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Guide to Choosing Foul Weather Gear | Expert Advice

Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Sailing

Selecting the correct foul weather gear is essential to remain dry and comfortable in just about any weather and sailing conditions.  With so many options available it is key to match the type and duration of sailing you will be doing and the conditions you will encounter to the gear you choose so that you are not over or under protected.


Information covered in this article:


How to Choose Foul Weather Gear

What is Foul Weather Gear?

Foul weather gear is all about water management.  The gear consists of jackets, trousers and smocks, and in essence they are a shell designed to keep the water out (waterproof) and move moisture on the inside to the outside (breathability).  Foul weather gear is a high tech, uninsulated, outermost layer designed to keep you dry, while maximizing comfort and ease of movement.  Foul weather gear is not insulated – warmth will be determined by how you layer beneath it with wicking base and mid layers.



What is Foul Weather?

The four components that make up foul weather are: rain, seas, wind and duration.

Rain: The volume of water falling from the sky and may be described as light, medium or heavy.

Seas: The spray and water over the decks that will be encountered while sailing.  Spray is random in amounts and direction as the boat contacts waves coming from different directions.  Water over the deck will vary between simple wet decks all the way up to significant rushes of water.  Seas may be described as light, medium or heavy.

Wind:  On a windless rainy day, seas can be flat and the rain may be coming straight down.  In high winds both sea spray and rain can be driven at you horizontally.  Wind strength may be described as calm, light, moderate, and strong.

Duration: How long will you be exposed to poor weather?  Hours, days or a week?

The more severe the rain, seas and wind, and the longer the duration, the more effective and substantial foul weather gear must be in order to keep you dry.



Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant

We call fabric “waterproof” when its water resistance is sufficient to keep out water under pressure.  Manufactures use different test standards, but you can trust that any gear that a major foul weather brand designates as “waterproof” will not let water through the material.

Waterproof/Breathable: All foul weather gear at APS is waterproof and breathable.  Expect the gear to keep water/rain from getting through the materials, while also transporting moisture/sweat out through the material.

Water-Resistant: Not considered foul weather gear, but it can keep you dry in light rain for a brief time.  Found in windbreakers and lightweight on-shore casual gear.

Waterproof/Nonbreathable: Remember the heavy PVC foul weather gear of the 1970’s – usually yellow.  Any athletic activity done while wearing these quickly lead to a build up or moisture (sweat) inside the gear.  Once you rested and cooled down, you would be left wet inside your gear (and chilled, if the outside temperature was low).  At APS we don’t recommend nor sell nonbreathable foul weather gear.



What Breathability Means

Breathability in waterproof/breathable foul weather gear has been a game changer. No one wants to be sailing in a wearable sauna. The key to avoiding this is “moisture vapor transfer,” which is what we’re really talking about when we say “breathability.”

Transferring sweat vapor through foul weather gear (a shell) happens in part because the warm, moist air inside is attracted to colder, relatively drier air outside. The efficiency of that vapor transfer process helps determine how dry or clammy you feel.  You will hear all sorts of brands touting competing claims about their material’s performance.  Your first choice will be to choose either a coated or laminate waterproof breathable fabric.



Waterproof Breathable Fabric Choices

The key component of your foul weather gear fabric is a coating or membrane that does the technological trick of blocking water out while also allowing water vapor (sweat) to escape.

Coated: Hydrophilic Fabrics

These are made from a solid hydrophilic (water-loving) polyurethane (PU) coating that is applied (think of it as paint spread on a wall) to the inside surface of the material (outer shell).  Moisture on the inside of gear is attracted to the coating.  The moisture vapor transport occurs by ‘molecular wicking’: the water molecules are first absorbed to the surface of the hydrophilic coating, then they move to the next molecule, and so on. This process continues through the coating until the water molecules emerge on the other side (outside).  The water molecules are drawn from the moist, higher temperature of the inside of the gear to the relatively cooler and dryer outside.

Jackets will usually have an inner hanging liner (nylon and/or mesh) to protect the coating from abrasion.  Dinghy smocks generally do not.

Coated fabrics work well, but do not pass as much water vapor as laminates and can wear away in areas of high chafe/wear over time.  Advantages are good performance at a lower price.

