Water-resistant vs. Waterproof: Average Joe to Navy Seal to Aquaman

Waterproof bluetooth speaker
Dorothy Tobias
Written by Dorothy Tobias

Don’t you just hate it when companies start using their own little lingo without using words everyone can understand? Take water-resistant vs. waterproof, for instance. This might sound pretty ambiguous to most people, especially since oftentimes these expressions are actually used interchangeably or in deceitful ways.

So a water-resistant product should be able to withstand water to some degree, but not entirely. Conversely, a waterproof item should be completely immune to water, in that you could actually submerge it into the water. But things are never that simple because there are various degrees of waterproofing.

Are you confused enough yet? Well, in this article we’ll try to detangle some of that confusion and make things easier for you. We’ll talk about the various degrees of waterproofing, and how to choose good products depending on your needs, so read on.

A Lot of Numbers

If you plan on getting a product that has some degree of water resistance, you should make sure you check the IP rating, which stands for International or Ingress Protection. This looks like IP followed by two numbers, or a letter and a number. So it can look like IP17 or IPX7, the good news being that the first number or letter, in this case, 1 and X, show the product’s performance against solids like dust or debris.

IP rating

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But in this article, we’ll talk about how resistant a certain product is to water, so you can decide if it fits your purpose. The first thing you should know is that there are only nine different levels of protection, so you won’t have a lot to read.

Level 0

This is the easiest of all because it obviously shows you that your item lack all sort of protection against water. So this has 0 water resistance, meaning it shouldn’t come into contact with water at all. Basically, these sort of products should only be used indoors. And if we’re talking about a smaller gadget, like a watch, you have to take it off before washing your hands with it.

Level 1

Moving up a notch, the IPX1 rating shows you that your product is safe from dripping water. But there’s a catch: the water should fall vertically on top of the product. You should also remember that we’re talking about water drops here, so don’t take this one in the shower with you, ok?

Wearing a water resistant watch

However, if we’re talking about the same example regarding the watch, it can be safe to wash your hands with it. Otherwise, if we’re discussing a fabric, you probably shouldn’t expose it to too many such water drops.

Level 2

This one is moving with slow steps a little higher on the water resistance scale, though you’ll probably find that it’s completely proof against dripping water too. But this time, the water can fall at an angle too, not just vertically on top of the product.

Just make sure that angle isn’t bigger than 15ᵒ, though, or otherwise, your product can become irreparably damaged. This can be a little tricky, though, especially if we’re talking about a tent and a mild rain – it’s not like you can actually measure the angle of the raindrops.

Level 3

This is getting us somewhere, finally. So with a level 3 product, you’re completely proof against spraying water, like that from a heavier rain. Besides, the angle formed between the water and your product can be as much as 60ᵒ, so you can actually keep going even if you’re outside.

Panasonic wet weather resistant

An IPX3 rating can prove good enough even for washing your hands with a certain piece of equipment or clothing on. However, make sure you don’t pour the water directly over the product, we’re still talking about water sprays. That said, IPX1 to IPX3 rated products are considered daily waterproof.

Level 4

An IPX4 rating is what most of us start regarding a true water-resistant rating, in that you can expose a product with this ingress factor to water splashes, regardless of the angle. So firstly, we’re not just talking about drops or sprays, but downright splashes, like that of a heavier rain. Secondly, they can come from any direction, which is why these products are generally deemed rainproof.

So with a level 4 IP rating, a product can resist outdoors to heavy rains, which is great news if you’re referring to a tent. Basically, if you don’t want to constantly bring the product inside each time it starts raining, make sure it has at least an IPX4 rating.

Level 5

Well, this is definitely something, whether we’re talking about an inclement weather or even a quick shower. That’s because an IPX5 product can resist water jets, regardless of the direction, they’re coming from. There’s a catch though: the nozzle from which the water jets stream from can’t be bigger than 6.3 mm, so about 0.24 inches wide. That’s still enough for most shower heads, though you’ll probably want to check the manufacturer’s specifications too.

Waterproof phone

Level 6

This sort of product can really pose no problems when it comes to bad weather, heavy rain or snowfalls. With an IPX6, you can even do some surfing, or take the product with you when you’re boating, because it can face very powerful water jets. There isn’t any restriction when it comes to the direction of these water jets, either. The only restriction is that the nozzle shouldn’t be wider than 12.5 mm, or the equivalent of 0.5 inches.

Level 7

This rating shows that you can swim with a certain product on, like a watch. It also indicates you can wear a certain pair of shoes, if you’re going through marshlands or if you’re fishing. That’s because you can immerse it into water of up to 1 meter or 3.28 feet and nothing bad happens.

Still, make sure you check the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding the pressure and the time. With these specifications, you’ll know exactly for how long you can actually submerge the product into water, so you’ll know if you can swim with it or just step into the occasional puddle.

Level 8

We’re finally at the end of our list, with the biggest waterproof rating. This is, in fact, what most of us understand by the word waterproof, meaning completely immune to water. This might mean different things, though: your product can either be completely sealed so no water can get inside it, or it allows water entering inside but with no bad outcomes.

Diving with a watch

So you can immerse your product in water, you can swim or dive with it, but take into account the distinction above. For instance, you might not want an IPX8 pair of boots or an IPX8-rated dive suit that allow water getting in without ruining them. However, make sure you check the manufacturer’s specifications here too, regarding the time and the pressure.

The Numbers that Lie

So at this point, you might very well think you understand everything about waterproof ratings, but you’d be wrong. There’s a catch – there’s always a catch.

But first, let’s start from the basic assumption: we generally say that a product is water-resistant when we refer to its ability to repel water to some degree, while a waterproof product should mean that’s completely safe from water. So water resistant should be IPX1 to IPX7, while a waterproof product should only mean IPX8, maybe IPX7 too if we’re generous – after all, you can swim with an IPX7 item.

