If you work in construction…
You’ll know about the importance of good quality gear. It needs to keep you dry, warm, cool, comfortable, not be too heavy, but heavy enough to protect you – sometimes all at the same time. When the weather is predictable and bright, this isn’t too difficult.
The basics include a strong and protective pair of boots, shorts or pants with padding and protection in the correct places, a t-shirt, and – of course – plenty of factor 30.
But work doesn’t stop when it rains, so as a construction professional, you also need a good set of rain gear to protect from the elements, keep you comfortable and most importantly, ensure you can remain productive.
That’s why professional quality construction rain gear is so important. It’s not as simple as chucking a waterproof jacket over your normal work gear. Yes, your top half might stay dry, but too many layers can be heavy, weighing you down and sapping your productivity.
The impact of rain on a construction site
What is Construction Rain Gear, exactly?
Before we explain the definition and characteristics of construction rain gear, let’s clear up some muddy terminology.
Construction rain gear falls under the same linguistic umbrella (pun intended) as ‘wet weather gear’ or ‘foul weather gear’. But there are key differences.
The specific terminology you’ll encounter pretty much depends on where you’re from. People in New Zealand and Australia say ‘wet weather gear’, people from America say ‘foul weather gear’. People in the UK sometimes say oilskins to refer to both.
It gets quite confusing, but the three terms – rain gear, wet weather gear and foul weather gear – are generally interchangeable.
Oilskins are slightly different thing altogether, which we’ll get to shortly.
Wet weather gear and foul weather gear are more generally associated with working out at sea, while rain gear more commonly refers to outdoor work on land.
There are some examples of crossover usage, but on the whole, if you’re talking about rain gear, you’re referring to waterproof clothing for working on land, albeit outdoors and often in climates where it’s likely to rain.
Types of rain gear and the key differences
Rain gear should be quite self-explanatory, but things are never that simple, are they?
Every type of rain gear is designed first and foremost to be waterproof. The second core function is to make it easy for the wearer to perform whatever task is described.
To further muddy the waters (no more puns after this), there are a number of different types of rain gear, aside from construction rain gear.
- Fishing rain gear – Fishing rain gear (not to be confused with wet weather fishing gear) is for leisure fishing, as opposed to commercial fishing. To that end, it doesn’t need to be as heavy.
- Farming rain gear – Good quality farming gear is designed to distribute its own weight so farmers can move about, climb over wire fences and jump in and out of quad bikes all day long.
- Cycling rain gear – Designed to be breathable, light and reflective.
- Walking rain gear – Similar to walking cycling rain gear, but a little heavier and warmer, with more pockets and not necessarily reflective.
Construction rain gear – key characteristics
Good quality rain gear is designed to deal with anything from a light shower to a heavy downpour. It’s also got to be comfortable, durable and good at keeping your body at the correct temperature. Warm enough, but not too hot.
The characteristics to look out for, in order of importance, are:
- Waterproof: If your rain gear isn’t waterproof, what use is it? It might have the technical details you’ve dreamed of, but if you still get sodden in a downpour, the rest of the day is going to be miserable.
- Lightweight & mobile: Similarly, if your rain gear does the job at repelling water, but does so at the expensive of comfort and mobility, your productivity is going to suffer. A heavy garment, or one that sags and drags in certain areas, will be a burden to wear. Demand rain gear that is easy to move in.
- Resilient: Construction work is tough, so your rain gear needs to be able to match it. If your gear is lightweight and waterproof, but can’t stand the rigours of life on a construction site – and there are some serious rigours – you’ve wasted your money.
- Functional – Depending on the kind of work you do and the other equipment and accessories you have, functionality could straddle the line between ‘essential’ and ‘nice to have’. Some professionals prefer to keep their rain gear lean and basic, meeting just the essential requirements. Others like as many different pockets, attachments and adjustments as possible. It’s down to personal taste, but we’re including ‘function’ in this list of key characteristics.
Construction rain gear tends to incorporate just a few key materials, but the blends and uses are pretty much unlimited, depending on your preferred style and functionality.
