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Are Parkas Waterproof? Water Resistant?

Beautiful woman wearing a faux fur parka.

It is easy to think our clothing has a superpower when we see words like waterproof and water-resistant, but the two terms are not interchangeable, even if some brands use these terms that way. For parkas, clothing designed for inclement weather, we want to see some form of water resistance, and they usually are. Otherwise, what is the point of purchasing the coat?

The terms on these garments do not always mean that clothing will be able to repel any kind of moisture that finds its way onto the outer shell. When you are buying a parka, you want to feel protected from the elements.

Defining the Parka

The parka is a long and insulated coat initially developed by the Inuits for warmth in extreme weather. The fur lining of the hood on the parka was designed to frame the face to keep it from being impacted by inclement weather. The function of the parka is to protect from cold, wind, and precipitation.

You want it to be water-resistant or water repellant. This means that, ideally, the coat should be made of waterproof material to ensure that the coat’s purpose is met. The original parka was made by the Inuits with sealskin, a skin that would help the Inuits repeal weather and withstand a harsh Arctic climate.

By the Second World War, in London, outwear was developed for the Royal Air Force to create a coat that was uniform for the troops, warm, and waterproof. The United States followed suit. For America, the first parka was the snorkel parka, which was worn by flight crews for the icy conditions of Korea.

Within 10 years, London fashion trends will have the streets filled with people wearing fur-lined hooded parkas to stay warm and dry. While seal skin is no longer used, manufacturers do work hard to bring the most waterproof conditions onto these coats. However, when you are shopping for a parka, understanding the difference between waterproof and water-resistant will help.

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Defining Water Resistant

Woman in red parka jacket during winter.

Water-resistant is the lowest level of waterproofing or water protection for any garment. In this form of garment protection, clothing is coated with a chemical substance that will repel or resist water. This is not the same kind of water resistance that you are going to see with technology but is a spray or applied coating that goes on the garment.

For water-resistant clothing, the goal is for water or moisture of any kind to be bounced off, repelled, or evaporated. The garment is not meant to be submersed in water, and can not withstand large amounts of water. The garment may not be ruined if this happens, but it is not going to be completely waterproof.

So, wearing something that is water-resistant in light rain will be helpful. Even snow is likely to be resisted to some extent with a water-resistant parka. But, staying dry in a blizzard or downpour with something that is only water-resistant won’t be possible.

Defining Waterproof

A happy girl in a pink parka in the winter season.

Waterproofing is a stronger form of water protection for garments. A waterproofed garment is one that can stand up to weather and water or precipitation. Most people, particularly those in harsh and seasonal climates will want a parka that is waterproofed.

There are a number of ways that a garment manufacturer will create a waterproofed garment. One way is by using waterproofed fabric, such as a spandex and cotton blend that will withstand water. Having a waterproofed fabric on the outer shell of the fabric works, and that fabric is often topped with a coating that is laminate or other such fabric.

Although waterproofing and water-resistant are not the same, waterproofing is attained when a certain level of water resistance is achieved. This can be measured. Waterproof ratings are measured in millimeters, according to the level of water resistance that is provided.

The qualities checked are the levels of resistance provided, including the level of resistance to moisture in millimeters, what that level can withstand in terms of the weight of the precipitation, and what level of pressure the weather provides. Fabric waterproof ratings:

  • 0 – 5,000 mm: Some moisture resistance, can withstand light precipitation without pressure
  • 6,000 to 10,000 mm: Both rain and waterproof and can withstand light pressure
  • 11,000 to 15,000 mm: Considered rain and waterproof and can resist moderate rain and average snow with light pressure
  • 16,000 to 20,000 mm: Considered rain and waterproof, and can withstand some pressure of heavy rain and wet snow
  • 20,000 mm: Considered rain and waterproof under heavy precipitation with high pressure
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Defining Waterproof Breathable Parkas

Young man wearing a red parka and acting surprised.

You may see the term “waterproof-breathable” on parkas and think this is just a marketing term or gimmick to get you to buy the coat. It is not. This is a term that refers to a lower level of waterproofing or water resistance.

The goal here is to keep moisture and water out. Many people think that all a manufacturer has to do is put some polyurethane on a coat and it will be fine. That is true when it comes to waterproofing.

However, a person still needs to go inside the coat, and be able to breathe and function as normal. The minute you were to exert even a little bit of energy here, wearing plastic, you will have a bigger problem than getting wet. Cue the waterproof-breathable parkas.

These combine waterproofing with breathable technology that will help to keep you dry while wearing something breathable. You may have heard of the fabric called Gore-Tex, which is an example of breathable technology built into waterproofed fabrics. This is not the most affordable fabric, but it does the job.

When you are looking for something truly waterproof, you are going to spend more. The higher your level of waterproofing, the higher the price of the parka.

Defining Durable Water Repellant (DWR) Coatings

A discussion on whether or not a parka is waterproof or water-resistant is not complete without a discussion on Durable Water Repellant coatings, also known as DWR coatings. These are coatings that will help with water resistance on any piece of clothing. This coating also helps the parka to function within its breathability constraints.

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The thing with this coating is that it can wear out. DWR coating is available online and in many department stores that you can apply on your own. As your parka becomes used and washed over time, the DWR coating is going to wear off.

You will notice that it begins to wear off on the most worn areas of your coat, such as the cuffs, the waist, and on the areas of the coat that experience the most wear and tear. You don’t want to avoid washing the jacket to lose this coating, as it can still wear off under inclement weather. It can also wear off when dirt or body oil accumulates on the coat, or if you brush up against something.

Even brushing dirt off can add wear and tear to a garment, and any DWR that it is coated with. DWR can be reapplied by you with a spray-on chemical. You can also buy the product as an additive to your wash, and wash the coat in DWR to ensure a more thorough waterproofing.

After you have washed it, test the coat by spraying or dropping some water on the coat. If the moisture beads up and rolls away, you have applied enough DWR. You can also try to shake the garment to see what happens with the water.

Again, you are looking to see the water just fall off. The last important step in applying DWR is applying heat, and that will be managed through the drying stage. If the fabric on your coat can withstand drying, you can fluff the parka on a low setting in the dryer to seal in the DWR.

Another method of applying heat to seal DWR is by ironing the parka yourself. If you are using an iron to apply DWR to your parka, use a towel in between the iron and the coat to protect the fabric while still applying heat.