It’s that time of year when having a versatile rain shell can pay huge dividends when you’re on your way to work or trying to enjoy the outdoors. What is a rain shell, you ask? What should you consider when purchasing a rain shell? Great questions! We’ll cover that and more in the post that follows.
What is a rain shell?
A rain shell is simply a thin rain jacket. The term “shell” implies the jacket is meant to be layered with other clothing items. Rain shells or rain jackets are typically light weight and made of waterproof or water resistant materials to protect from rain and wind. In this post, we will use rain jacket and rain shell interchangeably.
What are the primary considerations when buying a rain shell?
The primary things most people consider when purchasing a rain jacket are:
- Waterproof vs water resistant materials
- Form vs function
Waterproof vs water resistant
The first thing most people think of or see when looking at a rain jacket is typically the words waterproof or water resistant. All jackets provide some level of resistance to water penetrating the jacket to your clothes. A jacket is “waterproof” when it’s water resistance is sufficient enough to keep out driving rain.
Jackets marked as water resistant are not intended to be worn in a heavy rain, but should provide at least some protection in light rain/mist.
What makes a good waterproof rain jacket?
The best waterproof rain jackets are a combination of waterproof fabrics, solid construction/design and a water repellent coating.
The most common waterproof fabric is Gore-Tex. Gore-Text is made from expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (or ePTFE for short) fabric that can repel water on the outer layer while allowing sweat and other water vapor to pass through the inner layer.
Good rain jackets are also constructed with specific features like fully covered zippers, zip pockets, Velcro straps around arm holes and nylon straps to provide extra seal on the body and hood openings.
Water repellent coatings are found on most waterproof jackets. The coating, sometimes referred to as DWR or durable waterproof repellent finish is an essential component to a jacket's ability to block rain penetration.
Pro Tip: You can reapply DWR to your rain jacket. If your rain jacket is seemingly less water repellent than when you bought it, consider purchasing a DWR finish and re-applying.
Do I need a waterproof jacket?
This really depends on how you’ll be using the jacket. It’s always nice to have the peace of mind that your jacket is built to be waterproof. Even if you don’t test your jacket in a driving rain, it's a comforting feeling knowing you can run into the grocery store or to work on a rainy day and be dry when you get there.
That said, the waterproof function of a jacket isn’t the only consideration. Many people prioritize the design aspects of a jacket over the need for a waterproof shell. If you’re not going to be using the jacket in rainy conditions on a regular basis, then a water resistant jacket may be exactly what you need. A decent water resistant jacket will block at least some level of rain and may be more than adequate for short duration of light rain situations.
Is there a downside to a waterproof rain shell?
One downside to waterproof shells is their lack of insulation. As previously mentioned, a waterproof shell is meant to be layered with other clothing items. During the early spring or late fall Iowa weather conditions, a waterproof rain shell likely will require additional layers to be effective at keeping you warm AND dry.
In these instances, it might be better to have a mid-weight jacket rather than a rain shell. Ideally the mid-weight jacket has some level of insulation and water resistance to keep you warm and dry.
Waterproof rain jackets are designed with specific fabrics that allow heat and moisture to ventilate out from the body. For starters, the material used on waterproof rain jackets is designed to repel water from the outer layer while allowing heat to pass through the inner and outer layers.
Another common feature for better breathability in a shell are armpit zipper vents. You can open or close the vents during strenuous activity or during warmer times of the day without having to take off the jacket entirely.