We’ve got an extensive and slightly confusing array of waterproof technologies in our collection here at Webtogs, Gore-Tex ranking amongst the prime offenders in technical lingo. Sure, everyone’s heard of Gore-Tex, and at least understands that it’s waterproof. Many more know that it’s also windproof and breathable to boot, which is great. But long gone are the days when it was enough that a jacket was simply Gore-Tex, and therefore by default the best waterproofing you could get for pretty much every outdoor activity. These days Gore offer a selection of different fabric technologies; Gore-Tex Active Shell, Gore-Tex Pro, Gore-Tex Classic and Gore-Tex XCR.
Thankfully, help is at hand. Here we’ve pulled together a guide to Gore-Tex Technologies – so that you can find out which technologies have what features, and therefore which type is best suited to your needs!
To start with, it’s worthwhile noting that when you buy a garment featuring any Gore-Tex variant, you’re buying a garment that is durably waterproof, windproof and breathable. In addition, providing you take good care of it (wash it with Nikwax Tech Wash, and re-proof it when necessary with Nikwax TX Direct Wash-In), it will retain these characteristics for a very long time indeed. This is firstly down to the excellent, ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene – try saying that after a couple pints) membrane used as the basis of all Gore-Tex technologies, a micro-porous layer with pores hundreds of times bigger than a water vapour mollecule – so sweat can escape; yet thousands of times smaller than a water droplet – so rain can’t get in. That’s what we mean when we say a membrane is breathable – it’s got nothing to do with how much air passes through, it’s all about how easily water vapour can escape.
Secondly, every Gore-Tex garment is meticulously seam-sealed by hand to an incredibly high standard – all brands permitted by W. L. Gore Associates to use their fabrics must use certified Gore seam tape and seam sealing machines. Gore also test their prototype garments in a range of weird yet incredibly thorough ways that simulate the worst conditions that an end-user could ever throw at them. These tests include the Gore Rain Room Test, in which products are bombarded with torrential ‘rain’ for hours; the Comfort Test, which sees testers wear prototypes under extreme exertion, monitored under laboratory conditions; the Martindale Test, where various grades of wheel-mounted wool or sandpaper are used to repeatedly rub the fabric for hours, even days on end; and the Cold Flex Test, which sees Gore fabrics stretched and squashed over and over in extreme cold. If a Gore Prototype fails a single one of these tests, then it’s back to the drawing board.
As you can see then, no manufacturer is as thoroughly rigorous as Gore when it comes to testing. This, and their excellent ePTFE membrane structure is why Gore have the confidence to offer their “GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY” promise with every Gore-Tex product, regardless of branding. If your Gore-Tex product should fail, no matter when you bought it, Gore will repair, replace or refund the purchase price, no quibble!
So that’s what any Gore-Tex item offers you as a minimum. Now we move onto the specific types of Gore-Tex:
1: Gore-Tex Pro
Gore Pro products are dedicated to achieving extreme ruggedness, yet maintaining the breathability required for active high-mountain endeavours. Only the most abrasion-resistant face fabrics (the outer face of the garment) are used in Pro products, with Gore only permitting the use of 40-denier or higher face fabrics on its latest jackets. The North Face Point Five NG Jacket for example has a 70-denier (unit of weight by which the fineness of silk, rayon, or nylon yarn is measured – used to describe the thickness) face fabric so as to be positively bombproof – in outdoor usage terms of course, please don’t take that literally. To quantify this, Gore expects their Pro-Shell garments to withstand 200 solid days of high-end use without showing any signs of degraded performance. Due to a new, more breathable construction technique, the latest Gore-Tex Pro fabrics are also very breathable for their weight, between 10 and 28% more so in fact (the variation depends on what face/backer fabrics are used in construction), than the old Gore-Tex Pro Shell fabric that ceased production earlier this year. So for the stop-start of Alpine mountaineering, with constant pauses to belay, attach/remove crampons etc., and high abrasion on rock, ice and sharp bits of kit, Gore Pro is ideal. Accordingly, Gore-Tex Pro jackets usually come with all of the features you’d expect from a 4-season mountain shell, including helmet-compatible hood, large, high pockets, and lots of adjustment toggles.
Who should consider buying Gore-Tex Pro? Anyone who needs a waterproof shell jacket and/or trousers for sustained use in extreme environments – high winds, chance of heavy rain or snow, and high tear-risk. For example: - People looking for a mountaineering shell for use in winter ascents in the higher areas of the UK, i.e. the Western Highlands, Cairngorms, English Lakes. - Alpine mountaineers, especially for multi-day ascents and in the Autumn-Winter-Spring Season. - People looking for a mountaineering shell for use in the higher ranges. - Ski-mountaineers or backcountry snowsports pros/serious enthusiasts.
