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What would be the best way to test the waterproofness of different outdoor apparel such as:

  • Boots
  • Jackets
  • Pants
  • Gloves
  • etc...

I'm interested in both the binary case (e.g., is this boot still waterproof or not?) and the more analog case (e.g., this softshell will keep you dry in a rain storm for about X hours).

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You don't necessarily want 100% waterproof gear. Materials like goretex and e-vent are the result of design compromises. A completely waterproof shell will leave you soaked in your own sweat. Also, it's very bad for some materials (e.g., down) to become soaked through, but not so bad for others, such as wool, which has lanolin in it and retains a lot of its insulating power even when wet. – Ben Crowell Jan 16 '14 at 4:06
Are you talking about scientifically measuring these results or doing something a bit more practically minded? If you're just looking for practical results couldn't you just go for a long hike in a downpour and look at your gear? – Blackbear Jan 16 '14 at 4:09
I was thinking somewhere in the middle. For example, one might have an old pair of boots that should be waterproof, but didn't perform during a hike. It could be the Waterproof/Breathable liner has a hole, or it could have been sweat from exertion. I'd like to isolate the effort component and focus on the garment. – Felix Jan 16 '14 at 14:12
up vote 3 down vote accepted
  1. Put on the gear to test
  2. Turn on the shower (adjust temperature to your liking)
  3. Walk into the shower
  4. Perform a series of movements (walk in place, jumping jacks, etc)
  5. Turn off shower
  6. Inspect gear for damp spots on the inside

This method allows you to control energy exertion (minimize sweat) and exposure time while at the same time simulating "real" conditions.

Boots might do fine if you sit them in a bucket of water, but once you start walking (bending that fabric and getting things moving) you might find there are leaks.

As for determining whether

this softshell will keep you dry in a rain storm for about X hours

The surest way to find out is put in on and go hike in a rainstorm for X hours. Carry a spare in case it fails.

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