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How dry do you want to stay?

A downpour of new materials, styles, and design features has hit the recreational rainwear field. If you're in the market for rain gear, you'll find a colorful if confusing array of choices in the stores this month, coinciding with the start of the rainy season in many areas. And rainwear can make a good gift for outdoor-sport enthusiasts--it's easy to select, since fit isn't absolutely critical.

What set off the deluge? Primarily a product called Gore-Tex. Introduced around 1978 and now in widespread use, this "breathable" waterproof laminated fabric has spawned a range of other fabrics and laminates that keep rain out while allowing perspiration vapor to escape. Increased sales of sports rainwear have also encourage manufacturers to make improvements in materials used to coat standard rainwear fabrics.

Remember: no one material or design will suffice for all needs and uses. Selecting rainwear with the style, fabric, and features with the style, fabric, and features that will best serve you requires comparative shopping. One buyer advices, "Do a lot of shopping, and bring a notepad along to help compare the variety of options offered by differing designs and materials. Choosing a style to fit your needs and budget

You can spend a little or a lot: $10 on a flimsy poncho, or $250 on a one-piece suit. Whether it's worth a big cash outlay depends on how you'll use your rainwear and what you expect it to do.

Outline your needs. If your rainwear will serve light duty around town or on a brief camping trip, you can get away with spending less than someone who plans to wear it skiing or sailing regularly.

How strenous will the activity be? If you'll fairly confined and inactive (on a boat or in a football stadium), you'll need garments that retain body heat. For more vigorous sports such as hiking or bicycling, you'll want clothing that releases or vents heat and perspiration vapor.

Some sports concentrate wear and rain exposure on certain parts of the garment: for rock scrambling, you'll want pants reinforced in the knees; for cycling or boating, look for reinforcement in both seat and knee areas.

For a quick guide to the basic rainwear styles, their advantages, and their limitations, see the chart on page 119. Fabrics: coated, bonded, laminated

You may find fabrics such as 60/40 cloth and uncoated nylon sold as rainwear, but these fabrics are generally considered water repellent, not truly waterproof.

Waterproof materials must meet the minimum U.S. Armed Forces Testing Lab standards of waterproofness when subjected to water pressure of 25 pounds per square inch; however, some companies require their waterproof garments to meet standards of 100 psi or more.

When comparing garments, remember to compare fabric weights: a lighter fabric may be cheaper but weaker.

Fabrics--from lightest to heaviest--include vinyl plastic (light, cheap, but tears easily) and nylon in various weights (tough, abrasion resistant but can rip fairly easily unless it's ripstop). Cotton in various weights used as a backing adds comfort but soaks up perspiration.

Coatings. They work well to keep rain out, but they also keep perspiration in. Most coatings will break down in time: generally, the less expensive the coating, the shorter its lifespan. Neoprene is tough, resists wind and weathering, but is very heavy. Polyurethane is light and inexpensive; it stands up to temperature variation and weathering but is not very abrasion resistant and can crack and peel if stored wet. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) works best: it resists abrasion, salt, and sunlight but is heavy and costly.

Two new coated fabric products claim to combine waterproofness and breathability: one, called Entrant, uses polyurethane to bond with or penetrate a cotton or nylon fabric woven to let perspiration moisture out. Another, Storm Shed, uses a tight weave of polyester and cotton underlaid with a "porous" polyurethane coating to let inner moisture out. Both are less expensive than laminated fabric products (below).

Laminates. Products such as Gore-Tex use a light, Teflon-like film bonded to an outer fabric (such as nylon) or sandwiched between two fabric layers. Pores in the film allow vapor to escape but hold larger drops out. Rainwear made of these laminates is more expensive and slightly heavier, since two or three layers of fabric are used. Besides waterproofness and breathability, such products are abrasion resistant and claim to be long-lived, but they require good maintenance.

Remember: garments that let moisture breathe away also allow body heat to escape--an important consideration in activities where keeping warm is a problem. (None of the rainwear we discuss has an insulative backing.)

There's debate over the suitability of Gore-Tex for use around salt water. The manufacturer's tests show salt doesn't break down the membrane; but a buildup of salt crystals inside the fabric can hold moisture. Still, some sailors swear by it.

First-generation Gore-Tex had problems with delamination, which seem to have been solved with today's product. Extra features add comfort--and cost

Hoods may have rain bills. They may have a drawstring that closes around the face to keep out wind-driven rain and another at the back to flatten the hood against the head and make the fabric follow better as you turn your head a plus for sailing and cycling, where you're often facing a wind.

Look for storm flaps over main front zippers or gussets behind them. Snap- or zipper-closing vents at areas of highest heat and perspiration buildup under arms, across the chest or back are good for garments used for strenuous activities such as cross-country skiing or running. Flat cargo pockets can be handy to carry items needed often: trail maps, snacks. Storm cuffs or Velero closures at ankles or wrists can add extra comfort, wrist closures are especially welcome if you're canoeing or kayaking, where water can run along your arms. If your sport involves putting pants on over boots, as hiking or skiing does, pants with side zippers are handy. Shopping tips

You'll find rainwear in sporting goods shops, in outdoor specialty stores, and through mail-order catalogs. As you snop around, keep in mind that many variables determine price: material, fabric weight or thickness, quality of construction, and design features.

If you're shopping for yourself, wear to the store the type of garments you plan to wear under the rain gear (a bulky wool sweater may entail a larger size). Many garments are sold in men's and women's extra-small to extra-large; parkas often come in numbered sizes.

Checks fit by bending and stretching; sleeves should be long enough for you to pull your hands inside; cuffs should cover boot tops. If you're buying a top and bottom, make sure there's plenty of overlap at the waist (anoraks usually hit just below the waist, parkas come to the hips). If you're gift shopping, know the recipient's shirt or blouse size for tops, slack size for bottoms. Rainwear care

In general, you should hang rainwear or lay it flat after use. Folding it wet encourages mildew and weakens fabrics and coatings over time.

If stored wet, many coated fabrics will peel and crack, losing their waterproffness. Coating material can't be replaced, but you can patch small areas with a swatch of waterproff fabric and contact cement.

Laminates such as Gore-Tex must be kept clean, since a buildup of dirt and oils may impede both breathability and waterproofness. Follow the manufacturer's cleaning directions, which usually advise machine-washing with mild soap and two rinse cycles. (Dry-cleaning may cause fabric layers to peel.)

Inside seam sealing is critical, since seam lines and thread holes can leak. On many garments, seams are factory sealed with heat-applied tape; it should be smooth and unpuckered. Taping isn't possible on some fabrics, so you'll have to seal seams yourself with a tube of liquid sealant (about $2): it's messy, and fumes can be toxic, so work in a well-ventilated room. Layering

Even wearing the best riain gear, you're bound to get some moisture inside. To guard against chill, dress in layers for warmth: wear an undergarment that wicks moisture away from the skin and will hold heat even when wet (polypropylene is good), then a heat-holding layer such as wool, which also retains, heat when wet.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Nov 1, 1984
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