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8 Things You Should Know About Gore-tex


By Tim Leffel

gore-tex shoesI spent a couple days at the GORE-TEX headquarters last week for a blogger’s summit with people who cover gear for traveling, snowboarding, rock climbing, camping, mountain biking, hiking, and more. It was the company’s plan to teach us how their stuff works, tell us about a new Experience More social network they’re launching, and to bust some myths about breathable and waterproof fabrics. At times it felt like a science class, but one that was actually interesting and useful. Yeah, I got a couple jackets that I’ll be reviewing on here later, but I also came back with lots of knowledge I didn’t have before.

Here’s your mini-lesson in why seeing a Gore-tex label on something matters and how it works.

1) Gore-tex is made from fluoride
This was my first revelation. I always figured it was some kind of petroleum-based plastic product. Instead it’s powdered fluoride turned into a membrane made of microscopic threads. Sweat evaporates through the membrane, but water droplets don’t get in. Simple concept, but it takes complicated science and manufacturing to create it. (The membrane holes are 700 times larger than a sweat molecule, but 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet.)

2) Gore-tex is meant for cool places, not the tropics
A breathable membrane of any kind won’t be much help when you’re in the Amazon. In basic terms, your hot sweat molocules need a cooler place to escape to. That works great when you’re skiing or hiking in the mountains. In the hot, humid tropics however, the sweat has nowhere to go. It’s just as hot and humid outside as it is around your body. So the sweat just sits there. Technology can’t save you there—unless it’s the technology in your air-conditioned hotel room. So this is exactly what you want for skiing/snowboarding, hiking, or living in a place like Seattle or Iceland, but not what you want for a boat ride down the Amazon.

gore-tex shoe brands3) Gore-tex is just the protective membrane, not the outer fabric
When you see a Gore-tex label on a North Face jacket or a pair of Merrell shoes (or any of these other brands), that’s just referring to the waterproof (or windproof) membrane built into the design. It’s just one of several layers. The actual waterproofing on the outermost layer is some form of DWR, which brings us to…

4) Waterproof jackets should be dried in a dyer
It sounds counter-intuitive, but hang-drying your waterproof jacket is a bad idea (sorry Europeans!). Over time the waterproof properties of the DWR deteriorate from abrasion, dirt, and oils from your skin. Washing it helps, but then it needs the heat of the dryer to restore and realign the microscopic pegs that repel water.(Obviously this won’t work for a rubber raincoat or something with a pure polyurethene coating—check the label.)

5) “Waterproof” is best, “water repellent” is worst
I always assumed “water repellent” was better than “water resistant,” but I was wrong. Apparently in outdoor apparel industry terms, resisting something is stronger than repelling it. Go figure. Save yourself the head-scratching and look for something labeled “waterproof.”

6) There are lots of sub-categories, but Gore-tex is generally waterproof and Windstopper items are not
The Windstopper products are meant for situations where wind is a bigger factor than rain. These are high-tech windbreakers that keep you warm and eliminate the “wind chill factor.” I wore one into Gore’s wind testing room (giant fans blasting out really cold air). My upper body felt fine, even though what I was wearing looked like a regular fleece, but my lower body and feet were freezing.

gore-tex glove testing

7) “Breathability” measurements don’t have an industry standard
“There’s no FDA for breathability.” Gore was the first to develop breathable fabric (in 1978) and says the most reliable measure of this ability is one put out by the Hohenstein institute, but competing companies use a variety of other measures. Some of these scales are hard to duplicate in different environments and the “as good as Gore-tex” claim is hard to disprove until you’re soaking in sweat inside your jacket and it’s too late. If you buy jackets, gloves, or shoes with eVent, Pertex, or some other similar technology, you probably won’t find them using the same measurement techniques. It doesn’t mean they don’t work, but there is a good reason Gore products are the ones used by astronauts, firefighters, mountain climbers, and the military.