Gore-TEx Fabric

Laminate: Micro-porous Fabrics

The core of a waterproof breathable laminate is its membrane.  These membranes are made from polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) – widely know by its DuPont brand name: Teflon.  These membranes are amazingly thin, and estimated to have 9 billion pores per square inch.  Water vapor (perspiration) is drawn through these pours from the moist, higher temperature of the inside of the gear to the relatively cooler and dryer outside.  Water on the outside of the material do not pass through the membrane due to the membrane’s ‘surface tension’ which cause water to bead up into drops too large to pass through the pores.  Think of how a drop of water beads up when dropped into a Teflon pan – stays round and does not spread apart.  Which is different than the common misconception that the pores are too small for liquid water to pass through.

The thin membrane is laminated between a durable outer material and a thinner inner scrim material (three layer laminate) so that it is protected from abrasion giving it the best durability of any waterproof breathable material.  Laminates are the most effective at moisture transport, and carry a higher price tag to go along with the higher performance.  Gore-Tex dominates this category and is widely held as the best.  Over the years other fabric manufactures have been developing similar fabrics that come very close to Gore-Tex’s performance (some say a few are just as good in some circumstances).



Fabric Finishes – Durable Water Repellent (DWR)

All foul weather gear has a durable water repellent (DWR) finish on the outside of the material.  This ‘water repellent’ finish causes water to bead up and roll off the outer fabric.

Maintaining the DWR finish of your gear is critical if you want to maintain the maximum breathability. When the DWR wears off, the surface fabric will ‘wet out’ (saturate). The underlying waterproof membrane or coating will still keep water out, but the saturated surface fabric slows the movement of sweat vapor to the outside.  This reduced breathability can lead to moisture build up inside your gear, even making it feel as though it is leaking.  Additionally, as water evaporates from the wet fabric, it cools, which can draw away body heat and leave you less warm or chilled.

The more environmentally friendly DWR finishes now in use wear off faster than older DWR products. Thus, regularly reapplying a DWR treatment should be part of your foul weather gear maintenance routine. When water stops beading up on your gear, its time to reapply more DWR.  See our post on DWR care.

Shop DWR and gear care products at APS.



How Should Foul Weather Gear Fit?

Coastal and more so, offshore and ocean gear is full cut throughout to provide you freedom of movement and room for multiple under layers that will keep you warm.  This is to say that you may feel they are a bit too loose when you first try them on, but that is the fit you generally want.  Sleeve lengths will be long in order to allow you to raise and move your arms unrestricted when fully geared up with multiple layers.  Sleeves will generally cover a portion (or most) of your palms when your arms are at your sides.  Tighten the external Velcro adjustments on the sleeves if you desire they stay up at the wrists.  Trouser leg lengths will be longer too.  This is to ensure you can bend and crouch unrestricted when geared up.  If you are not wearing your deck boots with your trousers, you will probably need to tighten the Velcro adjustments at the ankles to keep the trousers from sliding under foot.

Inshore, keelboat racing and dinghy racing gear is roomy but with a more athletic fit.  They are not too loose or baggy, but do offer enough material in the cut for you to have unrestricted movement when geared up with an under layer.  Sleeve and trouser lengths are longer than street clothes (not as long as coastal, offshore or ocean gear) and may require the use of the outside Velcro wrist and ankle cinches to keep them off the hands and from under your heel.

Inshore Light gear will be more of athletic shore wear cut.  Sleeve and pants lengths do not generally require Velcro cinches to keep them in place.

Dinghy racing gear needs to be long enough in the arms and legs so that you can raise your arms and squat with the seals cinched.  Be sure that the seals cinch snuggly around your neck and wrists.  If not water will leak in.



Foul Weather Gear Categories

At APS we define foul weather gear by the following categories:

Below we explain each category of gear so you can best match the type and duration of sailing you will be doing and the conditions you will encounter.




Ideal for extended and extreme ocean use over consecutive days and weeks in the harshest weather and boat abrasion conditions, and built to stand up to these abuses again and again.  This is THE gear relied upon by professional sailors for events like the Vendee Globe or Volvo Ocean Race.

Hoods: Maximum coverage and adjustments able to mold to your head/face and cinch down to keep water out.  Fluorescent colored and significant reflective tapes.

Collars: The highest collars of any jackets with the most effective front storm flap coverage with multiple Velcro adjustments for varied configurations depending on the protection required.

Cut/Fit: Lengths are longer in the jacket and higher in the bibs to maximize protective coverage and overlap of the jacket and trousers (more than any other gear).  They are extra full cut (roomy) to allow for ease of movement and varied thicknesses of under layers worn for warmth.

Waterproof breathable Fabrics: Laminates only.

Shop Ocean foul weather gear at APS.




