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Testing Outerwear

10 January 2019

This subject requires a LOT to cover, so this page will be a permanent work-in-progress.

But testing, comparing, contrasting, competing on performance ... that's the heart of the matter. What clothing is best? There are a LOT of other companies making outerwear and base layers, and we very much invite their help in developing the tests. We also (of course!), would love to be tested with and against any other outerwear. We accept all challenges.

We love to have WeatherWool compared to any other outerwear ... and we generally describe WeatherWool as "All-Purpose Outerwear" ... that is, we design WeatherWool to be the choice for anyone who needs to handle what Nature dishes out.  

But ... how do you rate All-Purpose Outerwear? How do you test it? The test will be necessarily subjective because different people have different needs and priorities. And the great majority of brands we'd be compared to aren't trying to be All-Purpose Outerwear ... But here are some of the factors that need to be considered when evaluating outerwear:

  • Do you want to wear it? Will you be wearing it? This might seem like a wise-guy point to put in here, but here is my reasoning ... It's usually the unexpected situation that causes problems. And so we make highly versatile garments, "go-to" garments, that people WANT to wear -- even when they don't expect to need WeatherWool performance -- because they simply like wearing WeatherWool. And then, if a pleasant afternoon hike somehow turns into a night out in freezing rain, you're wearing clothes that can see you through. WeatherWool prepares you for the unexpected.
  • How does it perform in cold weather (temps below freezing and colder)? Moderate temperatures (around 50F/10C)? and warm weather? What range of temperatures will the same set of clothes handle?
  • How well does it resist rain, snow, sleet, drippy woods, wet bushes, spray from boating? And at the same time, how does it breathe?
  • If it does get wet will it still keep me warm? What if I get caught out in a cold rain for a couple of days, or fall in a river in winter?
  • Does it resist wind and does it breathe?
  • How does it handle sweat?
  • What kinds of activities is it good for? What levels of exertion?
  • Does it resist fire? Embers? Does it melt? And if so, at what temperature? At what temperature will it burn? We are working on a page about how different fabrics handle fire and heat. How does it affect your skin if it does melt? How does it affect wounds inflicted by incendiary weapons or shrapnel or bullets?
  • How bulky is it? Is it compressible?
  • How heavy is it? How much does it weigh?
  • How quiet is it? I'm assuming silence is preferred, but maybe not always?
  • Does it blend into Nature?
  • Will it help me evade detection by animals and people? And what about the opposite? What about when you want to stand out? Such as a Search and Rescue situation?
  • Does it reflect light?
  • Does it shine in ultraviolet?
  • Does it absorb ultraviolet? That is, does it protect from sunburn?
  • Where can it be worn?  Only in the woods?  Is it acceptable in a restaurant or a business meeting or church or club?
  • How durable is it? How well does it resist abrasion? Punctures? Normal wear and tear?
  • If it fails in the field, can I repair it myself?
  • Does it resist soiling?
  • Does it resist odors?
  • Is it easy to clean?
  • Does it resist burrs?
  • Is it comfortable against bare skin? What base layers are required?
  • What is it made of? Multiple components? A lot of woolens, for example, have liners that cover the whole torso.  Meaning, you aren't really wearing wool ... you're wearing some synthetic liner that in turn is wearing wool.
  • What components are used?  What kind of thread? Zippers? Snaps? Velcro, Fasteners? Cordage? etc?
  • How does it behave in the presence of electricity?
  • What else?


These points may not actually be part of a test of the clothing, but will be important to some:

  • How much does it cost? This isn't really a performance factor, but it's important to almost everyone
  • Warrantee
  • What if I don't like it?  Can I test it and get a refund if I want one?
  • Where is it made? Where are the components made?
  • Who are the people are behind the company?
  • How accessible is the company? Its customer service, owners and representatives?


 And now ... the real point of this whole page ... EXACTLY how do you test/compare outerwear?

The first thing I'll say is that lab tests are not the answer. I appreciate the scientific approach, and the attempt to eliminate variables.  BUT ... putting an electronic mannequin (or even a person) in a set of clothes in a controlled, indoor environment and then attempting to extrapolate the findings into a real-world situation is bogus, in my opinion. I love this line from the great Yogi Berra: "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

Another gigantic factor is that we are concerned here with OUTERWEAR ... but you can't really test outerwear without also testing your base layer(s) ... a really big complicating factor. We recommend only woolen base layers, regardless of conditions. Other companies may have other ideas.

Now I've got to figure out the testing and write it up. As always, we would love to get your input.

[The simplest test is probably to switch among various outer layers on the same day / same conditions ... Ron Spomer, who, until WeatherWool, was a real synthetics-guy with a long career as a professional outdoorsman, did some switching in the field on a Canadian trip, and a little testing did a lot of convincing. Ron is now one of our Advisors.]