Heading to the slopes with a “waterproof” ski jacket that turns out to be anything but is a recipe for a very unpleasant day.
But with confusing tech specs and exaggerated marketing claims, how can you truly test if your jacket will keep you dry?
After years of soggy trials, I’ve learned the best methods.
A quality waterproof ski jacket is crucial for staying comfortable on the mountain.
Let me walk you through how to assess the water resistance of any shell, using my trusty North Face women’s down jacket as an example.
With a few simple tricks, you’ll know if your jacket has your back when the snow starts falling.
Check the Waterproof Rating
The first place to start is by looking at the stated waterproof rating, usually measured in millimeters.
For a ski jacket, you’ll want at least 10,000mm, but 15,000-20,000mm is ideal.
My North Face parka is rated at 15,000mm, meaning it can withstand about 15,000mm (~5 feet) of water pressure before leaking.
That’s enough to keep me bone dry in heavy snowstorms or waist-deep powder.
Ratings below 10,000mm may repel light rain or snow flurries, but moisture will soak through with sustained exposure.
Look for four- or five-digit numbers on the tag to gauge true waterproof performance.
Assess the Outer Fabric
Waterproof membranes sandwiched inside are what prevent liquid penetration. But the outer fabric plays a role too.
Tightly woven nylon or polyester will repel moisture longer before it seeps through interior layers.
I love the rugged, smooth ripstop fabric on my North Face jacket. Snow glides right off the slippery surface instead of absorbing into the weave.
On the flip side, natural fibers like cotton or wool, and suedes or canvases will quickly saturate. Avoid these materials if you want waterproofing.
Test with the Bucket Method
To personally validate the stated waterproof rating, do a simple bucket test:
- Fill a bucket with 5 inches of water (based on your jacket’s rating).
- Turn the jacket inside out so the membrane faces the water.
- Immerse an arm section upside down in the bucket.
- Leave submerged for 5 minutes, checking often for leaks.
I couldn’t detect any dampness on my inner layer after testing my 15k-rated North Face jacket. That gave me confidence it would stand up to heavy snow and rain.
Assess DWR Coating Effectiveness
DWR (durable water repellent) coats the outer layer of waterproof jackets. This chemical treatment makes water bead up and roll off your coat.
When DWR wears off over time, moisture will “wet out” and soak through the outer fabric, compromising your waterproofing.
Hold your jacket sleeve at an angle and drip water onto it. If it beads up and runs off easily, DWR is working well. If not, it’s time to reapply DWR treatment.
Check Seam Taping
Even jackets with waterproof fabric can leak at the seams where pieces are stitched together. That’s why high-quality ones will have taped seams.
Inspect the inner seams and see if they are visibly coated with waterproof tape. Also, check that the tape adheres fully without gaps or peeling edges.
My North Face jacket uses consistently taped seams that provide a continuous waterproof barrier across stress points.
Test in Real-World Conditions
The ultimate assessment is taking your jacket skiing or hiking in wet conditions. Snow, sleet, and heavy rain will quickly reveal if you stay dry or end up sodden.
I recently wore my jacket through 8 hours of non-stop precipitation in the Pacific Northwest. The endless downpour put it through its paces, but the fabric, seams, and DWR passed with flying colors.
While not a fun test, it gave me total confidence in my jacket’s waterproof performance.
The Bottom Line
Assessing specs, fabric, taping, DWR, and bucket tests will determine if a jacket lives up to its waterproof claims.
But the real proof is how it fares in the field. With my tips, you can find a ski jacket that keeps you warm and dry from the first chair to the last call.