How to read outerwear labels

Don't know what those high-tech tags mean? We've decoded the 4 essentials

By Ryan StuartRyan Stuart

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Photo by Jessica Broere

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Manufacturers love coining high-tech labels for these four essentials:

1. Wicking

Moving moisture vapour and sweat off your skin will keep you warmer. Next to skin, wool (especially non-scratchy merino) and synthetics work equally well. Avoid 
cotton. Tag talk: Polartec Power Dry, Lifa, Capilene, merino wool.

2. Warm

Down, fleece, and synthetic insulation trap heat close to your body. Electric jackets supply heat to keep you warm. All work, but no one choice is perfect. Down is packable, but is expensive and no good if it gets wet. Synthetics, including fleece, stay warm when wet, but can be bulky. And electric is heavy and pricey, and batteries run out. Tag talk: Down, PrimaLoft, Climashield, R4, Omni-Heat Reflective and Electric, Monkey Phur, Polartec Thermal Pro.

3. Waterproof and breathable

Fabric that keeps out the wind and the wet while also breathing makes for 
a warmer, drier you. Wind is easy to block. For waterproofing, look for a “water column” rating of 10,000 mm (the height of a one-inch-wide column of water when the fabric at the base leaked in a test), or more. For staying dry, especially when active, breathability is equally important. How fast water vapour moves from the inside to the outside of a jacket determines how wet you feel. There’s no one rating system for breathability, but here are two tips: the more waterproof, the less breathable; and in waterproof gear, the more breathable, the pricier it is. Tag talk: Pertex, Gore-Tex, Omni-Dry, Polartec Power Shield and NeoShell.

4. Fit

For effective layering, clothes should fit like Russian nesting dolls, each layer looser than the last.


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