If you’ve ever been into any of our shops or other outdoor stores, then you’ve probably seen this logo attached to many waterproof jackets, trousers, gloves; it’s even sewn into boots! You might not have noticed it, but take a look next time you’re shopping for outdoor gear – that Gore Tex logo is everywhere…
That reason for this is because Gore Tex fabrics are trusted by thousands of outdoor equipment manufactuers, retailers and enthusiasts to produce quality high performance fabrics that keep the user reliably dry and comfortable in every kind of weather.
Most people have heard of Gore Tex, they know it’s a reputable brand, but some aren’t too familiar with exactly what it is. We’re here to try and make the picture a bit clearer…
So what actually is Gore Tex?
Simply put, Gore Tex is a breathable, waterproof fabric created by W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc by laminating their Gore Tex membrane to high performance textiles/face fabrics, they are then sealed for full waterproof protection. The membrane is made of (*deep breath*) expanded polytetrafluoroethylene, or ePTFE/PTFE (aka Teflon).
It’s used to make all kinds of apparel, accessories, and footwear. You’ll find it on a variety of garments for all kinds of different purposes. Aside from outdoor recreation, sports and expeditions, it’s also used in uniform and clothing and can be found in garments used in industry, fire and safety, law enforcement and the military.
As the needs of its users are so varied, so too are the laminates that Gore Tex combine with their membranes meaning that Gore Tex bikewear, for example, will be different than their running apparel.
What makes it so good?
The Gore Tex membrane has several key features, developed through years of research, to make them suitable for all kinds of outdoor use:
- Durably Waterproof
- Very Breathable
- Highly Cold Resistant
- Extremely Light
- Resistant to Flexing
As we’ll explain below, the makeup and scientific properties of the Gore Tex membrane ensure that they are resistant of water ingress. The face fabrics on all waterproof jackets are also treated with a water repellent finish that protects against water saturation (‘wetting out’) that could increase the weight of the garment. It also helps to prevent any dampness getting in.
As is the case with garments and tents that have seams, seam holes made in the material by sewing needles, no matter how small, can open up the chance for water ingress and compromise the resistance of any fabric. Gore make their own seam tape, developed and regularly refined to ensure that every seam and stitch hole is sealed, keeping moisture from the outside away.
Not only is water repellency important, breathability is also essential in a garment when the wearer goes through periods of sustained activity and rest.
When the body is active it perspires and a breathable garment is needed to help the water vapour diffuse through the fabric, preventing any wetness occurring inside the garment. From the fast and light Active Shell to the more rugged and durable Pro Shell, Gore Tex fabrics provide breathability suitable for a range of different activities and come with a guarantee to keep you dry. Futhermore, any garment using Gore Tex fabric must first tested and approved by Gore to ensure that it works.
How does Gore-Tex work?
The detailed explanation: The Gore Tex PTFE membrane has over 9 billion microscopic pores per square inch. The membrane is durably waterproof, windproof, yet highly breathable. This, in part, is down to the size of those billions of pores in the membrane. Those pores are 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, yet 700 times bigger than water vapour. Consequently, water droplets cannot pass through the membrane but water vapour (perspiration) can.
|‘Schematic diagram of composite GoreTex fabric’
courtesy of Solipsist under the GNU FDL
The scientific properties of the Gore Tex membrane are such that it will repel water. This property is known as a ‘high surface energy’. Water has a ‘low surface energy’ – Simply put, when a low energy water contacts the high energy fabric, it causes water to group together in droplets on the jacket surface and slide off – producing a ‘beading’ effect.
A very thin layer of Polyurethane (PU) is used on the membrane to protect against contamination, meaning it isn’t air permeable. Gore integrate this ‘oil-hating’ substance into its membranes which prevent body oils, dirt and perspiration e.t.c from penetrating and affecting performance.
The ‘too long, didn’t read’ version: The membrane causes water to bead and slide off the jacket. It lets vapour out, but stops water getting in.
Gore-Tex Performance Measurement:
The world of fabric waterproof and breathability measurement is a complex area full of differing information and test methods. There are a myriad of different measurements and ratings that will tell you the relative breathability ratings of one fabric compared to another, often produced in house by manufacturers – most cannot be cross referenced or correlated with one another.
There’s no universally accepted test method, so comparative analysis for breathability between fabrics from different brands based upon numbers alone is very difficult.
Saying that, the measurement for breathability that Gore publish is known as RET (Resistance to Evaporative Transfer). At the very least you can use it as a comparison between all Gore Tex fabrics. You can read about the test here. Simply put, a lower RET means better breathability. All Gore Tex jackets are breathable, some are more so than others.
Please remember that test figures are at best a cursory guide to breathability. Breathability is affected by other relevant factors beyond the technology of a fabric. These include the weather, what clothing is worn underneath an outer shell, personal metabolisms, use of vents (and to what degree) and how much exertion the user is under (some people ‘run hot’).
