What’s the difference between water resistant and waterproof? 

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 much rain.

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 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 breathability.   

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.