The launch of a new Gore-Tex membrane is a pretty big deal, and we were recently invited to attend a special event at Plas y Brenin, the National Mountain Centre in North Wales, to get an exclusive preview of the next generation of Gore-Tex Pro-shell, now to be called just ‘Pro’.
While the launch of Active Shell a couple of years back brought Gore’s lightweight/ultra-breathable option up to date (Paclite was the previous standard), the launch of the new Pro membrane will achieve the same in a different segment of the market – that of durably waterproof/breathable garments. The target audience is for mountaineers, ski mountaineers, mountain guides and anyone else who needs the hardest-wearing and most durably waterproof clothing available.
So there we were, gathered in the lecture room at PYB, along with a bunch of other industry hacks, eager to hear about the new membrane and how it has been improved. The presentation was shorter than I’d expected, mostly due to the fact that the actual construction of the membrane (see diagram of current and next-gen Pro membrane below) is a closely-guarded secret and so details couldn’t be divulged – instead, the benefits of the new Pro were outlined, and these make for impressive reading.
In a nutshell, the new membrane is a lot more breathable (up to 28%) and more durable too, and it’s clear that an incredible amount of testing has gone on (both in the lab, and in the real world) to achieve these improvements. They even have a machine that simulates your pack rubbing against your jacket, and the fabric is subjected to thousands of ‘pack rubs’ to check that its abrasion-resistance is up to the mark. One thing that was revealed about the new membrane is that it is now 100% ePTFE-based (the current one also used PU) which we guess is probably the biggest reason for the impressive hike in breathability. A new micro grid backer is being used on the inside too, for high internal abrasion resistance and low-snag factor (usefully, the grid pattern is an easy way to recognize the new Pro from old). The high criteria that Gore specify for face fabrics and garment design will ensure durability is increased, according to Gore.
The bods at Gore were keen to stress that as well as being more durable, increased comfort has been a driving factor in developing the new membrane. Unlike walkers for example, who have a more-or-less consistent activity level, mountaineers often have a cycle of intense activity (climbing, scrambling etc) followed by periods of inactivity (e.g at belays) and this places specific demands on the jacket – i.e. getting rid of moisture while you’re working hard so you don’t get cold when inactive. The increased breathability should certainly go a long way to help to make serious amountain users more comfortable. There’s also been a push to make the fabric less ‘rustly’ and softer, thereby making movement easier and less noisy. This was evident in the feel of the new Pro compared to the current, and it feels almost clammy… but in a good way. How much of this is due to the face fabrics chosen rather than the membrane itself, we don’t know, but the bottom line is it feels good – both to the touch and while wearing it.
So enough about the specs, how does it actually perform? Well, we had the perfect opportunity to test Gore’s claims for the new Pro, as the next day was absolutely chucking it down (and windy too) as we headed up into the hills with some of the instructors from PYB. Myself an T&M contributor Ross Worthington naturally chose the ‘mountaineering’ option (rather than easy, moderate or tough walking) and so we headed out with instructor Helen Teasdale to complete a scramble up the Idwal Slabs and then onto the Cneifion Arete – you may remember this route from a recent edition of Trek & Mountain, in which Paul Lewis describes his ‘Ogwen Triple’. Anyway, it’s a classic route, and it was made all the more fruity by the driving rain and (on Cneifion) some serious winds that almost blew us off our feet.
So how did it fare? Well the first thing is that it does feel very comfortable. The garment (which had been specially run up by Arc’teryx) moved well and quietly with our movements, and definitely feels more supple than the current version. The increased breathability is certainly noticeable too, and despite working hard at times, especially between the top of Idwal and up to Cneifion, I didn’t get wet from the inside at any point, and generally felt very comfortable. We’ve been using the jacket since the event at PYB and so far we would concur with the initial impressions that it is more comfortable to wear and more breathable, but of course the claims for increased durability will take time to comment on.
So the new Gore-Tex Pro looks like a major step forward for any of you looking to buy a top-notch mountain jacket, but don’t run out to the shops just yet with wallet wide-open – as you won’t see any models coming out until Autmn-Winter 2013. We had a sneak preview of some of the designs that the likes of Berghaus, Arc’teryx, Mountain Equipment, Adidas and Haglofs are working on – and believe me they come in all shapes and sizes – but we’re not allowed to show photos for now, and we expect to be able to report for the first time on these products at the ISPO winter trade show in Munich, at the beginning of February. What we can tell you though is that prices for Pro garments will be higher than the current Pro, due to the increased manufacturing costs, and we gathered the increase wil be in the order of about 10% (you could say that’s not bad for an increase of 28% in breathability).
So there you have it – we’ll be bringing you updates on new garments that use Gore-Tex Pro as and when details become available, and for all things Gore related, head over to the website below.