Outdoor Activities
The Best PFAS
The Best PFAS
Jul 24, 2024 3:09 AM

  There’s a problem with a lot of waterproof garments—they contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Also known as forever chemicals, PFAS are linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage, and other health problems.

  But forever chemicals’ time may be limited. A California law that will go into effect on January 1, 2025 bans the manufacture, sale, and distribution of textiles containing PFAS levels of more than 100 parts per million. Given that California’s economy is the fifth largest in the world, the law will force apparel manufacturers to phase out PFAS. The California legislation does provide a reprieve until 2028 for “outdoor apparel for severe wet conditions,” which presumably includes the subject of this article: running jackets. Still, expect companies to act sooner rather than later.

  If you’re in the market for a waterproof PFAS-free running jacket, however, you don’t have to wait. There are many good options available now. Over the past few months I’ve tested 16 PFAS-free jackets during more than 300 miles of running. I sought a just-right combination of water repellency, breathability, and ease of movement (neither so tight that my arm swing feels constricted nor so loose that the jacket billowed). I’ve rounded up my top three jackets below. But first, a little more background on PFAS in apparel.

  PFAS and Protection Today, apparel with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating containing PFAS is, on average, more effective at moisture management then PFAS-free apparel, says Kevin Golovin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at the University of Toronto and a leading researcher in textile surface engineering.

  “All surfaces have a characteristic energy—their ‘surface energy’—and surfaces treated with PFAS can exhibit the lowest possible surface energy of any material,” Golovin says. “This means for the same fabric construction, a textile treated with a PFAS-containing DWR will have greater resistance to getting wet than the same textile treated with a non-PFAS DWR.”

  Also, as Outside’s sustainability columnist, Kristin Hostetter, notes, PFAS-free running jackets require more frequent washing and re-treating to maintain top performance.

  But neither of those factors should be a deal-breaker. “If you’re only considering water repellency, many of the PFAS-free DWRs on the market today already perform quite well,” Golovin says. “The issue is really with soiling and oil repellency.”

  After all, consider that runners don’t really need a jacket that will keep out all precipitation for, say, 10 hours at a time, like backpackers or industrial workers. Most of us just want to stay reasonably dry when running for 30 minutes to two hours in rain or snow. And we want that protection to be balanced with breathability and enough flexibility to not inhibit our running motion.

  There are related considerations: How often will you wear any running jacket? And, at what temperature does a jacket become overkill, no matter how hard it’s raining? I, for example, wear jackets much more often than I used to when I first moved to Maine 20 years ago. That’s probably because of climate change—what used to be snowy runs requiring only a merino wool outer layer are now rainy slogs in mid 30s to low 40s temperatures. Still, for me, a jacket becomes too hot around the high 40s, even the most breathable.

  With that background, here are my top three out of the 15 PFAS-free running jackets I tested, from most to least expensive.

  Best PFAS-Free Running Jackets, Reviewed Very Best: Ciele FLR Jacket ($400)

  You know those days when the weather is so bad that you leave a towel and dry clothes right by the door for your return? I wore this jacket on one such day, when heavy rain fell throughout my 70-minute run. My tights and socks were wring-out wet when I got home (actually, they were sopping long before that), but the shirt I wore under this Ciele shell was as dry as when I headed out.

  Unlike many of the jackets I tested, the FLR delivered this performance while being super light but also plenty warm. As an experiment, I wore it over just a short sleeve tee on an hour run in hard rain and temperatures in the mid 30s. I was comfortable (and dry) the whole time. The FLR is also highly breathable, thanks in part to a back vent. On a dry, sunny day with temps in the mid 40s—a scorcher by Maine winter standards—I wore this shell over a heavy long sleeve merino top to see when I would start to overheat. I never did while out for almost 90 minutes.

  All of this performance comes at a cost. The FLR was the second most expensive jacket I tested. If you regularly run in cold precipitation and can shoulder the cost, this jacket is for you. You might also justify the price if, like me, you value top-quality running gear that’s stylish enough to wear when you’re not running.

  Bottom line: Premium protection and breathability, with a price tag to match


  Correction March 7, 2024: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the Goldwin Pertex Shield Air Mountaineering Jacket as PFAS-free. The current version is not PFAS-free, but the company says that all of its products will be PFAS-free by 2025.

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