While it seems hard to believe, there was most certainly (and remarkably recently) a time before technical outdoor fabrics. In fact, the category has really only existed for the last century, give or take. Before, if you wanted a pair of pants, footwear, or a jacket that was resistant to the elements, you had to take the materials from nature. But then some ingenious folks came along — scientists, you might call them — and changed everything.
One of the pioneering materials that changed the face of outdoor gear forever is, undoubtedly, GORE-TEX. A wonder material that makes anything imbued with it resistant to even the harshest of outdoor conditions and weather events. To most folks, even those who spend a significant amount of time using the stuff, GORE-TEX is still somewhat of a mystery. And that’s why we’ve put together the following guide to tell you everything you need to know about GORE-TEX.
A Brief History Of GORE-TEX
Originally called simply ‘Gore,’ the brand was launched way back in 1959 in the basement of Wilbert L. “Bill” and Genevieve “Vieve” Gore in Newark, Delaware. Of course, that humble beginning is not without a bit of industry connectedness and history, as Bill actually worked at DuPont — the legendary brand responsible for the creation of legendary materials ranging from neoprene, to Teflon, to Kevlar, to Mylar, and more. However, Bill saw potential in a material called polymer polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, for short) that DuPont didn’t. So, he left the company to start his own. A risky venture, to be sure, but it most definitely paid off.
It wouldn’t be until 10 years later, however, that their first big innovation would be discovered. In fact, it wasn’t even the brand’s founders who made the discovery, but rather their son, Bob Gore. In an experiment, Bob rapidly stretched PTFE and found that it had a number of unique properties — including high tensile strength, durability, and resistance to water penetration.NASA’s Columbia astronauts went to space wearing suits made with GORE-TEX fabrics. They decided to call this innovation expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) and were rewarded a patent for it in 1970.
By 1976, the brand was taking commercial orders for jackets with the world’s first water and windproof membrane that was also breathable. While this was enough to put GORE-TEX on the map, the brand wasn’t satisfied with resting on their laurels. So they continued to innovate over the following years. This resulted in a number of other new developments that ranged from GORE-SEAM taped seams that made their jackets even more waterproof, to 2-layer fabrics, to glove inserts, to boot liners, and more. In fact, in 1981, NASA’s Columbia astronauts went to space wearing suits made with GORE-TEX fabrics.
That was just the beginning. Today, their offerings extend to all measure of categories, from featherlight rain jackets, to camping tents, to waterproof shoe and boot membranes — the list just keeps going. And they’re so confident in all of their products that every single one comes with a lifetime guarantee they call the “GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY” promise. Better still (and according to the brand), they’re far from finished. They’ve committed to continually innovating and, if history is any indication, there’s still a lot left to see.
How Does It Work?
Waterproof, Windproof, & Breathable
Everybody knows that GORE-TEX technologies make for textiles that are waterproof, windproof, and breathable — or at least you should by now. But how that technology works is a different mystery entirely.Rather than being an impermeable membrane, the surface of a GORE-TEX membrane is actually porous. And while the science behind it probably seems like a daunting thing, it’s actually quite simple when you break it down to its base element.
GORE-TEX, in the simplest terms we can manage, functions via a layering system. Typically, that includes an outer shell (in jackets, this is most often nylon or polyester), an inner liner (usually a soft and comfortable fabric), and the middle membrane. It’s this membrane in the center of the fabric sandwich that really makes the magic happen. Older waterproof membranes were usually made from polyurethane, which is waterproof, but extremely stuffy, as it works more like a tarp — not letting moisture in or out on either side of the fabric in any meaningful capacity.
The ePTFE material that GORE-TEX patented and made famous works quite differently, however. Rather than being an impermeable membrane, the surface of a GORE-TEX membrane is actually porous — originally boasting something in the realm of nine billion pores per square inch. What makes that special is that the pores are roughly 1/20,000 the size of a water droplet — meaning they’re too small for liquid water to penetrate, making the fabric completely waterproof. It doesn’t stop there, though, as it’s those same pores that also make the material breathable. This is because, while they’re too small for liquid water to get in, they’re 700 times larger than water vapor molecules. This means that, when gaseous, water can escape through the membrane, thus making the fabric breathable.
While GORE-TEX membranes do make fabrics waterproof, they need some help to perform their best. This most often comes in the form of taped seams — a technology the brand developed in-house to make fabric meeting points weatherproof — and DWR coatings. Short for Durable Water Repellant, DWR coatings help keep water from accumulating on the surface of a fabric, keeping the outer layer from being bogged down with moisture and allowing vapor to escape through the GORE-TEX membrane’s pores. This combination of technologies and the brand’s commitment to continually improving their suite of offerings is what has helped made GORE-TEX an industry standard for literal decades.
