When it comes to waterproof jackets and outerwear, the range of options on the market today is staggering. Which means that choosing the right option for you can be tricky. But one brand is undoubtedly better known than any other for waterproof protection: Gore-Tex.
It is quite simply the biggest name in the game, with enviable brand recognition that outstrips even the biggest gear manufacturers. Go into any outdoor store on the planet and you’ll spot Gore’s black diamond-shaped swing-tags affixed to rows of waterproof jackets.
Of course, there are many rival waterproof-breathable technologies out there. Popular Gore-Tex alternatives that you might find being used in your waterproof jacket include Pertex Shield, eVent, OutDry, Dermizax and Polartec NeoShell.
That’s not to mention similar technologies developed in-house by the biggest gear brands, like Mountain Equipment’s DriLite, Patagonia’s H2No, Columbia’s Omni-Tech, Marmot’s MemBrain, Outdoor Research’s Ascentshell and, most recently, The North Face’s Futurelight.
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Basically, however, all these systems are based on the concept – originated by Gore-Tex – of a waterproof-breathable membrane; a stretched or spun sheet of thin, microporous material that resists liquid water while allowing water vapour to pass through. This is then laminated to a fabric, effectively creating a waterproof but breathable barrier.
According to British brand Páramo, however, there is another way. Unlike the vast majority of brands, their waterproof jackets do not utilise a waterproof-breathable membrane.
Instead, they have developed an alternative system called Nikwax Analogy, which consists of a water-repellent face fabric backed with a unique ‘pump liner’. As well as being used in all Páramo’s waterproof jackets, the Nikwax Analogy system has been adopted by a couple of independent British brands, namely Hilltrek and Cioch.
All about Gore-Tex
Since Gore-Tex’s introduction to the outdoor market back in 1977, the company has radically refined and developed the core technology. Today, various versions of Gore-Tex are available in different applications, each optimised for alternative types of activity. Currently, the range for waterproof outdoor clothing consists of the following:
- Gore-Tex – now branded as ‘Performance Shell’. This is the most versatile of the brand’s offerings, used in casual clothing and sportswear as well as in outdoor kit. It offers a good balance of weight, durability and waterproof-breathable performance.
- Gore-Tex Pro – built for toughness and durability as well as maximum protection and breathability, developed for serious outdoor users. Found in top-end mountain jackets, adding significantly to performance and price tag.
- Gore-Tex Paclite – optimised for low weight and bulk to ensure garments are lightweight and packable. The most affordable Gore-Tex jackets are usually Paclite.
- Gore-Tex Paclite Plus – a relatively recent addition to the range that is similarly lightweight yet robust and boasts improved breathability.
- Gore-Tex Active – built to prioritise breathability and weight over durability for highly aerobic, ‘done in a day’ activities.
- Gore-Tex Shakedry – the lightest and most breathable fabric, with a ‘persistent beading surface’ and effectively no outer face. This makes it less resistant to abrasion, but great for activities like trail running and cycling.
You’ll find various examples of these technologies in 2-layer, 2.5-layer and 3-layer waterproof jackets. In a 2-layer construction, the membrane is bonded to the outer fabric only. A fabric or mesh liner is then usually needed to protect the membrane (though in the latest 2-layer Paclite Plus jackets, Gore say that a new abrasion-resistant treatment of the inner makes a separate lining unnecessary).
A 2.5-layer jacket has a raised or patterned inner surface (sometimes called a scrim or even a knit) to protect the membrane and ensure breathable performance without adding the additional weight of a drop liner. Gore-Tex Pro and Gore-Tex Active jackets use a 3-layer construction, which bonds the Gore-Tex membrane to both the outer fabric and an inner backer. This cuts weight and improves durability.
What this all means is that ‘Gore-Tex’ isn’t just Gore-Tex. That’s why it’s important to pick the right technology for your intended use. In addition, to a certain extent Gore-Tex is only as good as the jacket it is used in. A jacket’s features, fit, fabrics and a host of other factors all come into play.
That’s because Gore-Tex is an ‘ingredient brand’. Almost any manufacturer can apply to use Gore-Tex technology in their gear – although in order to be granted a licence, they must abide by very strict manufacturing guidelines and quality control methods. Gore are notoriously exacting about this, and they have to be – after all, their tagline is that Gore-Tex is ‘guaranteed to keep you dry’.
And that’s not just marketing spiel, it’s an unconditional lifetime guarantee. If you are not completely satisfied with the waterproofness or breathability of your Gore-Tex product, then Gore-Tex will repair it, replace it, or refund you, regardless of who actually makes the product. Which is good to know.
So, on to the underdog: Nikwax Analogy. It was developed by Nick Brown, founder of both Páramo and Nikwax, in the early 1990s. In terms of construction, it utilises a 2-layer approach that consists of a face fabric – usually ripstop polyester, treated with a DWR that deflects wind and rain – backed with a unique ‘pump liner’.
