Difference Between Waterproof & Water-Resistant

Updated June 13, 2017

Outdoor enthusiasts must be prepared when venturing outdoors, whether its for protection from sun, wind or water. Products are branded either waterproof or water-resistant with features that offer varying degrees of protection. Not only do the terms differ in meaning with one another, they also differ depending on the products they are attached to.


Water-resistant fabrics are made of tightly woven materials that shed water. These fabrics also are often treated to repel moisture. However, these fabrics will soak through in heavy rain and provide limited shield from precipitation and extended exposure to water. Waterproof fabrics cannot be penetrated by water and come in two types: waterproof breathable and waterproof non-breathable. Examples of waterproof non-breathable garments are rain suits and ponchos. Waterproof non-breathable clothing typically costs less than breathable outerwear. Waterproof breathable fabric allows moist air to permeate from the inside out, making it suitable for outdoor sports and other activities in a variety of weather conditions. Waterproof breathable fabric is often used for skiing, mountaineering, cycling and backpacking outerwear.


Watches labelled as water-resistant have ratings up to a certain capacity or depth, but even this resistance degrades over time. Water-resistant watches for 30 to 50 meters are suitable for fishing and splashing but not for diving and swimming. Water-resistant watches with ratings of 100 meters can withstand swimming, paddling, snorkelling and surfing but not scuba diving. Inspect the watch casing after each use and immediately repair pressure cracks. No watch is completely waterproof, even diving watches that are labelled as water-resistant for depths of up to 200 meters.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers a sunscreen water-resistant if it maintains its sun protection factor after 40 minutes of exposure to water. Comparatively, a waterproof sunscreen can maintain its SPF level after 80 minutes of water exposure. Water exposure includes swimming, splashing, perspiring and bathing.

Boots and Shoes

Footwear such as hiking boots, trail shoes and heavy-duty backpacking boots are often equipped with waterproof barriers to protect against rain, puddles, mud, snow and moisture. Waterproof performance depends on the quality of the materials used for the barriers. The best waterproof boots and shoes include treated leather, watertight or waterproof construction and waterproof linings. Treated leather is topically treated to prevent leaks from occurring; however, extended submersion in water can still cause leaks. Watertight or waterproof construction has sealed seams with waterproof materials like rubber rain galoshes, such as those in rain boots. Waterproof linings include materials like Gore-Tex built right into the footwear to keep your feet dry, though the shoes can still get very wet.

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About the Author

Rona Aquino began writing professionally in 2008. As an avid marathon runner and outdoor enthusiast, she writes on topics of running, fitness and outdoor recreation for various publications. Aquino holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications and English from the University of Maryland College Park.