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Working out which outer shell sailing jacket is right for you means determining what mix of attributes you need most in a jacket. Ultimately, the best jacket for you is the one that is designed for the activity you intend to use it for, fits your budget, and is suited to the conditions you expect to face.

At Zhik, product innovation and R&D are core to our values. Designing a performance-focused jacket for any set of conditions or activity means balancing the performance of key factors. Ultimately, the following are the factors you should look at when determining if a shell sailing jacket is designed to suit your needs:

  •  - Waterproofness - the ability for a material to prevent water ingress
  •  - Breathability - the movement of water vapour from inside a garment, to outside a garment
  •  - Insulation - generating and trapping warmth around the body
  •  - Layering - the ability to function with other layers of clothing
  •  - Durability - the ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage for repeated use

The relationship between these factors determines what activity and performance level a jacket is designed for. Let’s take a closer look at how these factors play off each other to help you determine which will be most important to you. There’s no one sailing jacket that does it all and all should be worn with other layers that help it perform best. So, before you start shopping around for a new shell jacket, it’s important to first understand the relationship between shell jackets and other sailing layers.


A Balance Between Waterproofness and Breathability

When shopping around for a shell jacket, you should look for one that strikes the right balance between being waterproof and breathable. Ultimately, any high performance sailing shell jacket should keep out as much ocean spray as possible, while allowing water vapour from the baselayer and midlayers to escape.

What is breathability?

Breathability is the amount of water vapour that can be transferred through a piece of fabric. Water vapour can come from many sources but mainly when wearing a sailing jacket, it is generated from your body as sweat. When you undertake physical activity on a boat, this sweat is generated and builds up as a way for your body to regulate temperature and needs a way to be able to escape back into the atmosphere

A breathable sailing jacket won’t stop you from sweating but is essential to make sure that the water vapour which is generated can escape so it does not stay on our skin and make us cold. This also helps to prevent clamminess and dampness which can become troublesome when out on the water for extended periods of time.

What is waterproofness?

Waterproofness is the sliding scale of how much water a fabric can repel before it lets any moisture through. For this reason, even though a material might be “waterproof”, it may still not be able to withstand all amounts of water spray that are propelled at it. To determine how waterproof a fabric is, a hydrostatic head test is conducted which is able to determine how much water pressure a fabric can withstand. The larger the waterproof rating, the more water pressure the fabric is able to withstand before you start to get wet.

While they may seem like opposites, waterproofness and breathability are both essential in a high-quality sailing jacket and work in tandem to create a functional piece of kit. In short, waterproofing is essential to keep the spray from soaking through to your under layers and body when you’re out on the water, while breathability allows sweat to evaporate while undertaking high-intensity activity.

There’s a reason we make lots of different jackets with varying levels of waterproofness and breathability — people use Zhik gear for lots of different things. A jacket that’s great for inshore sailing probably won’t be waterproof enough to protect you from the raging ocean when offshore sailing. Likewise, a jacket designed for offshore sailing will be too heavy, thick and cumbersome even to consider using while out dinghy sailing.


Durable and effective waterproofing materials

When choosing a sailing jacket, you should consider the effectiveness and durability of its waterproof coating. The level of waterproofing on a shell jacket comes down to what materials or membranes it is made from, and then which coatings are applied to it during manufacturing. Different combinations of materials, fabric thicknesses, linings, waterproof coatings, and membranes result in very different levels of performance and price. 

The Zhik range of sailing jackets can be categorised into one of the three fabric categories; two layer fabrics, three layer fabrics or four layer fabrics.

Two Layer Fabrics

  • Two-layer fabrics are used for waterproof jackets that are designed for inshore and moderate sailing conditions or daily life on the street. These fabrics consist of an external woven face textile with a laminated membrane on the inside face to provide waterproof and breathable protection. An internal garment lining protects the membrane, making it more durable and comfortable to wear. This construction is used in our

  •  of waterproof jackets.

Three Layer Fabrics

  • Three layer fabrics are perfectly suited for high intensity inshore, coastal sailing conditions and moderate offshore sailing. This fabric construction starts with a woven face textile with a laminated membrane on the inside. The membrane layer is the last level of waterproof protection while also providing breathability to allow for water vapour to exit through the fabric. A lightweight scrim layer is then laminated to the inside face of the membrane, providing additional durability to the membrane and comfort for the user. The inshore INS200, coastal CST500 and offshore OFS800 ranges utilise this three layer construction and provide a perfect level of lightweight protection.

Four Layer Fabrics

  • Four layer fabrics sit at the top level of waterproofness and durability which is utilised for intense offshore racing and extreme ocean conditions. This fabric construction incorporates a woven face textile with a composite-laminated membrane on the inside. The dual-membrane layer is the last level of waterproof protection while also providing breathability. This membrane functions by drawing moisture away from the user while efficiently expelling water vapour. A lightweight scrim layer is then laminated to the inside face of the membrane, providing additional durability to the membrane and comfort for the user. This construction is utilised in the OFS900 range and is the pinnacle of protection for ocean racers.

Water repellency treatment 

  • The outermost layer of waterproofing a sailing jacket and the first line of protection from water spray is a Durable Water Repellency (DWR) treatment. DWR treatments are finishes that add liquid-shedding properties to fabrics, causing droplets to bead and roll off the surface. These are widely used in the outer finishes and membranes of performance shell jackets to avoid water soaking through to the lower layers. 

    As part of our commitments to sustainability at Zhik, we are rolling out a new and more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional DWR coatings in our products - XWR®. XWR® is free from harmful chemicals, minimising the environmental impact of our products as they experience wear and tear over time.


Managing body temperature with insulation and layering

  • Having a basic understanding of layering sailing garments really helps with choosing the right jacket for you. If you plan on venturing out into rough seas, you’ll need a combination of moisture-wicking baselayers, insulative and breathable midlayers, and a rugged and waterproof shell jacket. But if you’re just going for a casual sail or cruise on a warm day, a modestly warm and waterproof shell might be enough to get by.

    At Zhik, our shell jackets are always assembled to have multiple layers themselves but do need other garments working together to provide the range of warmth, protection and comfort that is required for the specific sailing application. Double layered waterproof jackets like the Zhik INS100™ Jacket are sealed and insulated to keep the wearer modestly warm in calm conditions — so you could get away with just wearing a UVActive top underneath it. The triple-layered Zhik OFS800™ Jacket is a more durable, waterproof, rugged and premium jacket than the INS100™, but would still require an additional base or midlayer to keep the wearer warm in the conditions it’s designed for.

Finding the right sailing jacket for your needs

  • As always, knowing what you need from a jacket comes down to understanding what other gear you own or need to use with it. It also comes down to what activities you plan on doing while wearing it, and what kind of conditions you will face. Now that you understand what to look for when you are choosing a sailing jacket, the next step is to determine which of the waterproof sailing jackets is right for your specific application. 

    If you’re into casual sailing in moderate conditions, the jacket and associated features that you will need are very different to if you are overnight coastal or ocean sailing in rough waters. Similarly, having a quality waterproof jacket is essential when out on the water but to gain the most suitable protection and comfort, these need to be paired with midlayer and baselayer garments to create an effective clothing set. Even though it can seem like a daunting process to pick the perfect sailing jacket, Zhik has specific ranges for different sailing disciplines that allow you to make sure you get the right jacket for your needs.