The liner is not bonded to the face fabric, creating an air gap between the two materials that provides insulation. The pump liner is not only designed to allow moisture vapour to pass through, as with Gore-Tex, but also to actively transport liquid water – like sweat – away from the body.
The brand calls this clever fabric technology ‘directionality’ and likens it to the way that an animal’s fur works – shedding water and providing insulation.
Premium Gore-Tex jackets can cost northwards of $600/£500 (for example the Alpha SV, Alpha AR and Beta AR jackets from Arc’teryx), which is serious money for a bit of outdoor kit. Entry-level Gore-Tex jackets, which will usually use Paclite technology (light and packable but not as high performing in terms of outright waterproofing or breathability as standard Gore-Tex or Pro shells), range from about $120/£100 to $180/£150.
Shop around, however, and you can often get a bargain, particularly on end-of-season lines. The ubiquity of Gore-Tex means that there are almost always jackets on sale somewhere, particularly if you hunt around online and/or visit specialist outdoor shops.
Páramo waterproofs aren’t cheap either – their classic hillwalker’s jacket, the Alta III, retails at £300/€390, and the Velez Adventure Smock is £245/€300. If you’re keen to try the Nikwax Analogy system but are on a budget, it’s worth knowing that Páramo has its own official seconds store on eBay.
The brand also has good relationships with a wide range of independent outdoor shops across the UK and beyond, which often offer discounts.
As an ingredient brand, it’s impossible to assess the design of a Gore-Tex jacket. Each will be unique, and the overall fit, features, fabrics and functionality will depend on the manufacturer, not the membrane.
It is true, however, that because of the nature of Gore-Tex, almost all jackets will have a slight rustle to them, which ranges from a soft swish (in say, a Paclite jacket with a polyester face fabric) to a pronounced crinkle that some liken to the sound of a crisp packet (a common criticism of Gore-Tex Pro jackets with a heavyweight face fabric).
Whether this bothers you or not is very much a personal preference – in the most arduous conditions, it’s unlikely you’d even hear the noise of your jacket – and the stiffness of a fabric also means it is less likely to buckle in the wind, which can be a positive. Indeed, all Gore-Tex waterproof shells are totally windproof.
When it comes to Nikwax Analogy, there is far less garment choice. That means the vast majority of users will opt for a Páramo jacket. For many years, Páramo clothing was very much a Marmite thing: you either loved it or you hated it.
It’s fair to say that previous generations of jackets and other clothing were not as tailored as those of other brands, and some users criticised the fit for being a little baggy. In recent years, however, the cut and patterning of Páramo jackets has improved considerably, as have the colourways on offer – though they’re still distinctive compared to other brands.
The construction of Páramo jackets means they are softer and quieter than almost all membrane-based shells, which perhaps explains why they are so popular with outdoor users like nature photographers and birdwatchers.
In addition, the Nikwax Analogy system is arguably more suited to harsh use in the field. Because it's not based on the principle of a watertight barrier, it means that a small rip or tear will not massively compromise your waterproof protection. Indeed, the face fabric of a Páramo jacket can be punctured with a needle and the pump liner will continue to work as it should.
On the other hand, the Nikwax Analogy system uses a polyester face fabric, treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating. For its weight, polyester is a weaker fibre than nylon, which is why the latter is often preferred, often in heavy 70- or 80-denier weights, by most brands for their toughest winter climbing and mountaineering jackets.
In terms of outright abrasion resistance, a Gore-Tex Pro shell will probably win out over a Nikwax Analogy jacket, though this is down to the face fabric, not the waterproof technology.
Let’s break it down simply: when it comes to keeping you protected on the hill, both systems work. Gore-Tex is a tried and tested technology that is used by millions of outdoor users. Gore-Tex jackets have kitted out countless adventurers and explorers.
And though it doesn’t have quite the same heritage in terms of age and experience, Nikwax Analogy is similarly proven – Páramo gear has outfitted mountain rescue teams and polar researchers alike throughout the last 25 years or so.
Both systems rely on the use of an external durable water repellent (DWR) treatment on the face fabric to work effectively. This is what causes rain to bead on the outside of your jacket and stops the fabric from becoming waterlogged or ‘wetting out’. In the case of Gore-Tex, that allows the membrane to continue to breathe.
Nikwax’s water-based DWR treatment is widely acknowledged to be one of the best around, and contains no nasty chemicals either. In fact, Nikwax aftercare products are commonly used to reproof may outdoor users’ waterproof jackets at home, including Gore-Tex shells.
In terms of outright longevity, we’ve known walkers to still be wearing and using Páramo jackets that are ten years older or more. Provided they are cleaned and reproofed fairly regularly, ideally with Nikwax aftercare products, Páramo say that performance should never degrade.
There’s no reason that Gore-Tex jackets, if cared for properly, shouldn’t last as long – although examples of membrane-cased shells that still work as well as they did when new three or more years down the line seem to be rarer. Remember, however, that Gore’s lifetime guarantee should apply to any Gore-Tex product – if it fails, the brand promises to repair or replace it.
