What makes the perfect rain jacket? For some it’s the looks, functionality, warmth, or fit. Those are all important aspects and should be considered. But for me (and your skin) breathability is the most important and often overlooked part of the construction. Breathability is a balancing act between letting water (sweat) vapors out and keeping exterior moisture (rain) from coming in.


Breathable vs. Waterproof:

When a jacket is waterproof or water resistant sometimes breathability can be an issue. Because to be waterproof the membrane must have tight enough pores to keep out the rain or drizzle, these pores are also generally so small that air does not pass through very easily. Obviously you want to stay dry but if you wear a jacket with no breathability it would be akin to wearing a plastic bag. The perspiration vapors would have no way to escape and in turn you will get soaked in sweat rather than rain. We have all had those chilly winter days where we are cold so we throw on a jacket only to get ultra sweaty upon starting our routine. At some point you will need to decide which is more important. However it may not be mutually exclusive anymore as some new technology has came out that changes the narrative about breathability and waterproof.


Breathable Waterproof Technology:

Some of the major players have developed technology that gives their fabric both moisture protection and the ability to ventilate or “breathe”, the most well known is Gore-Tex. Gore-tex has single handedly change the way we think about waterproofing and it’s popularity has exploded in almost every realm of outdoor wear. Gore-Tex has worked great for so many applications because it was one of the very first fabrics that was waterproof but still lightweight and ventilating. Some of the major jacket brands have also developed high-tech fabrics for their jackets. HyVent, developed by The North Face is one of the most popular on the market.

Extra Venting For Maximum Moisture Control:

Jackets, boots, shirts, and pants that are created to be breathable, moisture wicking, waterproof will sometimes use physical ventilation features to aide in the breathability. Most of the top brands offer some type of ventilation system in their performance clothing and jackets. Some great examples of this are: underarm vents (Pit-vents) obviously protected from rain by your armpits, back vents that have a flap covering it so air can come out but water can’t come in, or zip-vents down the side or on the arms. These vents are generally located in a place on the body that need the most moisture control, or more accurately, where you sweat the most. Some companies will use mesh areas to allow air flow, and some even offer zip off sleeves on pants and jackets. These physical vents help speed up the wicking process and allows moisture to be released easily without having to pass through a waterproof membrane.

Importance of Breathability and Layering:

In the winter you may need to use a nice waterproof shell over different base layers depending on temperature and physical exertion. When it is cold outside you may feel that breathability isn’t of much concern, but it is! If your shell lacks breathability you will perspire and once your base layers are drenched in sweat, the warmth will be significantly decreased. This can and will lead to serious problems while on the trail. It is very common for people to get hypothermia or frostbite because their base layers or down filling get wet. This is one more thing to keep in mind when you are looking at how to layer and protect yourself from the elements. Most high-end waterproof shells have physical ventilation such as the ones we mentioned earlier. Make sure to utilize these vents whenever possible. Remember folks, being dry is key to being happy on the trail.