Tech Talk: Gore-Tex redefines waterproof fabric with soft touch
Waterproof is wonderful, but it can be suffocating for skin trying to release sweat and stay comfortable during outdoor adventuring. In an effort to overcome those limitations, Gore-Tex has created a new laminate fabric that—to hit the market this fall—that combines waterproof protection with a softer feel and breathability for a new kind of outdoor jacket. In addition, the company has developed a new footwear laminate to take on the waterproof-breathability question too.
What is it?
Don’t be put off by the rather unwieldy name: Gore-Tex fabric with C-Knit Backer Technology. What that mouthful tries to convey is that this new three-layer laminate, available for retail in fall/winter 2015/2016, takes the durability and protection of a waterproof layer and pairs it with the look and feel of a soft fabric to allow wearers to get more varied use from a breathable jacket.
After Gore-Tex launched efforts in 2011 and 2013 that focused on active, extended adventures, the company “felt the next step was to develop a new three-layer innovation,” Christian Mayer, W.L. Gore & Associates mountainsports product specialist/manager, tells Edge’s Tech Talk. “Consumers are looking for, seeking and expecting softer, lighter-weight and more breathable [products].”
Along with the jacket technology, Gore-Tex has created what it touts as the first fully waterproof hiking shoe with all-around breathability, the Gore-Tex Surround, coming in spring 2015.
How does it work?
Three layers with three distinct purposes. A nylon outer fabric allows for a jacket with a softer feel, while the Gore-Tex membrane made of PU-coated ePTFE helps with waterproofing. The new Core C-Knit Technology backs the product with a completely new technology. Using a densely knitted Polyamide (a repeating pattern) yarn, “special circular knit construction” creates a lightweight, soft and breathable backing.
The softer laminate also helps the garment drape more efficiently, reducing distraction from a rigid jacket.
On the shoe, the new Surround laminate gets integrated into the upper to surround the foot on all sides. A special construction under the foot allows sweat to escape into the open structure and then move out of the shoe through ventilation outlets on the sides.
Think of a chain link fence, through which marbles can pass, but basketballs cannot. The breathable yet waterproof solutions work similarly, with the new membrane having more than nine billion pores per square inch, according to Gore-Text outdoor footwear global product specialist Marc Peikert. The pores are 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, making the membrane totally waterproof, but they are 700 times larger than a water vapor molecule, which means perspiration passes right through.
Why is it significant?
The breathability factor is paramount. Gore-Tex was really pushing to find a product that allowed free movement in the fabric and came out lighter, all while maintaining waterproof ability. The new C-Knit technology also added the heightened breathability.
“Our biggest challenge was to deliver [a] similar level of durability and uncompromised waterproofness while ... providing all the benefits and improvements on things like softness, breathability and weight,” Mayer says.
With outdoor adventurers testing products for up to a year in extreme conditions, Gore-Tex was able to hone in on the fabric properties it needed for final manufacturing.
With one-third of all the sweat glands on a person’s foot located on the sole, moving sweat from the foot faster keeps one comfortable and reduces blisters. Previously, hiking gear didn’t allow for breathability below the foot, but the new ePTFE layer bonds to an outer textile or lining for a new style of laminate.
What are the implications in the world of outdoor adventure?
Combining these properties allows companies to put the Gore-Tex materials into a varied line of clothing, from hiking and trekking to freeride skiing. The nylon face gives abrasion resistance and ups the tear strength, allowing Gore-Tex products to “target the enthusiastic and ambitious outdoor end users with a higher need for performance versus a recreational consumer.”
What are the downsides?
With new technologies come new processes. Both products took extensive testing and required changes to the way products were manufactured, which can slow down the time from concept to finished product.
Who’s using it already?
The new three-layer laminate has a number of “manufacturing partners” already on board, including big names such as The North Face, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, Burton, Mammut, Volcum and Marmot.
For the Surround technology, 15 footwear brands have it in their new lines, including Viking, Alfa, Dolomite, Mammut and Salewa.
What’s the future of it going forward?
The special C-Knit technology should continue moving into new end-use activities, Mayer says.
Everyone in the outdoor world wants waterproof material. But they don’t want to skimp on breathability and comfort, so expect a renewed and focused effort on breathing through the rain.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.