gore-tex-washing-machines2258 ) Gore tests everything with their name on it and guarantees it
Your jacket may say Arc’teryx and your gloves may say Marmot, but each model with a Gore-tex tag gets tested in their labs to make sure it works properly and will hold up for a lifetime. Why do I have a row of washing machines pictured here? It’s because jackets are thrown into 200 of these washing machines and beaten up for weeks on end. If they don’t hold up to at least 500 hours of agitating, they fail. There’s a rain room to test the waterproofing (I got to stand in it with rain gear on), there’s another room that takes the temperature from – 50 degrees celsius to + 50 degrees celcius. The shoe machines pictured at the top continuously flex the shoe in wet conditions for days on end. Glove machines with sensors test whether the temperature is changing when they get wet. Gore hires students to run on a treadmill with their gear on and tests how dry they’re staying. This enables them to back up every Gore-tex product for life.

It doesn’t matter if your jacket says Burton or Mountain Hardware. If you get wet while wearing it, you can return it to Gore. They’ve been doing that since 1989. To me, that says a lot.

Search Gore-tex products at Backcountry.com

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  1. #1 by Mario - November 8th, 2009 at 23:39

    This was really helpful, especially the part about it being useless in hot weather. They don’t really explain that breathable part very well in my opinion, so I never was sure what I was getting for that premium.

  2. #2 by brian from nodebtworldtravel.com - November 12th, 2009 at 19:40

    Really extensive testing makes for great products.

    The fact that it is really only made for cool/cold climates makes sense, though “breathability” to me implies that if it is hot and I sweat, I can get air through the clothing. Good to know.

  3. #3 by Sami - February 8th, 2011 at 02:16

    Brilliant. I do like the approach to information sharing and launching of products through networking seminars. This is such a sophisticated method, unlike in past where it was up to the retailer to share the knowledge.

  4. #4 by Wisdom Teeth Utah - March 3rd, 2011 at 16:11

    Gore-tex is a very trusted brand. It is extremely useful and functional in wet weather.

  5. #5 by Boston - February 2nd, 2012 at 06:26

    I have to say that the Gore-tex shoes seem like a very good investment if you are a passionate traveler. You should mention something about the price tag here. I don’t know how much such products cost, but I can imagine.

  6. #6 by Tim L. - February 5th, 2012 at 08:03

    We always list the price when reviewing individual items with Gore-tex on this travel gear blog. This post was about the overall properties and testing, though in general you can expect to pay a premium of $20-$50 in the shoes/jackets/pants compared to their non-waterproof versions.

  7. #7 by sam - July 31st, 2012 at 16:32

    yes ifind my expensive galvin green pacilite goretex jacket useless breathability in ireland it cost 300 euro in mc guirks golf shop.and you get soaked in own sweat just walking.overpriced

  8. #8 by Tim L. - August 1st, 2012 at 07:46

    What are you wearing under it Sam? That’s a key factor too. If it’s cotton, you’re getting and staying soaked no matter what’s on top.

  9. #9 by Graham Hollingsworth - August 30th, 2012 at 20:52

    In response to Gore-tex lined shoes, I have several pairs, mainly lightweight, low-cut walking types. They rock! So long as you don’t go too deep, they keep your feet dry – unlike sneakers. BUT, if you simply want a pair to work indoors in, get the same type of supportive shoe but without the Gore-tex, as they will breath better on hot days. For out door wet days, go the Gore-tex!

  10. #10 by Dave - December 8th, 2012 at 06:08

    Interesting article. Thanks. I don’t know anyone here in Europe who owns a clothes dryer and I’ve often thought that that goes a long way toward explaining why we use half the energy that Americans use to get the same things done. This info about machine drying gore-tex jackets comes as a real bummer to this committed gore-tex user!

  11. #11 by Tim Leffel - December 11th, 2012 at 09:41

    Dave,

    Agreed about the energy use, but it is essential for any product with DWR waterproofing—not just those with expensive membranes under it—to dry it in a dryer to restore the properties after a washing. I’ve seen landromats all over Europe, so even if you don’t have a dryer at home you can feed some coins into one of those. It’s not like you’re washing these items every week anyway. Most once or twice a year even if you use them a lot.

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