April 16, 2022

Do you also check out when people start conversations with their favorite waterproof technology? Maybe you too feel like there is just too much going on out there in the big world of textiles? When I started working at the local outdoor store, too many times I found myself feeling left behind when my co-workers and customers would dive in deep on waterproof textiles or Gore-tex conversations.

Instead of letting myself fall into that role of letting others take the lead, I did something about it! For the last 7 months, I put in considerable effort to at least keep up, and hopefully have something more to offer when that deep dive conversation happens. Here is a culmination of what I have learned!

The most important frame of mind when considering gear:

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”

 -Alfred Wainwright, 1973 book Coast to Coast

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So, let’s dive in! The first part of understanding what all these brands are advertising is understanding the two main types of waterproofing used. Yup, there’s just two! Almost every brand has their own proprietary version of the exact same thing.

The first one we will look at is the membrane. Gore-Tex is the most widely known membrane out there. What is the membrane exactly? The membrane is bonded to the inside of a face fabric (the outside of the jacket). It’s full of tiny, microscopic holes that allow vapor (your sweat) to pass through, but not water droplets (which scientists know are larger molecules than vapor). This membrane-unless you rip a hole in your fabric- will never fail (we will touch more on this when talking about care). 

Within the use of the membrane, there is terminology surrounding how many layers of fabric have been used. Let’s touch on those quickly before going over DWR.

There is 2, 2.5, and 3 layer construction. This is about how many layers of fabric are bonded together, including the membrane. 

2 layer (2L) is just the face fabric, and the membrane. There is almost always a liner (that is not counted in the construction layers) to protect the membrane from your skin oils and sweat. This is typically found in the more affordable options

2.5 layer (2.5L) is just about the same as 2L, except that it typically has a protective coating sprayed onto the membrane to protect it from your skin oils and sweat. This will typically be used in either ultralight gear or rain jackets. 

3 layer (3L) is the tastiest grilled cheese of water repellency. You’ve got bread (face fabric), cheese (the membrane) and more delicious bread (inner bonded fabric). These are typically the most durable, rugged, and waterproof pieces out there. This is the most expensive construction of the membrane type of waterproofing.

This entire layer system only works correctly when it is paired with the next type of waterproofing- the DWR.

The second type of most used waterproofing is the Durable Water Repellent (DWR). This is a coating on the face fabric to prevent water from getting the face fabric wet. This is used both with and without the membrane. As we turn to more environmentally friendly DWR’s, the care required to keep this working will be more than it has been, but don’t worry! We will quickly touch on the best care practices at the end of the article!

The next big piece to understand, is Hydrostatic Head (HH). This is measured by doing a water column test. This measures how tall of a column of water can stand on the fabric before it penetrates the fabric. A HH of 30,000mm is exactly that! 30 metres of water can stand on the fabric before it will penetrate through. A tent only needs a HH of 1,000mm to endure a light drizzle, but most will be from around 2,000- 10,000 (this is also not how tents are typically advertised but can be an important specification depending on where you are!). Garments can range from about 5,000 to 40,000. What you  need depends on where you are, and what conditions you are most likely to encounter.

Right alongside Hydrostatic Head, is another very important factor in waterproof clothing. Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate (MVTR). This is not commonly advertised but can be important when trying to understand breathability. This measures how much moisture can permeate through the fabric over a square metre in one day (denoted either by the full “g/m2/24hr” or just by “g”). Typically, around 10,000g/m2/24hr is enough for around the campsite/yard, and skiing. From 10,000-15,000g/m2/24hr will be good for your hiking, snowshoeing and other lighter aerobic activities. Above 15,000g/m2/24hr is best for higher level aerobic activities like mountaineering or climbing. 

Once you even mildly understand those few things that make up waterproof garments, the rest starts to make sense. We will go over some of the bigger brand’s technology, and some of their product lines’ HH and MVTR. If you want to dive deeper, there are thousands of blogs, graphs, diagrams and other info comparing products, and even explaining in more detail some of the concepts above.

