Deciphering Waterproof Jacket Labels

3 March 2013

So you go into a shop with forty-eleven jackets hanging up. Your first instinct is: the moroccan blue with the burnt sienna cuffs looks amazing I’ll have that one, but you can’t. Not in a specialist outdoor clothing shop. It’s not what it looks like – it’s what it does. That’s right isn’t it? So you start reading all the labels and you’re confronted with something like this:

‘158g/m² 3 Layer 70D Nylon
Laminated to oleophobic, air permeable hydrophobic ePTFE and Nylon Tricot’


You move on to the next jacket.

‘83g/m² 2.5 layer 40D 100% Nylon with microporous coating’


The salesman is coming and he’s going to be saying the same things, suddenly you feel oleophobic, whatever that means - this is worse than when you last took the car in the garage.
Breathe in through the nose and think of bonsai trees and wind chimes. There’s no need to panic here. If you’re in the waterproof jacket section there are really only two types of jacket you need to know about. We’ll disregard the non-breathable thick plastic ones because they’ll be in the ‘fishing’ section. What you have in front of your is either a jacket with a membrane (or laminate) or a jacket with a coating.

Forget about the 158 or 83g/m² figures because that’s far too much information and not even the sales guy is going to remember that. 70D Nylon means 70 Denier Nylon. Denier is a measure of the density of the fibres. 70 denier is thicker than 40 denier - women, or men who wear their girlfriend’s tights when she’s not in, will already know this, since tights have always been measured in deniers. Jackets can range between 15D (very thin) and 450D (you’re wearing your house). In a nut shell, all this is telling you is the first jacket is a little bit thicker than the second jacket.
The first jacket is 3-layer which means it’s got three layers (I’m good at this). There is an outer layer, a membrane layer, could be Gore-Tex, eVent or a manufacturer’s variant, and a liner layer. These jackets are usually the most waterproof, most breathable and most expensive. If someone says they’ve got a Gore-Tex jacket it’s a 3 layer jacket.

The second jacket is 2.5 layer, it’s really 1.5 layers with a waterproof coating, although the waterproof coating could be replaced with a laminate. The half layer is the very thin inner liner. If you see the words Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish, or, more obvious, coating, then you know the jacket has been treated with a waterproof finish rather than have a separate waterproof membrane.

In general both these jackets are amazingly waterproof, the membrane jackets win on breathability and durability.

When the salesman approaches hit him with this: ‘My good man, is the ePTFE membrane on this jacket oleophobic because my skin is as greasy as a burger van kebab?’

Other clever words:

Oleophobic – lacking affinity for oils
Hydrophobic – lacking affinity for water
ePTFE - expanded polytetrafluoroethylene, what Gore-Tex and eVent are made of.
Microporous – a material containing pores with diameter less than 2 nanometres, only allows gases to go through nothing bigger.
Hydrostatic head – measure of waterproofness. According to the Ministry of Defence 800mm of hydrostatic head is classified as waterproof. We’ll talk about this some other time.

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

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