Rain is dripping into your face, your shoulders are slowly getting soaked, your trousers are sticking to your calves and slowly but surely puddles are forming in your shoes.
This is about the way it has probably been sometimes for everyone who has gone outdoors during a rainstorm while improperly dressed.
Modern rain clothing helps to prevent this - and these days it has such small packing dimensions that an emergency set can be brought along on every outdoor activity.
Super-lightweights with practical innovations
Self-packable in itself, super-light, many extra pockets, reflectors, adjustable hood, adjustable waistband, side openings for access to the pockets in the clothing below it – the manufacturers of waterproof functional clothing advertise using gadgets such as these.
However, in the purchasing decision, it should be borne in mind: Whatever has especially few extras is particularly waterproof. Every opening and every seam is a further potential weak point; this is not changed at all, even by the very best processing.
Rain pants with zippers on the legs, which open quickly and wide, have proven to be practical. Thus they can be pulled (on) over the shoes and at the same time their integrated gaiters protect the upper part of the shoe.
Not only jackets, but also trousers are available in many fashionable prints; for example the “Homy rain pants” by the German sports equipment manufacturer Vaude is available in a denim look.
Waterproof and breathable at the same time
Many functional jackets for outdoor activities fulfill the general criterion of “waterproof”, but in this aspect they differ greatly from one another. Thus, fabrics are already deemed to be waterproof if they have a water column of 1,500 mm or above.
However, whether they can really keep this promise depends on the duration and the intensity of the rain.
Only with the highest water columns of 10,000 mm can you really rest assured that you will permanently remain dry under your clothing – at least for as long as the seams and zippers have been appropriately prepared.
Rain coats made by brand manufacturers are impregnated when they are bought new. Correct care is crucial for continued functionality.
Rain protection = hardshell
The outermost weather coating of clothing is known in technical jargon as the shell layer.
Hardshell with PU coating (Polyurethane) is the most robust material and is absolutely waterproof but only lets part of the body’s moisture escape. Softshell however is breathable, but only water-repellent.
Only multi-layered fabrics with membranes, such as Gore-Tex, are really waterproof and still breathable.
Through the pores (or molecules, in the case of hydrophilic membranes) the steam gets from inside to outside, but not one drop of water can get from outside to inside.
Weak point: Seams and zippers
Because sewing machines leave holes that are too large, waterproof fabrics are generally not sewed but stuck, or taped with special bands.
These days there are also zips of waterproof quality, including two-way zippers. Most manufacturers, however, only use water-repellent models and achieve the waterproof effect through covers combined with Velcro fastenings.
Sealing is the main thing
Normal use and wear, such as from rucksack straps, reduces functionality. Sweat and dirt clog the pores of the membrane layer; the surface becomes soaked with water; on the inside, heat accumulates.
Therefore, even the most expensive functional jackets must regularly be cleaned and the impregnation must then again be refreshed.
Follow care instructions
Rain clothing must (usually) be washed in the washing machine; however this can only be on a gentle cycle and without spin-drying and at low temperatures of up to 40 degrees.
Expensive special detergent does not necessarily have to be used. It is important to use liquid detergent instead of powder, so that the pores of the membranes do not stick together.
A “rule of thumb” also states: Only use as much detergent as possible and wash at least two additional times. The extra washes are especially necessary when using new washing machines with low water consumption.
Before washing, also, all zippers, pockets and Velcro fasteners must be closed, so that the adhesive or taped seams are not overloaded or even tear.
Putting it to the test
If rain clothing lets water through sometimes, the impregnation must urgently be refreshed again. The easiest way to do this is with heat, either in a clothes dryer or with an iron.
In the dryer the clothing is heated at a maximum temperature of 60 degrees for about 30 minutes, with the iron with a cloth inbetween on the lowest setting.
Because heat alone is no longer sufficient to activate the impregnation, an impregnation spray must additionally be used and this must be thoroughly worked in with a sponge or cloth. This is usually necessary after every second wash.
Dripping off and shaking off instead of impregnating?
The introduction onto the market of a new kind of technology before the end of 2015 has been announced by Gore-Tex: the Gore-Tex active membrane.
For the first time, this new kind of laminate will consist only of the membrane and the lining and will forego the upper fabric layer.
For this reason, impregnation will also no longer be necessary. Whatever does not drip off can simply be shaken off. Click here for ISPO TEXTRENDS.
Discussion: Is your raincoat really waterproof?