Water Resistant vs Waterproof: What’s the Difference?

March 7, 2024 | Read this in about 5 minutes

When it comes to staying dry in wet weather, the choice between water resistant and waterproof outerwear can make all the difference. While these terms may seem interchangeable at first glance, they represent distinct levels of protection against moisture. Understanding the difference between them is crucial for making the right choice when selecting your outdoor gear. In this blog, we'll explore what sets water resistant and waterproof outerwear apart and why this distinction matters.


What does water resistant mean?

Water resistance in outerwear refers to the garment's ability to repel and resist the penetration of water to some degree. While water resistant gear is not fully impervious to water, it offers a level of protection against light rain, drizzle, or occassional splashes for a relatively short amount of time.

Water resistant fabrics are tightly woven to reduce the size of the pores or gaps, making it more difficult for water droplets to pass through. This design prevents immediate saturation and gives you time to shake off or wipe away water before it seeps in.

Water resistant outerwear serves as your go-to choice for shorter activities in milder wet conditions. From a springtime run to a commute to work, a water resistant jacket will generally keep you dry and comfortable. In outerwear, water resistance serves as a valuable middle ground between no protection and full waterproofing.


What does waterproof mean?

Waterproof is a term used to describe resistance to water penetration in fabrics and materials. When a piece of outerwear is labeled as waterproof, it is designed to prevent water from passing through the material and reaching your skin. In other words, it should keep you completely dry, even in heavy rain or snow.

Waterproof outerwear achieves its remarkable water-blocking abilities through a combination of specialized materials and construction techniques: waterproof membrane, sealed seams, and a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. A waterproof jacket is essential for activities where staying dry is not just a matter of comfort but also safety.

From hiking in heavy rain to working in inclement weather, having waterproof protection is your best defense. Waterproof outerwear keeps you dry from both external moisture (rain, snow) and internal moisture (sweat). This dual-level of protection is crucial for maintaining comfort during outdoor activities and protecting you from hypothermia in extreme cases.


Understanding water repellency

In the world of outerwear, especially when braving the elements, there's a single, unifying element that stands between you and discomfort: water repellency. Whether you're sporting water resistant or waterproof gear, the ability of these garments to repel water is essential for your comfort and well-being.

Water repellency, in simple terms, refers to the capacity of a material to resist the intrusion of water. It's the property that enables water to bead up and roll off the fabric, preventing it from saturating and reaching your skin. This quality is achieved primarily through the application of a durable water repellent (DWR) finish.

Serving as a crucial barrier between the elements and our clothing, DWR is a coating applied to fabrics that effectively repeles water, preventing saturation and maintaining breathability. This technology enhances the performance of rain jackets, snow pants, and hiking shells, ensuring that outdoor enthusiasts stay dry and comfortable in wet conditions. DWR not only keeps the raindrops at bay but ensure long-term reliability of waterproof outerwear, safeguarding wearers from the elements while optimizing comfort and durability. 


The key differences: water resistant vs waterproof

The difference between water resistant and waterproof outerwear matters because it directly impacts your comfort, safety, and outdoor experience. The right choice depends on the specific conditions you anticipate and your personal preferences.

The primary thing that differentiates a waterproof jacket from water resistant is the level of protection. Waterproof outerwear is designed to provide complete protection from the elements while water resistant is designed to act as a temporary barrier of defense. 

Waterproof outerwear often incorporates a layer of protection between the fabric known as a membrane. This waterproof barrier helps keep the user dry while blocking the wind to maintain warmth. In addition to using membrane technology, waterproof outerwear is also seam sealed to block the holes that are left by sewing needles during garment construction.

Alternatively, water resistant outerwear isn't designed to provide complete waterproof protection. Using a combination of tightly woven fabric with a DWR exterior treatment or membrane technology that isn't seam sealed, water resistant jackets provide temporary protection from the elements.

The combination of protection and comfort underscores the value of waterproof over water resistant outerwear when you're preparing for the unpredictable weather. 


Selecting the right jacket

Now that you understand the differences between water resistant vs waterproof outerwear, here are a few important things to consider before purchasing your next jacket.

  • What will be your primary level of activity?
  • Do you need protection from rain, snow, or a combination of the two?
  • During what seasons will you wear the garment?
  • Will you be wearing the jacket in a humid or dry climate?
  • What level of breathability do you need to maintain protection and comfort?
  • Do you typically run hot or cold?

Having the appropriate outerwear will improve your outdoor experience and ensure you don't have to change your plans due to the weather. Your outdoor adventures await — make them unforgettable!