In the simplest sense, a waterproof jacket offers the highest level
of protection from rain and snow. While a water-resistant jacket
offers a good, but lower level of protection. Though there’s a little
more to it than that.
The difference between water-resistant and waterproof arises from
the fabric. A water-resistant material is so tightly woven that water
struggles to get through. So, materials like polyester and nylon
naturally withstand more water than cotton just because of their
construction. But a water-resistant jacket can only stand up to so
A waterproof material, on the other hand, provides a complete
barrier to water. In this sense a plastic bag is waterproof. But you’d
totally overheat if you were hiking or snowboarding in a plastic bag,
getting wet from the inside – from your own sweat.
That’s why both our men's and women's The North Face waterproof jackets
use a membrane material, combining waterproof and breathable
properties. This membrane keeps you dry from the inside – yep, from
sweat – and from rain and snow on the outside.
There’s another aspect to keeping out the wet we need to talk about,
too: water repellence. This basically means that
water beads on the surface of a material preventing the fabric from saturating.
We coat many of our products with a durable water repellent (DWR). Together with a tightly-woven, i.e.
water-resistant fabric, this provides a good level of protection from
rain and snow.
We also apply a DWR to many of our waterproof jackets. But if
they’re already great at keeping you dry, why do we do this?
Basically, it’s so that the water beads then runs off the surface,
rather than saturating it and this helps with maintaining
So when do you really need a waterproof vs water-resistant jacket?
If you want to stay completely dry, inside and out, when active in the
rain go for a lightweight waterproof jacket. If you’re only doing
light activity and the weather forecast is for light, infrequent
showers, then a water-resistant jacket is totally adequate.