In this two-part series, we explore the concept of “waterproofing” – what is it, how does it work and how is it useful for skiing? In part one we differentiate between waterproof and water resistant, and how this is implemented. In our second part, we investigate whether one is more useful to skiing than the other.

Staying dry, like staying warm, is critical on the slopes; discomfort caused by either is enough to ruin a great powder day. With a range of technical terms and a variety of different technologies used, choosing the right jacket can be difficult. Even more so, brands are beginning to recognise a more adaptive approach towards design and are varying the levels of protection used across their ranges.

In this article we will look at the differences between two classifications of protection - waterproof and water resistant. Later, in part two, we will explore whether one is inherently better than the other and how brands are using both in their products.

Water Resistant vs. Waterproof

This is, we are sure, a question you’ve face before – just what is the difference between a water resistance and a waterproof jacket, and is one automatically better than the other?

Water Resistance is easy enough to define. This is any item of clothing, made of any material, which has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) chemical* coating applied to the face fabric to force water to bead and roll off, rather than soaking straight into the material. Any fabric can be “water resistant” with an application of DWR; however most effective water resistant pieces of kit use a dense face fabric, such as a tightly woven nylon, which will support the DWR better and offer less nooks and crannies for water to find its way in.

“Waterproof” is a much more rigorous definition and is prescribed by UK law to ensure products are not marketed improperly. In order to be waterproof, a jacket or other item of clothing must meet the following benchmarks:

  • The material the garment is constructed from must, in laboratory test conditions and without any additional technology such as a DWR coating, resist a certain volume of water for a period of 24hrs.
  • All zips on the jacket must be laminated or otherwise protected to reduce exploitation of weak spots by water
  • All seams and stitching must be backed by a protective seal, commonly achieved via something called Seam Tape, again to reduce exploitation of weak spots by water.

Achieving Waterproof

Achieving waterproof protection is achieved by two major methods. The first is simply laminating the material your jacket is made of. This provides waterproof protection that is lightweight and tough but can restrict breathability. A good example of this is the Patagonia Torrentshell, a lightweight summer hiking or town jacket that is exceptionally tough.

More technical pieces will use a waterproof membrane sandwiched between the outer face fabric and an abrasion resistant liner – this latter part is optional to save weight. The most famous example of a membrane like this is Gore-Tex®, a bedrock of the outdoor industry for over fifty years. Membrane waterproofing provides exceptional weather protection whilst, critically, retaining breathability by separating these elements throughout the layers. Most good quality ski jackets will use this technology for this reason, utilising Gore-Tex® or their own version of this technology.

To provide an extra layer of protection, waterproof products are often provided the same DWR coating as you will find on water resistant items. This is usually the case when membrane technology is used, as the membrane may be waterproof but the face fabric may not be; by adding this extra element, you can vastly improve the protection offered by your jacket.
Note that in both water resistant and waterproof items the DWR is not permanent and will wear off over time and with use. You will notice the water will soak into the garment rather than beading and running off – when this begins to occur, it is time to “re-proof” the garment.

*Most brands have now moved to bluesign® Approved chemicals, reducing their environmental impact. The Ski Club advises you to confirm the environmental schemes and footprint of brands before buying.