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Is Gore-Tex still the #1 all-time best waterproof material you can buy? Or are other brands’ waterproofing just the same with a different name? Just wondering if it’s worth paying the extra money for the Gore-Tex brand? Thanks!
Submitted by – Robin – Oshkosh, WI
This is a big question with a long-winded answer. We just finished a pretty exhaustive test of the latest and greatest shell technologies (check it out in our online September 2011 issue) and yes, the new Gore-Tex Active Shell was awesome. So were the other four candidates: Polartec Neoshell, Mountain Hardwear Dry.Q Elite, and Columbia Omni-Dry. These 4 fabrics are also mighty spendy ($350-$480, and Gore-Tex is NOT the most expensive), so, let’s face it: they’re not for everyone.
Here’s my honest opinion: There are tons of jackets out there—some really well priced “house fabrics”—that will keep you dry, if that is your primary goal. But if you need a jacket that’s really breathable as well, that’s when it pays to fork out some extra money.
Waterproof/breathable shells fall into two general categories, each with pros and cons:
Membranes: These are very thin microporous films with holes too small to let water in, but large enough to let sweat vapor out. Membranes are laminated between a face fabric (often nylon) and a liner (to protect the membrane from wear and dirt). Pros: Membranes are more breathable and more durable. Con: They’re also considerably more expensive.
Coatings: This is when the inside face of a fabric is treated with a microporous coating that also blocks water from entering but let’s out a degree of sweat vapor. Pros: Coated shells are very light, packable, and affordable (often under $100). Cons: They are not as durable (coatings eventually wear off) or breathable as membranes.
Bottom line, Robin: Gore-Tex is great, but there are lots of other great membranes, too. Determine your budget and your needs, then decide which category of raingear you need. Check out all these shell reviews we’ve done in recent years.