Light­weight Foul­weather Gear

Get the right gear for the kind of sail­ing you do

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Just be­cause you’re not plan­ning on brav­ing the South­ern Ocean this sum­mer doesn’t mean that you won’t have some dicey days out on the wa­ter. If you haven’t got the right gear, a lit­tle rain or hu­mid­ity can make things mis­er­able. As with all safety equip­ment, “it’s al­ways bet­ter to have pro­tec­tion you don’t need than need it and not have it,” cau­tions gear ex­pert and for­mer Olympic and Amer­ica’s Cup sailor Jerry Richards. On the other hand, if you over do things, you’ll be sweat­ing it out in bulky, heavy (not to men­tion ex­pen­sive) gear that you don’t need. Here’s what you should know to se­lect sum­mer gear that’s just right.


When it comes to tops, you’ll have to choose be­tween a smock and a jacket. Jack­ets are more pop­u­lar and usu­ally more com­fort­able, but if you do a lot of rac­ing, you might con­sider a smock. Be­cause smocks don’t have a full zip­per, they can be more ef­fec­tive at keep­ing wa­ter out, a good op­tion for any­one ex­pect­ing to get the oc­ca­sional drench­ing while do­ing bow work or dinghy sail­ing. They’re also cut shorter for in­creased mo­bil­ity. The longer length of a jacket, how­ever, may keep you warmer. That said, on a warm day a smock may be too hot, whereas a jacket can be unzipped to cool down. With this in mind Richards rec­om­mends that, “On a nice day if it’s not go­ing to rain, the jacket you would want might be a crew jacket. The col­lar wouldn’t be so tall, it might not even have fleece in­side, but that’s a jacket you can wear over or un­der your bibs.” The ver­sa­til­ity of a crew jacket makes it a good light­weight op­tion for ca­sual sail­ing. If you’re look­ing for a lit­tle more pro­tec­tion, re­mem­ber this rule of thumb: the higher the col­lar, the more the jacket is aimed at off­shore sail­ing (and usu­ally the higher the price). In­shore jack­ets will also be shorter than their heavy-duty off­shore coun­ter­parts.


Richards says many new sailors don’t re­al­ize they’ll prob­a­bly spend far more time in their bibs than they do their jacket. In fact, he rec­om­mends al­ways start­ing the day in pants; it’s much eas­ier to take them off if it gets too warm than it is to dry off if you’re chilly and sit­ting on a wet deck with­out them.

You have two main op­tions when choos­ing pants: salopettes and trousers. Salopettes are higher cut around the neck­line, which will help keep your up­per body dry, es­pe­cially when you’re wear­ing them with­out a jacket, as Richards pre­dicts you of­ten will. Be­cause they pro­vide full cov­er­age, how­ever, you may find your­self over­heat­ing. If that sounds like a deal breaker, Richards says, “You can wear chesthigh trousers and you prob­a­bly won’t be so hot be­cause the wa­ter­proof breath­able fab­ric isn’t all the way up over your shoul­ders like it would be on the sa­lopette.” Note that salopettes are de­signed with wider shoul­der straps which won’t slip down, adding to the cov­er­age. They usu­ally stretch but can­not be ad­justed. If you’re wor­ried about fit, it’s an­other rea­son to turn to high-waisted trousers as these typ­i­cally have


Once you’ve de­cided what style gear suits your needs, you need to look at con­struc­tion. You’re prob­a­bly fa­mil­iar with names like GORE-TEX but how do these wa­ter­proof, breath­able ma­te­ri­als ac­tu­ally work? The key is a thin mem­brane with mi­cro­scopic pores in it. They’re so small that liq­uid wa­ter droplets can­not fit through, but wa­ter va­por can. Be­cause this layer is so thin, it has to be pro­tected with other fabrics. Richards says that most dam­age to foul weather gear is ac­tu­ally due to chafe from the in­side, not wear and tear on the out­side, which leads you to your next de­ci­sion: twoor three-layer lam­i­nate? Two-layer con­struc­tions will in­clude an outer layer, the mi­cro­p­orous mem­brane and a mesh lin­ing on the in­side to pro­tect the mem­brane from abra­sion. Three-layer fabrics con­sist of an outer layer, the mem­brane and a solid in­ner layer, or scrim, which are all glued to­gether so that it feels like a sin­gle layer. Three-layer fabrics tend to be more ex­pen­sive but also more durable. Con­sider whether you’re do­ing the


kind of sail­ing that ac­tu­ally re­quires the ex­tra pro­tec­tion. Most true in­shore gear will have two-layer con­struc­tion, since you only need a three-layer lam­i­nate if you’re do­ing some se­ri­ous rac­ing or go­ing off­shore.

You also might run into coated hy­drophilic fabrics, which em­ploy a dif­fer­ent method for wa­ter­proof­ing than the mi­cro­p­orous mem­branes. In­stead of hav­ing pores, the coat­ing it­self chem­i­cally fa­cil­i­tates the trans­fer of wa­ter mol­e­cules from warm moist ar­eas to cooler, drier ar­eas. These are less breath­able than mi­cro­p­orous fab­ric but still much bet­ter than a nor­mal rain­coat. Once you’ve de­cided what style and con­struc­tion best suits your needs, there are a few fi­nal things to con­sider be­fore in­vest­ing in your gear. How do you pick a size? Richards rec­om­mends go­ing for a big­ger size when in doubt. It’s hard to an­tic­i­pate just how many lay­ers you’ll want un­der­neath, and there are few things worse the straight­jacket sen­sa­tion of over­stuffed gear. Do you need pock­ets for your tools? I sail with a woman who likes to have a spare sail tie handy at all times. Whether it’s a ra­dio, sun­block or snacks, think about what you’ll want within arm’s reach and make sure your gear has a place for it. Does it have taped seams? These days most gear on the mar­ket has taped seams, but it’s worth con­firm­ing be­fore you buy. Leaky or ripped seams un­der­mine the whole point of a wa­ter­proof gar­ment and will make for some mis­er­able sail­ing. Do you need re­in­forced patches over high abra­sion ar­eas? If you’re just try­ing to stay dry when a sud­den shower blows up dur­ing a lazy af­ter­noon on the wa­ter, prob­a­bly not. If you’re plan­ning on spend­ing a lot of time grind­ing, then yes, you’ll def­i­nitely want those patches. Do you want a re­flec­tive, flu­o­res­cent-yel­low hood, a two- way zip or ad­justable cuffs? Gear that’s prop­erly cared for can last for five or more years, so con­sider all your op­tions and choose care­fully. If you do your re­search now, it will pay div­i­dends later when you’re warm and safe out on the wa­ter.

Light jack­ets, like these mod­els from (clockwise from top) Helly Hansen, North Sails and Gill, would all work well sail­ing in­shore

Flu­o­res­cent yel­low hoods, like the one on this Salt Light jacket from Helly Hansen, are eas­ier to spot if you go over­board The neck, waist and wrist seals on this Henri Lloyd smock will keep out even the worst spray Vel­cro clo­sures make this Musto cuff...

The mi­cro­p­orous mem­brane in breath­able fabrics al­lows wa­ter va­por to leave while keep­ing wa­ter droplets out

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