Raincoat fabric Guide: Types, Properties and How to choose

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Raincoat fabric Guide: Types, Properties and How to choose

raincoat fabric

Choosing the right raincoat can be a daunting task, especially when faced with myriad options and technical jargon. However, the fabric of a raincoat plays a crucial role in how well it keeps you dry and comfortable in wet weather. This guide is designed to demystify the world of raincoat fabrics, helping you understand what makes a fabric suitable for a raincoat, the different types of materials commonly used, their properties, and their pros and cons. Whether you’re planning a hiking trip in a rain-soaked region or simply preparing for the rainy season in your city, we’ve got you covered.

Understanding raincoat fabric materials

Raincoat fabrics have a fascinating history and have seen significant technological advances over the years, leading to improved performance and comfort.

Historically, the quest for rain-resistant garments dates back centuries. Early raincoats were made from wool or leather, and treated with oils or fats to make them water-resistant. However, these materials were often heavy and didn’t provide optimal protection from the rain.

The invention of rubber in the early 19th century revolutionized rainwear. Rubberized fabrics, while cumbersome and lacking breathability, provided a level of waterproofing that was previously unattainable. The Mackintosh, a rubberized cotton raincoat named after its inventor Charles Macintosh, became a popular choice.

The introduction of synthetic materials like nylon and polyester in the 20th century brought about another wave of change. These materials were lightweight and could be treated for water resistance, making them ideal for rainwear. However, they still struggled with breathability.

The real breakthrough came with the invention of Gore-Tex in the 1970s. This material, a layered fabric with a waterproof yet breathable membrane, changed the game of outdoor wear. For the first time, a fabric could effectively keep water out while allowing sweat to escape, providing comfort and protection.

Today, we have a variety of high-tech fabrics designed for raincoats, each with different levels of waterproofing and breathability, as well as other desirable properties such as wind resistance, durability, and lightness.

Different types of raincoat fabric materials

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride, is a type of plastic that’s used in a variety of applications, including raincoat production. It’s known for its durability and excellent waterproofing properties.

pvc rain coat

Properties of PVC Fabric:

  • Waterproof: PVC is inherently waterproof and provides excellent protection against rain.
  • Durable: This material is resistant to many different types of wear and tear, making it long-lasting.
  • Flexible: PVC can be made into a flexible fabric that’s suitable for raincoats.

Pros and Cons of PVC Raincoats:

Pros:

  • Excellent water resistance: PVC raincoats provide superior protection from water.
  • Affordable: PVC material is generally less expensive than other raincoat materials, making PVC raincoats a cost-effective option.
  • Variety of styles and colors: PVC can be produced in a wide range of colors and patterns, offering a variety of style options.

Cons:

  • Breathability: PVC is not breathable, which means that it can become uncomfortable to wear, especially in warmer weather or during physical activity.
  • Environmental impact: The production and disposal of PVC can have negative environmental impacts. It’s not biodegradable and its production can release harmful toxins.
  • Durability: While PVC is resistant to water and many types of wear and tear, it’s not as durable as some other materials when it comes to prolonged exposure to sunlight or extreme temperatures.

Nylon Raincoat Fabrics

Nylon is a synthetic fabric celebrated for its resilience and versatility. It’s frequently used in outdoor apparel, including raincoats, due to its impressive balance of lightness, strength, and resistance to environmental elements.

waterproof nylon fabric

Properties of Nylon Fabric:

  • Strong and Durable: Nylon is known for its high strength and durability. It can endure heavy use and resist wear and tear, making it ideal for outdoor gear.
  • Lightweight: Despite its strength, nylon fabric is light, adding minimal weight to the raincoat.
  • Quick-Drying: Nylon has a low water absorption rate, allowing it to dry quickly once wet.
  • Abrasion Resistant: Nylon is resistant to abrasion, contributing to its longevity.

Pros and Cons of Nylon Raincoats:

Pros:

  • Weather Resistant: Nylon raincoats are excellent at shielding from wind and rain.
  • Lightweight and Flexible: Nylon raincoats are typically light and easy to pack, making them perfect for travel or backpacking trips.
  • Durable: Due to nylon’s strength and abrasion resistance, these raincoats often last a long time.

Cons:

  • Breathability: Pure nylon is not very breathable. However, many nylon raincoats incorporate breathable technologies or coatings to address this issue.
  • Water Resistance: While nylon itself is not waterproof, it’s often treated with waterproofing agents or layered with waterproof membranes. Over time and with wear, these treatments may need to be reapplied.
  • UV Sensitivity: Exposure to sunlight can cause nylon to degrade over time. However, this is typically a slow process and generally isn’t a major concern for most users.

Polyester Raincoat Material

Polyester is another synthetic fabric commonly used in raincoat production. This material is known for its durability, resistance to many chemicals, and its ability to resist wrinkles and shrinking.

Properties of Polyester Fabric:

  • Durable: Polyester is a strong and durable material, capable of withstanding a lot of wear and tear.
  • Resistant to Most Chemicals: This material can resist many types of chemicals, including many waterproofing agents.
  • Doesn’t Wrinkle Easily: Polyester holds its shape well and doesn’t get wrinkled easily.
  • Doesn’t Shrink: Unlike many natural fibers, polyester does not shrink when washed.

Pros and Cons of Polyester Raincoats:

Pros:

  • Long-lasting: Polyester is a robust material that can stand up to a lot of use without showing signs of wear.
  • Easy to Care For: Polyester can be machine washed and is resistant to most chemicals, making it easy to care for.
  • Affordable: Polyester is often less expensive than other raincoat materials.