Gore Tex at Taunton Leisure
All the variations of Gore’s fabrics bring great weather resistance and breathability. The main differences lie in the portability, weight and abrasion resistance of the fabrics; some are designed for an array of outdoor activities, some are specialist, while others are more suited to more extreme pursuits such as mountaineering.
We stock four different types of Gore Tex fabric technology – we’ll explain each to you while taking a look at some of our jackets that feature it.
Gore Tex Active Shell:
The Firefox Jacket uses Gore’s Active Shell fabric. It’s built for optimum breathability and next to skin comfort, while ensuring the waterproof and windproof qualities that Gore Tex is well known for.
|Mountain Equipment Firefox Jacket|
Active Shell is developed for highly aerobic activities. Its laminates combine a thinner, lighter Gore Tex membrane with fine denier textiles. The backer textile is directly laminated to the membrane, which allows for high level breathability and comfort.
All garments using Active Shell are below 400g in weight and the Firefox is no exception. Weighing in at just 360g, this jacket is extremely lightweight and packs away small. It’s ideal for fast and light, high exertion activities such as trail running, fast mountain ascents, or mountain biking.
Manufacturers have been asked to be minimalist in terms of features and design using Active Shell in order to obtain maximum breathability and minimum weight, so expect less features here than on general trekking and hiking jackets.
The Firefox jacket has an active cut with pre-shaped sleeves and features an adjustable mountain hood, water resistant zipping on the front as well as underarm zipping for extra ventilation and temperature regulation. There are also adjustable cuffs and a hem drawstring.
These jackets are intended to be worn against the skin, or in combination with a wicking base layer. As this shell is so breathable, you don’t get much of a ‘micro climate’ forming on the inside so for those that feel the cold a bit more, especially during rest periods, you might find that wearing an appropriate mid layer will help to provide the required warmth.
Company director and outdoor enthusiast, Simon Clark, has been using an Active Shell jacket out and about on various mountain biking trips recently. Keep an eye on this blog for his thoughts on Active Shell very soon.
Gore Tex Active Shell Key Characteristics: extremely breathable, lightweight, comfortable. RET Breathability Rating: < 3
Gore Tex Paclite Shell:
Paclite is designed with those activities where space and weight considerations are important, if not critical, such as running, cycling, and hiking. Paclite combines breathability, water and windproof qualities with lightweight characteristics.
|Berghaus Women’s Paclite Jacket|
The Berghaus Paclite is a multi-activity jacket that packs into its own stuff sack, making it ideal for travel. It’s also available for men. The jacket has a ‘relaxed’, comfortable fit, not quite so tightly cut as ‘active’ fitting garments.
In terms of features, it has two external venting pockets, adjustable cuff and elasticated drawcord hem; the hood is volume adjustable (you can change the size of the opening) and can be ‘rolled away’ – it also has an adjustable stiffened peak and is plenty tough enough to withstand some pretty high winds.
Garments using Paclite Shell are manufactured with a focus on minimum weight and small pack size at the expense of durability when compared to other Gore Tex fabrics. More durable than Active Shell, less durable than Performance and Pro Shell – Paclite is primarily for those who’s main concerns are weight and bulk.
Gore claim that Paclite is around 15 percent lighter than standard three-ply Gore Tex. This is down to engineering that reduces the amount of material used, making for a smaller pack size and a lighter weight. It has a protective layer on the membrane, layered with an oil-hating substance and carbon, making a separate lining on the inside unnecessary. The outer shell is made of high performance nylon or polyester.
Paclite, Performance and Pro Shell Garments all feature Gore’s ‘extreme wet weather construction’. Simply put, they’re engineered to pass aggressive rain tests from different angles for extended periods. They deliver protection against extended wet weather conditions.
Gore Tex Paclite Shell Key Characteristics: lightweight, very small pack size, versatile, extreme wet weather construction. RET Breathability Rating: < 4
Gore Tex Performance Shell:
|Berghaus Men’s Cornice|
Performance Shell jackets tend to be relatively heavier in weight, with more focus on durability over the ultralight and packable. A replacement for classic Gore Tex fabric, it’s designed for a wide range of outdoor activities, like hiking and trekking rather than a fast mountain ascent.
As with all Gore Tex Fabrics, Performance Shell provides durably waterproof and breathable protection from the elements. Available as a two or three-ply construction, all Performance Shell jackets available from Taunton Leisure are two layer. The Gore Tex membrane is bonded to the outer shell material and protected on the inside by a separate lining, which further ensures the performance and comfort of the fabric.
The Cornice weighs in at 701g, which is on the heavy side of the range. This is reflected in features such as the longer length, offering full protection in wet and windy conditions; and interactive (IA) zip for the attachment of a fleece, offering extra insulation possibilities. As a general rule, performance shell jackets are more rugged and durable than the others we’ve looked at so far.
