Two-Layer vs. Three-Layer Jackets: Which Offers Better Breathability?

Three-layer fabrics have a third liner that’s bonded into the membrane’s waterproof layer, shielding it from the body’s oils and dirt. They provide better moisture control as well as greater durability however they also carry a higher price tag.

Patagonia’s Torrentshell 3L (PS160) is one of the best examples of a durable 3 layer jacket featuring a sturdy 50D ripstop fabric for the face and Gore-Tex Paclite Plus technology. It does not have the lining included in the majority of 2.5-layer jackets and reduces weight.

Waterproof and Breathable

Waterproof-breathable fabrics like Gore-Tex and eVent create jackets that are very protective in stormy weather. They let sweat escape however they also keep out water due to the differences in tension between body heat and cold air that is outside of the jacket. The most breathable models have an additional inner layer that soaks up sweat and offers a silky skin-like feel. These inner layers protect the membrane’s breathable surface from dirt sweat, body oils, and wear, so they require more frequent laundering in order to be in the most breathable condition possible.

Historically 2-layer jackets used to have an exterior face fabric bonded to a waterproof-breathable membrane and a loose (typically mesh) liner hanging on the inside. The type of jacket has been largely discarded in the last few years as cheaper 2.5 layer jackets have taken the market place by storm. All of these jackets should be waterproof and have a long-lasting water repellent (DWR) coating to keep rain off the shell. In time they will lose their finish and will require treatment.


Many jackets feature two-layer membranes, but a few go one step further. The affordable XeroDry GTX by Co-op ($169) is constructed with two layers of GORE-TEXPACLITE, providing a stout barrier against wind and moderate rain. It also lets sweat vapor out. The polyester mesh liner helps protect the membrane and also helps lessen the clammy feel it’s common to feel when wearing a cheap waterproof jacket during continuous rain. In order to keep the jacket working its best, it’ll require an DWR treatment (either spray-on or wash-in) when you’ve used it enough.

Three-layer jackets are able to add a waterproof layer of wicking this dramatically enhances the water- and sweat-management. The jackets that are constructed with this technology including Patagonia’s Torrentshell 3L jacket ($179) is able to stand up to the most severe rainstorms.

Three-layer membranes with the highest performance include polyurethane and ePTFE films. Polartec’s NeoShell is a popular choice for its high-elevation, trail-running-friendly balance of water resistance and breathability at 20,000 g/m2. The Gore-TEX Pro membrane is made up of multiple ePTFE membranes that are bonded in order to offer exceptional water resistance (RET 13.3)) and breathability (24,000 G/m2). Based on the intensity of your activities and your outdoor weather and the weather, a jacket featuring pit vents is likely to be important for you.


Any jacket will hold up to light rain, but only jackets that are waterproof and breathable features can keep you dry even in the midst of heavy rain and click to read more Brands that make jackets use a selection of fabric types that face the outside and advanced laminates for layered structures as well as no unanimity on an industrial standard for water resistance. Therefore, the comparison of claims for water resistance between various brands can be difficult.

Most commonly, waterproof materials consist of coated fabric and an elastomer that is slid between woven fabric layers. The coated fabrics are usually utilized in low-cost jackets however, they’re more breathable than those with layers, yet provide adequate waterproof protection.

If the weather is extremely wet you should consider wearing a jacket that has three layers or an alternative 2.5-layer design. The inner layer of most 3-layer jackets is better at doing a job in protecting the second layer membrane from dirt, oil and scratches than the outermost fabric of a 2.5-layer jacket. However, they’re usually a bit larger and heavier than two-layer versions.

Lightweight and Packable

As opposed to older oil- and wax-coated coats that had to be applied regularly and weighed a lot, the membranes that are used in today’s two-, 2.5-, and 3-layer styles keep moisture out and aren’t stiff or heavy. They’re also lightweight enough that they can be packed to a compact bag or backpack, making them perfect for trips in the backcountry.

Many 2-layer jackets use a bonded membrane with an outer skin fabric for protection against abrasions and wear. Certain jackets, such as Columbia’s 75-cent Watertight II and women’s Arcadia II are equipped with hanging lines which increase bulk and weight but helps to safeguard the waterproof membrane from abrasion, skin oils and an increase in clamminess.

The jacket by REI makes use of Gore-Tex Paclite or Paclite Plus and is a fantastic choice to use in frontcountry or casual situations. We like that it’s dryer-friendly and machine washable to restore DWR (durable water-repellent) and breathability–just follow the instructions of the manufacturer for washing. It’s also fair-trade certified and is made from sustainable materials.