Why Do Waterproof/Breathable Rain Jackets Wet Out?

Why do waterproof breathable rain jackets wet out?

The biggest dirty little secret in the outdoor industry is that waterproof/breathable rain jackets won’t keep you dry. It doesn’t matter if you buy a high-end $450 Arcteryx Gore-tex Parka or wear your bathrobe, they’ll both Wet Out in continuous rain and leave you soaking wet.

What is Wet Out?

Most 2-layer or 3 -ayer waterproof/breathable rain jackets and pants are coated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish that makes water bead up and roll off without saturating the exterior fabric. The breathable layer is often sandwiched under or between two fabrics that protect it or provide a second surface that moisture can evaporate from. Wet Out occurs when the external DWR coating wears off, the jacket’s outer fabric becomes saturated and prevents the internal membrane from passing out water vapor.

This is a good reason to maintain your DWR layer regularly by washing your rain garments and reapplying a DWR conditioner like Nikwax TX-Direct Spray-on Water Repellent Treatment to restore it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the DWR coating will rub off quickly, particularly on your shoulders where your backpack shoulder straps rub it off. It’s less of an issue for runners and downhill skiers because they don’t wear backpacks like hikers.

Wet Out Mitigation Strategies

If your rain gear starts to wet out, you run the risk of getting chilled or even hypothermic in cooler weather. Here are a couple of things you can do to mitigate this risk and still keep hiking.

  1. Hike faster, keep eating and drinking to keep your core temperature up. Dehydration can accelerate the onset of hypothermia, so keep drinking even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  2. Put on additional base and mid-layers. While these may eventually become saturated, additional layers will help you retain more body heat. They will also disrupt the transfer of cold from the surface of your jacket or pants to your skin. Your layering system should work to keep the layer against your skin dry and move moisture away from your skin.
  3. If you have pit zips on your jacket, open them to help vent moisture. Pit zips are underrated in this era of breathable, waterproof garments.
  4. If you can’t stay warm, set up a shelter and get into your sleeping bag to warm up. It will stop raining eventually.

See Also


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  1. I’ve had the same problem with raingear soaking through since they changed to the “breathable” fabric. For years I used a coated nylon (Helly Hansen or Marmot) and since I don’t sweat much, that kept me perfectly dry in wet Alaska conditions (and I had to do nothing to maintain it). I have now tried Marmot, Red Ledge, and now Healy Hansen, and no, I am not getting wet from the inside, it IS soaking through the fabric. Since it’s dangerous to get wet in the Alaskan wilderness, I now am limited in what I can do because it’s too risky to have my raingear soak through. Does anyone know of any manufacturer who still makes coated nylon raingear? Manufacturers, please bring it back as an option!

    • You may want to try Rothco Rainsuits, some of their suits have a light PVC coating, which is like the old bright yellow, rubber type rain gear I wore as a child years, & years ago., but they have a modern style look to them, along with hooded visors, reach threw pockets, nylon lined & slip over boot features. for a very good price of 49.00 for coat & pants. Also free Shipping. They have a wide variety & selection, even fleeced lined & Poncho’s. I am looking for rain gear also that does not drench you from sweat. Hope this helps you in your search. If you find better rain gear at a reasonable price, Please post back here, if you would for I am always looking for work gear to make my job more comfortable & easier to deal with the elements we have in North Idaho.

    • Totally agree, I use “waterproof” gloves for riding, with gore-tex but sure they work perfectly the first months not a single drop pass through, but once the rain coating wears off, they basically soak and they are even worse, as they are soaking and freezing
      Bought a rain coiating product but yes it doesn’t last as much as the original not even a week, it wears off in the firs rain

  2. Well-written and useful explanation of “wet out.” Working on small craft, even in Florida Keys, sometimes means getting caught in weather, and some law of nature dictates wind will be from direction we need to go. Standing at helm in rain, any speed only multiplies penetration and chill. SCUBA masks can help, if not fogged up. I’ve not found Foul Weather gear that keeps you dry, it will be rain or sweat if not both.

  3. On a long, 11 hour hike in the rain I spent 8 hours of it soaked after a total wet-out. My base and mid layers saved my bacon but I was wet and mad. So I’ve spent the winter researching and buying PU coated, non-breathable gear. A Light-heart rain jacket, Equinox chaps and a ULA rain kilt. Like shingles on a roof my new gear is layered one on top of the next with air allowed to move under the overlap. I am looking forward to the next all day rain and I’ll report back.

    • Did the Lightheart gear jacket keep you dry? I tried one but found that I still got wet inside on the shoulders and sleeves especially

  4. My issue is the compression areas under the straps and waist belt. These soak thru on both my jackets. What’s the solution?

  5. I agree that the best place for you to start when looking for a new raingear it to understand what you plan on using it for. It’s important that you find the right jacket for the right purpose so you can be happy with your choice. If you can, I think it’s wise to go out and try some on to get an idea of how you like the fit and material.

