Waterproof Ratings – Jacket and Clothing Ratings Explained

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Article Categories: Gear
Article Tags: Jackets

Every avid nature lover knows that bad weather can instantly make a trip go from enjoyable to miserable, or potentially even dangerous. But that’s only if one is unprepared. For this very reason, one of the first things that need consideration when packing for an outdoor excursion is waterproof clothing. When purchasing outer layers, you will often find waterproof ratings on the jacket’s tags. What do waterproof ratings mean? We’ll cover this down below.

Shop Rain Jackets on: Amazon | REI | Eastern Mountain Sports | Backcountry

Waterproof Ratings Explained

Essentially, the higher the waterproof rating of a fabric, the longer it can remain waterproof. Here is a summary of the ratings and the specific conditions clothes under their range can withstand.

0 millimeters to 1,500 millimeters

  • Zero resistance to minimal resistance to moisture
  • Can withstand very light rain and dry snow under very minimal pressure

1,500 millimeters to 5,000 millimeters

  • Considered a “Waterproof” jacket
  • Can withstand very light rain and dry snow under very minimal pressure

5,001 millimeters to 10,000 millimeters

  • Waterproof and rainproof under medium pressure (very waterproof)
  • Can withstand moderate rain and average snow

10,001 millimeters to 15,000 millimeters

  • Waterproof and rainproof under medium to high pressure (extremely waterproof)
  • Can withstand moderate rain and average snow

15,001 millimeters to 20,000 millimeters

  • Rainproof and waterproof under high pressure (extremely waterproof)
  • Can withstand heavy rain and wet snow

20,001 millimeters and above

  • Rainproof and waterproof under very high pressure (extremely waterproof)
  • Can withstand extreme weather conditions

What Makes A Jacket Waterproof?

With these rating systems – it is also important to consider a jackets seems, zippers, and waterproof coating. High end jackets will have well made seems, have waterproof materials, and zippers that will withstand a beating. The type of jacket and material plays a crucial role in waterproofing, we will talk about that a little further down.

Taped Seams – heat treated, and durable seems are completely essential for a jacket to be waterproof. Even if a jacket is made out of completely waterproof material, it is the seems that will inevitably wear away, or allow water to seep. When looking for a jacket, be sure to check the seems to ensure they are high quality.

Waterproof Coating – you may come across water resistant jackets that are not made form materials that are extremely waterproof. You’ll often find these jackets have a waterproof coating that allows water to bead up and run off. Thes e often work great, but eventually the waterproofing wears off, you will get wet, and you’ll need to reproof, or re-apply waterproof coatings.

Zippers – Much like the seams of your jacket, zippers play a huge role in staying dry. Not just for your body, but for your phone, wallet, keys, or anything else you may have stuffed behind a waterproof zipper. Be sure to check the zippers are durable, and the seems around them are waterproof.

Where Do These Ratings Come From?

Waterproof ratings are measured using what’s called a hydrostatic head test. In this test, fabrics are pulled tight under a sealed tube filled with water. The material exposed to the liquid is observed for prolonged periods to assess how many millimeters of water it can withstand before it starts soaking through.

Remember: when buying outdoor clothes, it’s important to double-check if it’s classified as waterproof, water-resistant, or water-repellent because clothes under each category have different qualities and purposes.

An article of clothing needs to have a rating of at least 1,500mm to be considered “Waterproof”

Types of Waterproof Jackets

You may come across various types of waterproof jackets, two layer, three layer, 3 in 1, and others. We are going to break down each type for you.

Membrane/Laminate Jackets (2 layer, and 3 layer jackets)

Membrane jackets are more expensive, more durable, and often more breathable. Many manufacturers will partner with membrane companies to develop a waterproof and breathable membrane that will obtain a certain waterproof rating, and breathability rating. Some examples of materials are GORE-TEX, Dermazax, Polartec, and hundreds of others that you may have heard off. You’ll see some of the most famous, like GORE-TEX partnered with tons of jacket brands.

This outer laminate layer (like GORE-TEX) is combined with an inner membrane for breathability, comfort, and waterproofing. This can be done in a 2 or 3 layer construction. These layers of materials have pores that will help remove moisture from your skin, while preventing water from the outside coming in. For this reason, these jackets are used in more extreme sports frequently.