2: Gore-Tex Active
In Gore-Tex Active products, the emphasis shifts firmly towards achieving maximum breathability and minimum weight, without losing any waterproofing performance. These garments are 3-layer laminates, basically a fine membrane bonded between face fabric and liner to create a lightweight, single thickness shell. Gore-Tex Active is designed with intense, ‘done in a day’ activities in mind, such as challenging multi-pitch climbs, fast mixed ascents and intense snowsports. Through using the most breathable face fabrics around, and Gore’s lightweight and breathable ‘micro-grid’ backer, water vapour passes more easily through Active shell garments than any other Gore-Tex variant. Gore has been careful to maintain a decent standard of ruggedness with this technology though. Typically face fabrics are in the 30-denier region, which is still pretty tough; much more so than other shells of similar thickness – ’2.5 layer’ PU based shells for example. So if you want the protection of a brilliant waterproof shell during high-intensity physical activities, Active Shell is probably the one for you. As they are by virtue very minimal garments (typically 300-400 grams in weight), don’t expect Gore-Tex active shells to have much in the way of features. Many will have helmet-compatible hoods and high pockets for climbing, but they won’t usually have extra pockets, breast or internal, and what pockets they do have will typically be mesh for lightweight venting. Pit-zips are common for dumping excess heat rapidly. No cosiness here!
Who should consider buying Gore-Tex Active? Anyone who wants waterproof protection during intense and demanding pursuits, but is not going to be in prolonged extreme conditions where high wear and tear will be a factor. For example: - People looking for a waterproof shell to climb a multi-pitch sport or trad climb in fair conditions (single-day). - Skiers and Snowboarders. - Mountain bikers. - Adventure racers and Mountain Marathoners.
This is the most ‘basic’ of Gore-Tex variants, which can be found in a whole range of constructions which Gore-Tex term 2-Layer, 3-Layer and Z-Liner. Gore-Tex used to call this technology ‘Gore-Tex performance Shell’. 2-Layer construction sees the membrane bonded to a face fabric only, with a separate inner lining suspended on the inside of the garment for comfort and protection. Insulation can also be added between the membrane and inner lining for cold-weather pursuits. 3 layer construction is where the membrane is bonded to both a face fabric on the outside and a backer fabric (lining) on the inside, in a laminate construction, the benefit being no movement between layers and increased durability. Finally, Z-liner is where the membrane is suspended freely on a lightweight carrier fabric between separate outer, and liner fabrics. This is mostly used for fashion applications. Gore-Tex Technology tends to be used in classic walking and mountain jackets, rugged and versatile, but without the extreme weight-saving features and breathability seen in Gore-Tex Active products, or the extreme ruggedness-to-weight ratio of Gore Pro products. For walking, backpacking and mountaineering here in the UK though, regular Gore-Tex is a great option, versatile, still very durable, and of course dependably waterproof, windproof and breathable – just what’s called for on our wet, muddy isle. These jackets will typically be feature-rich, with lots of pockets, often A4-size for your map, and comfortable to wear. Gore-Tex Classic is also more affordable than Gore-Tex Active and Pro technologies thanks to its use of more readily available, tried and tested fabrics.
Who should consider buying Gore-Tex? Anyone looking for reliable waterproof shell jacket and/or trousers for hiking or backpacking in wet and windy conditions. Not as good as Gore-Tex Pro in terms of lightweight ruggedness, and not the equal of Gore-Tex Active in the breathablility stakes, but a jack of all trades that performs well across the board, and is still amongst the best waterproof technologies you can buy. Examples of users include: - People looking for a waterproof shell for heavy use hiking or backpacking in the UK, in all seasons. - Those making forays into the mountains, e.g. Scottish highlands, Lake District, Snowdonia or Yorkshire Dales, again in all seasons. - Fishing, Golf, Hunting, and any number of other outdoor pursuits where wind, rain or snow features!
4: Gore-Tex XCR (Extended Comfort Range)
This is Gore’s waterproof, windproof and breathable membrane typically used in shoes, gloves and socks. This uses a three-layer construction, with the inner being a taffeta lining, for next-to skin comfort and abrasion resistance. This variant is more breathable than Gore-Tex’s 2-Layer style, and offers 25% more breathability than 3-Layer Gore-Tex. So it’s ideal for waterproofing your feet, which can get notoriously uncomfortable and odorous if sweat can’t escape!
Who should consider buying Gore-Tex XCR? In short, anyone who is looking for waterproof footwear! This is especially useful to have in walking shoes and boots for use in the UK, especially if you’re planning on going off-trail, or walk regularly in moorland areas. It’s also useful in mountaineering and expedition boots, where wet feet mean frostbite – and therefore no feet! The Examples of Gore-Tex XCR footwear are almost endless.
And that’s the complete range of modern Gore-Tex technologies. Any other terminology you hear, Gore-Tex Performance Shell and Gore-Tex Paclite Shell for example, is obsolete, so ignore it! If you see that a Gore-Tex product is described as having ‘Paclite Technology’, it is simply a Gore-Tex pro or Gore-Tex (classic) garment that weighs 4.4 oz per square yard or less. But there’s not many of them around, so as a rule, look to the guidelines for Gore-Tex Pro, Gore-Tex Active and Gore-Tex, if you want to know whether or not a particular one is suited to your needs.