Buying the right outerwear is pretty important, and contrary to popular opinion, it’s not all about which side of the skinny/baggy debate you’re on. While fashion definitely has its place in choosing the right kit, it’s function that’s really important. After all, you can be wearing the coolest-looking kit in the world but if you’re freezing your ass off, you’ll struggle to ride well and end up looking like a chump anyway. So think carefully about the following functional points when picking out your next jacket or pair of pants.
We’re not talking about fashion here, but about the different types of outerwear you can buy. Broadly speaking, all pants and jackets fall into one of two categories:
Insulated outerwear has several layers of insulating fabric inside an outer layer of waterproof material. Some, like down jackets, have insulation built into the shell. As a result, they are super-warm, but they may be relatively heavy.
Shell outerwear doesn’t have any built-in insulation. It’s lighter, offering easier movement, but less warm. It’s usually better for spring shredding. That said, you can always add extra warmth underneath the shell if you don’t mind layering up like an onion.
As well as the prints, patterns and feel of outerwear fabrics, it’s worth considering their tech specs. Most waterproof fabrics are given two ratings.
Waterproof ratings tell you just how much water the jacket or pant will keep out. Fabrics are tested by filling a column with water, and measuring the depth that the water reaches before droplets form on the other side. It is usually measured in millimetres, with anything from 5,000 to 30,000 being normal. Essentially, the higher the number, the more waterproof the garment is. It’s worth noting that jackets or pants made from Gore-Tex (like Burton’s AK range) are not given a waterproof (or a breathability) rating as they are reckoned to be 100 per cent waterproof, and 100 per cent breathable.
Breathability ratings tell you how much moisture can pass from inside the jacket to the outside. The breathability rating tells you exactly how much moisture can pass through a fabric in grams/centimetre/24 hours – or GM for simplicity’s sake. Most garments have a rating of between 5,000 GM and 20,000 GM, with the higher numbers being more breathable. It might sound a bit odd designing a waterproof jacket that allows water out, but think about it – when you ride, you sweat, and if that sweat can’t go anywhere it clings to your body making you cool and clammy.
Jackets these days boast a whole load of crazy features, from iPod controls built into the fabric to heating vests with electric elements inside them. Here are a few of the more common ones.
Taped seams and waterproof zips stop any moisture getting in through the stitching or fastenings of a garment. That may seem like overkill, but if you’re gonna be spending long days out in extreme conditions, they’re well worth it. Some jackets and pants will have ‘crucially-taped’ seams, meaning only the most exposed ones are taped, but the real high-end stuff will be ‘fully taped’.
Moisture wicking linings are made of special materials that help draw moisture – or sweat – away from the body.
Vents let air flow into your jacket or pants when you’re getting hot and sweaty. Usually found under the armpits and on the inside of the thigh.
Headphone loops and iPod pockets are increasingly becoming standard on jackets as music gets easier and easier to carry up the hill with you. Back in the days of Sony Discmans it was only the committed that rocked while they rode.
Powder skirts and boot gaiters are elasticated bands that seal the gaps between your jacket and pants, and your pants and boots, so that no snow creeps in. Often, powder skirts will clip or zip to the top of pants to make the seal really tight.