When it comes to kid's winter jackets, ski pants, and snowboard pants, one of the features most misunderstood is the waterproofness and breathability of the gear. Many products claim "fully waterproof" and "breathable" when, in reality, it simply isn't true or, at the very least, they don't differentiate between levels of performance. With this post we will explain what these ratings mean, decipher some of the lingo, and hopefully help parents make informed purchase decisions.
Why Does Waterproof/Breathable Matter?
It goes without saying that a jacket or pants designed for skiing, snowboarding, or just playing the snow, should do a good job keeping moisture out so your kids stay dry. And, yet, obviously some jackets and pants actually keep kids dry and many do not.
And, while they may not sweat as much as adults do, kids skiing or snowboarding or just playing hard outside do, in fact, work up a sweat, making breathability important as well. While it's obvious that a garment that doesn't breathe can make a kid feel overheated when sweating, it actually also makes them cold. If a garment is not breathable, sweat vapor turns to condensation trapped inside the clothing and when your kid stops moving (such as on the chair lift), that sweat chills and makes the child wet and colder inside the jacket and pants.
What Makes a Winter Jacket or Pair of Pants Waterproof and Breathable?
The primary part of the garment that provides waterproofing and breathability (and the reason they are measured together) is a laminate or membrane layer that is bonded or applied to the inside of the outer (face) fabric of the garment. This layer is designed to prevent larger molecules (such as water) from penetrating the membrane yet allow smaller molecules (like sweat vapor) to escape through the fabric and away from the body. The laminates, coatings, or separate membranes used for this layer are made in varying quality levels and, therefore, there is not one single “fully waterproof” or “completely breathable” option on the market.
The second component of waterproofing a jacket or pant is a durable water repellant (DWR) coating applied to the outer (face) fabric. The DWR is what makes water bead up and roll off of a garment and they enable the membrane layer to do its job by delaying the time it takes for the face fabric to become saturated. DWRs, however, are insufficient alone to make a garment fully waterproof vs just water-repellant or water-resistant. For more details, see this related blog post: Why a DWR is Necessary but Not Sufficient for Waterproof Youth Gear.
Finally, to further waterproof a garment, seam tape is applied to seal all the tiny holes that occur when fabric is stitched together. Once again, there are “good” and “better” approaches to seam taping. See this post for more details: What is Seam Taping and Why is it Important for Youth Winter Gear.
So How Much Waterproofing and Breathability Do Kids Need for Snow Sports?
Waterproofness and Breathability are rated according to industry standard tests and measurements. You will typically see these ratings reported such as “10k/10k” or “20k/20k.” The first number refers to waterproofness, the second number refers to breathability, and the higher each number is, the greater the performance. For a more detailed understanding of what these ratings really mean, see our post on Deciphering Waterproof / Breathability Ratings.
So how good is good?
- Only the most premium ski and snowboard jackets and pants on the market offer 15k/15k to 20k/20k. All of these jackets from other brands, for example, cost at least $250 for kid’s sizes ($500 for adult), and $300 or more for some brands.
- Most of the popular, average quality brands designed for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports, utilize a 10k/10k membrane. 10k/10k is adequate for generally dry days, less active kids, or for relatively short outings. During our testing, however, these products failed when used to ski all day and then play in the snow until dinner. They were also not breathable enough for energetic kids skiing hard in spring conditions.
- Any rating lower than 10k/10k is usually not even mentioned in a product description and there is a reason for that. These products are simply not waterproof or breathable enough to be considered adequate for kids skiing, snowboarding, or just playing in the snow for any kind of extended period of time.
What does SHRED DOG use?
Our goal is to get kids outside, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate and enable them to stay outside having fun, while giving parents the peace of mind that their children are staying warm and dry.
Therefore, our Elevated Collection has 20k/20k waterproof / breathability ratings, our Performance Collection has 15k/15k waterproof / breathability ratings, and all of our winter hardshell jackets and winter snow pants are fully seam taped. Because of our Direct-2-You pricing, we are able to make this higher investment in high-performance gear, while keeping our prices fair, honest, and lower than competitive brands that utilize lower performing waterproof/breathable membranes.
Please let us know in the comments below or by reaching out directly to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or first-hand experiences you'd like to share!