With the rain now falling here in Northern Europe, and back home in Portland, it’s time to break out the rain gear if you plan on cycling through the fall and winter.
If, like us, your rain gear is a few years old and hasn’t seen the light of day in months it may be in need of some TLC before you pedal out into the wet and windy. Everyone’s rain gear wears out eventually. That’s just the nature of things. There are however, a few things that will extend the life of your favorite rain jacket or rain pants. The secret is maximizing the life of the outer shell’s DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating. The breathability of your rainwear also depends on the DWR preventing water from penetrating the garment. If your “waterproof-breathable rainwear” is not as waterproof as it once was, then chances are you’ll arrive at your destination as slimy and wet as a watermelon seed sliding across a tile floor, and not nearly as cute either. Fear not gentle reader, for in the words below we will lead you through the age old art of rain gear maintenance. It’s really not as bad as you think. Sit back, relax, open that third bag of Funyons and let us guide you.
What is DWR?
Your waterproof breathable rain jacket or pants are coated with a polymer at the factory to help resist water, DWR. It is, as the name suggests, durable to a point. As you can see from the photos our rainwear is several years old (Burley doesn’t even make rain wear anymore), yet we have been able to extend the life of these jackets for several years with regular maintenance. Each fall we revive the DWR so we can squeak out just one more season before plunking down our hard earned dollars for another rain jacket. After some time the DWR simply wears away, but it can be easily restored by using a spray-on formula, like Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On (it’s not really wax, but a high tech polymer) so you can then bravely pedal out into the nasty for another year.
How do I revive my rainwear?
1. Clean your rainwear (Please, for the sake of us all).
Remove any dirt or grime that may have built up over the last year. Dirt can clog the pores of your breathable rain gear not only causing you to sweat like a tax cheat in April, but it can allow water to work its way through the DWR. Clean that sucka! You can use one of several “tech washes” to clean and prep your rain wear, or simply wash it using a powdered detergent then dry on high to help restore any remaining DWR on the surface of the garment.
2. Inspect the outer material.
Check for any rips, tears or damage to the outer shell. Small tears can be repaired. Most Outdoors shops sell iron on patches made by Gore-Tex or eVent. These can work on small chinks in the armor, but large tears are a stopper.
In some cases older rainwear will begin to delaminate due to sweat and extended use. This is indicated by a bubbled, pebbly look to the surface of the garment. The outer shell begins to pull away from the breathable inner membrane rendering the affected area an easy route for rain to find its way inside. This is a sure sign it’s time to replace the garment.
3. Use a DWR treatment like Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-on.
There are several products out there that can restore the DWR to your rain gear. Each make similar claims, although we prefer Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On, you might find a product that you like better. There are both sprays and wash-in treatments. We like the spray because it gives more control over how much product goes where. We can focus on high wear areas and administer several coats for a more evenly applied treatment.
That being said, hang the rain gear in place where you can spray it easily and place some old newspaper on the ground to catch the drips. Spray evenly and thoroughly until the spray begins to drip slightly from the garment. Wait until the dripping stops and and repeat. After covering it once or twice then focus on high impact areas like elbows, knees, underarms etc… We find that one bottle of Nikwax will cover two garments adequately, but your mileage may vary.
4.Dry your rainwear.
Hang your recently treated rain gear in the shower or other area where it can drip dry. Once it has been treated and dried to the touch, then pop it in the dryer or use a hair dryer to help melt the Nikwax into the fabric. Next, allow it to stand for a couple of hours so that everything is set before going out into the elements. Voilà, newly refreshed rainwear.
5.On-going care and feeding of your rainwear.
As we said above, clean your garment. Not only when you treat the outer shell, but make sure you do some regular cleaning too. Cycling rainwear can get yucky when used regularly and that yuck not only affects your dating schedule, but it can let water through your jacket or pants causing you to be less than dry. Clean it, for everyone’s benefit. Wash as indicated above, then dry on a high heat to maximize the DWR. Check it regularly for cuts and scrapes. You may even find it ideal to do a reapplication of NikWax a couple times throughout the rainy season. Go for it. The cost of a DWR treatment is minimal when compared to a new garment and it really only takes a short amount of time.
Is that all?
Of course this may not always return your waterproof-breathable rain garment to a brand new condition, it will work wonders extending the life of your rain jacket or pants allowing you to save your cash for more important things, like Justin Bieber tickets, a new nipple ring or that next bike trip.
There are a few factors which will cause you to discard this process in favor of replacing a worn out rain garment. As referenced above, delamination and tears in the outer shell being foremost reasons for replacement. Although you might simply want a new jacket too. There have been several great products on the market since we bought our Burley jackets lo these many years ago. We tested out the garments in the above pics last weekend while cycling along the Elbe River Trail from Dresden, Germany to Prague. Only one day of rain, but our jackets proved to be “almost” as good as new. Carolyn’s jacket (the Yellow Burley) certainly worked better than mine (the Black Burley, pictured above) due to my delaminating outer shell. My chest and forearms got a little soggier than I would like. For me, it may be time to consider an upgrade. ( Sorry, ‘Biebs’…I’ll have to catch you next time)
Don’t let an otherwise useful piece of gear go underutilized. Revive it. Then tell us about it. Let us know how it works when you revive your rain gear. We’d love to hear from you.