Let’s have a quick run through what they are and how they work.
Polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC is a synthetic plastic polymer. It’s versatile, waterproof and very strong. It’s actually so versatile, that we bet you’ve got some in your wallet or pocket right now.
In fact, it’s so strong and versatile that it’s the third most widely-used polymer in the world, after polyethylene (used in plastic bags) and polypropylene (used to make rope, carpets and packaging). There are two types of PVC; rigid and flexible. The rigid form is most commonly used in piping and bank cards (were we right?). The flexible form is used for waterproof materials.
How strong is Stormline PVC?
The best quality rain gear is either made from PVC, or a blend containing PVC and other materials.
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber, popular for its ability remain flexible over a wide range of temperatures. The most common application of neoprene is in making wet suits, waders and even fan belts for cars. But neoprene is also an excellent choice of material for cuffs and collars on rain gear due to its flexibility and toughness.
Untreated cotton is not naturally 100% waterproof, but well-woven cotton can be incredibly water-resistant and if treated, cotton can actually be 100% waterproof. Cotton can be woven heavy or light, making it highly versatile and due to its high breathability and comfort, it’s a popular choice for clothing that comes into contact with skin, such as inner-linings, shirts and t-shirts. It also has the benefit of being lighter than wool and easier to clean.
Fleece is fantastic for insulating warmth, but for that reason it’s not ideal for people working in warm yet wet areas or for people who very physically demanding jobs. However, it is ideal for linings, collars and cuffs.
Cotton and polyester strands woven together to give a blend of strength and moisture resistance. The blend ratio can vary, depending on the desired characteristics. But as a rule, you’ll want there to be more cotton than polyester.
Construction Rain Jackets and Pullovers
These need to offer 100% waterproofing, be lightweight and offer maximum mobility. A good design will ensure that your range of movement isn’t impeded and you can lift, carry, stack and move as you need to on-site.
Our rain jackets are available in full and half-sleeve designs, so if you prefer to keep your arms free, the half-sleeve option offers full upper-body protection, with added flexibility of movement.
Pullovers are a bit lighter and because the zip doesn’t extend all the way to the bottom, there’s a touch more flexibility around the hip and waist area. This is crucial if your job involves lifting heavy stuff off of the ground.
Key feature – Raglan sleeves – where the sleeve material extends all the way to the collar – are important as this contributes to the weight distribution qualities you’ll need to stay mobile.
Key characteristics – Construction rain jackets need to provide a balance between mobility and durability. They should be enough to withstand the rigours of the construction site, without weighing you down.
If you’re expecting to be working in torrential rain and won’t be needing as much mobility – for example you’re supervising a job or managing a delivery – you may find that a heavy duty smock is a good choice. They tend to be heavier, longer and thicker, offering more protection against the rain, wind and cold, and covering more of your body.
We’ve even seen some guys pairing a heavy duty smock with shorts, effectively sacrificing their lower legs to the cold and rain, while keeping their top half protected. This approach ensures you stay comfortable and mobile in difficult conditions, but it isn’t for everyone.
Key feature – Neoprene cuffs – No matter how wet and cold it is, restrictive cuffs can make a day on-site feel like an arduous slog. Neoprene cuffs cut that nonsense right out, offering comfort and functionality.
Key characteristics – These are typically made from a double layer of PVC for the ultimate in insulation from the cold. Look for a smock with clever weight distribution, especially around the waist and hip areas.
Vests are great when it’s cold but not too wet. And some construction professionals even favour these when it is wet. A bit like the guys who wear shorts with a smock, a full-sleeve or half-sleeve vest can be a smart choice if you’ve got a lot of moving to do. They provide full mobility around the arms, but keep the upper body warm, dry and comfortable. Ideal for unpredictable spring days where it might rain and then go sunny and dry autumn nights where it might go cool.
Key feature – Visibility – Always look for a vest with reflective or fluorescent detailing.