Cons:

  • Breathability: Polyester is not as breathable as some other fabrics, meaning it may not be as comfortable for active wear or in warmer weather.
  • Environmental Impact: Polyester is made from petroleum, and the production process can be harmful to the environment. Additionally, polyester is not biodegradable.

Gore-Tex Raincoat Material

Gore-Tex is a high-tech material often used in premium outdoor gear, including raincoats. It’s renowned for its excellent balance of waterproofing and breathability, thanks to its unique membrane structure.

Properties of Gore-Tex Fabric:

  • Waterproof: Gore-Tex is designed to be completely waterproof, keeping the wearer dry in even heavy rain conditions.
  • Breathable: Unlike many waterproof materials, Gore-Tex allows sweat vapor to escape, enhancing wearer comfort by preventing overheating.
  • Windproof: Gore-Tex also provides excellent protection against the wind.
  • Durable: The material is robust and can withstand heavy wear, prolonging the lifetime of the garment.

Pros and Cons of Gore-Tex Raincoats:

Pros:

  • Excellent Weather Protection: Gore-Tex raincoats provide superior protection from both rain and wind.
  • Breathability: The ability of Gore-Tex to allow moisture vapor to escape makes it an excellent choice for active use where sweating may occur.
  • Long-lasting: Thanks to its durability, a Gore-Tex raincoat can be a long-term investment.

Cons:

  • Price: The high performance of Gore-Tex comes at a cost, and raincoats made from this material are often more expensive than those made from other fabrics.
  • Care: Gore-Tex garments require specific care to maintain their waterproof and breathable properties, including periodic washing and heat application.

Vinyl Raincoat Material

Vinyl, also known as PVC (polyvinyl chloride), is a type of plastic material often used in raincoat production. It’s known for its excellent waterproof properties and its shiny, distinctive appearance.

Properties of Vinyl Fabric:

  • Waterproof: Vinyl is inherently waterproof, providing excellent protection against rain.
  • Flexible: Despite being a type of plastic, vinyl can be made flexible enough for comfortable wear.
  • Variety of Styles: Vinyl can be produced in a wide range of colors and can also be clear, offering a variety of style options.

Pros and Cons of Vinyl Raincoats:

Pros:

  • Excellent Water Protection: Given its inherent waterproof properties, vinyl raincoats provide superior protection from rain.
  • Variety of Styles: The ability to produce vinyl in different colors, or even transparent, adds a fun and stylish element to raincoats.
  • Affordable: Vinyl material is generally less expensive than other raincoat materials, making vinyl raincoats a cost-effective option.

Cons:

  • Breathability: Vinyl is not breathable, which means that it can become uncomfortable to wear, especially in warmer weather or during physical activity.
  • Durability: While vinyl is resistant to water, it may not be as durable as some other materials when it comes to prolonged exposure to sunlight or extreme temperatures.
  • Environmental Impact: The production and disposal of PVC can have negative environmental impacts. It’s not biodegradable and its production can release harmful toxins.

How to choose the right raincoat fabric?

When selecting a raincoat, it’s important to take into account several factors including the specific weather conditions you’ll be facing, the intended use of the coat, the breathability and waterproof ratings of the fabric, and the durability and maintenance needs of the material. Here are some factors to consider:

1. Considering the Weather Conditions

Different fabrics have varying levels of water and wind resistance. If you live in an area with heavy rainfall, a fully waterproof material like Gore-Tex or vinyl would be a good choice. For milder weather where you’re dealing with occasional rain, water-resistant fabrics like nylon or polyester may suffice.

2. Considering the Intended Use

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hiking, camping, or other active pursuits, you’ll want a raincoat that’s not only waterproof but also breathable. Breathability is crucial for comfort during physical activity, as it allows sweat to evaporate. Gore-Tex is an excellent choice in this case, as it provides both waterproof protection and breathability.

For everyday use, such as commuting or running errands, a less technical (and often less expensive) fabric like polyester or vinyl may be sufficient. These materials still provide good water resistance and are typically easier to care for.

3. Considering the Breathability and Waterproof Ratings

Many outdoor gear manufacturers provide breathability and waterproof ratings for their products. Breathability is usually measured in grams (g/m²/day), indicating how much water vapor can pass through the fabric over 24 hours. The higher the number, the more breathable the fabric.

Waterproof ratings are typically given in millimeters (mm), indicating the amount of water pressure a fabric can withstand before it starts to leak. A higher number means more waterproof protection.

4. Considering the Durability and Maintenance Needs

Consider how long you want your raincoat to last and how much effort you’re willing to put into its maintenance. Fabrics like Gore-Tex, while durable and high-performing, often require specific care to maintain their waterproof and breathable properties. On the other hand, polyester and vinyl are generally easier to care for and can still offer good durability.

Conclusion

Choosing the right raincoat fabric involves assessing weather conditions, intended use, fabric properties and maintenance needs. For heavy rain, waterproof Gore-Tex or vinyl are recommended, while polyester or nylon are better for lighter drizzle. Active outdoor use calls for breathable, durable fabrics like Gore-Tex, while everyday use can leverage the cost-effectiveness and easy-care nature of polyester or vinyl. Always balance functionality, cost, and environmental factors.

Arlen Wang

Arlen Wang

Arlen wang is the author of Anbu safety, he is the manager and co-founder of the Anbu Safety network. He has been in anbu safety company since 2008, with a working knowledge of personal protective equipment, and several unique skills related to the PPE industry.

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