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Are Rain Jackets Breathable?

Woman in red rain jacket enjoying spring time rain shower.

Rain jackets aren’t always breathable, but jackets made from the right materials can let air in while keeping the rain out. Whether you choose a coat made from a water-resistant material like laminated cotton or something that’s completely waterproof, like polyurethane laminate, you can find a breathable jacket that provides all the protection you need. If a raincoat isn’t breathable, it could cause you to become sweaty or overheated whenever you have it on.

Breathable materials can keep you comfortable while keeping the fabric of the jacket fresh. If you’re searching for a high-quality rain jacket that will let your skin breathe, it’s important to know what to look for.

What Are Raincoats Made Of?

Row of yellow raincoats.

Most rain jackets are made from a combination of materials. The interior of the coat is typically lined with a material like cotton or polyester, while the exterior is made from a water-resistant or waterproof material. “The exterior of [some] jackets will be made of a polyester material and then treated with a polyurethane or PVC coating to make the garment 100% waterproof,” says Donald Kubly of AWDirect.

“Liners are typically made of poly-cotton mesh or half-poly cotton mesh.” Some of the most popular materials for raincoats include:

Polyester

As mentioned above, this durable artificial material isn’t waterproof unless it’s treated.

Nylon

Nylon isn’t very breathable, but it’s an inexpensive material used for many raincoats.

Laminated Cotton

This fabric provides the breathability of cotton, but the lamination gives it protection from the elements.

Microfiber

This material is usually made from polyester and has some sort of waterproof coating.

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Polyurethane Laminate

Typically made from a combination of cotton and polyester, this material is fully waterproof and is known for its breathability.

Gore-Tex

This fabric is windproof, waterproof, and highly breathable. It’s a popular choice for activewear.

Pertex

While this lightweight, moisture-wicking fabric isn’t naturally waterproof, it can keep rain out with a waterproof coating.

What Makes a Rain Jacket Breathable?

Jogging girl with earbuds and rain jacket.

Usually, materials are considered to be breathable when they allow water vapor to pass through while keeping water from entering. The breathability of a rain jacket is calculated by measuring the amount of water vapor that enters the fabric during a pre-specified period of time. This is known as the moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR) of the fabric.

Another factor that has a direct effect on the breathability of a raincoat is the air permeability of the fabric. Natural fibers are usually highly permeable, even when they’ve been treated with a substance that makes them waterproof. Gore-Tex is also very air permeable.

When you’re checking the breathability of a rain jacket, check the label to see what materials it’s made with. Since raincoats typically have at least two layers, make sure you look at all of the materials used to make the jacket. You should also check to see how much ventilation a coat offers.

Features like special panels and zippers can help let more air into your jacket. Mesh liners also allow air to circulate. Rain jackets typically have 2, 2.5, or 3 layers.

2-layer jackets are very lightweight and very breathable. 2.5-layer jackets have a thin layer to protect a raincoat’s coating, which impacts the breathability of a jacket. 3-layer jackets bond a coating to a coat’s exterior fabric.

However, an additional fabric layer is also bonded to the jacket’s exterior membrane. This offers superior protection from the elements and breathability.

What Makes Raincoats Less Breathable?

“The thicker or more dense the fabric, the less it will probably breathe,” warns survival instructor Ben Gordon. “Make sure you pick a jacket that’s suitable for your activities.” Try to avoid coats that are made from artificial fabrics, like nylon and polyester.

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Jackets that blend these materials with natural fibers like cotton are still a solid option. Check to make sure the coat has plenty of pockets. Take a look at the lining as well.

If the lining isn’t meshed, make sure it’s made from a material that will still allow your skin to breathe. Most raincoats use some sort of laminate or coating to keep the rain out, and unfortunately, these coatings can also make jackets less breathable. Unless you need extra protection, you’ll want to look for a coat with a light coating rather than a heavy laminate.

Can I Make My Rain Jacket More Breathable?

It’s normal for raincoats to lose some breathability over time. Many waterproof jackets have a Durable Water Repellant (DWR) coating that prevents the exterior fabric from absorbing rain. Dirt, laundry detergent, and other factors can cause this coating to degrade.

When the coating on your jacket is less effective, it’s more likely that the outer layer of the fabric will be saturated with water. Even if the inner layer still keeps you dry, it will be more difficult for air to permeate the wet fabric. Thankfully, you can easily refresh that coating on a raincoat.

There are sprays and detergents that are specifically designed for waterproof clothing like raincoats. Using these substances on your jacket can refresh its coating so that the outer layer of the fabric is able to breathe. You can also increase the breathability of any rain jacket by adding pockets or panels.

If you’re handy, this is something you can do on your own, but you can also take the coat to a tailor. Lastly, a quick and easy way to make sure your raincoat stays breathable is to keep it clean. Wipe your jacket down with a damp cloth when it’s visibly dirty.

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Wash the jacket as needed, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

How Do Waterproof Ratings Work?

Happy woman in red rain coat in the rain.

Manufacturers run all kinds of tests on waterproof gear to determine how effective it is at keeping out water. One of the most common tests involves placing a square tube over the fabric and filling it with water. This process, which is known as the Hydrostatic Head test, calculates how much water you can apply to the fabric before water starts to seep through.

Since this test uses the British Standard, it measures the water resistance of a fabric in millimeters. These are some of the waterproof ratings you’re likely to see on jacket labels:

0 to 1,500 mm

Jackets with this rating are likely to be water-resistant rather than waterproof. They can keep out light rain and snow, but don’t provide the protection of heavier jackets.

1,500 to 5,000 mm

Raincoats in this range are considered to be waterproof and can keep out anything from light to average rainfall. During heavy rain, the jacket may still become saturated.

5,000 mm

A coat with this rating is very waterproof and can keep you dry during heavy to moderate rainfall. They are suitable for most weather conditions.

 10,000 to 20,000 mm

Jackets with this rating or higher provide superior protection from the elements. They’re highly waterproof and can keep you dry even in heavy rainfall. If your goal is to keep out the rain, you should look for a coat with a minimum rating of 5,000 mm.

While coats with higher ratings tend to have higher price tags, there are many rain jackets with a rating of 10,000 mm or more that are still very breathable.