There are 1,000 reasons why people don’t by GORE-TEX, most of which surround the price, the weight, and the breathability. But, keeping all of that in mind, what’s the reason why people have been buying GORE-TEX for the past 50 or so years? Because it F%*&ing works. Every time, all the time. Here’s how:
The GORE-TEX Membrane
So what’s so different about GORE-TEX anyway? Well, GORE-TEX employs an actual fabric membrane to keep you dry. Most jackets on the market use what’s called a PU (Poly Urethane) coating that’s sprayed to one side of the fabric to block the water once it breaches the shell fabric. If you’re looking at your jacket, the outer shell material is usually some form of nylon or polyester. This layer provides some durability, rip prevention and form / shape. If you look at the inside of the jacket, that white coating (sometimes texturized) is your PU layer. Now, when PU jackets fail they fail because that coating gets old and starts to flake off or cracked – the technical term is “delaminate.” In a GORE-TEX jacket, however, there’s a physical layer of fabric squished between two other layers of fabric. This is your waterproof membrane. Because it’s in sandwich form, that membrane isn’t exposed to friction so it won’t rub off and it cannot delaminate because it’s not sprayed to anything. The only way for GORE-TEX to fail is for it to be punctured, ripped or melted.
Why is this important?
GORE-TEX’s claim to fame is not its breathability, or its weight saving, or, certainly its price. The claim to fame that makes GORE-TEX so popular is its durable waterproofness, which as far as I’m concerned is invaluable. Holes, rips and burn marks are all easy to repair in the field. You can sew your jacket back together and add a little duct tape and still stay reasonably dry. What you can’t fix in the field is a delaminating PU coating, in fact, you can’t fix that at all. Once your PU jacket starts to delaminate it’s time to buy another jacket which brings us to our next issue.
Imagine spraying a blanket with paint. Now, imagine rolling around in it, stuffing it into backpacks, running it through the wash machine, and wearing it under duress. What do you think would happen? Well, the paint would start to crack and chip off of course. While this is an exaggeration, it is effectively what happens to PU jackets over the lifespan of use. On the converse, imagine three blankets sewn together and repeat the same processes. Over time you might bust a couple stiches but all in all the blankets would remain intact. That’s what happens with the GORE-TEX membrane.
Breaking Down the Myths:
GORE-TEX is too heavy: Yes, you’re right. A PU coating will often be lighter because there’s less physical material being used. There’s no way around this. Personally, I’d rather save my couple of grams / ounces somewhere else than sacrificing my ability to stay dry.
GORE-TEX isn’t Breathable: Wrong. GORE-TEX is breathable. It isn’t the most breathable fabric, but it is still a breathable fabric. Watch our friends prove the science:
GORE-TEX is Too Expensive: Yes, GORE-TEX is expensive, however, as a shopper you need to consider the value vs. price argument. When I started hiking I started with a $99 Marmot Precip Jacket. It was wonderful and I loved it and it lasted for 1.5 years before it delaminated. Then I used an REI Taku Jacket for $160. Again, wonderful, but it only lasted 1 year. Finally, I purchased a Marmot Oracle Jacket for $179 that lasted 3 years before leaking through the shoulder seams from the damage from my backpack. The total of those 3 jackets is: $438 over 5.5 years which equals $79.64 per year of use. Not bad. In 2007 I purchased an Arc’teryx Theta AR jacket for $475 (the price is now $579, but the math is the same). It’s been 9 years of use and I still love it and it’s still fully functional. I’ve patched it twice, once from a puncture and once from an ember, but it still keeps me totally dry. $475 over 9 years breaks down to $52.78 per year of use, considerably cheaper in value than my previous 3 jackets. Even at the current price of $579, the value breaks down to $64.34 per year, still cheaper than my three alternatives combined.
Curious about the Windproofing?
Since it was mentioned in the first clip, here’s the video on windproofing: