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Outdoor Gear Jargon: 20 Technical Terms You Need to Know

Confused brown bear scratching head

Constantly confused by outdoor gear jargon? Getting your DWR’s mixed up with your TPU’s? You’re not the only one!

Making an informed decision about which bit of outdoor gear you are going to invest in next can be a bit of a daunting task at the best of times. Not only are there a ton of different options for each bit of gear, that range from exceptionally excellent to incomprehensibly bad, but there are also loads of differing opinions kicking around on why this tent is better than that tent. Doing enough reading and research certainly gets you closer to real and trusted answers but then you are faced with a multitude of technical terms to try and decipher!

I feel your pain, I really do. With the overuse of abbreviations and acronyms blurring out anything that actually holds any meaning, it can be all too easy to either forget about that new bit of gear altogether, or settle for something that may not be perfect for you.

To help make things a little more simple, I’ve put together some explanations of the more commonly used terms, acronyms and abbreviations that you will no doubt come across time and time again when buying outdoor gear. It will give you a much clearer picture of what you are actually investing in.

Now be forewarned, this is not a particularly exciting subject. If you came here to be entertained then you’ll be disappointed! This stuff is pretty dull when you get into the technical details. So let’s keep things as simple as possible.

What is TPU material?

TPU:Thermoplastic Polyurethane
Outdoor uses:Tent fly covers, walking boot soles, waterproof bags, and sleeping pads

TPU material is waterproof and also breathable in some forms. Its properties also include elasticity, transparency, and resistance to oil, grease and abrasion.

What is Gore-Tex?

Gore-Tex:A brand of semi-permeable fabric made from generic Teflon
Outdoor uses:Waterproof jackets, pants, gloves, and hiking boots

Gore-Tex is both waterproof and breathable due to the makeup of the membrane that repels water but allows air and water vapor (sweat) to move in and out.

What is UPF?

UPF:Ultraviolet Protection Factor (similar to SPF in sunscreen)
Outdoor uses:Shirts, jackets, pants and swimwear

The weave and material of UPF clothing protect you from the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. A higher UPF rating indicates greater UV protection and can vary from UPF 15 (good protection) to UPF 50 (the best protection).

What is ripstop fabric?

Ripstop fabric:A tightly woven, reinforced fabric often made from nylon
Outdoor uses:Backpacks, clothing, hammocks, tents, and sleeping bag lining

As the fabric is weaved, a special reinforcing technique interweaves thick threads at intervals in the fabric. This leads to an extremely durable fabric known as ripstop that is also very lightweight.

What is denier?

Denier:A unit of measurement used to note the density of the fibers in a fabric
Outdoor uses:Clothing, tents, tarps, socks and hammocks

Fabric with higher denier threads is thick and durable. Microfiber and other lower denier fabrics are softer and weigh less. Extremely durable fabrics are 100d or higher.

What is DWR?

DWR:Durable Water Repellent coating that is usually fluoropolymer based
Outdoor uses:Waterproof clothing, tents and tarps

DWR is added to clothing and gear to make it more water repellent. It is especially useful on fabrics (like Gore-Tex) that are designed to be both water repellent and breathable. DWR does eventually lose its effectiveness and can be reapplied with a separately available product like Nikwax.

What is EVA foam?

EVA:Ethylene Vinyl Acetate
Outdoor uses:Shoes and hiking boots, ski boots, fishing floats, and eyewear

Also known as foam rubber, EVA is a lightweight padding and shock absorber that is also very buoyant.

What is PrimaLoft?

PrimaLoft:A brand of microfiber, synthetic down insulation
Outdoor uses:Sleeping bags, gloves, socks, and jackets

It provides thermal insulation that is extremely effective in cold and wet conditions when goose or duck down fail to maintain their thermal properties. Some forms of PrimaLoft are also made into yarn for use in base layers. For a direct comparison read more about synthetic vs down.

What is silnylon?

Silnylon:Nylon fabric that is impregnated with liquid silicon
Outdoor uses:Tarps, rain flys, backpacks ponchos, and rain jackets

Silnylon is used to make gear that is extremely strong while still being lightweight and waterproof. The fabric is not breathable and can be quite slippery.

What is microfiber?

