In the outdoor industry, Gore-Tex is as ubiquitous a term as Vibram soles and Polartec fleece linings. It’s found in almost every piece of kit you can think of: hiking boots, waterproof jackets, ski gloves and tents. But what is Gore-Tex exactly, and what’s so special about it? In this article, we explain why this giant in the outdoor industry became a leading fabric for anyone who wants to recreate outdoors in all conditions.
What is Gore-Tex?
Rather than being a brand of outdoor gear, Gore-Tex is a breathable, waterproof fabric membrane. Made from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), better known by its trademark name Teflon, the outer layer of the fabric is coated with Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment which prevents the fabric from wetting out, as this would negate the breathability of the garment.
Gore-Tex was invented in 1969 by an American businessman and chemical engineer named Wilbert Gore, along with his son Bob Gore. The pair already had a business using PTFE in electronic ribbon cables for computers and the story goes that Bob discovered extended PTFE by accident when he stretched out the material rapidly instead of slowly. This caused the material to fill up with air which lends it its breathable quality. Though there are other entities that have challenged the Gores’ claim to the invention, they were the first to patent the fabric.
By the mid-1970s, Gore-Tex was starting to show up in rainwear, where it replaced the typical non-breathable inner polyurethane layer with a thin, breathable membrane that is bonded to the outer fabric. In 1981, the astronauts on NASA’s first space shuttle landing on the moon wore spacesuits made with Gore-Tex fabric and today, they’ve branched out with other fabrics such as Gore-Tex Pro, Shakedry and Infinium. Dozens of top outdoor brands use Gore-Tex to manufacture their designs.
What’s so special about Gore-Tex?
Gore-Tex repels liquid such as rain, but still allows for liquid vapor to pass through. This means that if you break a sweat while wearing a Gore-Tex garment, the moisture will be able to leave, so you don’t end up clammy. While that may not be necessary in a raincoat that you throw on to walk to the bus stop, it’s essential for recreating outdoors where you’re likely to heat up. Furthermore, Gore-Tex is windproof and very durable, but as might have already guessed, its performance is really only as good as the garment it’s used in.
Is Gore-Tex 100% waterproof?
While some Gore-Tex fabrics like Infinium are not fully waterproof, original Gore-Tex products are 100% waterproof and will come with a tag reading “Guaranteed to keep you dry.” To further reinforce the waterproofing of gear using their fabric, the company insists that all brands use taped seams to ensure no leaking. However, the DWR does wear off with time, washing and use, which reduces the effectiveness of garment, but this can easily be resolved with our guides on restoring your waterproof gear:
What is the difference between waterproof and Gore-Tex?
Gore-Tex is waterproof, but not all waterproof clothing is constructed using Gore-Tex fabrics. A simple waterproof garment may have two layers that repel liquid moisture, but don’t provide any breathability for vapor, so if you’re sweating a lot, you don’t actually stay dry. However, Gore-Tex is not the only option when it comes to breathable, waterproof fabrics – check out six Gore-Tex alternatives that provide the same or similar function.
Is Gore-Tex harmful?
As consumers of the outdoor industry become increasingly concerned about our impact on the planet, Gore-Tex has attracted a great deal of attention for its use of a group of chemicals called perfluorochemicals which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are a concern because they do not break down and therefore build up in our landfills, water sources and even in our bodies. Though there is not yet conclusive evidence that these chemicals are harmful to human health, Gore-Tex has committed to phasing these chemicals out of their production to become more environmentally friendly. Gore’s goal 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.
As always, the best way to reduce your impact on the environment while using Gore-Tex is to take good care of your gear and repair it instead of replacing it.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.