Caring for your waterproof breathable rain wear is a must whether you are planning a week-long backpacking trip or a weekend of camping in the rain.
As with any other piece of clothing or gear, the first thing you need to do is to make sure it is clean and in good repair. Repairing cuts or small tears is easy using nylon repair tape. As far as keeping the rain gear clean, when waterproof breathable rain wear gets dirty, the entire function of the membrane or coating that keeps you dry begins to fail.
There is one other benefit to waterproof breathable rain gear, it is also windproof. So in addition to keeping you dry when it is wet, it will help keep you warm when the winds kick up. This makes it truly one of the primary pieces of gear you should have when in the outdoors.
If you're not familiar with this type of gear, the way it works may sound a bit counter intuitive, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.
In the simplest of terms, it keeps rain out while at the same time letting perspiration exit so you remain dry. Water molecules are much larger than the perspiration you generate and the membrane or coating on waterproof breathable gear takes advantage of this. The pores of the membrane are small enough to keep water molecules from getting in, but large enough to let perspiration out.
For all of this to work correctly, the clothing must be clean and the durable water repellent (DWR) coating on the outside must be in good shape. This is the coating that allows water to bead up and run off the outside of the jacket or pant. If it is not working right, water will saturate the outer layer and this in turn can reduce or stop perspiration from exiting.
Cleaning the gear is easy, just make sure to check for any special cleaning instructions that are on the piece and follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
There are a number of products on the market intended for washing technical gear, such as Nikwax Tech Wash. The Nikwax website also offers very good information on using their products.
These cleaners are non-detergent and formulated to be safe when cleaning waterproof breathable gear and totally rinse out of the garment, which is of utmost importance. Once again, the pores that allow perspiration out of the garment must be open and soap residue can clog things up.
If the care instructions for the garment say that normal laundry detergent can be used, it must be powdered detergent and not liquid. Liquid detergents contain compounds which stops water from beading up so it can penetrate what is being washed. But these compounds can become trapped in the clothing fabric and this will cause the DWR not to work properly. So stick with powder detergent if you plan on not using a specialized cleaner.
Generally, the clothing should be washed on the gentle setting in the washer in warm water, though some manufacturers call for washing in cold. If there is any doubt, use cold water to be safe. Before putting the gear in the washer, make sure to attach any of the hook and loop fasteners and wash the gear by itself, not with other clothing.
Once it is washed, it needs to be dried and according to a spokesperson for Columbia Sportswear, the best way to dry it and at the same time restore the DWR is to dry it fully in a dryer on gentle or low heat. The heat from the drier will many times help restore the DWR. If this does not work, then the next step is to apply a new coating to the clothing.
Nikwax offers a product called TX.Direct, which is a water based wash-in coating that is safe for most waterproof breathable fabrics. It is simple and easy to use. Again, the Nikwax website offers a long list of the type of coatings their products are safe to use on.
By keeping your rain gear clean, not only will you get the best performance from it, but in the end it will last a lot longer.
Try your waterproof breathable rain gear out on a hike