Increasingly, consumers are becoming conscious of the environmental cost of many products, particularly in the outdoor industry. As a result, the eco credentials of brands and their supply chains are coming under scrutiny. But how green is Gore-Tex?
In terms of raw materials, Gore-Tex is a synthetic polymer, expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE). PTFE is chemically inert and non-toxic at all-but extreme temperatures, but the synthetic chemical used in its production – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – is more of an issue. PFOAs are part of a family of compounds called PFCs (perfluorinated compounds), which have been shown to be extremely persistent chemicals, both in the environment and in human tissue.
Criticism of PFCs has meant that most big outdoor brands have now committed to phasing them out. Gore’s goals is to eliminate all ‘PFCs of Environmental Concern (PFCEC)’ by 2023.
In 2018, Gore introduced fabrics with PFC-free DWR treatments, which are now used by most big outdoor manufacturers. Many Gore-Tex jackets are also Bluesign approved, meeting a common standard for sustainable textile production. Gore is also a founding member of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corps, and the company has set absolute carbon reduction targets across its operations.
Páramo and Nikwax are both widely acknowledged to be industry leaders in terms of both sustainability and ethical manufacturing. Nikwax has never used PFCs in waterproofing products, and is outspoken about fluorocarbon pollution. The brand maintains a public list of the chemicals it excludes from its formulations.
The company is also one of the few organisations – and the only one in the outdoor industry – that is completely carbon neutral. It has offset lifetime emissions by donating to the World Land Trust’s Carbon Balanced Programme, which helps to regenerate damaged areas of habitat and prevent further deforestation by extending a range of reserves throughout Ecuador. They also make a matching donation to the WLT Action Fund, to make land purchases where ecosystems are under imminent threat.
In terms of manufacturing, the vast majority of Nikwax products are made in the UK, while much of Páramo’s garment lines are produced via a longstanding ethical manufacturing partnership with the Miquelina Foundation in Colombia, which provides employment for vulnerable women and help for their families.
As green outdoor brands go, there are few that can compare to either Páramo or Nikwax – though the company is honest and open about the fact that it can always be better.
Weight and pack size
The nature of Nikwax Analogy means that comparable jackets are almost always heavier and bulkier than a Gore-Tex shell. That’s because Analogy relies on a two-layer fabric construction. In the early days of Gore-Tex, when the delicate membrane of a waterproof jacket needed to be protected with a mesh or fabric drop liner, the differences were negligible.
As Gore’s technologies have advanced, however, new backers and liners have eliminated the need for a liner. Since a Gore-Tex membrane is about 0.01mm thick, even if bonded to a heavyweight face fabric with an additional protective liner or backer it can be made in a much lighter and more packable construction.
What that means is that if you’re looking for a light and packable ‘just in case’ jacket, you might be better served by a Gore-Tex jacket. Then again, in those instances, your best option might actually be a softshell, like Páramo’s windproof jackets.
In cold and consistently wet conditions, like a Scottish winter, Nikwax Analogy is a great choice as part of a layering system. A Páramo waterproof jacket will offer more insulation than a Gore-Tex waterproof shell, though it is also likely to be a little heavier.
On the other hand, if you tend to run hot, then a Gore-Tex shell might feel lighter and cooler, especially if working hard (though again, Analogy will be better at moving sweat away from your baselayer than Gore-Tex).
When it comes to deciding which is ‘better’, ultimately all you can do is weigh up and pros and cons, then decide which are more important for you.
- Most Gore-Tex jackets are much lighter than those using the Nikwax Analogy system, particularly those that use Gore-Tex Paclite, Paclite Plus or Active.
- Almost unlimited choice in terms of which jacket and brand to buy, as Gore-Tex is widely adopted and used throughout the outdoor industry.
- Gore-Tex forms a windproof as well as a waterproof barrier.
- Gore-Tex can only move moisture vapour, so liquid moisture can still build up inside the jacket – which is why your shell sometimes feels slick inside.
Nikwax Analogy Pros
- Nikwax Analogy is softer and quieter (no rustle) than most Gore-Tex shells.
- Nikwax Analogy is more breathable than Gore-Tex, since it can move more moisture more quickly.
- Nikwax Analogy is essentially windproof as well as waterproof.
- Páramo and Nikwax are both acknowledged industry leaders in terms of both. sustainability and ethical manufacturing. Gore’s supply chain is much harder to track. due to the company’s sheer size and the fact that it is primarily an ingredient brand, i.e. Gore-Tex is just a component in the product of hundreds of other companies.
Nikwax Analogy Cons
- Limited choice when it comes to brands who use the technology (Páramo, Hilltrek and Cioch).
- Since Nikwax Analogy jackets are heavier and thicker, they also tend to be warmer, which is a disadvantage in warm weather (although, on the flipside, it’s a bonus in cold conditions).
- Nikwax Analogy is not a waterproof barrier, so under pressure it is not technically waterproof. Basically, if you sit on damp ground or lean against wet rock, water may seep through. Similarly, under pack straps there can be a similar effect. On the other hand, it wicks and dries very quickly.
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