If you’ve shopped for rain gear lately, you’ve noticed that top clothing manufacturers produce lightweight jackets made from “breathable” materials. Jackets aren’t living things, so how can they breathe?
The technical term for breathability is called moisture vapor transfer, or MVT. The process works like a cold glass of water in a hot room. Warm moisture in the air travels toward the glass, causing the outer glass to form sweat droplets. In the same way, warm body moisture on the skin wants to travel toward the layers of a cooler jacket.
“Our Omni-Tech products, like the HydroTech Packable jacket, provide waterproof and breathable protection by keeping outside elements from getting in, while still allowing moisture vapors to move away from the skin,” says Krystl Tonkin, a marketing specialist at Columbia Sportswear. “Microporous membranes permit air passage while keeping water from penetrating the fabric allowing perspiration to escape so anglers stay dry.”
Hydrophobic and hydrophilic coatings are sometimes added to fabrics to help pull the moisture away from the skin. This helps when outside heat and body moisture are similar temperatures. Put simply, the hydrophilic coating on the inside of the fabric attracts the moisture, then the hydrophobic lamination on the outside forces the wetness away.
“Frequently, a numerical rating is used to assess how waterproof and breathable a jacket is — something like 10,000 millimeters/5,000 grams — in an effort to help consumers measure the garment’s properties,” says Ron Ballanti, with Grundens.
The second number (5,000 grams in this example) refers to the amount of water vapor that can travel from the inside to the outside of 1 square meter of the fabric over a 24-hour period. The higher the number, the more body moisture is allowed to escape through the fabric itself.
A breathability rating of at least 3,000 grams means the jacket does a suitable job of dissipating body moisture as long as the fisherman is wearing the proper wicking layers underneath, Ballanti says. But MVT ratings get much higher than that: Grundens Burning Daylight jacket is manufactured from a heavy-duty material that still provides breathability up to 10,000 grams.
In the past, some anglers were turned off from the nomenclature of “waterproof.” A number of jackets that were said to be waterproof still allowed water to leak at the most inopportune times. That, or you had to use a heavy, insulated jacket that kept the rain away, but left you sweaty and stinky. Today, clothing manufacturers go to extremes to test their new jacket styles, even if it’s not storming outside.
“When we received the first-ever samples of our Waterproof Fishing Jacket, our president, Bill Shedd, wanted to test just how waterproof the jacket was,” said Casey Shedd, of AFTCO. “He decided to forgo his normal shower, and minutes later he stepped out of the bathroom perfectly dry and was excited to report that the jacket passed the ‘shower’ test. The jacket has since been tested on the water by countless pros.”
Just how waterproof is measured in millimeters and tested by manufacturers before ever getting to the angler. Remember that other number you saw alongside breathability in the rating on the previous page?
“The waterproof number is tested by putting a square tube with inner dimensions of 1-by-1 inch over a piece of fabric like that from our Stormfront jacket,” says Koby Fulks, of Under Armour. “When you fill it with water, it goes to a height of 10,000 millimeters before water starts to leak through.”
Jackets that are breathable — and therefore cooler — all have a limit, but ratings anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 millimeters do a great job of keeping anglers dry from storms and spitting wind throughout the day. The Big Game Jacket from Bluefin USA is even rated for 15,000. On the water, average heavy rainfall has water droplets approximately 5 millimeters in diameter, says Ballanti.
Don’t fall into the trap that a lightweight jacket means it’s more breathable; in fact, quality breathable jackets from a number of manufacturers are heavier because of the specific fabrics and materials used.
So how do you know to buy a hard- or soft-shell jacket?
A hard shell is a noisier, uninsulated jacket, but it’s rock solid at blocking water, built from tightly woven fabric that’s laminated with a waterproof material such as Gore-Tex. Think of hard shells as the waterproof, top layer. Soft shells cover a number of different jacket styles, but similarities include the use of stretchy fabrics to block wind and create better breathability for active fishing. Soft shells are comfortable to wear but aren’t nearly as waterproof in steady rain compared with hard shells.
That’s beginning to change with modern processes implemented by jacket manufacturers to soft shells. “You can get [soft shells] that are critically taped, fully taped or use DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to stop water,” says Fulks, of Under Armour.
Critically taped seams on a jacket mean that only the most important seams are covered, in areas where water is likely to enter, whereas fully taped denotes all seams on the jacket are covered to protect against water intrusion. As an example, the Under Armour Stormfront jacket is a lightweight rain shell that’s fully taped and 100 percent waterproof, says Fulks. Jackets treated with DWR coatings have exteriors that deter water from saturating the material, often causing the water to bead up and drip away.
When talking layers and clothing, it usually means one thing for anglers — the layered approach of bundling up to combat the rain, wind or cold. Jerry Richards, National Sales Manager at Gill North America, recommends a base layer, midlayer and an outer shell.
“That base layer should never be cotton,” he says. “Go with a polyester material, something that does not collect moisture and keeps you much cooler.”
The layering approach allows fishermen to add or remove clothing based on how hot the day is. That’s why Richards points out that none of Gill’s waterproof jackets are insulated — you’d have to put the jacket in the closet for half the year because it’s too hot to wear in the summer heat.
If it’s cold or cool, a good midlayer is a fleece, a material that Richards considers a “lofted” garment. “It should have lots of air pockets,” he says, “to form a pocket of air next to your skin, and to keep to you warm and insulated.” Some jacket manufacturers include a removable fleece lining in specific models that serves the same purpose as a midlayer. Sometimes, just the collar is lined with fleece.
“ExOfficio’s FlyQ Lite micro-fleece-lined collar feels great against the skin, and protects against the center, front zipper pull when fully zipped,” says Kylene Wolfe, ExOfficio Men’s Product Line Manager. “Plus, it’s moisture wicking and dries fast; we did not want to line the entire jacket with fleece, as it would be too warm for spring and fall.”
With every additional jacket feature, there’s usually an extra cost. The price of jackets stems directly from the quality and cost of the fabric used. Anglers must pick what cost they’re willing to spend, but most agree that they’d like their jackets to last for the long haul — you get what you pay for.