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Rain Jacket vs Puffer Jacket

Waterfall and person in rain jacket.

It’s a brisk day in January and there are big gray clouds looming overhead. The forecasters say they expect temperatures to tumble and there’s a chance of rain transitioning into a wintry mix. So, what do you grab to stay warm and dry?

Are you reaching into your closet for a rain jacket or a puffer jacket? How do you decide?

What is a Rain Jacket?

A rain jacket is supposed to protect you from water. Some rain jackets are waterproof while others are water-resistant. There are no clothing industry standards or ratings that tell you how much any single jacket keeps out the rain or the snow or the wintry mix.

But rain jackets that are marketed as waterproof are supposed to prevent even heavy downpours from coming through the fabric and making contact with your skin. A water-resistant jacket generally stands up to light rain that doesn’t last for very long. But water-resistant jackets won’t keep you completely dry as the precipitation keeps falling and gets harder all the time.

What is a Breathable Rain Jacket?

Rain jackets crafted from breathable waterproof fabric keep sweat from getting trapped inside the jacket. Breathable rain jackets are the best choice for athletes who may be out in the rain or snow working up a sweat. If the fabric doesn’t breathe, sweat can build up on the skin, creating a type of internal sauna.

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A nonbreathable rain jacket doesn’t control the flow of perspiration.

What Makes Fabric Waterproof?

Waterproof textile fabric.

Manufacturers add a membrane to fabrics so that they repel or resist water. Engineered chemicals that are laminated to the fabric generally provide better performance and breathability than those that are coated onto the fabric. On top of the laminate or coating, most rain jackets also have a layer of durable water repellant, or DWR, added to them.

Rain jacket manufacturers sandwich layers of fabric and membranes and coatings for performance.

What are the Other Construction Details of Rain Jackets?

It’s not enough just to keep rain from getting through the front or back of the rain jacket. Designers also make sure that the seams of rain jackets are taped and reinforced and fully sealed to keep water from getting inside. Zippers on rain jackets need either a rubberized coating or a seam flap to keep water from getting in through the teeth.

What About Hoods?

Shot of an adorable little boy playing outdoors.

Most rain jackets have hoods to keep faces and hair from getting wet. Hoods often come with features that allow the wearer to adjust the opening and tighten them around the neck. Some hoods are detachable with zippers or snaps and sometimes hoods can be rolled into the collar when they aren’t needed.

Do Rain Jackets Keep You Warm?

Because precipitation falls in every season, some rain jackets keep you warmer than others. Many rain jackets designed for spring have barely-there linings to keep you from overheating. Other rain jackets may have flannel or fleece linings that provide an extra layer of protection from the cold.

What is a Puffer Jacket?

Happy woman in winter puffer jacket.

A puffer jacket has filler material between its fabric layers that is designed to keep the wearer warm. Outdoorsman Eddie Bauer invented the first puffer jacket in 1936 by putting down feathers between quilted fabric to keep him warm while he was fishing.

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Are all Puffer Jackets Filled with Feathers?

Today’s puffer jackets can be filled with down or with synthetic fabric fillers.  Down puffer jackets are made from the feathers of ducks, geese, or other birds. Down is lightweight and has something called loft, which traps air in the space between the feathers and promotes warmth.

When it gets wet, down loses its loft and collapses into a thin layer that doesn’t keep the wearer as warm. Synthetic fill for puffer jackets is lightweight but it doesn’t compress as well as down when it’s folded into a backpack or a suitcase. Synthetics stand up better to rain and snow because they stay puffy even in wet conditions.

Puffer jackets are constructed with baffling, which is stitching that is designed to keep the filling lofted and in the proper spot.

What Fabric is on the Outside of Puffer Jackets?

Manufacturers have many fabric choices for constructing the outer shell of puffer jackets. Many are made from nylon, which is a strong and thick fabric. Sometimes puffer jackets are made from polyester which is more breathable than nylon but isn’t as water-resistant.

Other puffer jacket exteriors are created from a polyester and nylon blend that creates a mix of strength and breathability.

Are Puffer Jackets Waterproof?

A beautiful woman wearing a puffer jacket on a snowy background.

The primary goal of a puffer jacket is warmth, not water resistance. But if the jacket is made with a synthetic outer layer, it can provide protection from precipitation. Puffer jackets made from fleece do not provide protection from rain and snow.

Do Puffer Jackets Have Hoods?

Person wearing orange puffer jacket standing on snow covered ground.

Puffer jackets are made with and without hoods. Many people prefer hoodless puffer jackets when they are involved in outdoor activities like hiking or are just wearing them around town to be fashionable. In colder conditions, a hood not only helps keep heat from escaping through the head, it helps to insulate the neck as well.

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Are Puffer Jackets Expensive?

There are wide ranges of prices for both puffer jackets and rain jackets and it usually all comes down to the quality of the materials. Fashionable puffer jackets in designer colors with light filling can be found in discount stores for less than $40. But puffer jackets from famous outdoor retailers made of nylon with a DWR finish and filled with traceable down that ensures the geese were not force-fed or live-plucked, can run $900 or more.

Other more expensive features include adjustable openings in the cuffs and along the hem, as well as mesh linings for the pockets that allow melting snow to drain.

Are Rain Jackets Expensive?

Simple, lightweight rain jackets made of polyester can be purchased at discount stores for $25 or more. Outdoor retailers sell basic rain jackets for $100. But rain jackets made with more premium fabrics and additional layers with breathability options like underarm zippers retail in the $300 range.

Should You Choose a Rain Jacket or a Puffer Jacket?

A puffer jacket with the right features is a more functional piece of outerwear than a rain jacket. While rain jackets offer everything from minimal water resistance to full-on waterproofing, they are only useful in very moderate temperatures like late Spring and early Fall days. A puffer jacket made with synthetic fabric and a light amount of fill can protect you from the rain or snow as well as the chill.

A puffer jacket also takes you from the crisp days of early Fall through the winter and into the spring. If you plan to wear it when it’s raining, look for features like reinforced seams to help keep you dry.