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Rain Jackets – get the right winter gear

Neil Bellamy is a man on a mission: to bring in mandatory safety standards for rain jackets. His campaign began after he observed poorly-equipped hikers on the Overland Track and heard about a walker who nearly died of hypothermia. That walker had purchased a jacket that was marketed as ‘waterproof, windproof and breathable’, but which turned out to be totally inadequate for alpine conditions.

Choosing a rain jacket that’s fit for purpose can be difficult – many outdoor shops carry a broad range of casual wear and travel wear, as well as clothing suitable for activities such as skiing and bushwalking. Sales staff don’t always have sufficient knowledge to help customers identify the right gear for their specific needs.

In April last year, we published an article titled ‘Staying Dry – Waterproof and breathability ratings explained’. Here’s an excerpt:

Keeping dry and comfortable is a balance between allowing perspiration to escape, and keeping moisture out. Waterproof ratings and breathability are key. But what do these terms mean? What’s the difference between ‘water resistant’ and ‘waterproof’? How should the rating numbers be interpreted? Before you head off to your favourite outdoor supplier to purchase a new jacket or overpants, here’s a useful link which will answer many of your questions – or tell you which questions to ask!

The Bushwalking Manual also provides advice on clothing for bushwalking, and Neil suggests these informative links: All About Waterproof Fabrics and Choosing a Waterproof Jacket.

Bushwalking Victoria supports Neil’s submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to introduce mandatory safety standards for rain jackets. We’ll keep you informed about his campaign. In the meantime, in the absence of trustworthy garment tags stating “This garment is licensed for use in alpine conditions” or similar, here are some golden garment rules for winter conditions:

  • Be properly informed about the terrain and weather conditions you may encounter.
  • Purchase specialty bushwalking gear that’s fit for purpose from a specialty shop with informed staff.
  • Buy a jacket with a minimum waterproof rating of 20,000mm and breathability of 20,000g/m²/24 hours.
  • Out on the track, stay dry: water conducts heat nearly 30 times faster than air.

Hypothermia is deadly. Your rain jacket is a crucial safety item. Choose well!