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A good-quality waterproof jacket is a must-have for every hunter. Even on a crisp, bluebird day, you should always have a reliable waterproof layer stashed in your pack because, as we all know, the weather can turn at any moment in the wilderness. Whether you’re scrambling across open tops or trudging through the bush, a good waterproof jacket will keep you dry, warm, and comfortable in the rain and snow. But not all waterproof layers are created equal. In this article, you’ll discover the two most important things to look for when choosing a hunting or hiking jacket — waterproof rating and breathability.
The most common misconception about waterproof fabrics is that they completely repel water, similar to that of a rubber coat (you know the classic yellow ones that grandad used to wear). However, modern waterproof fabrics are both water resistant breathable. They don’t actually repel water like the jackets of old, rather they are treated with special coating known as DWR (Durable Water Repellent), which prevents the fabric from absorbing water. The jacket’s layering system provides additional protection from water that might get past the DWR. On the other hand, breathability is what allows body moisture and vapours to be released, which is just as important for keeping dry and regulating your temperature. When you’re choosing a waterproof hunting jacket, it’s important to balance protection from rain and snow on the outside with the ability to let sweat and moisture escape from the inside.
Today, waterproof jackets are made from a wide range of technical fabrics, which are arranged in layers. Jackets typically have 2 layers, 2.5 layers, or 3 layers. If you just want a waterproof jacket for wearing around town in light rain, a 2-layer jacket might do the trick. However, if you’re going hiking or hunting, you’ll want a 3-layer jacket for adequate protection.
The outer layer is called the “face fabric” and is usually made of nylon or polyester and a waterproof membrane or coating, such as DWR. You may get confused by the many different names given to nylon and polyester fabrics — some might be tougher, or lighter, or more silent, but they more or less do the same job.
The middle layer is the waterproof membrane, the jacket’s main protective layer. The membrane has tiny holes in it, which are too small to let water in but large enough to let vapour out. This is the innovation centre of the jacket. It’s also worth noting that the mid layer of the jacket is typically highly windproof.
A 3-layer jacket will include an inner mesh or PU film lining, which is more comfortable and prevents the waterproof layer from sitting directly against the skin. This also reduces wear and tear and improves the longevity of the jacket. A 2-layer jacket doesn’t have an inner lining whereas a 2.5-layer jacket includes a protective print on the inside, often made of silicon or carbon, to provide a barrier between your body and the waterproof membrane. The inner layer is also important for breathability as it prevents dirt and sweat from clogging up the tiny pores of the mid layer.
When you’re looking for the best waterproof hunting jacket for you, you’ll notice that they have different waterproof ratings, the most common being 10,000mm and 20,000mm. But what do those numbers tell you? These ratings are usually determined using a process called “static-column testing”. This test is used to determine a fabric’s “hydrostatic head” or how waterproof it is. Back in the day, they used a real column of water to see how much pressure a fabric could withstand. But these days, they use a machine that replicates the downward pressure that a column of water would generate. The waterproof fabric is placed under the machine and the water pressure is gradually increased until water penetrates the fabric and can be seen on the other side. The more water pressure a fabric can withstand, the higher the waterproof rating. For example, a jacket with a 10,000mm waterproof rating is able to withstand pressure equivalent to a 100m high column of water. It’s kind of crazy to imagine, but that’s how waterproof ratings are calculated.
Breathability ratings aren’t as common as waterproof ratings and that’s probably because there isn’t a universal method for measuring breathability. The most common breathability rating is based on the speed at which sweat and moisture passes through a square metre of fabric in 24 hours. However, this can’t take into account different climates (sweltering heat and freezing cold) and the huge variety of activities that might be done while wearing the jacket. With that said, as a general rule, the higher the breathability rating, the better. Often you’ll find the breathability rating matches the waterproof rating, so a 10,000mm waterproof jacket may have 10,000g breathability. However, if you come across a jacket that uses the Resistance to Evaporative Heat Loss (RET) rating system, the opposite is true. For example, an RET rating of 5 is highly breathable whereas a rating of 20 isn’t very breathable at all. As you can see, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how breathable a hunting jacket is. But most modern mid-layer fabrics are designed to be both waterproof and breathable. Choosing a jacket that has zipped mesh underarm vents can also be a good way of maximising breathability.
You can have the most waterproof fabric in the world, but if it doesn’t have adequate seam sealing, it will leak like a rusty roof. Seam sealing refers to the seam taping that covers up the tiny holes made by the sewing machine when the jacket’s being stitched together. You’ll find these seals around all of the joins in the jacket. Most jackets use a waterproof sealing tape around the seams to prevent water from getting in. Pay attention to whether a jacket is critically taped or fully taped (100% seam sealed). Jackets that are critically taped only have sealing tape in exposed areas, such as shoulders, neck, back and chest, whereas a fully taped jacket is completely sealed. All Bushbuck jackets, for example, are 100% seam sealed.
The first line of defence is a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating on the outside of the face fabric. This is what causes water to bead-up and roll off the fabric, preventing it from getting through the first layer. DWR can wear off over time through general use, abrasion, sun exposure, and contact with body oils. It’s recommended you apply a new layer of DWR as soon as you notice water’s no longer beading on your jacket. You can read our guide to keeping your waterproof jacket clean to get the most life out of your DWR.
Now that you’ve got a solid understanding of what waterproof and breathability ratings mean, you can make a more informed decision when choosing a hunting jacket. Because hunters are often going into remote areas where the weather can change without warning, we recommend choosing a jacket that’s at least 10,000mm waterproof. That will give you a decent level of protection if it suddenly starts pouring with rain when you’re a few kilometres from the hut or camp. If you really want a hunting jacket that’s built for serious downpours, then you should go with a waterproof rating of 15,000mm or above. While breathability ratings are not particularly helpful, as a rule of thumb you should go for a jacket that has similar waterproof and breathability ratings. For example, the Bushbuck Stowlite Jacket has a waterproof rating of 20,000mm and a breathability rating of 20,000g. Of course, choosing the best hunting jacket comes down to more than just waterproof and breathability ratings. You’ll also want a jacket that looks and fits good and comes in your preferred colour or camouflage. But, hopefully, this article helps to make your decision a bit easier.