Similar to ocean gear, offshore is for ocean sailing over consecutive days and weeks.  The materials and features offer great protection in extreme conditions, but are slightly less robust making for a better price point for the recreational offshore sailor who still requires excellent protection.

Hoods: Full coverage and adjustments to be able to mold to your head/face and cinch down to keep water out.  Fluorescent colored and significant reflective tapes.

Collars: High collars with the substantial front storm flap with multiple Velcro adjustments.

Cut/Fit: Lengths are a bit longer in the jacket and higher in the bibs to maximize protective coverage and overlap of the jacket and trousers.  They are full cut (roomy) to allow for ease of movement and varied thicknesses of under layers worn for warmth.

Waterproof breathable Fabrics: Most are laminates, with some coated.

Shop Men’s Offshore and Women’s Offshore foul weather gear at APS.




Appropriate for medium distance passage making, and every day near shore/harbor sailing.  Coastal gear is designed to be worn for days on end while providing you good protection and comfort.

Hoods: Fully adjustable fluorescent colored with reflective tapes.

Collars: Medium height collars with Velcro adjustable front storm flaps.

Cut/Fit: Extra room in the cut to allow for ease of movement and for varied thicknesses of underlays worn underneath for warmth.

Waterproof breathable Fabrics: Most are coated, with some laminates.

Shop Men’s Coastal and Women’s Coastal foul weather gear at APS.




A good choice for near shore/harbor sailing, and will keep you dry all day long in poor weather, but not designed to protect against extreme weather conditions.  This foul weather gear is also great for onshore wear on rainy and blustery days.

Hoods: Adjustable hood.  Some are fluorescent and may have reflective tapes.

Collars: Short, but protective collars with simple Velcro front closures.

Cut/Fit: Extra room for an under layer, with a more traditional on-shore jacket cut.

Waterproof breathable Fabrics: Predominantly coated, with some laminates.

Shop Men’s Inshore and Women’s Inshore foul weather gear at APS.



Light Inshore

These jackets and waist pants (no trousers with suspenders here) are perfect for keeping you dry in the poor weather as you seek a protected harbor.  Popular on and off the boat, and are great to always have in your day bag in case of a passing squall.

Hoods: Basic adjustable hood on most jackets.

Collars: Short with full zipper closure.

Cut/Fit: More traditional on-shore jacket cut.

Waterproof breathable Fabrics: Predominantly coated, with some laminates.

Shop Men’s Light Inshore and Women’s Light Inshore foul weather gear at APS.



Buoy Racing

This gear is designed for day racing on keelboats around 22’ and longer.  It is constructed around keeping the gear lightweight, with unrestricted and easy movement, waterproof and reduce wearer fatigue.  Jackets are short waisted so you don’t end up sitting on the ‘tails’ (which restricts you from bending forward freely).  Hoods are minimal for ease of head movement and unobstructed line of sight.  Smocks with adjustable neck, wrist and waist seals are often desired over a jacket for their ability to better seal out water in very wet sailing conditions (a favorite of crew towards the bow of the boat taking waves).  Salopettes (contoured fit over the back, chest and shoulders – no need for suspenders) are generally favored over trousers for their high protective cut, more comfortable fit (less material and bagging), and the ease of movement they offer (they can make going to the head more difficult).

Hoods: Basic adjustable fluorescent hoods – many are removable.

Collars: Short with full zipper closure.

Cut/Fit: Full cut and extra lengths where needed for athletic sailing, but form fitting where appropriate.  Some pieces have waterproof panels that stretch with your movement.

Waterproof breathable Fabrics: Coated or laminates.

Shop Men’s Buoy Racing and Women’s Buoy Racing foul weather gear at APS.



Dinghy Racing

Note:  Not included here are dry suits and wet gear (wet suits) that are designed for protection if submersed in the water.

Dinghy racing foul weather gear is waterproof and breathable, and designed to keep you dry from rain and spray when sailing (not if you capsize/fall into the water), and designed for day sailing.  Dinghy smock tops are popular on all dinghies and even small keel boats.  They are lightweight and easy to move in.  The neck, wrists and waist all have adjustable seals to keep water/spray out (some less expensive smocks have an elastic waist and not an adjustable waist seal).  Trousers have adjustable ankle closures or seals that can be cinched around dinghy boots.

Hoods: n/a

Collars: n/a

Cut/Fit: Full cut and extra lengths where needed for athletic sailing, but form fitting where appropriate.

Waterproof breathable Fabrics: Predominantly coated, with some laminates.

Shop Men’s Dinghy Racing and Women’s Dinghy Racing foul weather gear at APS.

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