There are many components to consider in selecting a technical uniform. The following is to assist you to compare “apples to apples”.
1). What is the waterproof rating of the fabric, and what are other things to consider in the fabric?
The higher the number, the better the rating, i.e. 10,000 is not as waterproof as 20,000 mm. To test, they stack a cylinder of water on top of the fabric, and the weight at which if finally soaks through is its rating. Or they use a pressurized machine to force water through the fabric, and report the amount of water pressure the fabric can take. Evaporation (breathability) tests are performed and results of both water-proof and breathability tests from reputable fabric companies should be included. We feel it is best to use a quality name-brand fabric and laminate. Many suppliers use generic “name-brands” that they market under their own name-brands, such as “Carbonate Soft 2000”, making it hard to compare quality. Often the “2000” means that it is 2000 waterproof rating. In our experience, a rating of at least 10,000mm is important to ensure adequate waterproofing. Our standard is 20k in serious or extended weather conditions. We also offer generic fabrics for price-point items as applicable to the use.
2). What is a “fabric breathability rating”, and what should I look for?
This is important. Anyone can make a waterproof fabric or membrane (i.e. plastic or rubber), but the technology to make it breathable and comfortable is what is difficult. If it is not breathable, so a person will sweat and get wet from the inside. Many companies don’t state what the breathability rating is, and this should be a matter of concern. The higher the number (i.e. 20,000), the better the breathability. So if you are really working hard, you may want 20k, but if you are mostly standing or not extremely active 10,000 should work fine, and may even be better more appropriate depending on the level of activity.
3). What is the difference between lamination and coating?
A laminate is a single, separate layer that is “laminated” (glued with special breathable glue), to the back of the outer fabric shell. Coating is a substance that is “spread” on the back of the fabric in its pliable state. Not all coatings and laminates are created equal. The coating or laminate is separate from the Durable Water Repellency (DWR) treatment, which is an application on the top, outside of the fabric. It will show well on a new jacket, where the water bead on the shell, and roll off. But DWR treatments wear off over time. The laminate or coating on the back of the fabric, sometimes hidden by the lining should not wear off, and is the most important to ensure lasting quality.
4). Insulation or Shell, and 2-layer or 3-layer?
Insulation comes in various weights, and comes compressed or with more loft (puffiness). The higher the weight of insulation (i.e. 200 grams), the warmer the jacket. Insulation is a separate layer added between the lining and the outer shell. There are various types of shells, and they can be lined with various types of lining. You would use insulation normally with 2-layer, but not 3-layer fabric.
The outer shell fabric can be 2-layer, or 3-layer, and one is not necessarily better depending on the function. A 3-layer fabric’s “layers” are usually 1) the outer fabric, 2) the laminate, and 3) an optional tricot or fleece backing, and all layers are welded together. The optional fleece backing or “3rd” layer usually takes the place of a separate lining or insulation in the jacket. Therefore, whether an outer fabric is 2-or-3 layer does not determine the waterproof level, or quality of an outer jacket or parka. It does, however affect weight and bulk of the whole jacket. Three-layer fabrics can be stiff and not as flexible for inside pocket configurations for outer jackets. Since they aren’t more waterproof we recommend 2-layer fabrics for the most outer storm shells or insulated parkas for uniforms because you have more flexibility with the jacket functions, i.e. internal pockets, etc.
Since the configuration is different than a storm jacket, we recommend a 3-layer waterproof softshell fabric because the “3rd” layer in this case, is the laminate (not usually the lining as above). So if you want softshell to be waterproof and integrated moisture-wicking or lined on the inside, you need 3 layer. If the softshell is for casual use, and doesn’t need to be waterproof, then a 2-layer softshell is fine.
5). Are ALL seams sealed (taped), or just “critical” seams?
Sewing waterproof fabric will cause leaking from the needle holes unless the seams are sealed. The best outerwear requires 100% seam sealing. Many vendors don’t seam seal, or only “critical seam seal” and the definition of “critical” is left up to the vendor. We believe it is important to seam seal every seam in our jackets and pants because it is important to stay warm and dry, since those who work outside can not always go inside when they get cold and wet. It is extremely important to seal direct embroideries.
6). Can I get the same uniform in the same colors next year? How about the year after if we skip a year of ordering?
Continuity from year-to-year is important to maintain a good image and re-enforce identity. Commercial brand name suppliers do not deliver this effectively because their primary customer is the retail consumer who wants new styles and colors every year. Mountain Uniforms’ primary customer is you, the group uniform buyer. It is our business to deliver the same item in the same color to you as long as you want it. Minimums of 50 or more apply to custom styles or colors, and 4-6 month advance order may be necessary, depending on the item and desired delivery date.
7). Are there other considerations I should be aware of?
Consider the functions of the jacket, and the job the person will be doing. You may want radio pockets, or ID slots or loops to ensure the nametags don’t come off? Or you may want reflective options, or attached hoods so they aren’t lost. Consider your climate to help you choice both fabric and insulation. You should also consider the overall image of the uniform, and if it is consistent with your organization. Does everyone look good it in it? Uniforms are the landscape of an area, and gives people a perceived credibility in their job. Uniforms can add to the public’s confusion or comfort level. Of course you should consider the price/value ratio, so make sure you know what you are getting.