent from The North Face, PreCip and MemBrain from Marmot, NeoShell from Polartec, and, of course, Gore-Tex.

Technologies Let's take a deeper look at these to compare, contrast, and help keep your head from spinning when you read about all of them in the store.

System Three is a waterproof, breathable coating exclusive to Eastern Mountain Sports. It is scores highly on the waterproof, breathable tests and is applied to a wide assortment of rainwear and winter outerwear.

The North Face's HyVent is actually a system that combines a multilayer chemical coating with fabric to accomplish three feats: keep you dry, let body moisture out, and maintain the coating's durability. This material will hold up in the toughest conditions while still keeping you dry and comfortable.

Gore-Tex, one of the biggest names in waterproof breathability, differs from HyVent in that it’s a membrane, not a coating. While HyVent can be essentially painted on, Gore-Tex is a membrane that’s laminated to the inside of the outer shell fabric. Gore-Tex is generally seen as more durable and breathable than HyVent because of these properties.

Polartec's NeoShell technology works by creating a full system made of several materials. These include a soft inner layer, a fiber membrane, an abrasion-resistant surface and a durable water repellent (DWR) layer.

Marmot's MemBrain acts more like Gore-Tex than HyVent or NeoShell, as it is a microthin polyurethane film that’s laminated to various Marmot fabrics. Marmot touts the jacket's ability to change its breathability according to the changes in your body's temperature.

2-Layer, 2.5-Layer, and 3-Layer: What Does It All Mean? When you read a jacket description that talks about 2-layer Gore-Tex or 3-layer HyVent, it’s referring to the type of lining used to protect the waterproof, breathable technology. Left on their own, waterproof, breathable laminates and membranes are vulnerable to abrasion, so some sort of protective lining is required.

2-layer is the most common kind of waterproof, breathable construction. The laminate or membrane is applied to the face fabric, with nothing attached on the interior—hence, the 2-layer. A loose hanging layer is used to provide protection. This option tends to be less expensive, but adds a little weight to the jacket.

2.5-layer construction features the laminate or membrane applied to the face fabric, just like the 2-layer. However, on the inside of the jacket a series of laminated “dots” or a laminated grid pattern is used to provide a degree of abrasion resistance. 2.5-layer waterproof, breathable jackets are ultralight and very packable.

3-layer jackets are the most expensive option, but are fairly light and extremely durable. Like the other construction methods, the waterproof, breathable laminate or membrane is applied to the outer shell fabric. On the inside, however, a liner fabric is applied directly, creating a sort-of 3-layer sandwich.


The classic PVC vinyl rain jacket worn by your local crossing guard is the classic example of a nonbreathable rain jacket. It'll keep you dry in low-impact activities like light walking around town, but if you decide to hike a mountain, it just won't work.

The one type of nonbreathable rainwear that Eastern Mountain Sports does carry is the poncho. Because it's open underneath, a poncho actually has great ventilation, and it's long enough to cover most of your lower torso. As an added bonus, if you're wearing a pack, you can throw the poncho over that as well.


Venting Any kind of venting feature on rainwear improves breathability, regardless of fabric. Venting allows you to dump heat during activity. In warm, wet climates, it's nice to be able to let sweat escape so you stay cooler and drier. Venting can be typically found under arms (pit zips), on the back, and through mesh-lined pockets.

Adjustability Adjustable cuff closures, hoods, and cinch cords are ways of better sealing out rain, snow, and wind. Adjustability also helps you customize your rain jacket and rain pant fit.

Fit The fit should encourage layering underneath, but shouldn't be too loose. Remember that you should be able to cinch your rainwear down so it's snug enough if the weather turns. Move your arms, bend your knees. A full range of motion is essential.