Key characteristics – These are designed to be practical, lightweight and portable. A well designed vest should be small and light enough to pack into a rucksack, but warm and thick enough to provide full upper body protection from the cold, wind and of course, the rigours of working in construction.
We promised we’d get to oilskins. Now, oilskins are confusing because the term refers to a specific type of wet weather clothing, but is also sometimes used in the UK to refer to wet weather gear in general.
The confusion arises from the fact that sailors used to coat cotton jackets in linseed oil to make it waterproof-ish. Hence the name. This was before waterproof materials such as PVC had been invented.
The most popular oil coating was linseed, which gave garments a distinctive yellow colour. This is why a most ‘sailor’ style jackets are yellow today. It’s a tradition that dates back to the days before hightech materials.
Some manufacturers still produce wet weather gear in the style of the oilskins. They’re long, heavy and very durable. But this sort of rain gear probably isn’t a good choice for construction work due to the weight and size.
Oilskins are designed to protect you from waves splashing over the side of a boat. But if you’re working by water and aren’t necessarily going to be doing a whole lot of moving about – for example quantity surveying or supervising – they might be a good shout. You’ll certainly stand out!
Key feature – Double PVC layer for insulation and ultimate protection from rain.
Key characteristics – Waterproofing and warmth – The heavier the better in this regard.
Overtrousers come in extremely handy when the weather is unpredictable. If you’re on-site working in your preferred dry weather construction pants or shorts, and the heavens open, quickly grabbing a pair of lightweight overtrousers from your bag is a far better option that having to change completely, or just getting wet and soggy.
Overtrousers are designed to be lightweight, keeping your under layer dry. You can wear them on their own in an emergency, but the inner neoprene or PVC may feel a bit uncomfortable against the skin.
Key feature – Adjustable cuffs – these are super handy for protecting the top of your boots, ankles and the lower part of your trousers.
Key characteristics – Lightweight and full waterproofing – don’t be put off by the lack of cold protection these offer. They’re not designed to keep you warm, they’re designed to keep you dry and mobile.
Pants, bib & braces
For the bottom half of your body, you’ve got three choices. You can go for a pair of waterproof construction pants that offer mobility and weather protection. You can also go for a bib and brace set that protects the bottom half of your upper body too (ideal if you’re working in hot but rainy conditions), or you can go for a normal pair of construction pants with padding, and layer a pair of overtrousers on top (see above).
But given the nature of your job, your pants need to offer a degree of functionality and work-specific protection too. Zipper pockets are handy, knee pads are pretty much essential for bricklayers, joiners or anyone who needs to be get down on the ground.
Key feature – Adjustable cuffs – Again, super useful for keeping yourself mobile.
Key characteristics – Protective and durable – Your pants are going to be taking a fair bit of punishment during the working day. Paint, oil, water, scuffs and scrapes. Don’t skimp. Get a pair that are robust enough to do you proud.
T-shirts & shirts
If it’s warm, but wet, you don’t really need to worry about insulation. So a decent cotton t-shirt under a lightweight rain jacket might be all you need. If the rain dies off, you can get rid of the rain jacket and stay cool and dry in just a t-shirt. There’s not much else to say about construction t-shirts other than they need to be lightweight, breathable and relatively comfortable.
Key feature – Material – go for cotton or a cotton blend that is as breathable as possible.
Key characteristics – Weight – Anything heavier than a lightweight cotton under your rain jacket risks being too hot.
Nobody knows better than you how you like to work. Some people’s productivity goes down hill if they feel restricted by layers upon layers of clothing. Other people dread the thought of feeling the chill in their bones when they’re trying to get the job done.
The great thing about investing in high quality construction rain gear is that with the right garments, you’ll be protected for all scenarios, from heavy and persistent downpours in the cold to sporadic showers in the warm.
Our strongest recommendation is to always invest as much as you can afford in high quality materials and robust designs. Gear that’s light, cool and waterproof but not sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of a day on the construction site is a bad investment if you need to shell out for replacements a couple of months down the line.