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I've gone camping for quite a bit, but when it comes to choosing between water resistant and waterproof gear, I always take the latter.

I'm actually curious if there's a difference between these two terms. For me, water-resistant always sounded like some cheap marketing gimmick to make the product seem waterproof. Is there any actual "real" difference?

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There's a saying among sailors: "Waterproof means that once the water gets in, it can't get out again." – Michael Borgwardt Oct 13 '13 at 10:14
Related: – Wills Nov 9 '14 at 20:02
up vote 6 down vote accepted

From my experience, water resistant means that the item will survive a splash of water but not any form of prolonged exposure.

Water proof suggest that it is

Impervious to or unaffected by water.

For waterproof items, there is often an IP number provided which helps you understand the level of waterproofness the item offers.

IP codes are widely used in the industry.

For example, a E+LITE from Petzl is rated as IP67 per the manufacturer. IP67 means you can expect the light to work if it is submerged in water less than a meter for no more than 30 minutes.

For outwear such as jackets, the bigger issue is that if your jacket is fully waterproof, you will end up wet from your own sweat. The balance between breathability, waterproofness and longevity of the material are all equally important factors in this case.

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"Waterproof" means that no water will penetrate.

"Water resistant" means that there exists a limit of exposure at which water will penetrate.

Watches are normally water resistant to a particular depth below which the water pressure is too high and the seals are breached.

Breathable clothing quite of often states some comparable metric indicating, for instance, the weight of water which would be required for water to penetrate the fibres.

The problem with the terms is that there is no regulation and so we might buy a rain jacket and call it "a waterproof" even though it is not. Some manufacturers will also state that an item is waterproof to some limit, which is confusing.

What you need to look for a test that has been performed or something stating limits.

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Water weight, or water column height are common. They at least give you a chance of comparing clothing in the same brand. – stevemarvell Oct 12 '13 at 4:12
8000mm + for a good waterproof – user4168 Nov 9 '14 at 13:42

I'm not a native speaker, but being waterproof suggests more endurance to water than being only water-resistance. But linguistic nuances doesn't make law. More important is, what are the norms and regulations about using such definitions, in the country where that equipment is produced or sold. If there are such regulations, false promises may make manufacturer liable, if there are no regulation, anyone can sell anything under any name, and all such names are meaningless.

When it comes to norms, there are the ISO norms that define water resistance - see the Wikipedia article. The article mentions, that the term waterproof is not defined in the ISO norms, and therefore it should not be used.

So buying water resistant gear you should check 2 things:

  • is there a water resistance rating compliant with ISO norms
  • is the producer and manufacturer a stable corporation registered in country, which protects customers from companies giving false information in product description
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