  6. Marshall D. Wilson

    Cold rain on the outside of the shell and warm, moist air on the inside (higher RH) guarantees condensation in almost every situation. If on extended BP trips the best approach is to use polypro or capilene underlayers. At least if they get wet, you stay warm and they dry quickly once the rain stops. I have used vented and non-vented rain shells and wet out regardless with long periods of rain and moderate to heavy exertion. I have found one of the best uses for a rain shell is as a wind breaker in rain or or dry cold. A rain shell over a fleece jacket can keep you warm to temps below 20F depending on the fleece of course. Layering up with multiple layers of capilene is an adjustable smart way to go.

  7. Only thing that works for me is a full length oilskin duster. I work in the rain in Oregon. That and a water proof hat, or hat with a raincover. A good pair of waterproof boots and possibly frogtog pants over jeans, but only in heavy rain.
    I tried a $50 pair of rain pants with shoulder straps today and ended up completely soaked. I was better off with jeans only. The guy I worked with all day today just wore a shirt and jeans and ended up drier than me in the afternoon. Modern raingear sucks. So, a duster with cotton or fleece underneath. That’s the ticket. I never get wet in it.

  8. I’m looking for what my European companions wore. They stayed dry even after 6 hours in driving rain. It was a rain cape with hood, sleeves, no seams and roomy enough to put over a pack. Very lightweight. My high tech rain jacket leaked at the pits if I didn’t quite get them closed, at the shoulders and front where my backpack sat and at the neckline if I didn’t get that zipper sealed tightly.

  9. Thanks for this great article! I was wet-out last week in Scoland during a multi-day BP after walking for 5 hrs in non-stop rain with my Mammut 2.5L gore-tex hig performance rain jacket. All under layers got wet and got me real cold for the next 7 hours after before i found shelter. The Berghaus gore-tex rain pants help up perfectly though.

    I was reading up on the store sites etc and you dont hear about this: just about more performance and more breathability.

    I am still considering giong either newer/more performance or for non-breathable option for the wettest of hikes…

    • Not a desirable outcome for Scotland (my favorite place to hike) where the cold and wet will mess you up.
      Unfortunately, you can’t spend your away around this issue. DWR sucks for people who wear shoulder straps and hip belts because it wears off so fast.
      Upgrading to a 3 layer jacket will only postpone the inevitable, until it’s DWR wears off, although I have found that “thicker” rain jackets do insulate better.
      I would consider changing your midlayer to a thicker fleece (absorbs less water than wool and takes less body heat to warm up/dry) or simply pitching your shelter and waiting out the storm in a sleeping bag if you get really cold.
      The reason your rain pants didn’t wet out is that they get hit with a lot less rain than a jacket, which acts as an umbrella for your pants.

  10. I’m an equipment freak. Just had a group of 15 young folks on Kilimanjaro and then on Safari. Rained every day on the mountain, and some during the Safari. Everybody’s rain gear soaked through on the mountain. A few solutions seemed workable for different situations. A high quality coated poncho over Gore Tex rain suit worked well for one climber. One of the hikers, extremely experienced, said her solution “next time” would be to bring two rain coats, drying them when you can, which in this case was at very high elevation.

  11. Just use a proper non breathable poncho. Doubles as a tarp. They are breathable by way of being very loose around the bottom. Every time you flap your arms you get a new draft of fresh air under them, but water doesn’t fall up. I prefer an expensive one, which is still 1/10th the price of an expensive rain jacket. They can also cover your backpack.

  12. I don’t understand why more people aren’t using a hooded poncho that covers the whole pack and body.

    • Try using one in the wind & you will understand. I have a Snugpak Patrol Poncho but living on the western isles of Scotland, which can be a bit breezy, it can be almost impossible to use.
      I use several approaches to keeping dry depending on conditions/environment. Currently one of the best for the very chilly & wet conditions typical of the Scottish Islands is a Keela waterproof fleece under a lightweight Paramo windproof top layered over Merino wool. The Paramo helps keep the fleece from wetting out to quickly and also improves wind protection. This combination has keep me warm, dry and comfortable in some quite horrendous conditions for a period of several hours.

      • That’s an interesting approach. I also live and hike in Scotland and have had trouble finding cloths that works for the conditions. Had no luck with gortex. Does the fleece eventually wet through? Does it work a little like a buffalo or micro pile smock and wicking moisture to the outside to evaporate? Cheers.

  13. Complete noob/beginner/novice hiker thus far but after seeing enough YouTube vlogs of experienced, prepared thru-hikers getting their Rain Gear wetted out, I have decided to bring a Poncho, Rain Kilt & Hiking Umbrella IN ADDITION to rain pant & jacket. I was leaning towards the OR Helium II, but again, after seeing that getting wetted out, I’m leaning towards either the LightHeart Gear Rain jacket/pant or the Columbia Titanium Outdry; sure, it will be more weight but I’m not an UL Gram Weenie either.

    • Yeah. Why pay extra for something that’s going to wear off (DWR) and you have to continuously maintain. I totally agree with you. The only caveat to that is that the waterproof/breathable jackets are much better made than the cottage jackets and have taped seams.

  14. I know this thread is old, but some of the comments are newer. Try the Columbia Outdry tech rainwear. Sure it looks a little space age but it needs no DWR and won’t ‘wet out’. Added to that is the fact that Columbia charge a very reasonable price it unlike other companies.

