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Hiker wearing a yellow rain jacket outside

Waterproof vs. water-resistant fabrics

The right rainwear and waterproof gear can make the difference between your outdoor trip being a fun adventure or a soggy mess. The key outer layer in your layering system acts as the shell over your clothes to keep them dry. You’ve likely seen jackets or pants classified as either “waterproof-breathable” or “water-resistant” – but what’s the difference?

Get the lowdown on waterproof vs. water-resistant rain gear and find out:

  • What makes something water-resistant?

  • What makes something waterproof-breathable?

  • How are waterproof materials tested?

  • What kind of waterproof-breathable technology is there?

  • How do I keep my jacket waterproof?

Hiker wearing a green rain jacket climbing up a mountain

What makes something water-resistant?

Water-resistant fabrics have a coating called a durable water-repellent finish (DWR), which is applied to the outer layer to prevent water from absorbing in. DWR helps water bead and roll off the fabric instead of soaking through the material. Water-resistant materials are best for light rain and aren’t ideal for intense downpours since they’re not completely impervious to water. They also won’t necessarily keep you warm from chilly winds.

What makes something waterproof-breathable?

Waterproof-breathable materials give you a strong defense to keep any wetness out. Like water-resistant fabrics, they’re coated with a DWR finish, but have a little something extra on the inside: an inner membrane that keeps water out while also allowing your sweat to escape.

To understand why this is useful, think about how quickly your hands get humid in rubber dishwashing gloves – while rubber is totally waterproof, it also traps in heat and makes you sweaty and uncomfortable (not what you want in a hiking jacket or cycling pants). With waterproof-breathable fabrics, micro-pores in the membrane are small enough to prevent water drops from getting in, and big enough to let body heat and sweat escape.

There are different ways to construct waterproof-breathable jackets. Check out our article on how to choose rain jackets to learn about 2-layer, 2.5 layer and 3-layer construction. Many waterproof-breathable products also have fully taped seams to keep wetness from seeping in.

Hiker wearing a red rain jacket with black pants and a black backpack with straps

Water-resistant vs waterproof-breathable: which one to choose

If you need to get across town or go for a run in light rain, you can opt for a jacket that’s water-resistant with DWR. Just know that they won’t keep you as dry as a waterproof rain jacket, especially if the rain picks up.

Waterproof-breathable fabrics are specifically designed for keeping you dry in heavy downpours and will be a major help in cold conditions. If you’re hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, year-round cycling or camping in the rain, choose waterproof-breathable gear to stay protected.

How are waterproof-breathable materials tested?

To find out how waterproof a material is, the most common method involves a lab test called a water column test or hydrostatic test. In this test, a piece of fabric gets stretched tight in a sealed tube. Water is poured on top of the fabric to measure how many millimetres of water the material can withstand before leaking. The result is the waterproof rating, measured in millimetres. The higher the rating, the longer the fabric will stay waterproof in wet conditions.

There are also different tests to see how breathable a material is. These tests vary, but the goal is to measure how much moisture can escape through the membrane. The specs table on also includes the fabric activity breathability ratings for fabrics. Values under 8,000g/m2/24h provide low performance, 20,000g/m2/24h provide moderate performance and values over 30,000g/m2/24h provide high performance.

Shoulder of a blue rain jacket with rain droplets rolling off

What kind of waterproof technology is there?

When it comes to waterproof-breathable fabrics, you’ll see a lot of different technologies and brand names. GORE-TEX® is the most well-known, but other technologies include Pertex® Shield, MEC VarioShell and many more.

MEC Varioshell

This is MEC’s own technology for waterproofness, breathability and durability. We fine-tuned our Varioshell tech to keep you comfortable and protected from the rain. It’s made from a polyurethane waterproof-breathable membrane and is hydrophilic, which means it draws moisture away from the body and releases it through the membrane. Most of our Varioshell materials are also bluesign®-approved and perfluorinated chemical (PFC)-free, which lowers their environmental impact.


GORE-TEX® has a great reputation, thanks to its large variety of waterproof-breathable technologies. Notable among them is GORE-TEX PACLITE®, a 2.5-layer material that’s extremely packable, breathable and of course, waterproof. Like other technologies, GORE-TEX® has a membrane made from billions of microscopic pores that lets water vapor out, but blocks liquid from coming in.


Pertex® is a waterproof-breathable technology with a variety of different products. Pertex® Shield in particular is a fantastic material for fast-moving outdoor adventures, thanks to its dynamic breathability and waterproof-breathable laminate. Fabrics made with Pertex® are also wonderfully packable, so it squishes down small in your backpack during a hike when the weather can be hard to predict.

How to keep your waterproof jackets waterproof

Water easily beads off a new waterproof jacket or pants. But after a season of getting outside, your shell might start to feel a little soggy. The good news? It’s easy to make your waterproof gear perform like new again. Check out our article on how to wash and re-waterproof your waterproof gear for tips.