What does ‘breathable’ mean?
The term ‘breathable’ is most often used as a marketing term by companies which make waterproofing products – the best publicised one being Gore-Tex. In truth though, a non-waterproof pair of textile hiking boots is usually more ‘breathable’ than a Gore-Tex pair, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that basic gear is less ‘breathable’.
If you need a degree of waterproofing though – for instance a rain jacket – then a ‘waterproof-breathable’ membrane is a good idea. This combines a tough outer fabric with a layer of plastic membrane. The membrane (in the case of Gore-Tex) will have millions of little holes in it, which are small enough to block out raindrops, but big enough to allow water vapour through.
So, Gore-Tex will stop me getting sweaty then?
Nope, sorry. Gore-Tex and other waterproof-breathable fabrics can’t get rid of all your sweat, so if you’re wearing a 2-layer or 2.5-layer jacket you’re likely to find it wet on the inside as well as outside. But that’s your sweat, not rain. The best way to get rid of sweat – undo your zippers and let some air in.
What does 2-layer, 2.5-layer and 3-layer mean?
2-Layer – the garment has an outer fabric and a waterproof/breathable membrane applied to that. In order to protect the membrane from you rubbing your arms/knees/hands on it and damaging it, there is a 2nd layer inside the garment – often a mesh. Very cheap garments often use this method.
2.5-Layer – the garment has an outer fabric and a waterproof/breathable membrane applied to it, and then on the inside instead of a separate layer of mesh there is usually a very, very thin coating of protective plastic – sometimes in a pattern or dotting. Very light-weight garments often use this method.
3-Layer – the garment has an outer fabric and a waterproof/breathable membrane with a third layer of fabric on the inside laminated all together into one thick (relatively speaking) textile. This protects the delicate membrane well, but is an expensive process, so usually only found on higher-end gear.
Is Gore-Tex worth the money?
Yes and no. It’s rather expensive to make Gore-Tex, and Gore have to spend a lot on marketing to keep it at number 1 in the waterproof-breathable charts, but even so their prices can seem somewhat high. There are, however, some excellent (and better) alternatives from eVent, Schoeller, Toray, and other brands.
If you want more technical information on different fabrics, read this: http://www.shelby.fi/tips/breathability.pdf
Will breathable fabrics keep me warm?
Want to know more. The best article on outdoor clothing is here: http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/rainwear.html
What’s a Softshell?
We wrote a layman’s explanation on this review.
What’s the difference between a fleece and a microfleece?
Microfleece is a thinner, more densely packed material than traditional ‘fleece’ (sometimes called midweight fleece). However, whilst microfleece offers good wicking and fast drying properties, it is not as warm as fleece because it traps less air in it. Microfleece is lighter and will pack down smaller when you’re not wearing it. Both are made from the same material (polyester) and wash easily. Neither is windproof, but both will offer a little waterproofing in very light rain.