Brand Breakdown for Waterproof-Breathable Fabrics
In the early days, waterproof-breathable fabric choosing was easy because Gore-Tex was the only option. But, alot has changed since then. Now there are so many types and brands that it is difficult to keep them all straight. If you want to know more about what keeps water out of your boots or jacket before you pull the trigger, you've come to the right place.
All Waterproof Breathable materials are built around the same principle: The materials have millions of tiny pores which are way too small for liquid moisture to get through, but considerably larger than molecules of water vapor, which pass easily through the material. If you want more details, you can read more in the Gear Guide article about Waterproof Breathable Technology.
The Brands: Here is a breakdown of the main technologies, their manufacturers, and the important attributes of each:
Hyvent is the name that The North Face uses to designate any proprietary waterproof-breathable material that they use in their gear. Last time we checked, there were at least 7 different types of Hyvent for various applications and price ranges! Here is a rundown of three main versions that they have differentiated for us:
This is the original Hyvent coated technology, incorporating a protective PU layer over a microporous coating. You find this in 2-layer and 3-layer jackets (Hyvent 2L and Hyvent 3L, respectively), in gloves and mittens, and in footwear. It is typically utilized in the lower end products in the The North Face lineup due to its low price point.
Hyvent DT was first used in the super-popular North Face Venture Jacket. The DT stands for Dry Touch, and refers to the .5 layer skim coat of PU that The North Face uses in the Venture and other 2.5 layer jackets. This half-layer design looks like a printed pattern, but is actually a raised scrim that holds the coating away from the wearer, increasing comfort and adding a little bit of vapor space to improve breathability.
The North Face Venture Jacketwas awarded with recognition for eco-conscious construction by editors of Backpacker Magazine. This waterproof, breathable outer layer is made from environmentally friendly membrane to protect you from rain during every season. To maximize air flow, the Venture Jacket features underarm vents. Additional protection is given with the adjustable hood with draw cord and Velcro storm flap closure.
Hyvent Alpha is, like Gore-Tex, actually a membrane and not a coating. It is the highest-end product in the Hyvent line, boasts the best waterproof and breathability ratings, and can be found in Summit Series gear.
Patagonia waterproofs it's gear with a coating called H2No. They test it for durability in their "Killer Wash", which simulates years of abuse in a short period of time. After that treatment, they ensure that their products still meet a standard of almost twice US Military waterproof spec.
There are 2, 2.5, and 3 layer constructions of H2No, each suited to certain uses. In the 2.5 layer constructions, as found in the Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket, the protective layer on the inside is actually a raised scrim like HyVent DT and not a printed pattern as found in Marmot PreCip.
Marmot uses both coatings and membranes in their gear, and they have a couple different performance levels in each:
Precip: This was the original proprietary 2.5 layer construction, and it first appeared in the game-changing Precip Pant. It consists of a combination of both types of fabric coatings, so, unlike Hyvent, it has no raised scrim to protect it. Instead, Precip uses a protein coating on the inside of the fabric to make it feel drier and more comfortable next to the skin. It is Marmot’s least expensive technology.
Membrain: Membrain was Marmot’s first waterproof-breathable technology, and it is indeed a PU membrane. It boasts high levels of water resistance and breathability, comparable, according to Marmot, to Gore-Tex XCR. It also has the added advantage that PU is slightly hydrophilic, which means it will absorb some of the moisture that would otherwise be liquid condensate on the inside of the garment. Membrain 10: This is a lower performance, 10,000mm-rated material for use in articles designed for not-extreme conditions.
Membrain Strata: This is Marmot's newest technology, and represents the pinnacle of 2.5 layer design in the industry. It uses inorganic particles in a patterned coating to protect the membrane, eliminating the need for a lining and allowing construction of some of the lightest membrane fabrics ever while boasting 100% better breathability vs. other 2.5 layer fabrics.
Gore-Tex, the grandfather of all waterproof-breathables, is still the most popular name-brand waterproofing technology. It is also backed by the "Guaranteed to Keep You Dry Promise", which really means that the manufacturer will warranty the product if it ever leaks. The material itself is a membrane that is made from polytetraflouroethylene, or PTFE (it is the main ingredient in Teflon) and laminated on to the face fabric. The laminate is a white, lightweight, and thin material that you can hold in your hand. Such materials are great because you can manufacture them uniformly, thereby assuring the desired level of waterproofness and breathability.
The drawback is that this material is prone to contamination and requires a thin protective coating PU and a protective liner inside the garment to maintain waterproofness. This slightly reduces breathability, but during high-output activities, Gore-Tex remains at the front of the pack in terms of breathability. As a result, almost every company incorporates Gore-Tex into their lineup, and some, like Arc’Teryx, use it exclusively in all their waterproof gear.
Gore-Tex comes in a number of different flavors:
This is the original offering form Gore-Tex (it used to just be called Gore-Tex). It is most commonly found in footwear and 2-layer constructions in less-expensive jackets and pants. It also shows up in some insulated pieces where high-output breathability is less of a concern.
ProShell, formerly known as XCR, is the top-of-the-line laminate for outerwear, most commonly appearing in 3-layer construction in high-end alpine climbing and ski jackets. It boasts more pores per square inch, increasing the breathability 25% higher than performance shell.
Paclite arrived on the scene as the world's first 2.5 layer fabric in the mid 90s. It has gone through many generations since then, but remains one of the only membrane based 2.5 layer technologies. It is the lightest form of construction, and shares the high waterproof rating of the other Gore-Tex products. While it used to be said that this was the most breathable construction, it seems that, due to the PU protective coating required to protect the membrane on the inside, Paclite’s breathability sits somewhere around that of Performance Shell.
Gore-Tex XCR is the same membrane as ProShell, but retains this earlier name only in footwear. It is often found in higher end waterproof trail runners and light hikers.
Check out these Waterproof Shoes and Boots >>
The world of softshells is a confusing place, and Gore’s entry made it no less so. But, like all Gore-Tex products, their softshell are 100% waterproof. The difference is that the membrane in this case is bonded to a softer fabric on the outside and a fuzzy brushed tricot on the inside, making them warmer than normal shells. While Gore-Tex softshells are indeed softer feeling than hardshells, they lack the stretch and increased breathability normally associated with softshells.
This is a membrane with higher breathability but lower water resistance for down sleeping bag applications. It allows users to worry less about their down getting wet when sleeping under the stars or in snow caves.
Back to Gear Guide >>