This past week, along with twenty or so other media from across the globe, I was fortunate to join members of the Gore-Tex design, testing, and athlete team for an exclusive opportunity to learn about and test the latest version of Gore-Tex Pro fabrics.
Gore-Tex has been around for thirty years now, and over these past decades the fabrics and membranes have undergone numerous improvements. I still remember my first Gore-Tex jacket, a massively over-built MEC piece bought almost 18 years ago, which I used on a several-month long backpacking trip around Europe. It was definitely waterproof, though after getting caught in a few humidity-laden mid-summer downpours in the Tatras of Poland and Slovakia I questioned the ‘breathable’ aspect.
But that was 20 years ago and technology has come a long way since. I now use various iterations of Gore-Tex on a regular basis as my primary outside layer and find them breathable enough even for strenuous climbing — and they’re most definitely 100% waterproof.
Now, for 2020, Gore-Tex is pushing the usability of their fabrics even further with several versions of their top-of-the-line Pro fabrics, which were introduced as a stand-alone designation in 2007 (alongside Active, Paclite and Shakedry). Not satisfied with being ‘Rugged’ the new Pro fabrics are split into three categories dubbed ‘Most Rugged,’ ‘Most Breathable,’ and ‘Stretch.’ (I kid you not, these are the official designations — I wonder what they’ll call the next ‘Even More Ruggedest’ versions!)
For me the most notable of these is the ‘Stretch’ version which, as the name suggests, has built-in stretch without compromising Gore’s durability and ruggedness requirements. This Stretch version offers up to 20% stretch thanks to an innovative weaving process: basically the textile is over-woven so that it overlaps, allowing the fibres to separate when pulled but still maintain their full strength when compared to a non-over-woven fabric. We received sample jackets with the back panel made entirely of this Stretch version and it’s remarkable how much additional freedom of movement this affords.
However, because the textiles and the membrane are somewhat layered over each other, breathability suffers a bit. As a result, the Stretch version is the least breathable of the three new fabric technologies with a Ret of 13, as compared to Most Rugged which has a Ret of 9 and Most Breathable which has a Ret of 6. (Ret is a value of ‘resistance to evaporative heat loss’ and basically the lower the number the less resistance to moisture transfer which translates into better breathability.) For comparison, current Gore-Tex Pro is Ret 6, while current Gore-Tex Active is Ret 3.
Much of Gore-Tex’s breathability ratings are closely tied with the strength and durability of the outer face fabric. Keeping this in mind, Most Rugged employs a new membrane technology that is paired with face fabrics in the 70- to 200- denier range. By comparison, Most Breathable uses 30-denier face textiles to maximize breathability, while Stretch is a 40-denier fabric (but keep in mind it’s layered on top of itself somewhat).
All three technologies employ solution dying, which is a method wherein the fibres are colour-dyed before being woven into fabric. This method uses almost 50% less water and has the added benefit of being much more resistant to fading with time and usage.
Probably the coolest aspect of all this is that Gore’s customers, that is all the manufacturers and brands that actually design and create apparel, are free to mix and match any combination of these three technologies in one piece. What I’m really looking forward to is seeing what these brands come up with: I’d love to see a shell with Most Rugged over high-wear areas such as the shoulders, hips and sleeves; Most Breathable over the top of the hood, along the back, underneath the arms and side of torso; and stretch across the shoulders, side of the hood and hem. That, to me, would be the ultimate Gore-Tex jacket (assuming it also has a proper athletic alpine cut with a climbing-focused pocket configuration).
Given this early look at Gore’s latest fabric tech, don’t expect to see many garments using these fabrics until Spring 2020, with the full roll-out coming in Fall 2020.