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Rain Jacket vs Waterproof Jacket – Differences? Similarities?

Man wearing an orange rain jacket and sunglasses while trekking.

During storms or the rainy seasons, the need for dependable gear for protection against rain is of great importance. A rain jacket or a waterproof jacket is important rainwear needed during this time.

Rain jackets, and waterproof jackets imply the degree to which rain is prevented from rushing inside the body. A rain jacket may have an extra coating that improves its performance in waterproof qualities.

Rain Jacket

The rain jacket material is a fabric layer between the skin and the rain, preventing water from reaching your body. It is partially water-resistant. Several jackets list water resistance as a feature.

Rain jacket material on the outside is made of reliable water-resistant material, and not material like cotton. With extended exposure to rain, however, you will get wet, as the intensity of the downpour increases.

Waterproof Jacket

A man in waterproof jacket in the rain.

A waterproof jacket is ideal in a heavy downpour as it will withstand an excess pour of rain. Waterproof jackets are made of a variety of outward-facing fabrics, each possessing a different level of waterproof protection. The fabrics are aligned in layered constructions.

A jacket is considered waterproof only if it achieves a certain level of resistance against water. Another quality of a waterproof jacket is breathability. If keeping the rain out is the only goal of a waterproof jacket, then a plastic bag serves the purpose also.

However, without breathability, sweat will be all over the skin. Therefore, it is the merging of waterproof and breathability standards that makes the jacket truly waterproof. It costs more than a rain jacket, as the drier the skin, the more you will have to spend.

How Are They Different?

In a rain jacket, although you will be fine in a drizzle, in a heavy downpour you need shelter. That’s not the case with a waterproof jacket, because it truly holds water outside from coming in contact with your skin.

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Young man hiking in rain with waterproof jacket.

Rain jacket fabric prevents rainwater, only for some time, not indefinitely. A waterproof jacket keeps rainwater out for long periods. The major difference is that waterproof material is tightly sealed, and breathable.

Presence or Lack of Waterproof Membranes

The presence of a waterproof membrane, for example, Gore-Tex, is one distinguishing feature between a rain jacket and a waterproof jacket. The membrane prevents all water from coming in and getting in contact with the skin. A rain jacket doesn’t feature a waterproof membrane but is applied with water-repellent material, for example, Durable Water Repellent.

Waterproof jackets, to be more effective, will also feature water-repellent material.

Materials for a Waterproof Jacket

A combination of breathability and waterproof standards is what makes a truly waterproof jacket.

Polyethylene

It explicitly keeps the body dry. Be it in a heavy downpour, or while submerged in waist-high water. The seams are heated to completely seal together.

This ensures there will be no water getting in.

Gore-Tex

A membrane featuring billions of pores in one square inch. Every pore is 20,000 times smaller than a droplet of water. This makes it harder for water to come inside the jacket.

Gore-Tex is also breathable—a big plus.

Rain Jacket Materials

Nylon

A tightly woven nylon is water-resistant, thus a good material for a rain jacket. The material can be applied with Durable Water Repellent to enhance water-resistance quality.

Polyester

It resembles nylon in that, when tightly woven, it is water-resistant. Polyester is breathable, allowing the flow of air, which keeps the body cooler. Further to being water-repellent, it may need to be treated with a water-repellent.

Comparing Performance

Protection in Adverse Weather Conditions

A waterproof jacket is a winner for protecting yourself in adverse weather conditions. This is attributed to a three-layer build, comprehensive cove from head to hip, and thick fabric. You experience an extra layer of protection from moisture-prone areas like the lower back and the hood.

Rain jackets, on the other hand, are thinner, provide less coverage, and are less water-resistant overall. You will feel moisture quickly, especially in a heavy downpour. Its less layered build provides weak separation between the body and its water-resilient membrane.

