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Jacket Buying Guide - How to Buy Jackets

If there is one product that has seen a rapid development, it is the Jacket. Fifteen years ago, an outdoor Jacket was generally green with a hood. Now, the difference between fashion and functionality has become very blurry. Fashion is taking over inventions from the outdoor arena, while outerwear is more than ever taking into consideration color and design. The extremes of fashion and functionality now seem to have reconciled for good.

What has not changed is the function of the outer layer in the Three-Layer System - the water and/or windproof layer which protects against the elements while releasing the moisture which comes from performing the activity.
Nowadays, Jackets do this with a multitude of fabrics, laminates, coatings, and constructions, and each with its own price and specific advantages and disadvantages. Actually, bad Jackets are not being sold anymore, but not every Jacket is suitable for each adventure or activity.

The Functions of the Third Layer

Jacket Buying Guide - How to Buy Jackets Waterproof
A Jacket needs to be waterproof. There is no ISO norm that defines when a piece of clothing can be called waterproof. Generally, clothing may be called waterproof when it can bear a water column of 120 to 150 centimers (4 to 5 feet). For comparison: the best Jackets can withstand a water column of tens of meters. The water column test is performed by placing a tube on a piece of fabric. The tube is filled with water until water droplets form on the other side of the fabric. Subsequently, the number fo centimeters of water is measured in the tube. Aside from the qualities of the fabric, two other factors are of importance in determining the waterproofness of a Jacket: 1) all the seams need to be closed with tape; and 2) the construction of the Jacket should prevent water entry. This means that the zippers are covered, innerlayers are not water absorbent, and waterproof fabrics are used throughout the coat, etc.

Even while resting, a person loses more than half a liter of fluids through its skin daily. To release the moisture, a Jacket needs to be able to ventilate or "breathe" - not through holes, but through the fabric itself. This is not very difficult, as cotton and nylon are already breathable fabrics. The difficulty arises in making the fabric waterproof as well. This seems very exotic but there are many different layers which can achieve this based on a simple physics principle. Beneath the Jacket, the temperature and humidity is higher than the outside. This creates a pressure, whereby the moisture is pushed outside.

Wind strongly influences the temperature within the Jacket. Besides being uncomfortable, it also negatively influences the breathing quality of the outer layer. In general, if a Jacket can withstand a water column of tens of meters, it is also windproof.

Jacket or Shell?

Functional outer Jackets are called 'shells'. These Jackets are generally part of of a Three-Layer System. The shell forms the outer layer of the three layers. Such a specific Jacket is in perfect harmony with the second layer, usually a shirt or fleece and the first (base) layer. In other words, it is important that when buying a Jacket, consider what you are going to use it for. When using a Jacket to protect you against the rain on a spring or autumn walk, the heat saving properties of Jacket are less important. What is more important is that the shell protects you against the wind and sheds excess moisture. However, if you're going through the jungle and need protection against a tropical monsoon, you may want a genuine waterproof Jacket. The choice between a Jacket and shell is up to you.

Membranes and Coatings

2-Layer Construction
  • wind and rain
  • perspiration moisture
  • outer fabric
  • waterproof and breathing membrame
  • loose lining (mesh or fleece)

  • 3-Layer Construction
  • perspiration moisture
  • wind and rain
  • outer fabric
  • waterproof and breathing membrame
  • loose lining (mesh or fleece)

  • Throughout the years, different manufacturers have developed layers which are waterproof and breathable. All of them are vulnerable and need a supporting fabric to be of use. There are basically two methods to achieve this. You can produce the layer and then attach it to the supporting fabric (laminate). Such a layer is called a membrane, in combination with the fabric - laminate. The alternative is to directly attach the material to the fabric through coating. Moreover, there are two principles through which a membrane or coating breathes. Certain layers are by themselves waterproof but have pores as well. Miniscule pores are large enough to let vapor through, yet prevents water from coming through. Other layers attract water (hydrophile) and transport water parts from one side to the other side of the layer.


    As you may know, the ideal way of clothing for every activity is to use different layers. The keys to a successful layering system are, in order of importance, warmth, weight, moisture management, and packing the right number of layers. Generally, the Three Layer System is applicable. The last layer is the outer shell which protects against wind and rain. The middle layer is general clothing or a fleece jacket. The first layer is the base layer which consists of underwear.

    You should try to find the optimal balance between these four factors which keep you warm without adding too much weight. The added advantage of layers is that you can add and delete layers during the day according to how you feel and the weather conditions. Proper pre-departure planning will ensure a perfect trip.

    You have seen how the once-lowly and functionality-leaning Jacket became both fashionable and functional. But if there is one advice we can give you, do not buy a Jacket merely for fashion purposes. Look for the one which gives you the best protection even in extreme weather conditions. Only when you go out to the great outdoors will you realize how important a well-functioning Jacket is. So choose your Jacket wisely!

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