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What to Consider When Purchasing Outerwear

Outerwear – What to Look for When Purchasing

Any outerwear evaluation is divided across three dimensions: material, construction and fit. All three of these are major drivers of the Jackets performance and value. Effective outerwear is a system, not a piece of clothing. Make sure to also keep the following features in mind. Is the jacket…

  • Waterproof?
  • Windproof?
  • Breathable?
  • Chemical Blood Borne Resistant?
  • Provides a Wide Range of Motion?

Jacket Components

Shell – The shell is the first part of what should be a waterproof, breathable and comfortable system. In evaluating the shell, consider suppleness, strength and durability. The fabric should be soft and quiet. Make sure that the shell is water repellant and uses.

Shell laminates vs. Hanging Liners – Many jackets are designed with a waterproof membrane, such as GORE-TEX laminated to the outer shell. Be aware that every stitch hole (or later even pinhole sized tear) will leak water. In addition, nothing can be added to the shell of the US jackets such as US flags, service bars, and rank insignia after it leaves the factory without voiding the waterproofness.

A water repellant shell with a waterproof membrane liner (see below) can be a better option. The waterproof liner protects the membrane while providing access to the membrane. This construction allows for local customization or repair of the jackets. Membranes can also be more breathable and confortable. The closer the membrane is to the skin the better it breathes as the closer the membrane gets to body temperature the more moisture passes through it.

Liner – The liner is very important. It should provide a microporous layer that locks out water while allowing heat and vapor to escape. After wear and a couple of cleaning and as the shell can get dirty and loose some of its ability to repel water, the liner can wick water when exposed to wet weather. In other words water will come inside the liner from the outside of the jacket. The first place this can happen is the body and sleeve hems. To prevent this, make sure your liner is seam sealed. Also check the material of the liner. Standard Nylon, for example, after a few cleanings has been shown to wick water.

Also, consider a more waterproof, windproof, and breathable liner material, such as a CROSSTECH or Gore-Tex membrane (both by WL Gore & Associates). CROSSTECH provides added protection against blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis (A through G) and aids, as well as common chemicals such as battery acid, pool cleaning chemicals, bleach, anti-freeze, alcohol, gasoline, inspect repellant, fire fighting foam, oil and transmission fluids, and household cleaning products and was originally created to protect emergency medical workers and first responders.

Lining – The liner should be warm but not bulky. The best liners can be removed leaving a lightweight shell jacket that provides 3 season comfort and protection. Make sure that the entire system breathes well enough to prevent heat buildup when worn indoors or in a vehicle.

Snaps – Check your snap caps. Painted steel can chip and wears off through use and cleaning. After long use they can rust and corrode. Be aware of other option such as hard Delrin resin snaps, which cannot corrode and are non conductive.

Reflective tape- Consider reflective tape in behind the collar and under the cuffs. A little reflective tape can go a long way in making you more visible and safer.

Zipper openings- Check for the waterproof design on the zippers. An internal fly waterproofs the openings.

Sleeve Closures – Consider the sleeve closures. Velcro sleeve closures do not have any stretch component and once tightened, need to be loosed to be taken off. Adjustable cuffs with elastic can be easier and allows you to tighten the sleeve and still put the jacket on and take it off without adjusting the Velcro cuff.

Pockets – Make sure the pockets are very functional and easy to use.

Jacket Fit

Check to make sure the jacked is constructed with multiple parts, which improve fit and range of motion. Make sure the jacket is formal yet very comfortable to wear and offers a full range of motion. When you are layered in the cold you will not want to fight the jacket while working and driving all day.

Consider the following:

Weather Conditions – Consider more than the temperature you will be facing. Wind, humidity, precipitation, exposure time, and dramatic shifts in conditions are all factors, which affect comfort and should be strongly considered.

Working Conditions – How much will you be working outdoors? Where will you be? What will you be doing? If you are going in and out from heated buildings into the cold, you have different jacket needs than if you are in the cold all day. Additionally, your level of physical activity is important to consider, as you may need a jacket that is more versatile and can handle the variances in body temperature caused by activity.

Protective Accessories - What other protective apparel will you be wearing? Wearing other apparel such as hats, gloves, sweatshirts, or insulated undergarments can have a great impact on the level of thermal protection a jacket will provide. Proper headwear, in particular, can cut heat loss by over 30%.

Individual Needs - Some people require warmer protective outerwear than others due to physical metabolism. When providing outerwear for you department make sure to keep this in mind.

Layering - Make sure to consider the entire system of layers an clothing you will be wearing. Consider, fit, range of motion and comfort of the entire system.


This article was written by based on internal research, suggestions from manufacturers as well as members. Any suggestions or changes should be emailed to