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One of the most frequently-asked questions when it comes to waterproof jackets is the difference between all the Gore-Tex selections. As arguably the most popular choice of waterproofing for outdoors brands, the sheer choice of jackets available and individual technical details in each jacket is enough to confuse anyone. Combined with the price difference between each type of waterproofing and jacket, it can make the choice overwhelming. Fear not however, as I’ve included a basic guide to each type of Gore-Tex waterproofing to help you make the right choice for your outdoor excursion.
A quick note beforehand on the construction of Gore-Tex. The best way to describe it would be like a strip of plastic, pulled on all sides until it is ultra-thin. Holes are punched into the membrane, big enough to allow air molecules to pass through easily but small enough that water molecules can’t penetrate the other side. This is the most basic explanation of the science behind Gore-Tex, but if you want more detail about the science and testing behind each membrane take a look at their website at http://www.gore-tex.co.uk/remote/Satellite/content/outerwear-technologies#sec-outerwear-technologies.
Gore-Tex Paclite Shell: The thinnest of Gore-Tex’s waterproof membranes, this is also the most lightweight version. Recently Paclite has been phased off the shelves and replaced by Gore-Tex’s Active Shell membrane, but it is still possible to find Paclite in some stores and on the internet. This membrane is an ideal choice for those wanting a waterproof jacket for highly-aerobic sports, like running, because its thin properties enables it to wick sweat away quickly. Be aware however that because it is so lightweight and thin, it isn’t known for its durability. A number of times people have come to me complaining their Paclite jacket has started leaking, and it turns out they’ve been wearing it whilst carrying a twenty-kilo bag on their backs for six months. Repeated rubbing and strain on the membrane, particularly around areas like the shoulders, will cause the membrane to leak. Remember: Paclite membranes are intended for highly-aerobic sports only, not for any gear-carrying excursions. If that is what you choose to use it for, then fine, but understand it will not last very long.
Gore-Tex Active Shell: The membrane set to replace Paclite, the Active Shell is a popular choice amongst runners and mountain bikers for its breathability and being lightweight. Active Shell is thicker than the Paclite membrane, which gives it greater durability without losing any breathability. More importantly, the inner lining, Active Shell membrane, and outer layer are all fused together to form one layer, which stops the movement between the layers that would usually cause wear and tear. Much like the Paclite Shell, the Active membrane is not built for heavy equipment use like large rucksacks and will wear out prematurely if used for that purpose. However if you are looking for a jacket for highly aerobic sports like running, or activities that are finished in a day such as hiking with a day sack, then this jacket is an ideal choice.
Gore-Tex Performance Shell: Arguably Gore-Tex’s most popular waterproof membrane, the extra thickness of the Performance Shell lends it more durability than the aforementioned products, without compromising on breathability. As a result, this is a great choice for a range of sports, from multi-day treks to fishing as it doesn’t wear out through excessive strain from heavy rucksacks or gear. Many of the jackets that have the Performance Shell feature a 2-layer construction, meaning the waterproof membrane is fused to the outer shell layer of the jacket, and contains a separate inner lining to improve comfort. For those of you wanting a good waterproof jacket for travels, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, or multi-day hikes, this waterproofing is a good all-rounder.
Gore-Tex Pro Shell: It ain’t called Pro Shell for nothing; this waterproof membrane is meant for the most rugged of outdoors activities. Those of you looking for a jacket to scale mountains, climb up cliff faces with heavy gear, engage in snow sports, or even need a rugged waterproof for careers like tree surgery, should look at investing in this waterproof membrane. Like the Performance Shell, the Pro Shell membrane features a 2-layer construction, but its extra thickness offers more durability than any other Gore-Tex membrane. Be prepared to empty your bank account for one of these however, as the Pro Shell membrane is usually reserved for the most technical and expensive of waterproof jackets.
Gore-Tex Windstopper: Last but certainly not least, the Gore-Tex Windstopper membrane is slightly different to the previous ones. Instead of the thin plastic with holes business, imagine standing behind a small shrub in the desert. The wind blows, but the twisting branches of the shrub manage to divert the wind in different directions away from you. Essentially this is what the Windstopper membrane does: small pathways on the surface of the membrane divert the wind from reaching your skin, but still allows moisture to be wicked away from your body. The construction of the membrane also makes it water resistant as well. This membrane works particularly well in cold and windy conditions for highly aerobic activities, such as cycling, running, or snow sports. Although it is fairly durable keep in mind it was also constructed to be lightweight and packable, so don’t expect it to have the same durability as a Pro Shell.
Are there any other questions you might have about the different Gore-Tex membranes? Have you ever used any of these waterproofing technologies? Talk about your experiences below!