how does waterproof clothing work?

Categories Curiously Simple

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Ever heard of a parkrun? Yes, I am sure you have heard of running in a park. But parkruns are organized, 5k runs that occur on a weekly basis. They apparently occur all around the world and encourage people to take part in the sport. Instead of running alone, you run with a group of people in a “parky” area. Before the run, you simply register on their website and print off a barcode that you take along to the run. Everyone starts at the same place at the same time. At the end of the run, your barcode is scanned and you are given a time and place. Afterwards, you can have cake and coffee together and congratulate each other about your feat.

I have done a couple of these runs over the past few months. Dave even came with me a couple of times while my friend had the boys at the cafe at the park. Hudson and Isaiah cheered us on at the finish line. What a way to feel like a champion!

There is a love/hate relationship I have with these Saturday morning runs. I love being with so many people that cheer you on as you round another corner. I love eating a huge breakfast at 6am, pretending that I’m running the equivalent of a marathon and need lots of extra calories and energy. I love going with a friend that can talk and distract me from my horrific gasping breath. And I love the pride in finishing – of throwing my hands in the air having conquered a whole 3 miles (seriously, it always feels like 50).

But I hate getting out of my pajamas on a Saturday morning at 9am. I hate smelling of sweat. I hate that my knee always throbs a bit. But most of all, I hate getting wet when it is raining. And in Wales, it rains a lot. So it is guaranteed that rain will be in the forecast for most parkruns.

And the last parkrun, my friend and I texted each other at 7am – debating going with the sheets of rain we were looking out at from our warm, cozy homes. But we had decided. And we were sticking to our guns.

And after our run in the POURING, BUCKETING-IT-DOWN rain, I got to wondering. Firstly, why didn’t my waterproof coat keep me dry? But more importantly, how does waterproof clothing even work?

There are 3 main types of waterproof clothing:

1. Nylon clothing. Nylon is not water permeable. Which means water isn’t going to get through nylon (just like water wouldn’t seep through plastic). Simple clothing made of nylon will be pretty cheap to buy. However, the problem with wearing a nylon jacket is that while water may not penetrate through to your skin, sweat will not escape either. So if you are doing any form of physical activity in nylon, you may feel like a greenhouse inside the jacket.

2. Nylon and Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) clothing. PTFE is a membrane with microscopic pores that allow water vapor/gas (your sweat) to escape, but are small enough to keep water droplets (rain) out. This type of clothing is preferable to simply nylon, but still slacks in its ability to keep you dry if you sweat while wearing it.

3. Nylon and Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and Polyurethane (PU) clothing. PU is a membrane that absorbs water vapor/gas (sweat) and releases it later. Add PU into the mix and your waterproof clothing is much more breathable and comfortable to wear during sweaty outdoor adventures.

Gore-tex is apparently the clothing that most outdoor pursuits people prefer as it is made up of all the components listed in number 3 above.

I could use this information to get a better coat that would protect me when I engage in rainy day exercise. But if I’m honest with myself, I won’t be running in that sort of rain again. My beloved Brooks running shoes are sopping wet and considerably stinkier than they were before my wet excursion. But for those of you that love a good walk or run in the rain, hope this little bit of science helps you to make a good purchase.

BTW, the picture at the top was defo taken at the BEGINNING of the run. I was a puddle of sweat and exhaustion by the end.

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