Our Everyday Adventures

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Gore-Tex Demystified

Post by:  Jake

As some of you may be aware, I’ve been an active product tester for Gore-Tex for several years now.  I’ve had the opportunity to test out several Gore products including GORE-TEX  XCR, PACLITE, PERFORMANCE SHELL, PRO-SHELL, WINDSTOPPER, and OPTIFADE.  I’ve even had the opportunity to test out some Gore Bike Wear, and Gore Ride-On bike cables.

Although I had worked in retail gear shops for several years before becoming a product tester, I must admit I was a bit confused at what all the different Gore-Tex products were.  I simply attributed the different names to a clever marketing campaign.  How many different names can we come up with for the same product?  As I started digging deeper I quickly learned that each of these products is specifically engineered with a different end-user in mind.  We’ll get to the difference in a bit, but first let me start with the basics of “what is Gore-Tex”?

Just about everyone knows Gore-Tex as being a waterproof/breathable material with a “Guarantee to Keep you Dry Promise“.  But fewer people actually know what part of a garment is the Gore-Tex. Imagine a 3-layer Oreo cookie, in the most basic sense, the Gore-Tex material is the white layer in the middle.  Outerwear companies like Arc’Teryx and North Face will pick out the outer fabric (some type of synthetic material) and an inner liner (again, usually some kind of synthetic to wick moisture off your body).  They send these fabrics to the Gore-Tex factories where they are combined together with the Gore-Tex membrane.  The 3-layers are sent back to the garment company in huge rolls that are then cut up to be made into beautiful jackets and pants.  The process doesn’t end there.  The outer material isn’t waterproof, nor is the inner liner.  The only “waterproof” layer is the middle Gore-Tex layer that keeps water from passing in, but let’s sweaty air pass out.  In order to help keep some of the rain out, the outer layer is coated with a Durable Water Repellency layer (DWR).  This is just a coating that wears off with use.  You can revive this layer with aftermarket coatings like Revive X or Nikwax (make sure you get the right product for your layers, I like the spray on versions), or by simply washing and drying your garments.  Follow the tags on your gear, but don’t be afraid to wash your stuff.  Check out this link for the official Gore-Tex washing guide.

Now that we all understand that Gore-Tex isn’t just a coating on a garment, it’s an actual layer inside the garment (or shoes), I’ll try and do my best at explaining the differences between each of the different Gore-Tex materials.

Gore-Tex Paclite:  Paclite was made for light use.  It’s pretty durable, and extremely packable. It’s a 2.5 layer garment that was engineered to be worn directly against your body instead of requiring an additional inner liner fabric like all other versions of Gore-Tex.  I use these jackets for summer backpacking and day hiking where I’m concerned about weight and packability, but still want to carry a rain shell. Just stuff it up and throw it in the bottom of your pack.

Gore-Tex Performance Shell:  Performance shell is a bit more budget friendly then its big brother “Pro-Shell.” It’s waterproof and breathable, but because of the construction of the overall garment it’s a bit more affordable.  Generally performance shell is a 3-layer garment where the outer layer and the Gore-Tex layer are laminated together, but the inner liner is free-floating.  You’ll find Performance Shell in a lot of winter products as it can incorporate insulation into the garment.

Gore-Tex Pro-Shell:  Pro-Shell is the king of waterproof/breathable membranes.  It’s extremely durable, and is only put into the best of the best outerwear.  It’s a bit more expensive, but will outlast anything else on the market which in the end certainly makes it a better deal.  It’s always in 3-layer garments where all three layers are laminated into what essentially feels like one layer.  If you need something durable for heavy duty mountaineering, ice climbing, search and rescue, ect… this is your choice.

Gore-Tex Active Shell:  The soon-to-be-released Active Shell will be available in products this fall (2011).  I’m told the pore spaces are a bit bigger than those in the other materials, thus letting more hot/moist air out.  Consequently it’s not quite as waterproof (although it is still technically “waterproof”).  It’s made for super high energy single day pursuits like adventure racing, distance running, high energy cycling on a rainy day, or hard, long day hikes.

Windstopper:  Windstopper is slightly similar to Gore-Tex Active-Shell.  The Windstopper layer is a membrane similar to Gore-Tex, but with much bigger pore spaces.  It’s windproof, but not technically waterproof (although it is fairly water resistant, and garments are usually still coated with a DWR layer so they shed rain pretty well.)  Windstopper gear is generally my go-to for running and biking in cold breezy weather.

I hope that helps demystify Gore-Tex.  Any questions or comments?  I’d love to hear some feedback.



Posted in Reviews.


2 Replies

  1. Hmmm, Comfort Shell ?

  2. UYSY,
    Are you referring to Gore-Tex Soft-Shell? That’s a version of Gore-Tex material that has semi-stretching properties meant to go into a waterproof soft-shell garment. I have a jacket made with this. It’s a bit hot as it’s got some insulation and made for the winter for sure, but when I wear it in the right climate I LOVE it. One of my favorite jackets for resort skiing.

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