What Exactly Does Waterproof Mean?

In Terms of Clothing What Does Waterproof Actually Mean

It’s a simple question which has people more confused than before they asked it. It sounds straight forward and believe me it is when you place the question in the right context and remove the bluster, jargon and sales speak from the reality. Workwear producers as much as most clothing companies are guilty of dressing up their products and making them appear more sparkly and amazing with “extras” and benefits which when you scrutinise are rarely as good as they profess to be.

WaterproofingOne of the greatest bones of contention is the term “waterproof” especially when assigned to clothing as consumers who are seeking this type of clothing out generally are looking for weather protection to stay dry and warm. It’s a tangible asset they seek not an aspirational tag which makes them feel better about spending more money on a product. I would go as far as to say it’s a necessity for their clothing to be waterproof if they are specifically asking for it.
The scenario, which I’m sure we are all familiar with, is incorrect labelling where the reality does not quite match the pontification surrounding the product.

I can personally remember the old style cagoules we wore as children, which looked and felt like coloured bin bags, these were supposed to keep us dry when we were out on school trips however they were not very functional and really the level of “protection” was always questionable. Nevertheless they were always presented as “waterproof” essentially because they were made from a nylon type fabric compound.
Today fabrics have evolved further but there are still products designated as waterproof when in reality they are simply water resistant which is obviously either mislabelling of the product or misselling on the company’s behalf.

Familiar to Millions









So what is waterproof? What does it actually mean and is there a clear definitive scale we can use to classify?

Waterproofing in clothing is defined very clearly and classifying it involves using laboratory conditions, stretching the fabric over a sensor which detects moisture and a column of water designated a hydrostatic head. The hydrostatic head is measured in millimetres up to 20,000 and beyond in some specialised cases but typically for civilian and commercially available clothing the maximum is between 20,000-30,000 mm.
Over a given timeline usually 24 hours the hydrostatic head is filled to the relevant amount and the clock is started to see how long it will take for the fabric to first saturate and then the water to permeate the fabric. If the fabric lasts 24 hours with no penetration at the hydrostatic head of 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 mm then it is classified as waterproof to that designated height of the hydrostatic head.

Now, that can sound like a whole bunch of technical jargon which could have been made up by some imaginative geek with lots of free time and a keyboard. To be fair that information has no relevancy unless it’s placed in a real world context with real world applications which we are all about at Regatta Workwear. So let me get real world on your posterior, damn I wish I could swear here for more impetus and puerility.

When you buy a jacket (typically) which has a waterproof label of 5,000mm this essentially means it will cope very well in almost all weather conditions with little or no water penetration. In other words if you are working outside in the UK even in the wettest of wet days the only way you will get wet is if you take the jacket off, unzip it, rip it or you jump in a pool of water. Jackets in the Regatta range with the 5,000mm designation are perfect viable for use in the extremes of winter and the harshest downpours.Not What Waterproof Means
The main caveat to remember is there are limits to this waterproofing where if you are working in extreme conditions you probably won’t be wearing just a waterproof jacket with 5,000mm waterproofing you will be wearing specialist clothing most likely a waterproof suit, layered with bespoke and extreme weather assets.

The reality is these waterproofing designates are partially aspiration with the functionality to back it up however most wearers will never be exposed to the weather conditions which will test the products limits and if they are well they have bigger problems to worry about than water penetration. Think Polar bears or hypothermia as those environments require the levels of protection reserved for astronauts not an active wear jacket.

Looking for Great waterproof work wear clothing? See our full range here, jackets, softshells, fleeces and trousers

Some brands profess their clothing as waterproof when it is clearly not

The main rub in the consumer’s eyes stems from jackets professing to be “waterproof” with no hydrostatic head classification or any classification to back it up other than a tagline from the brand or manufacturer. Be wary of these products and please do not be surprised if they are far from waterproof in the real world.
I will offer my advice here to consumers presenting a couple of thoughts to be mindful of when buying this type of clothing.
Firstly always remember you get what you pay for in everything in life, if you are looking at something which appears very cheap it will most likely be very cheap in terms of performance in almost every case. In terms of workwear if you buy a jacket for £15.00 and it claims to be waterproof it will not be the level of waterproof you may expect and you need to expect it will not be breathable so while you toil the sweat moisture you generate will NOT dissipate which can make it appear that the jacket leaks when working in the rain.

You are only as waterproof as your weakest clothing layer

Secondly there is a very good chance that while the material is extremely water resistant because of its inherent chemical bonding (Nylon, Polyester, Polyamide etc)there is very good chance the seams are not taped neither will the pockets or the zips therefore there are several weak areas which will let in water.

The solution is do a little research and ask questions of the supplier whether that is on the High Street or online to determine the actual performance of the product. If they are worth their salt they will tell you exactly what the product is capable of and then offer alternatives which may be better suited to your needs. Do not solely go on price alone simply because how much would you pay for a warm dry jacket when you are on a moor in the driving rain hours from anywhere dry? Equally so spending £200 is no guarantee either although it really should be but you could be paying for the name.
Think about what you need and rather than what you want and remember if you are looking for waterproof clothing it will be a necessity so treat it as one.

Regatta Work wear contact details

Hopefully that helped if you have any further questions please call us on 0333 101 4030 (local UK rates) or email us at info@regattaworkwear.com

Our team will assist you fully to ensure you source the best waterproof workwear clothing for your or your firm’s requirements


By Grant Martin