Foul Weather Gear (FWG)
What It Does
Foul weather gear has the challenging task of keeping active boaters dry from rain, spray and solid water. But, if these were the only requirements, we'd all be wearing simple slickers. In addition to external water protection, foul weather gear must also offer a wide latitude of ventilation options due to varying exertion levels, must offer freedom of movement for active wearers, must be durable to withstand the marine environment (including rough nonskid surfaces, chemicals and salt), and should be comfortable to live in for extended periods of time.
Matching Gear to Your Needs
Foul weather gear is built in five major categories: Rainwear/Fishing, Inshore/Lightweight, Dinghy/One Design, Coastal Cruising/Racing and Ocean/Offshore. So, which type of gear is best for your needs?
|Inshore / Lightweight||Dinghy / One Design||Coastal Cruising / Racing||Ocean / Offshore|
Tip: The products in this category are frequently the right choice for day-sailing and weekend trips in warmer climates. Less restrictive and clammy than coastal-class products.
Tip: For all but the longest passages, coastal-class gear, especially the breathable styles, are very appropriate and substantially less expensive than offshore gear.
Made for daily use in mild to moderate climates with the possibility of light rain, spray and wind. Use this gear for day sailing and weekend trips in warmer climates. This type is ideal for most types of boating because of its light weight, good protection and relatively low cost. Some styles offer waist pants instead of bib overalls, and most jackets are short for greater mobility.
Dinghy gear is made for use in very wet conditions, with strenuous activity and the possibility of complete immersion. Very active sailors require extreme mobility, tight closures to keep water out and light weight for comfort. Dinghy foul weather gear is generally a simple shell worn over a rash guard or fleece. Check our selection from Zhik, which is very popular in the Laser and Laser Radial classes. One Design/sportboat gear is more expensive and has more features, like the use of stretch fabric, more comprehensive hoods and additional pockets. Ronstan, Gill and SLAM are brands to check.
Coastal gear is designed for several days of continuous use in rough conditions, for all but the longest passages. Competent hood and collar systems, multiple pockets and unlined, multi-layer construction make coastal gear comfortable and protective. Look at our sixth generation Third Reef gear, as the world’s most popular foulies offer the best value in the class.
Ocean/offshore gear is designed for consecutive days or weeks of extended use in extreme climates. This is gear that you live in and depend on, the gear they wear on the Volvo Ocean Race. Fabrics (such as the most advanced GORE-TEX®) are heavyweight and highly breathable as well as durable, and this gear provides the most protection along with top-quality detailing. The hoods, storm flaps, collars and seals are the best available to keep water from penetrating through any opening. Reinforcements are the most extensive, guarding against abrasion from winches and deck gear. If you plan to engage in long distance racing or cruising—or if your local conditions tend to be nasty, invest in a top-quality suit, like the Musto Offshore gear (a West Marine exclusive), Gill OS1 or Henri Lloyd Shockwave gear.
Waterproofing and fabric selection
Breathable fabrics allow water vapor, but not liquid water, to pass through them. Two methods make this water transfer process work; either mechanical passage (through microscopic pores small enough to block liquid water molecules, but large enough for water vapor molecules) or chemical passage through a non-porous coating. When the heat and humidity are greater inside than outside your clothing, a breathable fabric acts like a water pump and transfers moisture to the outside of the garment. The more effective the fabric is in removing moisture, the more breathable the clothing system and the less likely it is that you will feel cold and clammy or hot and sticky.
Laminated microporous fabrics have a breathable membrane laminated between layers for strength and durability. The outer layer of the sandwich construction, usually nylon fabric, protects the membrane from both environmental and man-made exposures. The outer fabric is often coated with a silicone-based or other Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating, which prevents water from soaking in. These fabrics, the most efficient in their breathability, are found on the most expensive Ocean gear.
Coated hydrophilic fabrics have a waterproof coating compound spread on the inside of the fabric. Hydrophilic, “water-loving” compounds are solid, so there are no pores or holes to facilitate the easy mechanical vapor transfer. Instead, the vapor moves chemically though the molecular structure of the coating from the warm, high moisture vapor concentration inside to the cool, low-moisture vapor concentration outside. They breathe at about 40% of the rate of microporous coatings under ideal conditions.
We find that foul weather gear which utilizes breathable fabric is substantially more comfortable when boating in warm climates, or when the boating activity requires exertion, and therefore results in perspiration. After the pace of activity slows down, non-breathable gear leaves you damp and cold, while breathable fabrics keep a layer of dry air next to the skin, keeping you dry and comfortable.
Foul Weather Gear Size Chart
NOTE: Henri Lloyd, Musto and West Marine foul weather gear use the above chart for sizing. Gill sizing has slightly smaller chest measurements. Musto also offers "Medium Broad" which is for larger chest sizes.