When it comes to choosing outerwear, we like to keep things pretty simple. It's certainly easy to get lost in tech terms and find yourself confused over what means what, and what's right for you, but in reality, it's really very easy. Picking out the perfect jacket and pants combo is 70% based on aesthetics, 30% based on tech. And tech wise, it's as simple as it gets! We're talking waterproofing and breathability. If you're shopping in store, you can generally find these details on either the tag, or inside the neckline of the jacket. When shopping online, we will always do our best to include these details in the description of the product. In either case, these numbers are likely to be described in one of three ways which may look something like this (based on 10,000mm waterproofing and 10,000k breathability):
- 10,000mm / 10,000g
- 10,000/ 10,000
In all three examples, the first number will represent the waterproof rating, while the second number will represent breathability.
But how is waterproofing and breathability measured?
All outerwear material is rated making it easy to figure out which products are more waterproof and breathable than others. Traditionally material like oilskin and rubber have been used for waterproofing however these items do not breath and can become quite hot. Outwear technology has evolved to a point where your jacket and pants keep you dry without the issue of overheating. This is achieved by using material that has tiny holes too small to allow water molecules past but large enough to let water vapor through. Some material does this much better than others and a rating system has been created to help customers figure out just how waterproof and breathable their outerwear is.
Waterproofing is measured by the amount of water in millimeters, that can be suspended above the fabric before it seeps through. This is usually done using a narrow cylindrical tube. Material that is considered to be waterproof must have a rating of at least 1,000mm. The majority of outerwear sold for Australian conditions sits at about 10,000mm. To put it into perspective the best non-gore-tex material goes up to about 20,000mm. While Gore-Tex does not carry a specific rating, many companies claim it sits anywhere between 25,000mm to 40,000mm. Most recently, DC have come out with a new technology called Sympatex which ranges between 30,000-45,000mm. At this stage, DC have produced only a limited product range which you can view here, however with such a positive consumer response, we hope to see more of this tech soon!
While 5,000mm is great for the 'once a year' type rider, it is worth noting that if you plan on sitting in the snow a lot, you may find yourself with wet pants by the end of the day! We suggest a standard base of 8,000-10,000mm, just to be sure. Here in Australia, we are lucky enough to experience spring riding conditions more often than most other countries of the world. While this is one of the reasons we love riding in Australia, it does come with one draw back. Warm days mean wet snow. For this reason, we always suggest aiming for at least 15,000mm waterproofing if you're planning on riding often.
Unfortunately there is no universal base of measurement and the size of the cylindrical tube and temperature during the test can vary. This means 10,000mm waterproof rating on one company's jacket can vary from another company. Often you can tell the difference when you feel the actual fabric. Thick sturdy fabric is going to be more waterproof than thin fabric that feels like paper even when they are both 10,000mm rated. If waterproofing is a big concern for you make sure you always go as high as possible.
Most snow fabric is coated with a waterproof spray that can wear off over time. The waterproofing can be reapplied and we usually recommend doing this at the beginning of every season. We also reccomend washing your outerwear with specific outerwear detergent. Outerwear fabric has tiny microscopic fibers that stick up and help water to bead and roll off. When the jacket gets dirty these fibers get pushed down and aren't as effective. If you don't use the correct type of detergent then the fibers can get damaged or rip off.
Breathability is measured by the rate at which water vapor passes through a square meter of fabric over a 24 hour period. This is most often measured in grams. Like waterproof ratings, breathable material starts at 1,000g and the highest rated material goes up to 40,000g. Much like Waterproof ratings the breathability rating is not universal. Thankfully most of the outerwear we carry has ventilation features so even if the outerwear isn't as breathable you can still easily cool down by zipping open a vent or opening your jacket.
Yes, we did say we there were only TWO things to consider, but we get a lot of questions about warmth and insulation, so it's certainly worth mentioning. To keep it simple, the more insulation a jacket has, the warmer it will be. If you are shopping in store, this can be determined entirely by the look and feel of the jacket. Is the jacket thick and heavy? Then it's going to be warmer than a shell. Makes sense. If you're shopping online, make sure to read the description or give us a call as we'd be more than happy to clear this up for you.
With our weather in Australia running much warmer than the Northern Hemisphere, we often suggest a thinner jacket with room to layer. This is ideal for those who don't feel the cold as much, as you are able to pick and choose your level of warmth, rather than being tied down to a super warm jacket on a super warm day. If you really feel the cold, you may want to choose something with added warmth already built in.
Make sense?! If not, we're here to help! Feel free to give us a call on (03) 9470 1822, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org