Microfiber:Synthetic fabric made from very thin fibers
Outdoor uses:Cycling gear, yoga mats, towels, and swimming gear

The fibers in microfiber fabric are very thin (less than one denier), causing the fabric to be very soft. Microfiber fabric is moisture wicking and durable.

What is wicking fabric?

Wicking fabric:Fabric designed to draw moisture away from the skin
Outdoor uses:Base layers and other active wear

Wicking fabric keeps you dry and warm when you sweat during physical activity. Multiple fabrics have wicking properties. Some of the most commonly used in outdoor gear are Merino wool, polyester, and microfiber.

What is hydrostatic head?

Hydrostatic head:A way of measuring waterproofing capabilities of fabric
Outdoor uses:Tents, rain flys, tarps, and any gear designed to be waterproof

The higher the hydrostatic head rating, the more water pressure a fabric can withstand before leaking. When shopping for outdoor gear, a rating of 1000mm is sufficient for light rain. 2000mm is more than enough for even heavy rain and wind. Look for clothing with a higher rating to keep you completely dry in the rain.

What is PU?

Outdoor uses:Tents, tarps, clothing and backpacks

PU is used as a waterproof coating for outdoor equipment. It is relatively inexpensive compared to other waterproof coatings, which makes it appealing for entry-level gear. The coating is also very durable, although it can be heavier than other options.

What are DAC poles?

DAC:Dongah Aluminum Corporation
Outdoor uses:Tent poles and chair frames

Aluminum poles from DAC are considered some of the finest in the camping world because they are highly durable and strong for their weight. They feature in the Big Agnes Copper Spurtent range.

What is Capilene?

Capilene:A type of moisture-wicking polyester fabric created by Patagonia
Outdoor uses:Outdoor clothing and base layers

Capilene material comes in a variety of weights, each made from recycled materials. The fabric wicks away moisture and is naturally odour repellent.

What is fill power?

Fill power:A method for rating insulation derived from the amount of volume in each ounce of down
Outdoor uses:Jackets, gloves, sleeping bags and insulated outerwear

The higher an item’s fill power, the more insulating power it has. This rating system accounts for overall warmth in relation to the weight. The scale runs from 400-900, with 900 being the highest warmth-to-weight ratio.

What is Polartec?

Polartec:A brand of synthetic fleece fabric
Outdoor uses:Base layers, sweaters, and fleece outerwear

Extremely soft synthetic fleece designed for outdoor use in cold conditions. The fabric is very lightweight and owes its exceptional warmth to the thermal air pockets created by the lofted fiber structure. It is durable, soft to the skin and dries quickly. Some Polartec fabrics are also designed to be water or wind resistant.

What are taped seams?

Taped seams:A method of constructing gear that seals up the holes made by sewing together layers of waterproof material
Outdoor uses:Tents, waterproof clothing, hammocks, and tarps

Taped seams keep water from leaking in at the seams of waterproof clothing and outdoor equipment. If any of your taped seams begin to leak after extensive use, aftermarket seam sealer is available.

What does windproof mean?

Windproof:Fabric that does not let the wind through
Outdoor uses:Outerwear, jackets, and pants

Windproof fabrics are designed to prevent the chill of the wind from penetrating through your clothing and reaching your body. Windproof clothing is created in a variety of ways including adding a membrane to the fabric or with a specific structure in the weave of the fabric. Windproof clothing is usually highly breathable too.

What is breathable fabric?

Breathable fabric:Materials that are specifically woven, treated or coated to allow airflow and moisture vapour to move through the fabric
Outdoor uses:Base layers, outerwear, socks and walking boots

Breathable fabric is specifically designed to keep you dry and cool while sweating through what is known as Moisture Vapour Transmission (MVT). Breathable fabric is generally lightweight and dries quickly. It is also often waterproof and aims to create the perfect balance of letting enough moisture out (from sweating and condensation), without letting rain water in.

You made it through the list! It can be difficult to know what to look for in outdoor gear with all the terms out there. Now you know that if you are shopping for a new tent, you want to check for taped seams and DAC poles. For a great base layer, however, breathability and wicking capabilities will be important. Hopefully, this guide has provided you with the information you need to make a great decision about your next purchase!

Joey Holmes

Joey Holmes
Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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