Have you been throwing around the terms 'waterproof' and 'water-resistant' unabashedly, without knowing what they mean? Although the terms are quite similar when used to refer to a jacket, these two words can actually have very different meanings.

It is not pleasant to get caught in the midst of a torrential downpour while wearing a jacket which is not totally waterproof. Neither is it wise to splurge extra cash on a waterproof jacket, when your needs would actually be served perfectly well by a cheaper water-resistant one. Understanding the meanings of these two terms can go a long way in helping you choose the right jacket.

How a Water-Proof Jacket is Different from a Water-Resistant Jacket

If you ask me, I can tell from my personal experience that the two are very different. When I started hiking, I bought a water-resistant jacket. It served me well for quite a long time, till it started raining. Each day I went outdoors, I came home drenched. I wondered why my trusted jacket was letting me down, until I learned from my friend that it was not fully water-proof. He told me that only jackets made from non-porous material like rubber are 100% waterproof. All other jackets can only be water-resistant and hence, are not suitable to be worn during a downpour. However, as non-porous materials are not particularly comfortable to wear, it is always wise to consider the trade-off between waterproofing and comfort before making a selection.

Difference between the Make of Water Resistant and Water Proof Jacket

Water-resistant jackets and pants will generally have a durable water repellent finish (DWR) on the exterior, which keeps you dry in light showers. On the other hand, waterproof jackets will instead have a 'waterproof breathable membrane'; i.e. laminate or another similar waterproof technology, in order to keep you dry with 100% assurance. In some waterproof jackets, the seams are sealed, which safeguards the jackets in an even better way.

Sealed Seams

Sealed seams are a way to add extra waterproofing strength to your jacket by ensuring that water can't get in through the tiny holes at each of its seams. They come in two types: "critically seam sealed" and "fully seam sealed". With a “critically seam sealed" jacket, only the upper body of the garment has sealed seams, and therefore there is still some vulnerability to leakage. "Fully seam sealed" means that all seams in the jacket are sealed, for maximum water tightness.

The seams can be sealed in two ways:

1. “Taped seams" are sealed with a waterproof tape that provides a layer of protection from moisture.
2. "Welded seams" are seams that are joined with glue or sonic bonding to join pieces of fabric without the weight or vulnerability of stitched seams.

Waterproof Ratings

You can check whether the jacket is waterproof or not by looking at its waterproof rating, which is generally determined by submitting the jacket to a 'static-column test'. In this test, a tube with a diameter of 1 inch is placed on top of the fabric and filled with water slowly. The moment any leakage occurs, the water's height is noted and becomes its waterproof rating - e.g. 5,000mm or 20,000mm.

Decision Time

Your choice completely depends on the activities that you will be performing while wearing the jacket. If you're purchasing a jacket just for skiing or snowboarding, you'll need a water-resistant jacket, and you might be unnecessarily weighed down and restrained by a bulkier waterproof jacket. On the other hand, if you're buying the jacket specifically for rainy days, you'll want the extra protection offered by a fully waterproof jacket. Of course, in an ideal world it would be great to own both - so if you have the money, go for it! It's not accurate to say that waterproof jackets are 'better' or 'superior' to water-resistant ones - it's really more that they serve quite different purposes as items of clothing.