Waterproof-breathable materials like Gore-Tex sound great in theory. But the marketing hype obscures the damp realities of it all, especially the inevitable loss of a jacket’s durable water repellency, or DWR.
DWR is the chemical treatment applied to a fabric that causes water to bead up and roll off. It is essential for maintaining a garment’s breathability (i.e., the ability of the fabric to allow your sweat vapors to pass through from the inside out.) But DWR wears off with use, reducing the time it takes for your jacket to become soaked and completely lose its breathability (a condition known as “wetting out”).
But what if you eliminated the need for DWR in the first place? What if the material itself caused water to bead up and roll off indefinitely, maintaining the jacket’s breathability over the long-term?
That’s the premise of Gore-Tex Active, the latest material from W.L. Gore & Associates. While it’s hyped (of course) as being the latest, greatest material ever—Lighter! More breathable!—the more intriguing aspect is its “permanent beading surface” that obviates the need for a DWR coating in the first place.
Central to that premise is another unusual aspect of Gore-Tex Active. Unlike other Gore-Tex membranes, which must be protected underneath an outer layer of fabric, the Gore-Tex Active membrane can actually be used directly as the outer, or face, material on the jacket. This saves weight and increases breathability by eliminating a layer of fabric. It also puts the Gore-Tex material directly in contact with the elements.
Here’s the kicker. While the exact details are under proprietary wrap, Gore-Tex Active features a permanent beading surface that is somehow intrinsic to the physical and/or chemical construction of the membrane itself. That is, it should (in theory) cause water to bead up and roll off indefinitely without ever needing a DWR treatment.
It’s a fascinating development. In my own experience, a jacket’s DWR lasts for only a few months of regular use before it begins to wear off. And while you can use after-market treatments to reapply DWR, it fades pretty quickly. Given that the fabric in a quality jacket will last for years, the short-lived nature of DWR treatments is a significant drawback.
Gore-Tex Active was released at the end of 2015 and has already begun to appear in a handful of products. One of its more notable uses is in The North Face Hyperair GTX Jacket ($249), an ultralight, 7- to 8-ounce garment that was one of the first Gore-Tex Active products to market.
The initial water repellency of the jacket looks good, judging by this review from the folks at Gear Junkie. But durability appears to be a concern, at least with this jacket, with little tolerance for abrasion before tearing. Time will also tell whether this latest, greatest material actually maintains its water repellency over the months and years to come.
I, for one, will be watching this one closely.