If you spend enough time playing in snow, ice or rain, you likely own something made with Gore-Tex. You might even remember the big upgrade to your first “piece of Gore.” Mine was in 1997, to a rare Gore-Tex branded jacket, which, to this day, is still fairly waterproof.
As my needs for waterproof-breathable outer layers grew more consistent and my application more rough, the Gore-Tex offerings evolved as well. To answer more demanding use, Gore-Tex introduced Gore-Tex Pro in 2007, updating it in 2013. It fit alongside other technical advances from C-knit (a soft backing Gore-Tex fabric), to Gore-Tex Surround (a 360 breathable tech used in footwear), which were great for specialized manufacturers, but a bit confusing for average consumers. To simplify for 2020, Gore-Tex will be using two names: Gore-Tex Pro, the umbrella for three new techs; and Gore-Tex, the umbrella that includes others such as Gore-Tex Paclite, Gore-Tex Active 3-Layer, and Gore-Tex ShakeDry.
Those three new Gore-Tex Pro technologies? Consider them three flavors, so to speak, named on-the-nose for their performance attributes: Most Rugged, Most Breathable and Stretch. I got a chance to test the new Pro in my backyard during Gore-Tex’s October unveiling in Banff National Park. Since it was shoulder season, it was anyone’s guess what the weather would hold. Fortunately, in typical fickle fashion, the weather was all over the place, providing a clear sense of what the new Gore-Tex Pro is all about.
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First off, the “Most Rugged” tech is super durable. The face fabric has a rating of 70- to 200-denier and has a three-layer system using a new membrane technology along with a robust MicroGridTM solution-dyed backer. In lay terms, that means a really strong jacket, pre-dyed to reduce environmental impact (using less water and CO2 emission). I personally have never had a serious problem with any of my older Gore-Tex Pro pieces (besides a few holes with errant crampons), so I didn’t feel like there was a need to upgrade. But hey, I’m all for a stronger material (made with a cleaner, more environmentally sensitive process) that will last longer (meaning less waste overall).
The question of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in DWR coating did come up, and Gore-Tex’s response was pretty simple. Half of its line is already free of PFCs, but for the more durable Gore-Tex products. For those, it hasn’t been able to make a satisfactory DWR that can perform as well, and last as long, as Gore-Tex Pro. The idea is that one jacket with a lifespan of 10 years is better for the world than two jackets with the lifespan of five years. Triaging isn’t always the best answer, but I don’t think athletes like Greg Hill and climbing icon Stefan Glowacz would be hanging around if there was a better answer. Both are both staunch environmental advocates: Hill has completely changed his pro-skier life to reduce his carbon footprint, and Glowacz is now doing all his expeditions on manpower. Gore-Tex has set a plan to be PFC free by 2023, but they also have made other commitments, like having all fabric plants be ISO 14001 certified. More on that to come.
Back to the Gore-Tex Pro series, I got to test the Stretch, which is really, really stretchy. And with a 40-denier face textile, it is also really, really tough. Unlike a stretched-out rubber band, comprised at the most stretched point, Gore-Tex Pro’s stretch fabric doesn’t lose its integrity when pulled out. It achieved this by using a new high-strength membrane and again, that durable Micro GridTM backer. The Stretch has a lot of give. When applied to the right areas in a garment (like the back panel), it makes movement easy and unconstrained.
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Last is the Most Breathable tech in the series. This tech has a 30-denier face textile – in order to provide that breathability, they scaled down the “ruggedness.” If you have ever been fully soaked on the inside from your sweat, but had a shell soaked on the outside from wet, heavy snow, you’ll likely agree that this tech is key. So many “breathable” waterproof fabrics claim to offer that magic combo, but fall short. This Most Breathable didn’t disappoint – with the damp weather of the Continental Divide, everyone left their jacket and didn’t get wet, inside or out.
I think the best part about Gore-Tex Pro is that manufacturers can use all three technologies in one jacket. I look forward to innovative designs incorporating the different techs of the new Gore-Tex Pro in 2020, like a back panel of stretch, most rugged in the shoulders and arms, from brands like Arc’teryx and Norrøna.
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