Waterproof and Water-Resistant Fabrics: Navigating the Best Options for Rain Gear
Waterproof and Water-Resistant Fabrics: Navigating the Best Options for Rain Gear

Waterproof and Water-Resistant Fabrics: Navigating the Best Options for Rain Gear

When it comes to staying dry and comfortable in wet weather, the right rain gear is crucial. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a daily commuter, or someone who works outdoors, the effectiveness of your rain gear heavily depends on the fabric it’s made of. Outdoor waterproof fabrics have come a long way, offering a range of options from fully waterproof to water-resistant, each suitable for different needs and environments.

In this guide, we’ll explore the key features of waterproof and water-resistant fabrics, helping you navigate the best options for your rain gear.

Key Takeaways

  • Waterproof fabrics offer full protection against water, while water-resistant materials provide partial protection.
  • Advances in material technology have broadened the range of fabrics suitable for rain gear, including knitted fabrics.
  • Look for features such as breathability, durability, and lightweight in your rain gear for maximum comfort and protection.

Understanding Waterproof and Water-Resistant Fabrics: The Science Behind Waterproofing

The terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a significant difference between the two.

Waterproof fabrics provide complete protection against water, ensuring no moisture penetrates the material under any circumstances. Water-resistant fabrics, on the other hand, can repel water to some extent but will eventually let moisture through under prolonged exposure or heavy rainfall.

Before we delve more deeply into waterproof and water-resistant fabrics, let’s take a look at the best types of fabrics to use first and the key features you should look for.

The Role of Fabric Types in Rain Gear: What Are the Best Fabrics to Choose?

  1. Knitted Fabric

While not traditionally associated with waterproofing, advancements in technology have enabled knitted fabrics to be used in water-resistant and waterproof applications. FabKnitter knitted fabric is one of these products that can offer both protection and comfort for outdoor activities.

  1. Woven Fabrics

Most outdoor waterproof fabrics are woven tightly with synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester. These fabrics are often coated or laminated with waterproof materials, making them durable and resistant to water penetration.

  1. Non-Woven Fabrics

These are engineered fabrics that can be highly effective in waterproof and water-resistant applications. They’re usually used in combination with other materials to enhance the waterproofing capabilities of rain gear.

Key Features to Look for in Waterproof Fabrics

When purchasing rain gear or materials for outdoor use, consider the following features for optimal protection and comfort:

  • Breathability: A crucial aspect for comfort, especially during physical activities. Look for fabrics that allow moisture vapor to escape to prevent sweating and overheating.
  • Durability: Waterproof and water-resistant fabrics should withstand the elements and wear and tear from outdoor activities.
  • Lightweight: For ease of movement and to avoid feeling weighed down, choose lightweight materials.
  • Environmental Impact: Consider fabrics that are produced with sustainable practices and materials, minimizing the environmental footprint.

The Importance of Breathability in Rain Gear

While the primary function of rain gear is to keep water out, ensuring that it also allows your body to breathe is equally crucial. Breathability in waterproof clothing refers to the fabric’s ability to let sweat and body moisture escape, preventing the wearer from feeling clammy and uncomfortable. This feature is particularly important for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and running, where perspiration is inevitable.

Therefore, when choosing rain gear, it’s essential to strike a balance between waterproofing and breathability to ensure overall comfort and protection.

What Is the Most Breathable Waterproof Fabric?

Fabrics with membranes like Gore-Tex and eVent are highly breathable and waterproof, ideal for active use in wet conditions. These technologies use a membrane that blocks water from entering while allowing vapor to escape, making them ideal for breathable, waterproof garments.

Types of Waterproof Fabrics: Membranes and Coatings

When selecting waterproof fabrics for rain gear, understanding the difference between membranes and coatings is crucial, as each offers unique benefits and limitations. These technologies are at the heart of outdoor waterproof fabrics, ensuring they keep you dry in wet conditions. Let’s delve into what each type entails and their respective pros and cons.


Membranes are thin layers of waterproof material bonded to the fabric. They are designed with microscopic pores that are small enough to prevent water droplets from passing through but large enough to allow moisture vapor (sweat) to escape. This technology is what makes a fabric both waterproof and breathable.


  • Highly Waterproof: Membranes provide excellent protection against water, making them ideal for heavy rain and wet conditions.
  • Breathability: They allow moisture vapor to escape, which helps keep the wearer dry from the inside, making them perfect for active use.
  • Durability: High-quality membrane fabrics are long-lasting and maintain their waterproof and breathable properties over time.


  • Cost: Membrane-equipped fabrics tend to be more expensive due to the advanced technology and materials used.
  • Less Flexibility: Some membrane fabrics can be stiffer, which may affect the comfort and mobility depending on the garment’s design.
  • Maintenance: To maintain their breathability and waterproof qualities, membrane fabrics may require special care, including regular cleaning and reapplication of DWR treatments.


Coatings involve applying a waterproof layer directly onto the fabric. This layer is often a liquid polymer that is spread evenly across the material, creating a waterproof barrier. Unlike membranes, coatings do not have pores, which can affect their breathability.


  • Cost-Effective: Coated fabrics are generally less expensive than membrane technologies, making them a more accessible option for budget-conscious consumers.
  • Versatility: They can be applied to a wide range of fabric types and are used in various products, from low-cost rain gear to tents and tarps.
  • Weight: Coatings can be lighter than membranes, contributing to less bulky garments.


  • Breathability: While some coatings are designed to be somewhat breathable, they typically do not match the breathability of membrane fabrics.
  • Durability: Coated fabrics may lose their waterproof effectiveness over time, especially with heavy use or improper care.
  • Environmental Concerns: Some coatings may involve chemicals that are less environmentally friendly, although advancements are being made in eco-friendly alternatives.

Exploring Water-Resistant Fabrics: How They Work & Their Best Uses

Water-resistant fabrics are designed to repel water on contact, making them ideal for light rain and drizzle. They work by applying a coating or treatment to the fabric’s surface, which causes water to bead up and roll off rather than soaking through. This coating is often a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish that maintains the fabric’s breathability while providing protection against moisture.

Best uses for water-resistant fabrics include everyday wear, such as jackets and ponchos for casual outings, or protective covers for outdoor equipment. They are perfect for conditions where you might encounter light precipitation but don’t require the heavy-duty protection of fully waterproof materials. 

This type of fabric is especially suited for activities where flexibility and lightness are paramount, and the risk of heavy rain is minimal. It allows for ease of movement and provides a practical solution for staying dry during brief outdoor excursions.


Choosing the right waterproof or water-resistant fabric for your rain gear involves considering your specific needs, the activities you’ll be undertaking, and the conditions you’ll face. With the right information and understanding of the available options, you can select rain gear that keeps you dry, comfortable, and ready to face whatever the weather throws your way.

About author


Muntazir Mehdi is founding member and managing director of Article Thirteen blog. He is a strategic writer. At the age of 21, he began his writing career while pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration at Karachi University. he has published numerous articles on business tech, healthcare, lifestyle and fashion.
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