Is Moisture Wicking the Same as Waterproof? [Compared & Explained]

If you have ever gone shopping for athletic wear or work wear, you have probably seen the products described as moisture wicking or waterproof. The descriptions certainly seem to imply the same meaning, but you might wonder if the qualities are actually different. Is moisture wicking the same as waterproof?

Moisture wicking is not the same as waterproof. Moisture wicking refers to a product’s ability to pull moisture, specifically sweat, away from the skin, and disperse it onto the outside of the fabric in a way which helps it dry quickly. Waterproof refers to a product’s ability to keep moisture out and not let moisture, such as rain, penetrate the material.

When you buy a moisture wicking garment, you’re buying a garment designed to pull moisture that is already inside the garment (sweat) out to the surface so it can dry. When you buy a waterproof garment, you’re buying a garment that is intended to keep moisture that is outside the garment, such as rain, from penetrating the garment.

There are garments that will be focused on both. For example, if you are shopping for waterproof work gear, if the garment keeps all rain out, but doesn’t allow your body to breathe, it would be difficult to use because you would sweat out of it in minutes.

What is really important is many of these companies are able to create garments that are able to both keep water out, and allow body heat and vapor to escape. This allows you to take on wet conditions, but still feel comfortable inside the garment.

Moisture wicking garments are more popular, obviously, for warm weather conditions where sweat is an issue. As we will discuss in the article, many “cooling” garments will use the moisture wicking process to jump start the cooling process. When sweat is wicked away, and evaporated, the evaporation process helps pull heat away from your body.

In this article let’s take a closer look at moisture wicking vs waterproof garments so you can have a better understanding which one might be best for you. Let’s also discuss the different type of jackets, pants, and shirts available with these specific qualities.

Moisture Wicking vs Waterproof

Is Moisture Wicking Waterproof?

As we discussed above, moisture wicking is not the same as waterproof. Moisture wicking refers to a product’s ability to pull moisture, specifically sweat, away from the skin, and disperse it onto the outside of the fabric in a way which helps it dry quickly. Waterproof refers to a product’s ability to keep moisture out and not let moisture, such as rain, penetrate the material.

What Does Moisture Wicking Mean?

A moisture wicking garment means that the fabric is designed to pull moisture, specifically sweat, away from the body and disperse it in a way which helps the garment dry quickly. A moisture wicking garment does not mean it is waterproof and good for rain.

In fact, moisture wicking garments are often built for hot, dry weather, where perspiration is common. The purpose of a moisture-wicking garment is to keep you dry and comfortable while you work or play in the heat.

The wicking of sweat away from your skin also helps (to minor degree) regulate your body temperature. This is actually how “cooling” gear works. The natural evaporation process that is triggered by the wicking away of sweat helps pull heat away from your body.

No, don’t expect moisture wicking garments to make an extreme difference on body temperature, but they, in a small way, help. And as we all know, even a little bit of help can go a long way on those burtally hot work days.

The science behind the wicking of moisture can differ slightly product to product. In general, wicking happen through capillary action. This concept is the movement of the moisture (a liquid like sweat) through tiny spaces and channeling in a fabric that happens because of the molecular forces between the sweat and the internal surface of the fabric.

Essentially, a moisture wicking garment is not about keeping moisture from getting in, but about getting moisture out. These garments are used commonly in both athletic wear and work wear since they are meant to wick away sweat as you are active.

What Does Waterproof Mean?

A garment that is waterproof will, like the name suggests, keep water and other forms of moisture from moving from the outside of the garment to the inside. This is what raincoats are designed to do, for instance.

The primary goal of a waterproof garment is to keep moisture from getting to the inside of the fabric, in contrast to the primary goal of a moisture wicking garment being to pull moisture from the inside to the outside of the garment.

Sometimes, you might see a product described not as waterproof or moisture wicking, but as water resistant or water repellant. While these terms are similar to waterproof, a garment that is only water resistant or repellant will still let some moisture in. Water-resistant garments are meant to repel light precipitation only.

For example, many types of work jackets will be water-repellent and not waterproof, meaning they are built to handle light precipitation, but not a severe rain storm.


Additionally, some garments treated with chemicals to give more of a water-repellent effect may lose those water-repellent properties over time, especially through washing.

What Are the Uses of Moisture Wicking and Waterproof Garments?

Moisture wicking garments are primarily used in situations where you are active since you will be breaking a sweat. Sweat helps to cool the body when it evaporates, and this process can be made more efficient with moisture wicking garments since they will help to pull the moisture away from your skin.

It is common to wear moisture wicking clothing for situations like:

  • Exercise
  • Outdoor activities like camping or hiking
  • Working

In particularly warm environments, some people prefer their everyday clothing to be moisture wicking.

Waterproof garments are best suited for outdoor activities that will likely involve rain or other elements. Sometimes, you might even wear a combination of moisture wicking and waterproof garments.

For instance, if you are going on a hiking and camping trip or if you will be working outside in wet conditions, you might wear a garment that can hold out moisture, but also wick sweat and allow body heat to escape.

Some people prefer to layer underneath with a moisture wicking undershirt. And this is a good rule of thumb is to have moisture wicking clothing against your skin, since the skin is where sweat gathers and needs to evaporate to cool the body down.

Wearing Moisture Wicking or Waterproof Garments

You can buy clothes that are both moisture wicking and waterproof. Typically, you will see these sorts of garments marketed as being waterproof yet breathable. Essentially, these pieces will allow moisture to move out (moisture wicking) while not allowing moisture in (waterproof).

Unfortunately, the more breathable a fabric, the less waterproof it will be by nature. Thus, you will want to analyze your situation to determine which quality is more important for your needs:

  • If you are getting active indoors or otherwise out of the elements, it is less important that your garments be waterproof and more important that your clothing can wick away the sweat produced by your body.
  • If you are out in the elements and cold weather, especially for prolonged periods of time, you would be better served by focusing on waterproof garments with less breathability to minimize the moisture that gets inside.

Typically, this is a balancing act that also depends on how much you anticipate sweating during a given scenario.

If you are looking for garments for hot weather, visit our articles linked below:

If you are looking for waterproof garments, visit our articles linked below:

Keep in mind that manufacturers, especially those who manufacture athletic or outdoor gear, are constantly working to innovate their materials to better serve consumer needs. This means that we may not have the perfect balance of moisture wicking and waterproof for garments just yet, but we likely will as time goes on.

Paul Johnson

Paul is a lead content creator for Workwear Command. He has had several blue-collar jobs which have provided him a wide range of experience with tools and gear. He also has a business degree and has spent time in business casual office settings.

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