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Weight and Packability

Rain jackets’ streamlined designs with thinner and fewer features make them a winner in weight and packability. It packs in smaller sizes and generally weighs less. On the other hand, a waterproof jacket carries more weight and packs in bigger sizes.

Cost

Alpha Camp Men’s Waterproof Breathable Rain Jacket with Hood Outdoor Lightweight Hiking Camping Jacket Trench Coat

In purchasing a rain jacket, you save money but lose out on features, protection, and durability. Waterproof jackets cost higher but are feature-rich, including being truly water-repellant and breathable. Rain jackets are the ideal choice for those looking for the most affordable protection.

Durability

Waterproof jackets are highly durable in comparison to rain jackets. Thanks to thicker fabrics and layers well designed to provide full water-repellant and breathability standards. You can wear it day in and day out under extreme weather conditions like storms, and it will still not be dented.

A rain jacket consists of a thin shell that is likely to scratch under heavy use and in harsh weather conditions like storms. Its exposed membrane is prone to wear, dirt, and oils and thus is more likely to degrade quickly.

Breathability

A waterproof jacket is the more breathable, thanks to the three-layer build and membrane type. The layers inbuilt promote the passing away of body moisture, providing enough room for airflow. Furthermore, the fully waterproof membrane enhances breathability, promoting drier skin.

However, some waterproof jackets may focus more on protection and durability at the expense of breathability.

Comfort

Men's Lightweight Waterproof Hooded Jacket Outdoor Windproof Raincoat Travel Coat Detachable Full-Zip Soft Jackets (Khaki,X-Large)

The winner in comfort is dependent on several factors. The three-layered build is one factor that promotes comfort. Other factors for comfort include a soft and lightweight fabric. So, both a rain jacket and a waterproof jacket can be comfortable depending on these factors.

Breathability Mechanism

The breathability mechanism is the game-changer in the rain and waterproof jackets. You don’t want to have a jacket sauna. The key to not becoming a victim is the moisture vapor transfer mechanism.

Enabled by warm, moist air on the inside escaping to a colder, relatively drier air on the outside. The efficiency of the process is a determinant of how dry our skin feels. Improving how the process works have been the focus of manufacturers to date.

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This implies the Gore-Tex membrane for breathability is not your only option. Improvements in technology for breathability mean there are several options available that make breathability much better than its predecessors. Some manufacturers are promoting a low-level air permeability phenomenon in the name of classic breathability.

It provides faster breathability with a more direct air exchange that inputs out warm air. Jackets with classic breathability call for a warmer insulating layer than a conventional waterproof jacket.

Breathable Technologies

The key component of a rain and waterproof jacket is the fabric coating or membrane. It is the ideal component that blocks rain while allowing the escape of sweat vapor. Because of the delicacy of the membrane, it is attached with a protective fabric, resulting in a laminate, or coating, depending on the material used.

Laminate Versus Coatings

Think of a laminate as wallpaper glued to a wall, and the coating as paint spread on a wall. A laminate is made of polyurethane, polyester, or expanded polytetrafluoroethylene membrane. A coating consists of several formulations of polyurethane.

Durable Water Repellent (DWR)

Rain and waterproof jackets feature an additional DWR, which is water repellent, but not entirely water-resistant. The maintenance of the DWR is critical to ensuring its continued performance is upheld. When it wears off, a jacket’s fabric starts to let in wetness.

Although the underlying membrane will still work, keeping water out, the surface fabric will soak, slowing down the undertaking of sweat vapor to the outside.

Fabric Layers

The membrane is fabricated into additional layers for more protection. The outside layer protects against abrasion and rainfall. Inner layers protect the skin against oils and wear and tear.

The layers are namely 2-layer, 2.5-layer, and 3-layer compositions. The latter is the most robust with the membrane in between a liner and a rugged face fabric. Before settling on the kind of jacket to wear, ask yourself questions like the type of weather you will encounter, and the features needed for your comfort.

Is durability your priority, or is weight your concern?

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