Iím Sailing in the Rain: Choosing Foul Weather Gear II
Regardless of the degree of protection, most pieces of foul weather gear share that they are composed of similar sets of materials. The basic, inner layer can be fleece or similar materials from artificial fabrics such as nylon; some manufacturers offer whool, which is more classy than functional (not saying that it isnít functional, too). The outer coatings make a difference: You can discriminate between breathable and non-breathable gear.
Non-breathable foul weather gear is normally made from some or several layers of PVC (polyvinyl-cloride, commonly used for coatings); Polyurethane (a rubber polymer, also commonly used for coatings); and neoprene. Neoprene is the most durable, but also most expensive material used for coatings Ė popular for offshore gear as well as suits for divers and alike, basically wherever you are getting close to the limits.
To optimize the protective properties of non-breathable foul weather gear, the coatings from these materials are composed of different layers, each of which make the final piece of gear more expensive. Actual wetsuits require a layer of moisture between your body and the suit Ė obviously, they donít have a basic fleece layer.
Breathable foul weather gear is made of all the many fancy and modern materials that allow water vapor to get away from your skin but no water as such to get on to it. This works because of the microporous structure of the fabrics that create a barrier for liquids, but the body heat makes moisture around you evaporate and leave through them. Itís a bit difficult to imagine that, but it works and thatís in the end all that counts. Goretex is the most famous and common brand of breathable fabrics.
Not everyone needs arctic clothing...
However, the foul weather gear industries build insane numbers of different pieces of gear that all are the best according to them. Keep in mind that you need to match your needs with your gear! The density of a fabric is measured by ounces per square yard. Two to four ounces are standard for sailing, but especially offshore gear goes up to seven Ė which is probably fine for Antarctica. Itís not so much the degree of rain and spray you are expecting, but rather a matter of the temperatures under which you are expecting to sail. Wind is an important factor to keep in mind.
High-quality foul weather gear should have drains or netting for water to escape from your body. Stitches in the seams should be sealed with melted plastic materials, much as you might know it from backpacks. The same applies for zips Ė my old jacket still has them sealed with a layer of fabric, which you wonít find with many modern models, where a plastic layer keeps water from penetrating the zip.
Check for strong seals (by pulling strongly, you might shock sales assistants, but a man got to do what aÖ) and reinforcements on exposed parts such as elbows, cuffs or collar. Fleece-lining in the bags is a comfort-goodie much appreciated on cold days on which you forgot your gloves.
Checking the quality of foul weather gear
The tightness of the gear should be adjustable especially at the wrists and other entry-points of cold and water. In terms of safety, reflective stripes are useful. If you are looking for offshore-gear, you should also pay much attention to built-in buoyancy or life jackets, buoyancy bags or safety harnesses.
Regardless of the foul weather gear you eventually choose, I hope that this short general guide and introduction to the materials and their functions will help you. In any case, you should spend a lot of time trying different models and bugging sales assistants with questions. Foul weather gear is crucial for enjoying sailing and without the right equipment, you will freeze your ass off.
A final piece of advice: get more than one opinion from different sellers, nail down a set of features the gear of your choice should have and then compare prices from different sellers online and in the real World. Prioritize the set of properties your jacket / trousers / overall should have, then look for the cheapest model!
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