  15. A friend of mine is lumberjack for a living, he says:

    “you can´t get wetter than wet, so keep going.
    But if you feel cold, stop immediatly and get home”

    All the high-tec mebraned stuff is overpriced fashion bull.
    I made the best experiences with old fashioned army capes.
    100% water-proof from above even in the heaviest storms,
    but they are also so wide, that you have always air-circulation
    underneath so you will not overheat. There is even enough room
    to put it over your backpack so this will stay dry as well.
    And they are dirt cheap……

  16. From the 1992 I used all types of rainjackets with DWR. In rain I always got soaking wet. Untill I discoverd the Columbia Outdry jackets during a 12 hour hike in pouring wet wheater in the Scottisch highlands. I was completely dry. Since than I always wear this jacket on multiple week hikes in wet European countries for 6 years already. It doesn’t have a DWR coating, so this jacket can not wet out.

  17. I just got a brand new Arteryx BETA SL HYBRID JACKET, I worked outdoor 2 hours in heavy snow at -6C and to my big deception, the jacket is soaking wet, at first I thought I was sweating but no, my midlayer Arteryx Atom LT Hoody exterior is wet, my underneath shirt is dry.
    For wind protection it is working great as I bike at -20C with wind no problem, I did not loose heat nor feel the cold draft.
    Reading this article make me angry a bit on the waterproof feature, maybe my expectation is too high with respect to waterproof and breathable.
    A few people mentioned Columbia Outdry, I will surely look into that.
    I just feel less stupid when reading others got total wet with their supposed Goretex and DWR membrane.

    • Sounds like condensation. Physics is a bitch.

      • I hope it is condensation 8-) I read your other article regarding the inside membrane gets wet, I will make use of the underarm zipper to ventilate like you proposed, I am glad to have those sidearm zipper when I pick that jacket.
        Thank you.

        • Sorry to be unsympathetic, but I doubt the pit zips will do much either (and an Outdry jacket will just be hotter). The most effective way to staying dry is to lower your activity level so you build up less body heat. This reduces the amount of water vapor you produce when you perspire and reduces the heat differential between the inside of your jacket and the outside, which is what causes the condensation to occur. Then again if your baselayer was still dry, who cares if the outside of your midlayer is wet. That’s how layering is supposed to work.

  18. I have used almost every brand of three layer tops and bottoms and they do all leak in about an hour of hard rain. So i use a poncho over my rain jacket/pants so if its windy in open ground and blows in the cracks of the poncho im still safe and i have tested this method and i can hike all day in hard rain and not be wet at all. My poncho is great for a stand still hunt and its my pack cover and ground sheet for my bivy.

  19. So as a fishing guide who makes a living in the outdoors and have to fish non-stop in continuous downpours wether I like it or not. I have spent, 300-900$ on high end Gortex Jackets, and various waterproof/breathable fabrics. Anything that is touted as breathable will 100% soak through eventually. I have alot of experience in this area. Talking to other outdoor/fishing guides its the exact same thing. They all get discounts on the best name brand stuff. They all say its garbage after two years. They all learn their lesson about Gore-tex one day.
    The author of this article is very wrong in the aspect that wetting out is condensation build up. Simply False!! 100% its soaking through the material. You can see once it starts, its on the top area of the next layer under the jacket, will start soaking through on the top of it. But you’ll be dry underneath and the next layer. I don’t sweat so its no my condensation and I am usually inactive mostly, watching others fish. Only time when I am active is when I am not guiding, fishing tourney’s or free days fishing.
    Anything that is breathable is not 100% waterproof. Once you get to the 4hr mark of a continuous downpour, everything soaks through.
    Also try going 70mph in a light rain on a bass boat, its a driving sideways rain like a downpour. It soaks through.
    The Colombia Outdry, Bass Pro 200mph suit, Helly hensen Impertech, Grundels Neptune. Are probably the best out there for rain jackets that wont soak through.

    • I didn’t say that wet out is caused by condensation, but condensation exacerbates it.

      “Wet Out occurs when the DWR coating wears off, the external fabric becomes saturated and prevents the internal membrane from passing out water vapor.”

      You get wet because the vapor condenses on the interior surface and makes you wet. It’s the same reason you get soaking wet when you wear a non-breathable, fully waterproof rain jacket made out of silnylon or silpoly. The water can’t get through the Gore-tex (or whatever) membrane from the outside. It’s physically impossible because the water molecules can’t fit through the membrane pores in their liquid state.

  20. I bought a Revolution Race Cyclone shell (which has been my best fitting hiking coat ever!).
    It lasted really well for a good six months of fairly frequent wear walking around Snowdonia, The Pennines, Peaks and Lake District in often persistently showery weather – then suddenly started to wet-out. It was always well looked after too. I have tried all the main name revitalising restorers – but it seems that once that DWR wears off the performance is never the same again. Now to read the admittance of this being ‘The biggest dirty little secret in the outdoor industry … that waterproof/breathable rain jackets wont keep you dry’ is quite disappointing.

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