A functional jacket that is windproof, rainproof, breathable and comfortable to wear is indispensable against unstable weather or sudden heavy thunderstorms. The Consumer Council jointly tested 16 functional jackets with several European consumer organisations and found that while 5 models performed well in overall waterproof efficacy and received the highest rating of 5 points, 2 models had inferior performance in water resistance and water repellence, and the breathability amongst models also varied greatly. The breathability of 1 model was rated only 2.5 points, notwithstanding its claimed high breathability of 26,000g/m²/24hr. In terms of durability, the models were overall abrasion-resistant and washable. However, 14 models were weak in tearing strength and merely scored 2.5 points or below.
When choosing a functional jacket, in addition to its weight, consumers should be mindful that the design details, such as the hood and underarm zippers, could also affect its ease of use, ventilation and comfort. It was found that the design of some thicker and heavier models (weighting 380 grams or above) is more convenient for the wearer to adjust the string and carry different objects than that of the lightweight models (weighting 380 grams or below). Consumers are advised to consider the purpose and duration of wear as well as the seasonal factors carefully in choosing the appropriate type and style.
The 16 tested models, of which 8 had a heavy design and the other 8 were lightweight, were priced from $599 to $4,880 and weighed 182 grams to 776 grams. 3 models were labelled with Gore-Tex waterproof fabric, and most of the others adopted proprietary fabrics developed by their manufacturers. The test items included the durability, waterproof efficacy, breathability, wind resistance and anti-shrink performance, as well as the convenience of use assessed by panellists. The results showed that on a scale of 5 points as the highest score, each model scored from 3.5 points to 4.5 points overall. The model with the highest price ($4,880) scored 4.5 points, while the model with the lowest price ($599) also received 4 points, indicating that there exist jackets that are affordable and good-quality in the market.
The most basic purpose of a functional jacket is to stop rain from permeating, during activities such as hiking in the wind and rain, or fishing while sitting on a wet surface. The fabric is expected to prevent penetration and absorption of water. Waterproofness is expressed in the unit of mm or Schmerber, which is the ability of a fabric to resist the hydrostatic pressure of a water column. The higher the rating, the more resistant the fabric is against water penetration. Among the 16 models, 5 models were not labelled with any waterproof specifications. The other 11 models claimed to have a water resistance of 10,000mm or above, meaning that they can endure the hydrostatic pressure of a 10-metre water column and are suitable for hiking and outdoor sports in general.
The waterproof efficacy test was comprised of two parts: water resistance and water repellence. The water-resistance performance shows the ability of a fabric to resist water penetration under the condition of increasing hydrostatic pressure. Except 1 model in where leakage was found under relatively low hydrostatic pressure, all the other models performed well in water resistance and scored 3.5 or above. The surface of the outer fabric of a functional jacket has usually undergone water-repellent treatment. When the fabric gets wet, small water droplets will form and slide off from the coating on surface to achieve a “water-repellent” effect. The test results showed that the surface of 1 model was completely wet after water spraying and only scored 1 point, while the remaining 15 models scored 3 points to 4 points.
Breathability is also another important factor in choosing a functional jacket as it ventilates respired moisture from physical activities. Breathability is conventionally indicated by the water vapour transmission rate (WVTR, the amount of water vapour per square metre of fabric that can permeate in 24 hours) or the water vapour resistance (RET, the resistance of the fabric to water vapour). The higher the value of the WVTR or the lower the value of the RET, the more breathable the fabric. A WVTR higher than 10,000, or a RET value that is 13 or less, signifies good breathability. Among the 16 models, 9 models claimed to possess a WVTR of 10,000g/m²/24hr or above and 1 other model was labelled as RET6. In the breathability test, the fabric was placed on a metal plate at a constant temperature of 35°C, and then the water vapour resistance of the fabric was then measured. Results revealed that the models varied widely in performances with scores from 1.5 to 4.5. 1 model only received 2.5 points and its performance was far below its claimed breathability of 26,000g/m²/24hr.
A durable jacket can prevent wear and tear by withstanding abrasion and piercing by branches, and its waterproof efficacy will also not reduce by washing. In terms of durability, the tests focused on their abrasion resistance, tearing strength and washing durability. In the abrasion resistance test, 1 model had 2 or more yarns of its fabric damaged and the colour of the surface faded after getting rubbed 25,000 times, thus it was merely scored 2.5 points. 14 models performed relatively poorly in the tearing strength test, scoring only 2.5 points or below. As for washing durability, all models showed no significant appearance change after washing and drying for 5 times, and therefore received an excellent score of 4.5 points or above. All models performed well in the wind resistance test.
Consumers should also pay attention to the design details of functional jackets. For instance, if the hood is difficult to adjust or does not fit the shape of the head, it could be easily blown away by the wind or even cause the user’s head to get wet from the heavy rain. After the assessors performed different outdoor activities wearing the jackets, 5 models only scored 2.5 points or below; and the 2 models that received 5 points were models of heavyweight design. Furthermore, 9 models had underarm zipper openings for ventilation, but 2 of them had zippers that were difficult to pull, thus were only given 2.5 and 3 points respectively. 5 of the lightweight models did not include any underarm zipper for ventilation.
In addition, most of the models have satisfactory pocket designs, although a few lightweight models received lower scores. In particular, 1 model’s pocket opening could easily be covered by the waistband of the backpack, which made it inconvenient to pull the zipper and take out items when carrying the backpack, thus only scored 2.5 points as a result.
Consumers should pay heed to the following when choosing and caring for their own functional jackets:
- Lightweight designs are more suitable for mountain running, and are easy to carry and store. If planning to travel to cold or high-altitude areas, a warmer and heavier 3-in-1 functional jacket would be more suitable;
- Try on before purchasing; put on the hood and simulate the movement during physical activities to ensure that the body and the sleeves of the jacket will not hinder stretching when exercising;
- The hood should be of moderate size and be designed to allow adjustment of the tightness. When wearing the jacket for biking, the hood should be able to fit a bicycle helmet. Avoid putting the helmet over the jacket's hood;
- The waist or hem of the jacket should have adjustment drawstrings to enhance windproof and waterproof efficacy when necessary;
- The jacket should be cleaned regularly according to the care instructions. Mild washing powder or liquid detergent can be used for washing, but it should be noted that fabric softeners should not be added for certain jackets ;
- Choose a gentler or shorter wash cycle when the jacket is washed using a washing machine. It is best to let the jacket air-dry after washing, and avoid using a clothes dryer or an iron to dry the jacket;
- If the water-repellent coating of the jacket wears after prolonged use, users can purchase suitable waterproof sprays at outdoors sports stores and use them according to the instructions to enhance the waterproof efficacy of the jacket;
- Pay attention to the materials used. If the texture of the fabric/inner fabric is plastic-like, the frictional sound will be more noticeable.
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