Outdoor Gear Waterproof Ratings: IPX4, IPX7 and IPX8

From headlamps to hand held GPS receivers to backup hard drives, waterproof ratings are everywhere.  The most popular method for describing waterproofness of equipment is the IP (International Protection) Code rating system.

For protection from water, whether it be from light rain, torrential downpour, submersion in a stream or dunking in the sea, the IP code system offers a reliable, laboratory tested, description of the gear’s ability to work when wet.

More often then not, the most common ratings are IPx4, IPX7 and IPX8.  For gear buyers, IPX4 vs IPX7 and IPX7 vs IPX8 are common questions.

Rain on a leaf

These ratings break down as:

IPX4: Splash resistent. The equipment has been splashed from all angles for at least 5 minutes at water pressure of 80–100 kN/m^2.  Basically, this can handle being rained on, but if you drop it in a stream or overboard, there’s a good chance your gear won’t be working for a while, if ever.

IPX7: Immersible. This gear can be immersed for up to 30 minutes at a depth of up to 1 meter.  Which means it should handle any rain or snow, and should survive falling into a creek or shallow river.  NOTE: This rating does not guarantee buoyancy, so if your gear goes for a swim, it may sink deeper then 1 meter and the increased water pressure may cause a leak and damage it.

IPX8Submersible. This equipment can handle deeper and longer submersion.  The depth and time will be specified by the manufacturer based on product testing.  Often IPX8 is used to describe 2 meter submersion for a period of 30 minutes.  NOTE: This rating also does not guarantee buoyancy.

Whether immersion protection is needed or if splash protection is enough will depend mostly on the environment.  In the opinion of this author choosing gear with a higher waterproof rating has few downsides, while losing a headlamp because it fell in a stream and it was only IPX4 rated can be very frustrating.

For those looking for a simple IPX7 rated headlamp, the
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp is a great choice.