Without doing it a disservice, you could describe it as a ‘general purpose’ outdoor jacket; it has all the bells and whistles you’d come to expect from an outdoor winter shell – storm flaps, an adjustable hood that can be rolled down as a collar, adjustable cuffs with preshaped sleeves as well as an elasticated waist and adjustable drawcord hem, two handwarmer pockets and an internal zipped chest pocket.
Performance Shell jackets have an ‘extreme wet weather construction’ as well as Gore ‘comfort mapping technology’ – also found on Paclite and Pro Shell fabrics. Comfort mapping increases breathability, comfort, warmth and fit by viewing the body as a map with different climactic zones and adjusting the use and combination of Gore Tex fabrics to reflect this. Garments with this feature also have advanced seam-sealing techniques to reliably combine different fabric types inside the garment.
Key Characteristics of Gore Tex Performance Shell: durable, breathable, suitable for a wide range of activities, comfort mapping technology, extreme wet weather construction. RET Breathability Rating: 7-10
Gore Tex Pro Shell:
As the name suggests, Pro Shell is the fabric for outdoor professionals and serious enthusiasts. The replacement for the XCR fabric; for those who face extreme conditions and tough weather for extended periods. Gore Tex Pro Shell is made with the most rugged, most breathable, durably waterproof and windproof fabrics.
|Mountain Equipment Morpheus Jacket|
Available in either two or three layer constructions, all Pro Shell garments in our range are three layer. A high performance Gore Tex membrane is bonded to the outer material and a specially developed robust inner lining.
Like both the Performance Shell and the Paclite shell, the Pro shell features ‘extreme wet weather construction’ – passing the most aggressive rain tests as well as ‘comfort mapping technology’.
Slightly shorter than other Mountain Equipment shells, the Morpheus’ features include an active cut with articulated arm shape; slightly more snug around the arms and shoulders. At just 470g, this is one of the lightest jackets in its class.
The Stratum Storage System is designed to increase pocket capacity by 25% with one ‘A4’ sized Napoleon pocket and two large chest pockets which can be used while wearing a rucksack or harness, all with protective plackets and ample storage for something like a large map.
You’ll also find dual hem drawcords and adjustable cuffs and so called ‘stealth technology’ which doesn’t make you invisible, but greatly reduces wind resistance.
Pro Shell uses Gore’s ‘Micro Grid Backer Technology’. This uses a woven internal backing material on the lining to improve internal abrasion and resistance to snagging, while decreasing weight and increasing breathability. The woven backer is around 50 per-cent lighter than conventional knitted backers still used by Gore for Performance Shell
Key Characteristics of Gore Tex Pro Shell: Tough, durable, breathable, excels in extreme conditions, extreme wet weather construction, comfort mapping technology, micro grid backer technology. RET Breathability Rating: < 6
If your eyes glazed over a little at all of that reading, if you don’t take anything in from this blog but one thing, make sure it’s this:
- If you’re after something lightweight that can be worn next to the skin, with ultimate breathability for aerobic activity, go for Active Shell.
- If ultimate lightweight and small pack size is your priority at the expense of a little breathability and durability, try Paclite Shell
- If you want something a little more rugged that will suit all round use and a wide range of outdoor activity, consider Performance Shell.
- If you’re looking for something to perform in the most extreme outdoor conditions for extended periods whilst remaining breathable and durable, opt for Pro Shell
Since the release of this article Gore have developed and released a new fabric to market – Gore Pro. Replacing Pro Shell, Gore Pro is a re engineered membrane for top end products and boasts serious improvements in performance.
“Extensive testing in laboratories and under real-life conditions has confirmed that with its new generation of GORE-TEX® Pro laminates Gore has succeeded in producing product for professional outdoor athletes in which key functional features such as extreme breathability and improved ruggedness unite with the comfort of guaranteed durable waterproof protection!”
GORE Press Release
A higher level of performance and ruggedness is assured through a ‘demanding garment design spec’ and the use of tougher face textiles combined with the Micro Grid Backer Technology.
Extensive testing has revealed that the new generation of Gore-Tex Pro offers up to 28% increased breathability, meaning minimized risk of sweat accumulation with increased comfort and the same reliable waterproof breathable qualities that Gore-Tex fabrics are known for.
The Lhotse is a top, top. top end shell for serious mountaineering and four season hillwalking. It features all the advantages of the new Pro fabric including enhanced breathability and durable water repellency.
Large pockets, placed higher up the body to ensure ease of access when wearing a harness or pack waist pocket, can take mitts, hats etc with ease. The large front pocket takes a folded OS map with ease.
The hood is easily adjusted, takes a lid and the wired peak ensures the wind doesn’t deform the shape.
The fit is active or ‘alpine’ but that doesn’t mean tight or restrictive, honed over many seasons the Lhotse fit moves with you, won’t ride up when your reaching for the next axe placement but also manages to give good lower back cover with a decent length.
Hopefully this guide will help you with your understanding of the nuances and features of each of the Gore Tex fabrics.
Stay warm and dry out there!