These types of jackets in themselves will vary greatly in effectiveness, cost, breathability and waterproof ratings.

Two Layer Waterproof Jackets

Two layer jackets are the most common, and they combine the outer laminate layer with an inner lining to help with moisture wicking, protects the outer layer, and keeps the jacket waterproof for longer.

Three Layer Waterproof Jackets

Protected Seams for Longevity

Protected Seams for Longevity

Three layer jackets are the most durable, most versatile, most waterproof, and often most expensive option. With an external waterproof layer, an internal waterproof layer, and a breathable membrane, these jackets are great at breathability and waterproofing.

Key Features of Membrane Jackets

  • Best for activewear – like hiking, climbing, biking, skyrunning, and mountain sports
  • Can be extremely breathable, or not breathable at all
  • These are the most durable jackets. (3 layer jackets are the most durable)
  • Pocket design is such that it works best for sports
  • Adjustable hood for different situations
  • Generally have more fitting options for better activewear performance.

You should check out our review of the Cortazu 3 Layer Jacket.

Waterproof Coating Jackets

Waterproof coated jackets can be jackets of nearly all kinds that have a waterproofing coating applied to them. This coating generally can keep a jacket water resistant for some time, but eventually will wear off and will need to be re-applied.

Key Features of Coated Jackets

  • Great for everyday “around town” use.
  • Generally less expensive then membrane jackets
  • Limited breathability due to coatings
  • Generally less durable and need to be recoated to keep waterproofing abilities at top levels

Breathability

Just remember that breathability matters a lot if you are going to be active in your jacket. If you are running, hiking, or moving a lot, your body will sweat. When your body sweats, and your jacket isn’t breathable, you are going to get wet on the inside. When looking for jackets, try to look for breathability, and even test out the breathability yourself. Some multi-layer jackets will even have zipper systems to increase airflow to make the jacket more breathable.

Don’t Throw Away Outgrown Waterproof Clothes!

You’ll find others selling waterproof clothing online for a quick buck. Brand-new waterproof clothing can be expensive, so many people may be interested in getting used ones for a lower price. Consider that overtime, clothing will lose its effectiveness as seems get damaged, waterproof layers, or coatings get damaged, or rips occur. With this being said, seems can be repaired, and if you take the time to repair seems, you could potentially acquire a used expensive jacket for minimal cost, and with a little effort, bring it back to tip top shape.

You may also be able to spray waterproofing material on jackets to get some additional protection and life out of a jacket.

Waterproof Clothing Ratings and Activity Guide

A durable, waterproof jacket is considered an essential among most outdoor enthusiasts. So what level of waterproofness should you pick? It all depends on the environments and activities that one frequents.

Rating Resistance Weather
 0 – 1,500mm Water resistant / Snowproof Very light  rain (around town)
 1,500mm – 5,000mm Waterproof Light to average rain (smaller hikes, bike rides, etc)
 5,000mm Very Waterproof Moderate to heavy rain (serious hiking and weather conditions)
 10,000mm + Highly Waterproof Heavy rain (suitable for heavy rains and serious outdoor activities – even in colder climates)

For people who enjoy the challenge of hiking under extreme weather conditions, they need to come fully geared with the best equipment that can withstand almost anything. Always remember to take everything into account when preparing for a trip in harsher weather.

If you are reading this article, you likely are in the market for a rain jacket. Definitely check out the following:

Amazon | REI | Eastern Mountain Sports | Backcountry

Caring for Your Waterproof Clothes

Sadly, the waterproof feature of any item of clothing doesn’t last forever. Fabrics are treated with what’s called a durable water repellent (DWR). This substance is often sprayed on a garment to give it water-resisting properties, causing water to form into beads and roll off instead of getting absorbed. After some time, the original DWR can wear off and require reapplying.

Lastly, garments with waterproofing qualities require maintenance to retain their effectiveness. Once dirt and grime start to build up on the surface of your clothes, cleaning them properly is very important because any foreign material stuck to the fabric can negatively affect its water-resisting capabilities.

With a little bit of care and maintenance, these useful clothes can last a long time and keep their wearer dry and comfortable.

Max DesMarais
Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the creator of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and sharing his experiences. Max is a published author for various outdoor websites, and digital marketing websites. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about

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