A Full Range Of Offerings
What once started off as a waterproof liner used in jackets has since exploded into every corner of the outdoor world. No matter what kind of gear you’re looking for — be it apparel, camping accommodations, footwear (both everyday style and rugged outdoor-ready varieties), and more — you’ll see offerings built with GORE-TEX fabrics, membranes, etc. And that makes sense since the GORE-TEX lineup is perhaps the most reliable and accessible weatherproofing presently available — and probably will be well into the future.
McNett GORE-TEX Fabric Patches
When you’re out in the wilderness, there’s a decent chance you could end up ripping or tearing your outerwear on brush or rocks — and that risk grows the rougher the terrain you’re in. But if you’ve got these USA-made McNett GORE-TEX Fabric Patches, you can do a quick repair on your favorite weatherproof gear on-the-go. With a simple press-on application, these are a handy quick-fix method for keeping the moisture out when you don’t have any other options. And they can be easily removed once the time comes for a proper repair.
Marmot Granlibakken Gloves
The folks at the highly-lauded outdoor brand, Marmot, know a thing or two about making sturdy all-weather gear. So knowing that they turned to GORE-TEX for the weatherproofing layer in these Granlibakken snow gloves should speak volumes to how reliable it is. On top of that, they’re also Thermal R insulated and boast a moisture-wicking internal layer to keep your hands dry and they have a PU-reinforced palm for added durability.
Outdoor Research Ghost Rain Hat
Not the most stylish offering in the world, OR’s Ghost Rain Hat is still invaluable when it comes to outdoor activities in either rain or shine. Obviously, the full-circumference brim is excellent for keeping your head shaded in bright sunlight, but it’s the removable GORE-TEX waterproof crown that really makes this a stand-out piece of gear. Perfect for fairweather fishermen, all-weather hiking, and more — this might just be the ultimate full-brimmed outdoor hat.
Converse Chuck 70 GORE-TEX Sneakers
One of the most iconic sneakers of all time, the Chuck Taylor All-Star is not what anyone would have called “weatherproof” by any stretch of the imagination — with its simple canvas construction. Or at least that was the case before GORE-TEX got their hands on it and applied a waterproof membrane. Now, you can rock these sneakers even in a torrential downpour and your toes will stay dry as a bone.
Volcom Lo GORE-TEX Articulated Snow Pants
A staple of winter wear, waterproof snow pants are a must-have for anyone looking to hit the slopes. Yet, these GORE-TEX lined offerings have a bit of a leg-up on the competition, as they can keep you dry but will still allow your legs to breathe, making them a bit more comfortable than they’d otherwise be. They also feature fully-taped seams for extra water-resistance, are articulated for a wider range of motion, and come with Volcom’s jacket attachment system — so you can keep the snow out even if you take a spill.
Under Armour Newell Ridge Hiking Boots
GORE-TEX membranes can be added to all sorts of gear nowadays, but it’s especially helpful when added to a superb pair of hiking boots — like Under Armour’s Newell Ridge boots you see here. By making these even more waterproof, it elevates them beyond being a sturdy pair of mid-length hikers and turns them into four-season essentials — especially when you consider they also boast a Michelin outsole, an Anafoam overlay for an anatomically molded fit, and a TPU cradle in the heel for added stability. Whether hiking your favorite local trail or hitting the peaks at a National Park, these boots will serve you well.
Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy
Proof positive as to just how versatile GORE-TEX is, Outdoor Research has used it to line their Alpine Bivy to make this one-man mountaineering tent completely weatherproof. Perfect for anyone looking to stay light on their feet for multi-day outings, this easily-hauled bivy shelter will keep the moisture away from you while you rest, but won’t weigh you down once you’ve packed up and hit the trails once more. It’s so resistant to the elements, in fact, that OR says you can use it for all four seasons — so long as you’ve got a sleeping bag that can keep you warm enough.
Arc’teryx Sabre LT Jacket
Even premium high-end technical brands, like Arc’teryx, trust in GORE-TEX when it comes to waterproofing their jackets. And their Sabre LT is a perfect example. Built for unrestricted mobility in all conditions, this rainproof outerwear was made for the rigors of backcountry skiing and snowboarding. And while it’s lightweight and will keep you plenty dry, it’s also compatible with helmets, has RainShield zippers to keep everything in your pockets snow-free, and was designed to connect to the brand’s Sabre snow pants as a complete weatherproof set.
15 Best GORE-TEX Jackets For Men
Now that you’re abundantly familiar with what, exactly, makes GORE-TEX such a wonderful addition to your outdoor gear, maybe it’s time to suit up in one of our picks for the best GORE-TEX jackets for men.