A couple of months ago I was asked if I would like to attend the launch of the new GORE-TEX® Pro membrane under the auspices of producing a guide to the new technology for GearWeAre. Being a happy, go-lucky sort of chap I said “Sure, why not? Sounds like fun!” and with that I found myself on my way to Plas y Brenin*, in the heart of Snowdonia national park.
So, on to the juicy details… the presentation began with Tom Gray from Gore admitting to us that in their relentless pursuit of innovation the GORE-TEX® portfolio may have become somewhat confusing for the end user. Speaking honestly, I’d tend to agree. With that in mind I was pleased when Tom unveiled their three revised product categories:
GORE-TEX, aimed at activities such as hill walking and skiing where anaerobic activity is at a steady, moderate pace.
ACTIVE, designed for sports with high anaerobic activity over sustained periods like altitude running and mountain biking.
and PRO, designed for high anaerobic activity, which also incorporates cyclical periods of work/rest – a good example being a period of high-exertion climbing, followed by time spent belaying your partner.
The claims from the new Pro range are impressive; improved ruggedness and durability comparative to previous incarnations, “up to a 28% increase in garment breathability” and “uncompromising waterproofness and windproofness”. There is always a degree of hyperbole to new products, but in actuality these claims are built on some solidly logical design choices. Durability looks largely to be a result of Gore’s stipulation that all partners producing Pro products will have to use outer textiles with a denier of between 40 and 200 – this of course offers a lot of versatility in itself.
During the presentation it was admitted that in real terms breathability will improve by between 10-28% against the current iteration of Pro Shell, and logic dictates that this will in many cases depend on upon the denier of the outer fabric, as more densely woven fabrics understandably result in a reduction in moisture transpiration.
The breathability claims, which are likely to be the most important for potential users, appear to be the result of a new 3-layer construction that utilises a 100% ePTFE-based multilayer membrane – at this point we’re running the risk of technical overload so allow me to simplify. Previous GORE-TEX laminates used a layer of PU (polyurethane) to protect the delicate breathable membrane from contaminants. PU does not breathe well, so the super-secret microstructure it has been replaced with should offer a marked improvement. At least that’s the way it felt during my initial test.
Testing, in my case, took the form of a ‘demanding walk’ which on a particularly damp, humid morning meant tackling the Snowdon summit by way of the Pyg Track rising over 2,300 ft from the Pen-y-Pass below. Though they conjure up some nightmarish images, damp and humid are actually perfect testing conditions for GORE-TEX®, as traditionally these are the conditions in which the membrane has struggled in terms of breathability. We sent off at a brisk pace and on the way up wearing a heavy-duty synthetic baselayer underneath, at no point did I feel too warm. Gore chose to define comfort as being “an absence of discomfort” and that makes sense to me. At the pace we were moving, which seemed to impress our guide, at no point did I feel noticeably warm, cold or sweaty, which is always a good sign.
Following a hearty round of back patting, and a swift descent I took the time to reflect on my own personal dryness upon reaching Plas y Brenin. My legs and boots were soaked, as a clever man who often makes stupid choices, I had neglected to wear overtrousers, instead operating on the principle that with the correct thermal underwear I could get wet but stay warm. I proved this point with aplomb, but quickly regretted it when heading back to the Lake District with waterlogged boots and pants in the back of the car. In comparison my torso was mostly very dry, eerily dry given the full on morning of rain exposure I’d subjected it to. There was the natural guttering of water where I had elected to walk up hill with my hood down and zip slightly agape, but otherwise I was dry and very comfortable. This can leave me with only one conclusion, GORE-TEX® Pro does what it promises, and it does it very well indeed.
GearWeAre will be getting some GORE-TEX Pro garments in as soon as they are available for real-world testing from one of Gore’s brand partners.
*For those who don’t know Plas y Brenin is the UK’s ‘National Mountain Sports Centre’, which has been in operation since 1996 with an aim to “provide the widest range of outdoor opportunities offering the best in value”. In simple terms this is the probably the best place to come if you are looking to learn new outdoor skills, or develop your existing ones under the tutelage of some highly experienced instructors. I was interested to learn that Plas y Brenin work in partnership with GORE-TEX® to test and develop all their new products, Pro included.