That’s not the case, though. Why? Here are the main three reasons below:

Companies Brag

That doesn’t come as a surprise to you, right? Companies want to sell their products, so they often exaggerate the product’s performance without actually turning that into a lie.

Waterproof - water tower

Take an IPX3-rated product, which means it can resist water sprays from most directions, under a 60ᵒ angle. With some smart advertising, you can present that product as waterproof – after all, it does have a waterproof rating, just not a very good one. Or you can say that it’s waterproof in the ad, and just say what it’s waterproof against on the detailed product specifications.

Basically, if you see a product with waterproof written big on its label, don’t just assume you can dive with it. Check the actual rating too, and compare it against this article so you can see if it fits your purpose.

Not Every Part of the Product is Waterproof

Take this example: you get a waterproof product, you check the manufacturer’s specifications and you see that it has the right rating, only to later find out you can’t use it for the purpose you need. What happened here?

Say you get a pair of shoes; they have an IPX7 rating, so you assume that you can step into a few puddles with them at least. Or you get a rainproof jacket that has an IPX5 rating, so you assume it’s safe for actually wearing it when it’s raining, but both these products fail.

Water resistant jacket

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There’s a loophole here too. You have to check that every part of your product is resistant to water in exactly the same way. So a pair of IPX7 shoes that let water get through them in puddles probably don’t have waterproof seems or lace holes. The same goes for the IPX5-rated jacket which might allow water getting inside through the zipper area.

Basically, you have to check everything, including:

  • Zippers
  • Pockets
  • Seams
  • Lace holes
  • Soles
  • Wristbands
  • Linings

The Specifications Have Caveats

Oh, we love these caveats, one of them being that you have to check the manufacturer’s specifications. You’ll find this requirement particularly for the IPX7 and IPX8 rated products, even in the International Standard IEC 60529, which is the official document for these ratings.

So you could take it as a given that a certain product with an IPX8 rating can be used for diving, the only problem being for how long. But guess what, some products with an IPX8 rating are only daily waterproof, so you can just have them on for stuff like washing your hands.

Waterproof watch

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This happens because following the manufacturer’s specifications is an ambiguous and lacks requirement. For instance, a watch can have an IPX7 rating, but you can’t use it for swimming because it has to be submerged for a very short time in lab-like conditions.

What Products do You Need?

Depending on your activity of choice, the product you’ll get needs to have a different waterproof rating. So we’ll make it easier for you in the table below, so you can at least have a good start.

  • Backpacking in dry weather: IPX2 – IPX4
  • Backpacking in humid climates: IPX 4 – IPX5
  • Swimming: IPX7
  • Diving: IPX8
  • Fishing: IPX5 – IPX7
  • Hunting in a forest, dry weather: IPX2 – IPX3
  • Hunting waterfowl: IPX5 – IPX6
  • Skiing, snowboarding: IPX4 – IPX6
  • Urban wear: IPX2 – IPX4

More Numbers

Hey, we’re not done yet so don’t go away just now. There are more numbers you need to mind, and these are used for the fabrics. So fabrics have their performance measured with two numbers as well, the first one relating to how waterproof the material is, and the second to how breathable it is.

Waterproof backpack

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The first number shows you how high a 1 x 1 inches tube filled entirely with water can be placed on top of that material. So a 5k means you can place a 1 x 1 inches tube filled with water on top of the material, and this tube can be 5,000 mm high, or 16.4 feet. Of course, the taller the tube, the more water resistance that fabric will have.

The second number is measured in grams per square meter and tells you how much water vapor can squeeze through that fabric in a day. Basically, a smaller number indicates a less breathable fabric because less vapor can pass through it.

So now you can understand why outside clothes or equipment like tents aren’t all completely waterproof: because they need some degree of breathability too. For instance, you could be completely sealed in a rubber tent, but you wouldn’t be able to breathe inside it.

  • 0 – 5,000 mm: This product is somewhat resistant to moisture in the form of light raindrops and some drier snow, and is great for urban wear.
  • 5,000 – 10,000 mm: These materials can deal with light rain and average snowfall, but nothing that would put too much pressure on the fabric. This is great for backpacking in mild weather conditions.
  • 10,000 – 15,000 mm: These materials can withstand moderate rain and snow that’s average enough. Get something like this if you’re out hiking in humid climates, boating or fishing.
  • 15,000 – 20,000 mm: With these fabrics, you can deal with heavy pouring, as well as sleet. These are great for water and snow sports, as well as professional aquatic activities.
  • Above 20,000 mm: These materials are great for when it’s raining cats and dogs, and wet snow, in environments with a lot of pressure. You can get something like this for professional applications in extremely bad weather when you need military-grade equipment.
Waterproof jacket

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In Conclusion

In this article, we’ve explained and analyzed the terms water-resistant and waterproof, and hopefully, that gives you a better idea of what they refer to. We also included a section about the things you need to look out for from the manufacturer’s specifications, so you won’t regret your purchase. And finally, we filled this article with examples of products you can use in different situations, as well as potential problems that might occur.

So now it’s your turn: what sort of waterproof/ water resistant product will you get? What do you need it for? Does this article help? What have we missed? The comments are right below!


Dorothy Tobias

Dorothy Tobias

Dorothy is a full-time writer, who loves traveling, good food, and understands the beauty of a night spent under the stars. She likes to discover new experiences wherever she goes and she feels most comfortable in her tent, with her favorite sleeping bag. Dorothy started camping with her family when she was 4 years old and remained loyal to the practice throughout the years. Today, she is an experienced backpacker and camper and knows everything there is to know about products in this niche.