Outerwear Insight: Cutting through the techno-speak

So, you’re considering buying a new jacket or pants to wear riding this season, but you’re daunted by all thetrademarks, acronyms, and claims. There’s “5000 mm” this and “ceramic microporous coating” that.”Technical” is the buzzword of snowboard clothing, but technical doesn’t have to mean confusing. With just alittle information, you can cut through the techno-speak and get the goods you need. Fundamentally, we wantouterwear that keeps us dry, cuts the wind, and doesn’t inhibit our range of motion. Shells need to bedurable, but not too heavy. Pit zips, powder skirts, and hoods are all considerations, to say nothing of colorand style.

We’re going to focus on a snowboarding garment’s ability to keep you dry, from both the outsideand the inside. The goal is to arm you with some basic knowledge so you can zero in on a choice for yourneeds and the weather conditions you most often encounter. Waterproof/breathable? These days, mostsnowboarding outerwear is built with some sort of nylon shell, featuring any number of weather-protectivebarriers. These barriers-or membranes-are often referred to as “waterproof/breathable,” a loosely usedexpression that can represent a broad range of performance. In simplest terms, waterproof/breathable meansthe shell will keep you dry from external moisture (snow, rain, and related precipitation) and will also keepyou dry(er) inside the garment because it allows moisture and sweat to pass through and exit the shell fabric.Nice concept. Regardless of the type of “secret sauce” (Gore-Tex, Entrant, Sympatex, H2NO, Bretex,Dermizak, etc.) used, what’s important to remember is that waterproof and breathable characteristics areinversely proportional.

If you want an extra waterproof shell (read: Washington state), you’re likely to tradeoff some breathability. If you’re a Wasatch backcountry fiend hiking steep lines for fresh, breathability andventing become more critical design elements so you don’t soak in your own juices. Just remember,waterproofness and breathability are yin and yang elements in achieving your optimal comfort. More of oneusually results in less of the other. Pick your outerwear system accordingly. There’s also a rarely mentionedcomponent of your shell system that’s critical to its performance. Durable Water Repellent treatments(DWRs), a key contributor to your shell’s ability to fend off moisture, are a finish applied to the exterior of ashell garment that makes water bead up and roll off. What’s to know? Not all DWRs are created equal;some will endure a season of thrashing and numerous launderings, while others begin to degrade after just afew days on the hill.

Regardless, all DWRs require some level of care and feeding. There are aftermarketspray-on and wash-in formulations like NikWax, Revivex, or good old-fashioned Scotch Guard that willextend the performance of your shell gear. At whatever point your outerwear starts to “wet out,” use one ofthese hydrophobic remedies. Lastly, don’t forget a critical part of staying dry requires wearing the right stuffunder your shells. Even with the fanciest, most expensive outerwear, if you’re wearing sweatshirts or flannel(anything cotton) underneath, you’re likely to be in for a dank and chilly ride. Wear synthetic long underwearthat wicks-this stuff will keep you drier even when you’re wallowing ear-deep in snow, and will insulate if yousweat it up. Insulating layers of pile, fleece, and related polyester fuzz will help you fine tune your comfort.