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Outerwear Explained

Buyer's Guide > Snowboards Explained | Snowboard Boots Explained | Snowboard Bindings Explained | Goggles Explained | Snowboard Helmets & Protective Gear Explained | Outerwear Explained | Base Layers Explained

Outerwear is designed to be waterproof, windproof, and breathable.  Staying dry is the key to staying warm.  Because of this, the most important factors when it comes to selecting the right outerwear piece are waterproofing and breathability.

Waterproof Rating

Waterproof rating, as measured in millimeters, is the amount of water a fabric can withstand within a 24-hour period.  To put the measurement in perspective you must understand that pressure is a critical component of the equation.  Fabrics encounter additional pressures of varying intensities.  Pressure is created by the force of falling rain, wind, sitting, kneeling, carrying a backpack, falling, etc.  The higher a fabric's waterproof rating, the higher level of pressure it can resist before water will start permeating the fabric.

Waterproof literally means impervious to water.  By this definition very few outerwear pieces out there are technically waterproof, but most are water-resistant in varying degrees.  Outerwear isn't completely waterproof because people perspire.  Moisture can't escape waterproof, non-breathable fabrics.  If moisture can't escape, that moisture to builds up inside the garment, which creates just as many problems in terms of staying warm and dry as wearing something that doesn't have any water-resistant qualities at all.  We, as snowboarders, need outerwear pieces that are both water-resistant and breathable.  A waterproof, breathable fabric keeps water from getting in while simultaneously allowing moisture to escape.  This is possible because moisture can only enter as a liquid, but can escape as a vapor, which is much smaller on a molecular level.

Fabrics rated to 20,000 mm and higher are essentially waterproof, as they can withstand shallow depth submersion.  But, given enough time and pressure, they would eventually take on water.  Still, outerwear pieces rated to 20,000 mm and higher as considered "waterproof."

Waterproof ratings are usually determined through static column testing.  In this process, a tube is placed vertically over a piece of fabric and filled with water.  The measurement is taken when the fabric begins to leak to determine how many millimeters of water the fabric can withstand over a 24 hour period.  Waterproof ratings are determined by the manufacturer.  These ratings are generally considered to be reliable.  However, they are not necessarily definitive, as manufacturers use different methods to determine their waterproof ratings, which introduces variables into the equation.  It is also important to understand that a waterproof rating applies only to a particular fabric and is not necessarily a complete statement of a garment's water resistance as a whole, as water resistance is also influenced by things like seam sealing and coating.

We recommend a minimum waterproof rating of 5,000 mm for snowboard outerwear.   The higher the waterproof rating, the better.  But, as you might expect, the higher the waterproof rating, the more expensive the outerwear piece will be.  If you ride in an area that is prone to mountain rain or where the water content of the snow is relatively high, you will want to spend the extra money and go with a higher waterproof rating.  If you ride somewhere significantly drier, you could probably get away with a slightly lower rating.  Additionally, if you are going to be hiking around in the backcountry or crawling around on your hands and knees building jumps, you are going to need outerwear with a high waterproof rating.  If you are the type to get a few quick runs in and then hit the lodge, you can probably get way with a lower rating.  In the end, the choice is yours, but the two most important things to consider are environment and the pressures the garment will be subjected to.

Waterproof Rating (mm) Water Resistance Provided
5,000 mm Some resistance to moisture.  Will withstand light rain, dry snow, and little pressure.
6,000 mm-10,000 mm Waterproof under light rain, average snow, and light pressure.
11,000 mm-15,000 mm Waterproof for average rain, average snow, and medium pressure.
16,000 mm-20,000 mm Waterproof under heavy rain, wet snow, and high pressure.
20,000+ mm Waterproof under heavy rain, wet snow, and very high pressure.

Breathability

Breathability ratings are often coupled with waterproofing ratings to give you an idea of the protection and comfort possible in the face of heavy weather.  A garment's breathability rating is usually noted in grams (i.e. 10,000g).  Breathability measures the number of grams of sweat and sweat condensation that can pass through a square meter of the fabric over a 24-hour period.  The higher the breathability rating, the less humidity you can expect to build up inside of your outerwear.

Seam Taping

Seam taping is an important aspect of a garment's overall water resistance.  Seams provide the perfect opportunity for water to find its way into an otherwise impervious garment.  Seams are bonded together using a variety of techniques, but more often than not they are taped.  There are two main styles of taping, fully taped and critically taped.

Fully Taped

Outerwear pieces with each and every seam sealed with waterproof tape are considered "fully taped."  Fully taped seams provide the most optimal water resistance.

Critically Taped

Garments that are "critically taped" have waterproof taping on the seams that the manufacture deems most critical.  With critically taped outerwear pieces, the most exposed seams are sealed.

DWR

DWR stands for Durable Water Repellent.  Almost all outerwear exterior fabrics are treated with a DWR coating that is meant to keep the fabric from becoming saturated.  DWR causes water to bead up and roll off of the fabric.  DWR performance is affected by abrasion and grime and sweat, and should be maintained by keeping the garment clean.

GORE-TEX

GORE-TEX fabrics are created by laminating a GORE-TEX membrane to high-performance textiles and then sealing the garment seams with GORE-SEAM tape, resulting in durable, waterproof protection.  GORE-TEX is considered to be the ultimate in extreme weather protection and will ensure that you stay warm and dry no matter what the conditions are.

Jacket vs. Shell

Functional outer jackets are called shells.  These Jackets are generally part of a three-layer system.  The shell forms the outermost of the three layers.  Shells are to work in perfect harmony with the second layer (usually a fleece) and the first or base layer (thermal underwear).  Jackets are basically shells with additional heat-saving properties such as insulated linings.  When determining whether you need a jacket or a shell, consider what you are going to use it for.  If a waterproof exterior to your three-layer system is all that you need, go with a shell.  If you need the extra warmth that a jacket provides, go with a jacket.

Layering

The ideal way of clothing for every activity, particularly snowboarding, is to use different layers.  In order of importance, the keys to a successful layering system are warmth, weight, moisture management, and the right number of layers.  Generally, it is advisable to go with a three-layer system.  The first layer is the base layer, which consists of thermal underwear.  The middle layer is generally some sort of fleece. The third layer is the jacket or shell that functions as the exterior barrier of the system and protects you against snow, wind, and rain.

It is important to find the optimal balance between these factors to keep you warm without adding too much weight.  The right balance will be determined by the weather conditions that you are riding in.  An added advantage of layers is that you can add and remove layers according to the weather conditions and how you feel.

Never use cotton in any of your layers, as cotton doesn't have any real insulating or moisture-wicking properties to speak of.  Cotton will make you wet, cold, and miserable.

Socks

Cotton socks aren't going to cut it, as they aren't going to keep your feet warm and dry.  Get some real snowboard socks.  It makes a huge difference.

Please contact us with any questions regarding outerwear and layering.

Snowboard Outerwear Tech Guide