When it comes to bags, outerwear, and general "on water" gear storage there are a ton of options to choose from. From sling bags, hip-packs, backpacks, rain jackets, and vests it can be tough to choose which one is best for you. And, within each one of these options (excluding vests) customers have two distinct options. Waterproof or Water-Resistant. For this post, we will be focusing on the differences between waterproof and water-resistant options. So, sit back, relax.
The technology that goes into developing a quality piece of waterproof fabric is highly sophisticated. Fundamentally, waterproof fabric will keep water from breaching the opposite side. For a brief example, you find yourself in a heavy rainstorm out on the river, and you pull out your rain jacket. If the rain jacket is waterproof, you can expect zero water to permeate through your rain jacket.
Here at the shop, many customers come in asking for products made out of GORE-TEX many of them, however, are simply looking for a product made from a Waterproof Breathable Fabric (WBP). Since GORE-TEX became a household name in 1978, there have been numerous variations and innovations regarding the technology behind WBP fabrics. You may be asking yourself, "How does this work?". Well, let me explain.
As I mentioned previously, waterproof fabrics serve two purposes: keep water out, and keep what is underneath dry. Most waterproof goods you will find in our shop and elsewhere are constructed with either a membrane or a coating. Regardless of the construction type, both serve the purpose of impeding water from getting underneath. Since this is a gear review, let's dive into the specifics a bit.
When we look at membranes, our minds may immediately think back to freshman biology and cell walls. In many ways, at the most basic level - I am no biologist here - membranes in the context of waterproof fabrics function the same way. When a membrane is used the membrane is molded to the inside of your 'shell fabric' and creates what is known as a laminate. This type of waterproof construction is most often found in high-quality and heavy-duty waterproof gear (Read: Waders). Why? Well, your waterproof membrane/laminate is fully protected by your outermost facing fabric (Shell Fabric).
Another common option manufacturers use when making waterproof fabrics are fabric 'Coatings'. In this type of construction, a thin layer of waterproofing material is spread across the entirety of the inner surface of the desired shell fabric. This approach typically creates a lighter and more performance-focused piece of gear. In many instances, using the coating approach is a cheaper alternative to membrane/laminate construction. It is important to note that when a coating is applied, there is a sacrifice in durability and longevity in the long term.
In many instances, regardless of waterproofing technique, you will find that the outermost facing layer of fabric (Face Fabric), will be finished in some variation of durable water repellant (DWR). This chemical treatment significantly improves the quality of your fabric as well as breathability. The benefit of DWR use is that DWR restricts raindrops, snow or, beer from soaking into the shell fabric and compromising the underlying layers.
In comparison to waterproof goods and fabrics, the water-resistance counterpart creates a far less complicated barrier for water or rain to permeate through. Events such as a brief summer shower, a decent splash of water, or any other small amount of water will not affect a water-resistant product's performance. If you were to examine water-resistant materials under a microscope, you would notice how tightly woven the material is. These tight weaves create a denser material (fabric) and ultimately slow the permeation of water. The most common versions of water-resistant materials are Nylon and Polyester. In comparison, cotton is a delicate fabric. Why? Well, the nature of this material leads to the material is not being woven as tightly together. If you were to place both materials under the sink, you would notice that cotton absorbs water at a much faster rate when compared to Nylon and Polyester. It is important to note that many water-resistant jackets offer a DRW finish, thus making the material water repellant. This addition of DWR allows the material to not become fully saturated when caught in a lite rainstorm or splash of water. The best way to visually see how this product works is by taking a new jacket coated with DWR into a lite rain and watch as the water droplets bead off of the jacket. However, if you found yourself in a prolonged downpour or constantly wet in environments such as the Pacific Northwest, it is best to opt for a waterproof product.
What we have covered in this post is just scratching the surface when it comes to the technology behind fabric and materials. When it comes to Waterproof vs. Water Repellant both have their assets and deserve a place within our fly fishing kits. When choosing which is best for you, it simply comes down to your specific goal or activity. Now that you have a baseline understanding of both water-resistant and waterproof materials you can make a more informed decision when deciding which is best for you and your needs. If you are interested in learning more about the technicalities of gear or have a question regarding the materiality of certain products we carry, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.