Gore-Tex.

TRIVIA NUGGET! Gore-Tex is expanded polytetrafluoroethylene(ePTFE), otherwise known generically as… Teflon! Bob Gore invented ePTFE in 1969 by stretching Teflon under specific conditions. 

Gore-Tex is just a membrane. They’ve been doing it right for far longer than many of the other brands, so naturally they are the most known, and most widely used. Did you know they also have their own line of Gore-Tex garments?

2-layer Gore-Tex will be durable, comfortable, a little more affordable, and perfect for cold weather activities when it is insulated. HH 28,000mm and an MVTR of around 20,000g.

2.5-layer (2.5L) can be relatively inexpensive, depending on their construction. This will typically be used for rain jackets, or ultralight shell jackets. HH 28,000mm and MVTR of 15,0000g.

3-layer (3L) is typically the most rugged, durable, high-performance. There is also a range within 3L Gore-Tex, regular level 3L Gore-Tex and Gore-Tex Pro. The 3L Pro line has a HH of around 28,000mm and an MVTR of around 25,000g, where the regular 3L Gore-Tex has the same HH at 28,000mm but an MVTR of only 17,000g.

Whether its regular 3L or Pro, it’s going to be much more expensive. Think Arc’teryx (3L Pro), top of the line, top of the price range, ultra-sturdy gear. There are many other brands who utilize 3L Pro, not just Arc’teryx. Norrona, Spyder, Mammut, even Burton has some garments using the Pro line!

Not in any particular order, here are some of the more widely known competitors of Gore-Tex:

Pertex

 Pertex uses both a membrane and a simple DWR type waterproofing, both designed with garment construction goals in mind. There are a few different Pertex product lines- Shield, Quantum, and Equilibrium.

Shield comes in 2, 2.5 and 3 layer construction. Pertex’s Polyurethane (PU) membrane provides waterproof, windproof and breathable products. Boasts a HH of around 20,000mm and an MVTR of around 20,000g.

Quantum is a tightly woven ultra-lightweight fabric with a DWR finish. It’s designed to be used with insulation, and its ultralight qualities allow both down and synthetic insulation to loft properly and keep you warmer. Therefore, this will typically be used in insulated pieces. I could not find any valid information on HH or MVTR for this product line.

Equilibrium is a combination of 2 woven layers. The outer layer, woven tightly from fine threads and with a DWR finish, stops water from entering the fabric from the outside. The inner layer, openly from less fine threads wicks moisture away from the body to the outer layer. Equilibrium provides simple, breathable, and comfortable garments. I could not find any valid information on HH or MVTR for this product line.

A couple variations within Pertex’s product lines are the Pro- designed to be extra durable and have better weather resistance in more extreme conditions, Air- designed to be extra breathable while maintaining wind proofing, and Revolve- focusing on creating sustainable garments, made of a recycled polyester fabric without losing the durability we all appreciate in our gear!

eVent

eVent, produced exclusively in the US, is nearly the exact same thing as Gore-Tex. It is the same membrane (ePTFE), but it is used slightly differently. eVent is designed to be a little more breathable than Gore-Tex. Mountain Hardwear’s own DryQ uses eVent technology blended with their own in-house designs modeled around creating more breathable, stretchy and comfortable garments for outdoor enthusiasts.

Trivia Nugget! The manufacturer of eVent is none other than GE. Yep! General Electric. 

A few of their product lines:

DV Expedition Designed for intense activities, with a HH of 30,000mm and an MVTR of 10,000g.

DV Alpine Designed for more medium intensity activities like hiking, fishing, snow sports. HH 20,000mm and an MVTR of 20,000g. 

DV Storm Designed for medium to high intensity activities that won’t encounter severe weather with a HH of 10,000mm and an MVTR of 30,000g. 

