There's nothing like a quick deluge to highlight waterproof problems, so here's Richard Gear with a revived timely reminder of how to put things right
You're getting wet, therefore your expensive, waterproof
breathable jacket is leaking, right?
Your jacket is a sponge...
Possibly not. Take a look at your garment. Remember how when it
was new, rain beaded on the surface of the garment then ran off? Does
it still do that or is it simply soaking into the outer layer of
material like a sponge?
Does your jacket still do
If the outer face fabric of your waterproof is 'wetting
out' it means that the waterproof-breathable part of the
material, normally the next layer down, simply can't pass the
moisture your body is generating into the outside atmosphere. It's a
bit like when the doors to a tube train open and the platform's
crowded with commuters so you can't get out.
But it's not leaking...
It's not the only reason you get wet from the inside: wearing the
wrong underlayers, too many of them, working too hard or not venting
properly won't help either, but looking after your
waterproof-breathables, whether they use a membrane like Gore-Tex or
Sympatex or a coating like Triple Point Ceramic will make a real
It just needs... care
Follow the instructions on the care
The bible according to
definitely worth reading
Virtually all are machine washable these
days. Older models tended to specify handwashing, but this
was often because taped seams had a tendency to come adrift
in the machine. Technology has improved and this is no
longer a problem. Why keep it clean? The microscopic pores,
over time, will clog with dirt and impair
Try to restore the
Melt the polymer, free
restore the DWR coating
When it left the factory, your jacket was
treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish, which
is what makes water bead. Generally this wears off with use,
particularly in areas which get rubbed or bend - think
cuffs, elbows, shoulders under straps etc. Lowe Alpine's Dry
Yarn treatment, by the way, has won awards for its
durability. DWR isn't what makes the fabric waterproof, it
just stops the outer layer soaking up water, so don't
confuse this with 'reproofing'.
One method of restoring the finish is by
applying heat. This melts the polymer chains that make up
the DWR and helps them re-spread over the material like, er,
butter. That's why ironing the material or chucking it in a
tumble drier is worth doing. Always follow the
Wash The Garment Using Special
Special cleaners... Yes
they really are this time
and that is a cow glass designed by my
plumber's girlfriend for Tesco no
Normal washing powders and liquids
contain additives called 'wetting agents', these are
designed to help water to penetrate the fibres of the
material and clean them more effectively. Unfortunately this
is the last thing you want with a breathable
Both Nikwax and Grangers make special
washing liquids designed for high tech waterproofs which
won't damage the water repellency of the original treatment.
Alternatively, go looking for some mild, pure, soap powder.
Whatever you do, don't just use your normal powder, even if
that bloke comes round and tries to give you two boxes of it
in exchange for your Tek Wash.
Prepare your washing
Rinse this out
to remove traces of old
It sounds anal, but whip out the powder
draw and clean it thoroughly to remove all trace of old
detergent then run a rinse cycle to cleanse the inside
passages of the machine. Think of it as a mechanical
enema... If you don't, even quite small traces of old
detergent can make a difference.
Reapply a DWR
Two alternative DWR
treatments. For two-ply fabrics,
use a spray.
Again both Grangers and Nikwax produce
surface treatments which you can apply to breathable
waterproof fabrics. If you have a three-ply garment -
usually there's no mesh or other lining inside - you can use
a wash-in treatment. Just follow the instructions on the
bottle and keep it off your hands.
If you have a two-ply garment - one with
a drop lining, usually mesh - you'll need to use a spray-on
treatment to avoid contaminating the lining, which is
usually treated with a wicking finish. Again follow the
manufacturer's instructions. If it says to spray the garment
when wet, then spray the garment when wet.
Finally, apply heat to activate the DWR
Use and iron or tumble drier to melt those polymer chains and coat
the face fabric with the finish. Voila, next time you get rained on,
you should notice the difference. The material will breathe better
and rain drops will roll off you like, er, rain drops really.
Now, run outside and dance in the
Nikwax web site click
Grangers web site click
Care will help you breathe more easily, but you can also make your
life easier by:
1. Wearing wicking base layers underneath. A cotton
tee-shirt will merely hold moisture close to the body, a
purpose-built base layer on the other hand, will transport it
2. Don't wear too much. Most people over do it. It actually
has to be pretty cool before you need more than a single base layer
under your shell.
3. Vent or repent. Getting fresh air in and out of those
vents, cuffs, zips and collar openings can make a significant
difference, but if you don't vent, you'll overheat more quickly,
simple as that.
4. Try not to work too hard. The more you work, the more heat and
moisture you pump out and the more likely you are to soak from the
inside out. Take it easy.
5. Go high and cold. Thin, dry, very cold air means that
there's a temperature humidity gradient between inside and outside
which will help the flow of moisture outwards. Shells often breathe
significantly more efficiently high up than at sea level. Britain's
damp, relatively warm, climate is inevitably pants for