Waterproof Gear Guide
If you’re in the market for some new motorcycle gear, you may find all the different kinds of waterproofing materials and choices out there baffling. Who hasn’t wondered, why is this jacket $800 and that one is only $200? Are all waterproof and breathable membranes created equally? Will these pants be all steamy inside like my plastic yellow rain suit from the hardware store?
Manufacturers like Alpinestars, Tourmaster, Firstgear, Dainese, and Rev’it put a huge amount of time and effort into waterproofing our gear so cost and performance intersect at just the right point. The better we understand how they do it, the harder we’ll be putting our dollars to work when we finally choose our gloves, pants, boots, and jackets.
What Do You Need? What do you want?
Before you start comparing waterproof gear you need to think about what you’re looking for.
Are you the kind of rider who doesn’t even blink at the thought of riding through torrents and monsoons?
Or do you just want something that will keep you dry when you’re caught in the inevitable surprise rain shower?
Do you have separate winter and summer jackets, or do you want something that you can wear comfortably all year long?
And finally, how much do you want to spend?
Once you’ve identified what’s important to you, let’s look at the three main kinds of waterproofing systems you’ll find when you’re gear shopping.
WATERPROOF AND BREATHABLE MEMBRANES
Motorcycle gear typically uses a waterproof and breathable membrane system to keep the rain out. Aptly named ‘membranes’, these materials act like your own skin and contain microscopic holes that are large enough to allow sweat vapor out, but not large enough to let rainwater in.
In many cases, the waterproof and breathable membrane is independently ‘floating’ between the durable exterior material and the soft interior lining (category #1, below). In jackets, the membrane may instead take the shape of a separate, removable liner (#2), or be bonded onto a heavier material to create a single-layered shell jacket (#3).
1. FLOATING MEMBRANE SYSTEM
While waterproofing can take different forms in jackets, nearly all gloves and boots utilize the floating membrane method of waterproofing, in which the membrane ‘floats’ between the jacket’s heavy outer material and its inner lining. Jackets with a floating membrane offer a very affordable way to stay dry, but can be rather warm when worn outside of the cold season, and may not stand up to extreme weather situations. For a more complete understanding of waterproof and breathable membranes, be sure to read the section on different membrane brands at the bottom of this page.
Convenience– The waterproofing is built right into the jacket, so you don’t have to deal with zipping in a removable liner.
Price– Jackets utilizing this method can be reliable without being very expensive.
Saturation– Though your body will stay dry, the outer material of your jacket, gloves, boots, or pants may become saturated with water (see Water-Repellant Coatings and the section on how to care for your waterproof gear, below).
Warm Weather Performance– Even though a membrane is breathable, things will get a little warm inside, especially if your jacket contains a cheaply-made membrane that doesn’t breath as well as a better quality one would.
Ventilation– In most cases, ventilation zippers on this type of jacket do not provide direct airflow into the jacket’s interior and onto your body. The air actually flows onto the membrane, where it carries built-up moisture and hot air out through the rear exhaust vents.
Reliability– Inexpensive jackets of this variety have been known to leak in extremely wet situations. If you ride rain or shine, it’s a good idea to always pack an emergency rain suit for prolonged, heavy downpours.
2. REMOVABLE WATERPROOF LINER
If you want better multi-season performance, you may want to consider a jacket with a removable waterproof liner. The liner usually zips or snaps into the interior of the jacket, so you can simply remove it when you don’t need the waterproof feature.
Heat Management– When temperatures rise you can quickly ditch the waterproof membrane.
Ventilation– The zippered vents will provide direct airflow to the interior of the jacket when the waterproof liner is removed. Four-season jackets of this kind often provide an abundance of effective ventilation panels and zips so you can more comfortably ride in warm weather.
Inconvenience– Some riders don’t like dealing with the snaps and zippers of removable liners. Since most jackets come with removable thermal liners as well, dealing with two liners can be a chore until you get the hang of it.
Saturation– As with floating membrane jackets, the outer material is not waterproof and can become saturated.
3. WATERPROOF SHELL
The main construction of a waterproof shell jacket is made from a durable material, such as nylon, with a waterproof membrane laminated or bonded right onto it. Shell jackets are less common in the motorcycle gear market but nevertheless have a committed fan base because of their simplicity, multi-season versatility, and lightweight design. This style of jacket will have taped, waterproof zippers that provide direct airflow through the shell to the rider’s body.
Simplicity and Light Weight– No waterproof liner necessary, it’s just one waterproof and breathable layer. The bonded construction of the material minimizes bulk and weight.
Ventilation– Taped, heat-sealed seams on all the ventilation zippers keep the rain out, but provide plenty of airflow straight through the interior of the jacket when you need it.
Price– Creating a truly waterproof shell isn’t easy. Zippers and seams are all potential weak points where rain could penetrate if they fail, so successful manufacturers are typically established, technically innovative and experienced, and don’t skip the beta testing phase. In addition, the multi-season advantages of this jacket style demand the use of a high-quality, highly breathable membrane like Gore-Tex, which adds to the cost.
Demystifying Brands: Waterproof and Breathable Membranes
A big part of what determines the price of a waterproof product is how much the manufacturer spent acquiring and preparing the membrane. Though we haven’t conducted a systematic comparison of all the different membrane materials we discuss below, it is safe to say that membranes that perform better are more costly, and we’ve found that to be true in our own experiences. Companies like Alpinestars, Dainese, and Rev’it will use more costly materials in their high-end products and use generic or less expensive membrane materials in their value-oriented and mid-range gear.
Gore-Tex, of course, is considered by many to be the most breathable waterproof membrane material available, and for that reason Gore-Tex gear comes at a premium price. The material itself is guaranteed waterproof for life by it’s manufacturer, W.L. Gore and Associates, and W.L. Gore still refuses to commit their brand to a product that isn’t of the highest quality, so you know you’re getting a great product when the Gore-Tex name is attached.
DRYSTAR, HYDRATEX, D-DRY
Drystar is Alpinestars’ premium proprietary membrane material, not to be confused with their plain ol’ non-branded membrane used in products they label with ‘WP’. You should find that an Alpinestars product with Drystar in the name performs better than one with just ‘WP’ in the name (for example, the Andes Drystar Jacket vs. the Gunner WP Jacket). Alpinestars products that are labeled with the plain ol’ WP are generally on the value-end of the gear line, and Drystar is used in their mid-range products, while Gore-Tex is used in their most technical gear.
Likewise, Hydratex is Rev’it’s premium proprietary membrane material, and D-Dry is Dainese’s. Hydratex and D-Dry are found in the companies’ mid-range gear, while they reserve Gore-Tex for their top-of-the-line products.
Examples: Alpinestars Andes Drystar Jacket, Alpinestars Valparaiso Drystar Gloves, Rev’it Zoom H2o Gloves, Rev’it Tornado 2 Jacket
HiPora is a waterproof and breathable membrane material that is used widely in gloves and boots and occasionally in jackets, and is sourced by a variety of manufacturers.
Examples: Tourmaster Solution WP Boots, Cortech Scarab Winter Gloves, Cortech Vice WP Boots
DWR, Water-Repellant Coatings
Water-repellant coatings, or DWRs (durable water repellants), are usually applied to the outer shell of a jacket featuring a waterproof and breathable membrane system. The coating causes water to bead up and run off, and this deters the jacket’s outer material from soaking up water.
When a coating is used in concert with an inner membrane, the coating will prevent the jacket’s outer material from becoming saturated with water, and this helps maximize the garment’s breathability when you’re riding in the rain. Teflon is frequently used as a DWR and doubles as a dirt repellant, keeping your garment cleaner longer, and improving the outer material’s overall longevity.
Waterproof coatings wash and wear out over time and every saturation shortens their lifespan. Fortunately with the right product, you can maximize the longevity of the coating and rejuvenate it when necessary. Read on for information on how to safely wash your waterproof gear.
How To Protect Your Waterproof Product
Dirt buildup impairs your jacket’s (and pant’s) ability to let air pass through the fibers, so when you wash your jacket, use a special cleanser like NikWax Tech Wash to help maintain maximum breathability and restore the water repellant coating. For older or more worn jackets, you can reapply a fresh coating yourself in your washing machine with NikWax TX Direct.
Exposure to a lot of water will damage leather, and leather boots with a waterproof membrane are no exception. Protect leather boots from the rain by applying a home waterproofing product like NikWax Fabric and Leather Proof.
Treat your leather gloves with a waterproofing product like NikWax Glove Proof or Fabric and Leather Proof to prevent deterioration caused by exposure to water. For textile gloves with no waterproof coating, use TX Direct Wash-In to help water bead off.