There is a long running debate in outdoor education regarding the most appropriate waterproof outerwear for outdoor activities. There are many ideas on why one is better than the other but there seems to a dominant view that Gore-tex, or other similar breathable fabrics, are far superior. I disagree (Gasp!), and here is why.
First of all, let’s review the features, pros, and cons of each to get an idea of what we are talking about.
- Light and packs smaller
- Looks cool
- Apparently ‘breathable’ (see below)
- Practical for intense physical activity. (eg. skiing, overnight hiking, running, climbing, etc.)
- Nylon outer layer absorbs moisture
- Gets a ‘soggy’ feel
- Loses breathability when dirty.
- Must dry on it’s own (stored wet in tent or bags)
- Can be expensive but there are affordable options as well.
Rubber or Polyurethane-coated Nylon
- Impermeable to wind and water
- Very durable
- Can be dried off quickly with cloth for easy storage in tent or bag.
- Practical for moderate physical activity. (eg. walking, small hikes, long periods of sitting/standing, stationary labour, etc.)
- Not ’’Breathable’ (see below)
- Can be more bulky
- Less stylish 😉
“Rubber doesn’t breath!” is by far the most widely argued point in favour of Gore-Tex. Here are a few points to consider.
- Neither does dirty Gore-Tex.
- ‘Breathable’ far oversells the actual process through which moisture moves across the Gore-Tex membrane. In reality, it is a very tight sieve.
- The movement of air inside a jacket or pants that is created just by moving is likely far more efficient at moving moisture away from the body than whatever processes move it through a permeable fabric.
- The fabric doesn’t need to ‘breath’. There just needs to be an exchange of air to reduce condensation. Ponchos are the best example of this.
- The environment and weather plays a crucial role in how a fabric performs. High atmospheric moisture reduces the gradient between inside a garment and out. Hiking in the rain will likely result in lots of condensation inside the garment regardless of the fabric.
- Proper layering (i.e. fabric, thickness, fit) can also improve the ventilation and air exchange, which can prevent sweating and/or condensation that Gore-tex seeks to minimize (but still encounters).
So in my opinion, the majority (~80%) of outdoor education activities rubber/PU nylon is a far more practical option. It keeps students drier, it is more affordable, it is very durable, and it is easy to maintain.
Sustained high-energy activities where wet weather is intermittent and/or packability is a factor.
- Canoeing and biking (some improved mobility and comfort)
- Winter sports
- Overnight Hiking (for packability alone but I would take a Poncho over Gore-tex anyday)
- Sports (Soccer, Tennis, Ultimate, etc.)
Polyurethane Coated Nylon or Rubber
Activities with occasional high-energy components and/or sustained wet weather. Packability not a primary consideration.
- Canoeing (better for prolonged exposure to rain)
- Outdoor Lessons
- Overnight Camping
- Outdoor Centres
- Physical Work (Volunteerism)
- Walking or Day Hiking
- Forest, Stream, Ocean, and Mountain studies.
Please let me know if you have any comments or feedback and I would be happy to discuss these options further.
Have a great day,