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What Is Gore-Tex and How Does It Work?

We explore the ins and outs of one of the most popular names in the outdoors.

man hiking up hill wearing gore tex jacket
Gore-Tex

Patagonia. Mountain Hardwear. Arc'teryx. Vasque. Lowa. Adidas. Salomon.

What do all of these brands have in common? They all use Gore-Tex, a name as ubiquitous and well-known in the outdoors community as the National Park Service, Leave No Trace or Smokey the Bear.

If you've shopped for outdoor gear, you've seen the black, diamond-shaped tag hanging from a jacket, shoe or pant: Gore-Tex is easy to find and yet hard to define.

Anyone familiar with it knows what Gore-Tex does — with it, apparel and footwear become wind-proof, waterproof and breathable. But how does the popular technology work, and in what ways can it be applied?

The History of Gore-Tex

In 1959, Bill and Genevieve Gore founded their eponymous company in the basement of their Delaware home. Bill had discovered a what he thought was huge potential in the synthetic polymer PTFE (polymer polytetrafluoroethylene), and so he quit his job to invest in his discovery.

bill and genevieve gore
Bill and Genevieve Gore
Gore-Tex

Ten years later, in 1969, their son Bob made the discovery that led to the Gore-Tex membrane: he stretched the PTFE rapidly, which resulted in expanded PTFE (e-PTFE for short). The stretching had created a microporous material with a unique set of characteristics. Seven years later, Gore-Tex came on to the market.

How Does Gore-Tex Work?

There are nine billion pores on every square inch of the Gore-Tex membrane, and each of these pores is 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet. The volume and size of the pores is the secret to Gore-Tex's waterproofing abilities: water is too large to permeate the membrane. The same principle applies to the wind-proofing properties of the fabric — the wind can't get through the permeable membrane.

The three tenants of Gore-Tex are that is it is wind-proof, waterproof and breathable. So how does a membrane with billions upon billions of tiny pores maintain breathability? Each of the pores is 700 times bigger than a water vapor molecule, which is about 0.27 of a nanometer across. Human sweat is small enough that when we start to perspire, the water vapor can move through the membrane, maintaining breathability and comfort.

The breathability of Gore-Tex is what makes it so unique. Anyone who has worn a waterproof and wind-proof jacket without the tech will be familiar with the clammy and slick feeling of trapped sweat that can't escape.

goretex testing
Gore-Tex puts its materials through stringent and intense testing, meant to mimic the harshness of real-life elements.
Gore-Tex

Once the membrane is created, it's bonded to outer textiles and linings, which creates the Gore-Tex laminate. This laminate is licensed by brands, but before a brand can bring a product to market using the material, Gore-Tex itself tests the product in question to make sure it lives up to the standards the company sets.

How Is Gore-Tex Used?

You can find Gore-Tex on jackets, pants, boots, gloves and more — essentially, any product that can be worn in the outdoors and needs water and wind protection.

Other brands have created their own membranes, like The North Face's FutureLight, but as of now, none have the name recognition or reputation of Gore-Tex.

Are There Different Types of Gore-Tex?

Today, there are multiple versions of the Gore-Tex membrane. Since 1959, the material has gone through many iterations and applications, resulting in a selection of finely-tuned technologies, each with its own use case. Here are a few of the most popular versions:

Infinium Windstopper

Applied most popularly to lifestyle apparel, this technology works best for aerobic activities like biking and running. It's Gore's only membrane that is not fully waterproof, however, it still provides a dependable barrier to vapor.

Infinium Windstopper's membrane uses billions of pores that are 900 times larger than water molecules, paired with a DWR treatment that helps minimize water accumulation.

GORE-TEX INFINIUM™ WINDSTOPPER® PRO Men's Shell Jacket
salomon.com
$126.00

Pro Technology

This is the highest standard for extreme weather protection and includes three core technologies: Gore-Tex Pro Most Durable, Pro Most Breathable and Pro Most Rugged. These technologies can be paired in different ways, depending on the activity and needs of the wearer.

Alpha SV Jacket Men's
'arc''teryx' arcteryx.com
$799.00

Paclite

Made for mountaineering, hiking and trekking, Paclite items are — can you guess it? — packable and lightweight. As with the other Gore-Tex membranes, Paclite is wind- and waterproof, and it's highly breathable.

This technology uses a two-layer (unlined) construction; the Gore-Tex membrane is bonded directly to an abrasion-resistant outer membrane, which eliminates the need for a separate lining, resulting in the minimal and packable properties of this tech.

Men's Exposure/2™ Gore-Tex Paclite Jacket
mountainhardwear.com
$200.00

Invisible Fit Footwear

When it comes to footwear, adding an extra layer anywhere can affect fit and, therefore, comfort and performance. This technology creates waterproof, breathable shoes by directly bonding the membrane to footwear uppers.

The membrane is integrated with the shoe's upper materials from the beginning of manufacturing, rather than added on as separate layer down the line. It maintains the construction and weight of the shoe, while still providing the benefits of Gore protection.

Men's Nova 2 GORE-TEX®
Details merrell.com
$120.00

Surround

More extreme than Invisible Fit, this technology is meant for outdoor pursuits where you need high breathability. This technology channels heat and moisture and allows for breathability throughout the entire shoe — even the sole.

NUCLEO HIGH II GTX WIDE
la sportiva sportiva.com
$209.00

What's Next for Gore-Tex?

Announced in the fall of 2021, Gore-Tex plans to release its most innovative development in 40 years: a new material platform called ePE. The expanded Polyethylene membrane will be available in consumer products this fall, and it leverages a high strength-to-weight ratio that results in products that are incredibly lightweight, while also being highly durable.

The new material platform will continue Gore-Tex's mission of eliminating PFCs of Environmental Concern, and thanks to a lower membrane mass, results in a lower carbon footprint. We haven't seen any products come to market with this tech yet, but come this fall, we can guess we're going to be hearing a lot about ePE.

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