Join Date: Feb 2004
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The issue with all "breathable" wet weather gear is (and this disregards seam, quality control and all the other stuff) is the break even point in terms of pressure. Errr...let me explain that a little.
Breathable membrane stuff uses your body heat to generate a micro pressure that is higher then that outside and allow moister to vent outwards. A chemical coating on the surface acts as a hydrophobic agent (repells water). On a micro level, the fabric is arrayed in little cone shaped flaps that supposedly work like one way valves. Thus the moisture form you exits on the underside of evey little valve and then hits the coating on the underlying flap. goes slick and runs off quickly.
If a big wave comes along and the pressure changes then the idea is that all those little flaps will close wherever the presuure is greater then the internal specs, so now the fabirc isn't breathing, but is keeping you dry(ish). But when you add a little more pressure the flaps fail and water can get in.
This is where the prices and qualities of the various breathable fabrics come into their own. The ocean going GorTex is about the best for having the highest "break even" point before the fabirc ceases to be water proof...and this is very much reflected in the price. Then again, every serious ocean going wet weather gear is made with genuine 3ply GoreTex.
From there it is a long slide down hill through about five brands ansd "systems" of water resistent breathable fabric till you get right down to the cotton/nylon blend that has the hyrdophobic coating and nothing else.
Now the good news is, if you do not face extreme circumstances where you are gong to be out in conditions where green waves are washing over the bows (You really hope it is the bows), and rain is not driving in at 50knots...then the cheaper stuff will work just as well as the expensive!
At that point it is a matter fo looking at the quality of seams and cut and fit (honestly, so many cheaper companies bothch the seam so that they are the weak and watery point, I have taken off a jacket after an hour of being out in mild drizzle to have a perfectly dry T shirt underneath apart from line of wet that made me a walking sewing pattern for the jacket I had just taken off (Ronstan gave me a refund on that one).
Hope this rambling has provided some useful info.
The way to think about gear like this is to match it to your specific sailing needs and not to shop as if you are a maxi yacht in the Sydney to Hobart race.