Interpreting the language of outdoor retail
When it comes to buying outdoor gear for Adventure Treks (or even for a personal trip), there’s nothing more daunting than trying to decipher every obscure label, material, fabric, and technology that comes with buying even the simplest outdoor item these days.
But Adventure Treks is here to help! This spring, we’re launching our Gear Series: Tips for Buying Outdoor Gear. We’ll discuss some of the materials, technologies, labels, and other features commonly found on outdoor equipment, and attempt to clarify their meaning, use, and how they’re helpful on an AT trip.
Waterproof rain gear
Waterproof rain gear is an essential item on any outdoors packing list; no matter the weather, it’s an indispensable piece of your personal gear kit. With that said, it can be confusing to know if you’re purchasing the right item. “The list says rain coat; this one looks good, but it says it’s a hard shell, not a rain jacket. Will that work? Oh, it’s GoreTex; do I need GoreTex? Wait, what is GoreTex?”
To make your shopping easier, we’ve included some helpful terminology below with advice on choosing the right rain jacket and rain pants.
(Note that while we mostly talk about rain jackets, the following applies almost identically to rain pants.)
Rain gear glossary
Waterproof: An item that’s truly waterproof means it’s made from PVC vinyl or fabric that’s treated with a rubberized coating, creating an impermeable layer that water can’t get through. While these products are indeed waterproof, they’re heavy, bulky, and don’t” breathe” for hiking or other activities (the classic yellow fisherman’s coat comes to mind).
Because we’re so active in the outdoors at Adventure Treks, we need something that’s both waterproof and breathable (backpacking in a rubber coat would cause a swampy, sweaty mess).
Bottom line: Don’t buy this kind of jacket or pants for an AT trip.
Waterproof-breathable: The magic phrase! This describes technology built into a garment that prevents water from seeping through the fabric on the outside, while allowing water vapor from your body (i.e., sweat) to escape. Essentially, the “pores” in waterproof-breathable materials are small enough to keep water out, while still allowing vapor to escape. This means you can hike in this kind of jacket and not worry about sweating or getting that clammy feeling—while being protected from the elements.
Many companies have proprietary waterproof-breathable technologies such as Polartec’s Power Shield, Marmot’s PreCip, Patagonia’s H2No, or The North Face’s DryVent— but they’re all just different names for the same thing.
Bottom line: A waterproof-breathable jacket and pants are a MUST for any Adventure Treks trip—or if you live in a humid, rainy climate where you’ll spend a lot of time moving around outside.
Hard shell vs. soft shell: Hard shell simply refers to a waterproof-breathable fabric that has no insulation (like a heavier ski jacket). It doesn’t keep you warm and dry, just dry. We like to layer fleece jackets or comfortable baselayers under a rain jacket to keep warm.
A soft shell is a pliable fabric made from woven synthetic fibers that is, well, soft and feels more like a sweatshirt than a rain jacket. While not waterproof, these fabrics are often treated with DWR (see below) to provide some protection. While they provide some insulation and protection from the wind, they’re not acceptable substitutes for rain protection.
Bottom line: Your Adventure Treks rain jacket should be a hard shell jacket.
DWR (durable water repellent): This is a treatment applied to a fabric to create a hydrophobic (“water-fearing”) surface. This is what causes water to “bead up” on the surface and roll off instead of soaking in. However, DWR does not mean it is waterproof!
Bottom line: DWR does not equal waterproof-breathable; make sure you purchase waterproof-breathable.
GoreTex: Similar to Kleenex or Velcro, GoreTex is a brand name commonly used as a “catch-all” for waterproof-breathable technology. GoreTex is widely considered to make the most effective waterproof-breathable membrane, and therefore can be commonly found on many different brand-name clothing. GoreTex is durable and reliable; if you plan to spend many hours being active outdoors, then it makes sense to spring for GoreTex.
Denier: This is a term that describes how thick a fabric is, and it often appears in a product description as a number followed by a “D” (e.g. 30D). The lower the number, the thinner and lighter the fabric. 10D is very light (think pantyhose); 300D is very thick (think heavy canvas). Most rain jackets are somewhere in the 30–50D range.
Rain gear styles
- 2-layer shell: This refers to rain gear that comprises the “face” (outer) fabric and the waterproof-breathable membrane on the inside. These two layers are laminated together or sprayed on as a coating.
- 2.5-layer shell: This is the similar to the 2-layer; these products are usually more affordable, but they are slightly less durable. Plus, people often report feeling a little clammy or moist on the inside.
- 3-layer shell: The same first two layers are laminated together (“face” fabric and inner waterproof-breathable membrane), but they have an additional durable layer laminated on the inside of the jacket. This “fabric-membrane-fabric” sandwich creates a highly durable, 3-layer shell that feels like a single piece of fabric. This is often the most expensive option because of the extra material and higher quality fabric; it also has a more advanced look and design.
Suggested rain jackets
- 2-layer hard shell: Marmot PreCip Jacket (men’s and women’s)
- 2.5-layer hard shell: Outdoor Research Apollo Jacket (men’s and women’s)
- 2-layer hard shell with GoreTex (my personal favorite and in my opinion the absolute best jacket for the money): Marmot Minimalist Jacket (men’s and women’s)
- 3-layer hard shell without GoreTex: Patagonia Torrentshell (men’s and women’s)
- Other recommended brands: REI Co-op, Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face
Our rain gear takeaways
So, we just threw a lot of technical terms out there. What does it all come down to? For an AT trip, pick a waterproof-breathable hard shell that keeps you warm and dry. Rain jackets must have a hood and should fit comfortably over fleece and baselayers. Just like the jacket, the rain pants need to be a waterproof-breathable shell that fit over your hiking, fleece, or baselayer bottoms. You might consider full side-zippers to get in and out of them more easily.