Polartec

I want to touch also on Polartec’s NeoShell, a widely loved and highly breathable product. Polartec’s goal was to create the most breathable fabric, instead of the most waterproof one. The fabric is mostly composed of air, being woven specifically to allow moist air to escape from within, but still maintaining a satisfactory amount of wind proofing. When it comes to this one, feeling is believing. 

They have never officially released a number, but many in the industry speculate the fabrics MVTR to be around 30,000g. Yes, 30,000g. Not even Gore-Tex can compare to that. Why are we not all wearing NeoShell then? With a 10,000mm HH, most people will skip right over NeoShell, and go for something with a higher HH rating. Its not that this is wrong, but sometimes, 10,000mm HH is enough.

Neoshell is designed for any and all activities where you will be sweating- hiking, walking, running, ski touring, climbing, and so on. 

The next key thing to consider, is where you live and how that will affect what you need. Rainforest? Get something super waterproof. The desert? Maybe a piece focused on breathability. Semi-desert? Probably something equally waterproof and breathable. High mountain areas? You’re gonna need something rugged to handle all that weather! All of this should play a key role in what you decide to get, but it really comes down to what you prefer. 

This weekend, go over all your jackets that you have. Look at which ones you love, and which ones you don’t. Take note of what fabrics and technologies they use, which one has lasted the longest and which one you wear doing more intense activities. This is a key starting point, is understanding the gear you have so you know what kind of piece you might want (need) in the future. 

Lastly, lets touch on care. The most important part of having your jacket last as long as possible! If you feel your favorite jacket just can’t stand up to the test anymore, clean it and restore the DWR before replacing it. This is by far the cheapest option.

 For any technical garment, never use regular washing detergent. Always use technical garment wash (I use Nikwax because my shop sells it). Follow the instructions to the letter. They all do the same thing, but some companies have partnered with garment makers to advertise their product. Some products are more environmentally friendly than others. What you use will ultimately come down to availability, and cost. Don’t fret over the fine details on this one. If you can’t get any cleaner, just use water.

Before you go forward with following these instructions, always read the care label on your garment, and follow the manufacturers instructions. This is a short general care guide, which lines up with most care labels. The manufacturer of your garment knows how to clean it best, you should always get care advice straight from the horse’s mouth.

Before you clean, assess the effectiveness of the DWR. Get some water, and either spray or flick some drops onto the face fabric. Does it bead off, or soak in? If it soaks in (this is called “wetting out”) grab some DWR restoring wash when you grab your technical wash. If it kind of beads off, you may be able to get away without the DWR restoring wash.

Next step, clean your garment. Add the appropriate amount of technical wash and follow the temperature instructions provided for your garment.

If you are using a DWR restoring wash, do another wash with this while following manufacturers instructions.

Now the next step, bear with me. It’s a hard one. (I cannot stress enough to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer, but this is a step highly recommended by most)

Put your garment in the dryer.

Yes,

The dryer.

Tumble dry on low, for 20 minutes. Hang dry the remainder of dry time. Whether you used a wash-in DWR restorer or not, putting your garments in the dryer is the most effective method of restoring or reactivating the DWR. 

It is that simple to care for your garments, and some manufacturers recommend doing this every 5 days of use. There are horror stories of garments that fall apart upon washing because they have not been washed for years. Don’t do that! Wash your gear, it’s the best thing you can do to ensure you get every penny’s worth out of it! Find a system that works for you, don’t be pressured into doing this weekly or monthly if you just don’t have time. None of us are perfect caretakers of our gear, but we can always strive to do a little better. Even if that’s just washing it once a season (like me). 

You should always love your gear, whether it comes with a price tag or not. Never be ashamed of buying the affordable jacket, or that fancy Arc’teryx jacket. Look for what you need within your budget. If that is an Arc’teryx jacket, great. If it’s the store-brand jacket, that’s just as great.

Now its time to get out there and dazzle your friends (or the woodland creatures) with your clean garments, superb technical knowledge, and your amazing passionate self!

One last time for those in the back, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the care of your garments.

Blog written by: Kelsey Dekker

About the Author Koa Hughes

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