Outdoor Blog

Water Resistant vs Waterproof – What’s the Difference?

water resistant vs waterproof difference
We’ve had a truck load of queries about the differences and or similarities between claims of water resistant vs waterproof gear. It’s interesting to see how many folks are trying to figure this lot out. Given the even bigger truck-loads of information out there, the confusion doesn’t surprise us.

So what’s the deal? Where does one draw the proverbial lines between waterproof vs water resistant specifications? And are these in fact the only descriptors used in the industry of waterproofing?

Meet the three members of a family of water fighting phraseologies

Everything that’s going to be used on this planet, particularly outdoor gadgets and gizmos, tents and hi-tech equipment like LED, electric, and battery operated lighting as well as phones or watches, should stand up against moisture infiltration.

Take a couple of gear (anything from the shelves of your nearby home depot) and read the specifications. Most importantly pay close attention to the protection claims in terms of water ingress. What you will discover is a wide variety of terms and explanations we’ve found to be…well…let’s just say…’mildly’ ambiguous.

Water resistant vs Waterproof vs Water Repellent

We took a closer look at the terminologies being thrown around by the people that know and discovered a wide array of terms of which these three i.e. waterproof vs water resistant vs water repellent, in particular seemed to be tricky to distinguish.


Don’t go swimming with this watch! It’s only water resistant.

“Waterproof” is simply defined as the capacity of an object (from hat, coat, camera to all kinds of camping equipment) to be impervious (big word and it means water won’t get in).

‘Water resistant’ means the water isn’t going to get in easily.

So what exactly does it mean if your expensive CasioTM watch is water resistant vs waterproof? The key is in the degree of exclusion of water. In a nutshell, the waterproof watch is supposed to keep all manner of water out vs. the water resistant tent which although dry for most of the showers, will probably begin to leak after an hour of heavy rainfall. Not good! It will resist for a period but eventually cave.

The last of our trio i.e. ‘water repellent’ can both describe a spray or coating of some kind or a particular object like a duffel coat or tent that isn’t easily penetrated by water.

You could say your coat resists any fluid spilled on it because it has been coated with a water repellent!

How do we know we will be protected?

If you thought this business of protecting fabric/material for clothes and shoes, tents, backpacks, and tech products was pie-in-the-sky random nonsense then think again. The very intelligent people at the International Electrotechnical Commission or IEC as we like to call them have published guidelines that regulate the marketing of the degree of protection (and against what) a particular object claims to offer.

You may be inclined to query the waterproofing claims stated in writing on your expensive digital camera user manual and rightly so.

That’s why the folk at the IEC developed a numerical standard that ensures a particular degree of safety from a wide variety of agents, water included. This scale can be accessed here if you are interested (we certainly were) and is graded on a 9 digit scale with a 9 ranking describing protection from ‘Powerful high temperature water jets’! See the below image for illustration.

IP rating Waterproof

If you manage to locate your IP rating and spot an X, don’t be dismayed (it doesn’t stand for ‘no protection’) this simply means that there is no data available to specify a protection rating for that agent. For example you may find inscribed in your user manual the code IPX7.

Correctly interpreted, this means the product in your hands has a protection against water ingress that can be described in layman’s terms as an hour immersion at one meter depth and no water should get in. Cool right?! We thought so.

So will the IP code help you decide what tent to pack for Katmandu?

hydrostatic head scale (HHS)Nope. You’ll get your best guidance from the IP code for all things electrical, like phones, digital cameras, waterproof GPS devices, torches, watches – you get the idea.

When it comes to gauging the same criteria but for fabrics we talk about the hydrostatic head scale (HHS). Not to bore you to death, we’ve summarized this scale as follows. Using your tent as an example:

The manufacturer of the tent would’ve taken a clear cylinder (aka tube) and placed the tent fabric tightly over one end, then ever so slowly they will fill the tube with water, increasing the volume, until the water begins to seep through. The point where this happens is measured in millimeters and provides the hydrostatic head scale for that piece of fabric.

For example if you find the tent you bought has a hydrostatic head scale of 2000mm it means the column of water reached two meters before any water began to pass through the fabric.

So what’s the reality of the hydrostatic scale in terms of out in the mountains reality check protection?

Well, given fluctuations due to wind and of course gravity, the experts predict that you will need a measurement of around 1000mm to resist light showers.

That’s it for now folks. We hope you enjoyed the post and please let us know if you have some unique water resistant vs waterproof ideas you would like to share.

Image credits: Title image by bradhoc/flickr.com, cropped (CC BY 2.0), IP rating image by Dmitry G (CC BY-SA 3.0), 3. image by Quinn Dombrowski/flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Water Resistant vs Waterproof – What’s the Difference?
4.5 (90%) 2 votes