Gore-Tex is the reigning king of waterproofing in outdoors clothing, but comes in many forms. Here's a short guide to finding the right Gore-Tex membrane for any sport or activity.
One of the most frequently-asked questions when it comes to waterproof jackets is the difference between all the Gore-Tex membranes. As arguably the most popular choice of waterproofing for outdoors brands, not to mention most expensive, hikers want to know what they're getting for their money.
A quick note beforehand on the construction of Gore-Tex. The best way to describe it would be like a strip of plastic, pulled on all sides until it is ultra-thin. Holes are punched into the membrane, big enough to allow air molecules to pass through easily but small enough that water molecules can’t penetrate the other side. This is the most basic explanation of the science behind Gore-Tex, but the company's website offers a more scientific explanation.
Gore-Tex Paclite Shell: This is the thinnest and lightest of Gore-Tex’s waterproof membranes. This membrane is an ideal choice for highly-aerobic sports, like running, because its thin properties enable it to wick sweat away quickly. Be aware however that because it is so lightweight and thin, it isn’t as durable as other Gore-Tex membranes. Repeated rubbing and strain on the membrane, particularly around areas like the shoulders, will cause the waterproofing to leak. Remember: Paclite membranes are intended for highly-aerobic sports only, not for any hefty gear-carrying excursions.
Gore-Tex Active Shell: The Active Shell is a popular choice amongst runners and mountain bikers for its breathability and being lightweight. Active Shell is thicker than the Paclite membrane, which gives it greater durability without losing any breathability. More importantly, the inner lining and outer layers on Active Shell membrane are fused together to form one layer. This stops the movement between the layers, that would usually cause wear and tear. Much like the Paclite Shell, the Active membrane is not built for heavy equipment use like large rucksacks and will wear out prematurely if used for that purpose. However if you are looking for a jacket for highly aerobic sports like running, or activities that are finished in a day such as hiking with a day sack, then Active Shell is a decent option.
Gore-Tex Performance Shell: Arguably Gore-Tex’s most popular waterproof membrane, the extra thickness of the Performance Shell lends it more durability than the others without compromising on breathability. This is a great choice for a range of sports, from multi-day treks to fishing, as it doesn’t wear out through excessive strain from heavy rucksacks or gear. Many of the jackets that have the Performance Shell feature a 2-layer construction, meaning the waterproof membrane is fused to the outer shell layer of the jacket, and contains a separate inner lining to improve comfort. For those of you wanting a good waterproof jacket for travels, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, or multi-day hikes, this waterproofing is a good all-rounder.
Gore-Tex Pro Shell: It ain’t called Pro Shell for nothing; this waterproof membrane is meant for the most rugged of outdoors activities. Those of you looking for a jacket to scale mountains, climb up cliff faces with heavy gear, engage in snow sports, or even need a rugged waterproof for careers like tree surgery, should invest in a Gore-Tex Pro Shell. Like the Performance Shell, the Pro Shell membrane features a 2-layer construction, but its extra thickness offers more durability than any other Gore-Tex membrane. Prepare for a hefty price tag however, as the Pro Shell membrane is usually reserved for the most technical and expensive of waterproof jackets.
Gore-Tex Windstopper: The Gore-Tex Windstopper membrane is slightly different to the previous options. Instead of the thin plastic with holes business, imagine standing behind a small shrub in the desert. The wind blows, but the twisting branches of the shrub manage to divert the wind in different directions away from you. This is essentially what the Windstopper membrane does: small pathways on the surface of the membrane divert the wind from reaching your skin, but still allows moisture to be wicked away from your body. The construction of the membrane also makes it water resistant as well. Windstopper works particularly well in cold and windy conditions for highly aerobic activities, such as cycling, running, or snow sports. Although it is fairly durable keep in mind it was also constructed to be lightweight and packable, so don’t expect it to have the same durability as a Pro Shell.
Are there any other questions you might have about the different Gore-Tex membranes? Have you ever used any of these waterproofing technologies? Talk about your experiences below!