Waterproof-breathable garments are the most complex, expensive, and often important pieces to our layering system. They are relied on heavily as the first line of defense when the weather turns bad, and performance or lack thereof can make or break a hunt. Quality raingear isn’t something that needs to be babied, but there are steps that can and should be taken to ensure the highest performance is achieved on each outing. Furthermore, proper care for these garments goes a long way in promoting their longevity.
Before jumping into preventative measures, we first need to understand how and where raingear performance drops off due to neglected care.
The photos corresponding with each category below are of an original 2011 Chugach Pant that was worn heavily for four years, and only washed a couple of times with normal laundry detergent. Although the performance of these pants had deteriorated over time, you will see how NikWax was able to bring them back to life. While it’s possible to rejuvenate neglected raingear, routine care is a much better course of action.
Every waterproof-breathable rainwear on the market comes standard with an exterior DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the face fabric. This coating causes water to bead up and roll off the garment, which in turn minimizes the workload of the waterproof membrane itself. While some DWRs are surely better than others, none last forever. Abrasion, dirt, and prolonged moisture are all unavoidable culprits that lead to the reduction in a given DWR’s effectiveness. Once a DWR has lost its potency, the face fabric will absorb more water (photo below). More water in the face fabric equates to a heavier garment that takes longer to dry, and also contributes to a loss in breathability.
DWR Care and Re-Application
DWR treatment should be re-applied about once per season for frequently used items. It’s pretty easy to tell when the DWR has worn off, as it has a very visible affect on performance (see photo above). While it’s normal for some moisture to wick into the face fabric during prolonged exposure to water and friction or abrasion, the majority of water should roll off. When this stops happening, you know the DWR has lost some of its potency.
Fortunately, DWR rejuvenation is relatively cheap and easy. Simply machine wash the garment with a tech-specific detergent like NikWax Tech Wash (more on washing in the next section), and follow with an additional wash cycle with a wash-in DWR. You don’t need to dry between washes. We use and sell NikWax Softshell Proof as the go-to DWR for our raingear. Why Softshell Proof? Because our raingear is made with a 4-way stretch fabric, a standard Hardshell DWR is too brittle to handle the stretch in the fabric. If you are performing these steps on raingear with little to no stretch, then you want to use a true Hardshell DWR solution.
Below is our sample pant after undergoing Tech Wash and Softshell Proof DWR treatment. The difference is night and day. Notice the location on the pant is the same as the photo above.
One more photo after 8 hours of standing water.
The breathability of a storm shell is one of the key factors that differentiates “top of the line” garments from “the rest”. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the first things to diminish as a garment gets used and abused. In addition to the negative effects of a wetted out face fabric explained above, sweat, skin cells, dirt, and oils from the body clog the backer and the membrane from the inside out. Likewise on the exterior face fabric, the buildup of soil and grime acquired over the course of a few hunts has a real affect on ventilation at the microscopic level.
The discoloration from years of sweat and body oils is obvious on the inside of our sample pant before washing:
Breathability is maintained by routine washings with a technical detergent. NikWax Tech Wash is designed to cleanse the pores on the inside and outside of waterproof-breathable fabrics, without leaving behind invisible breathability inhibiting residue like a regular mainstream clothing detergent will. While it’s not as powerful as a full-on DWR reapplication wash, Tech Wash will also help prolong the water repellency on the face fabric. Raingear should be properly washed after every couple long, hard-use hunts.
Our sample pant after one wash in NikWax Tech Wash:
In the production of waterproof breathable fabrics, multiple layers of thin and fragile material is carefully bonded together using light layers of specialized adhesives. Once a garment has been sewn, all seams are taped for waterproofness through a process that requires even more heat-sensitive glue. Over time, bacteria buildup from body oils and dirt can eat away at these chemical adhesives that play an important role in the performance of raingear.
Note: Not all seam tapes are created equal. Obvious quality differences in seam tape can be seen throughout the industry upon visual inspection of the inside of different raingear garments.
The seam tape and laminated layers have held up well to the abuse in our sample pant, which likely wouldn’t be the case with cheaper components. KUIU raingear uses Bemis seam tape, a brand known for making the highest quality seam tape available. Seam tapes of lower quality are typically thin and transparent- sometimes so thin that the stitching can be seen raising up through the tape itself. If the stitching becomes fully exposed due to wear-through on the thin tape, steps must be taken to re-seal. Gear-Aid Seam Grip is a good product in this situation.
Ensuring the longevity of seam tape and lamination bonding agents is achieved through a regular washing routine, as described above in the breathability section. Refrain from using extremely hot water and drying methods, as some seam tapes are heat-sensitive.
NikWax: Additional Information
NikWax Tech Wash and Softshell Proof can be purchased as a bundle kit in the KUIU Gear Shop. One bottle of Tech Wash provides 2-3 washes worth of solution, while one entire bottle of Softshell Proof is required for DWR application. Click the link below for more information.
Whether you’re planning on purchasing a new set of raingear this season or you’re still getting use out of an older set, the same rules apply: keep it clean and rejuvenate the DWR as needed. Without question, taking these steps throughout the season will pay dividends in the day to day performance and season to season longevity of your waterproof-breathable investments.