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The Complete Guide to Waterproof Ratings, Insulation & Breathability Guide of Snow Jackets

Snow Clothing Waterproof Ratings, Insulation & Breathability Explained


What Are All the Different Kinds of Waterproofing, and What Do They Do?

There are quite a few different kinds of waterproofing materials on the market. They all work slightly differently to try and achieve the same aim – keeping you nice and dry against the elements! Different waterproofing materials include product names such as GORE-TEX, Nikwax, Hipora etc. All outerwear at Auski will have at least ONE of these elements, most with a combination of two.

DWR, Laminates and Membranes Explained

DWR Coating– DWR (Durable Water Repellent) is a hydrophobic polymer applied by either soaking or spraying onto the outermost layer of clothing to effectively bead water off the garment. It's the first step in ensuring the outer-layer fabric doesn't become waterlogged and heavy. DWR degrades easily with wear and tear; however, it can be reapplied when necessary.

Laminates –Usually a Polyurethane Laminate that is either stitched or heat-fused onto the inside of the outermost layer of fabric. A more durable waterproofing material and cost-effective; however, the biggest downside to Laminates is that they are relatively slow at expelling moisture, so they can feel quite clammy when you are working hard on the slopes.

Membrane – The pièce de resistance of waterproofing; when you picture high-end, premium and exceptionally functional outerwear, you imagine a waterproof membrane. This kind of fusion allows for the most waterproof and breathable products, keeping you exceptionally dry even in the harshest conditions.

Burton Waterproof Snow Jacket
Waterproof Ratings of Snow Clothing

Snow Clothing Waterproof Ratings and Guides

Waterproofing guides are just that – a guide; they're all relative, and depending on where you're riding, for example, the product might be waterproof in the American Rockies but not in the Victorian Alps. To try and help, we've broken the ratings down into four key groups:

800 - 5,000k – Rain repellent. Will probably be okay for those perfect bluebird days, but in a down-pour, moisture will soak through within a few minutes. Can be found in technical mid-layers.

5,000 – 10,000k - Rain resistant. Will resist more than just contact moisture but will eventually get wet, especially in a downpour or sitting on snow for more than an hour.

10,000 – 20,000kRecommended Australian Minimum. This is where the waterproofing really starts to get serious. Will withstand a few hours of heavy rain and wet snow; however, if subjected to moisture pressure (i.e. sitting down on snow or heavy crashes), it will eventually soak through.

20,000k + – The Best Stuff.Torrential downpour? Once in a century blizzard? You're as good as can be with this rating. Even if your snow buddy pours a bottle of water on you – you're not getting wet any time soon with this on.

Seam Taping/Sealing

Waterproofing is useless if your seams allow water to leak through. That's why most jackets will have some kind of seam taping, whether it's Critically or Fully Taped. There are a few different ways that manufacturers tape seams, which can also include welded/fused seams, but what you should really look for is how much of the jacket is actually taped.

Critically Taped/Sealing -This method of taping only covers the seams which are exposed to the elements the most. This usually includes shoulders and hoods and is mainly used in ski and snowboard jackets where waterproofing is not the top priority or where it is not completely necessary. It's also a lot cheaper and more cost-effective than Fully Seam Sealing outerwear.

Fully Taped/Sealing – This method of sealing seams means that every last stitch of every single seam within the garment has been taped or fused to keep out moisture from leaking through. It is standard practice for high-end products where protection against the elements is paramount.

Snow Clothing Waterproof Rating

What's a Breathability Rating? Breathable Snow Clothing Explained

Similar to waterproof ratings, it can be difficult to compare brands as manufacturers determine their own breathability ratings; with no standardisation, brand to brand results can vary by temperature, humidity, pressure and the type of test. Despite this, when considering the breathability of products within a brand, it's generally safe to say the higher the grams, the more breathable. But what is breathability? Breathability is the 'moisture wicking' aspect of the garment, meaning the ability for perspiration and vapor to pass through the fabric and membrane.

As an example, if a snowboard jacket has a 10k breathability rating, it means that over a typical 24 hour period, 10,000 grams of perspiration or vapor will pass through the fabric.

How Breathable a Snow Jacket Do I Need?

Breathability in snow clothing is just as important as waterproof ratings, as having breathable outerwear will ensure that you are not sweaty, stuffy or clammy. When purchasing a snowboard jacket based on breathability, it's best to consider your level of activity. If staying on the main runs, using lifts and never hiking, climbing or exerting yourself, then a lower breathability rating will be acceptable as you won't be spending as much energy off-piste, so between 5-10k should be fine.

If you do a lot of high energy riding or hiking, you would look for breathability ratings between 10-15k, with backcountry skiers and snowboarders opting for 20k plus range.

The cleanliness of your snow clothing can also affect the breathability of the outerwear, with dirt, oils, build-up from sunscreen, moisturiser etc., blocking the pores of the snow jacket. Read our guide on How to Care for and Wash your Snow Clothing to make sure you look after your quality gear.

Breathability Ratings Snow Clothing

What is GORE-TEX?

Invented in 1969, GORE-TEX revolutionised waterproof outerwear. Prior to this, there were plenty of options to protect you from rainy, harsh weather but all with downsides. GORE-TEX fabrics are created by laminating a GORE-TEX membrane to materials such as high-performance polyester and nylon fabrics. As mentioned above, although many laminates are waterproof, GORE-TEX allows snow clothing to remain highly breathable whilst maintaining a high level of waterproofness. Browse our range of Snowboard Jackets, and use the handy navigation to filter by waterproof rating and GORE-TEX.

Snow Clothing Insulation Explained

Insulation is as varied as the jackets and pants themselves, but the overriding principle behind it is to keep you warm and to have fun whilst you're in freezing, cold climates. The way insulation works (whether it's in mittens, outerwear or mid-layers) is that air gets trapped in tiny spaces of down filament or strands of synthetic and creates essentially a barrier to keep in your body temperature.

Down vs. Synthetic Insulation

Down is a super compressible, lightweight and durable insulator. Unfortunately, though, it does tend to retain moisture when it gets wet, so often it is only best when used as a mid-layer or on crystal clear frigid bluebird conditions. You may also have to be careful when looking at down jackets that have been stitched to keep the feathers apart – the process of stitching through the waterproofing membrane and feathers means that tiny holes are created, meaning the waterproofing is reduced straight away. Thankfully, they have started to produce 'Water-resistant Down' – the down is treated initially with a water-resistant coating before being inserted into the jacket.

Synthetic insulators, such as Thinsulate and Thermolite, are a little heavier, less compressible and slightly less durable; however, often, they keep the same thermal rating when wet and are generally less expensive.

How Much Insulation Do I Need?

Although pretty subjective because everyone’s needs are slightly different when it comes to warmth, a good rule of thumb is:

  • Warmer Conditions (Spring Riding or If you like to wear a lot of layers): 50-100gsm
  • Cooler Conditions: 100-200gsm

Going for a jacket with less insulation is certainly more versatile. You can layer up on the cooler days, with some great quality pieces which breathe well, and on the warmer days just have a base layer and a jacket to provide optimal breathability. However, going for a jacket with more insulation means that on the cooler days you don’t end up feeling like the Michelin man with 10 base layers on underneath.

Keep in mind though, with newer insulation technology, such as Primaloft, they’re engineered to react more like down and therefore you may need less insulation to achieve the same warmth rating as an equivalent competitor.

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