What do a 60-year-old birdwatcher and that cool streetwear guy you follow on Instagram have in common? Chances are, not a great deal. Until you begin to examine their choice of technical outerwear, that is. The answer is a Gore-Tex jacket.
It’s a name you’ve no doubt seen stitched into the kind of gear worn by alpinists and hikers. But anyone with even a passing interest in fashion will have also spotted it cropping up under the banners of some of the world’s most distinguished and sought-after designer labels.
Fashion’s uncharacteristic obsession with utilitarian detail and outdoor clobber in recent years has created a perfect storm for this technical fabric to flourish. Partly because storms are what Gore-Tex deals with best, but also because the stuff is highly versatile, and just so happens to look the part when stitched together into an everyday wardrobe hero.
To bring you up to speed, here’s everything you need to know about the groundbreaking fabric, including what exactly it is and where to buy the best Gore-Tex jackets for styling out the wet season.
What Is Gore-Tex?
Created by father and son duo Wilbert and Bob Gore in 1969, Gore-Tex is a semi-permeable membrane that allows sweat to escape while remaining completely watertight. It does this by using microscopic pores that are 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, but 700 times larger than a water vapour molecule.
The unparalleled functionality of Gore-Tex has made it the go-to fabric for performance outerwear, and something of a byword for waterproof gear, whether deployed on shoes designed for climbing mountains or cool jackets. Think of it as what Heinz is to beans, or what Dyson is to vacuum cleaners that are fun to go around corners with.
There are plenty of variations of the fabric, too. Gore-Tex Pro, for example, boasts increased durability. You could probably blast it with a riot van water cannon for a month and it still wouldn’t let a drop through. Meanwhile, Gore-Tex Paclite and Gore-Tex Active provide lighter alternatives for outdoor workouts and day-to-day use.
Is Gore-Tex Waterproof?
In a word, yes. Gore-Tex is waterproof. That little detail is the brand’s number-one selling point. However, while a Gore-Tex jacket will never let water through, the outer layer must have its durable water repellent (DWR) coating refreshed every now and then if the liquids are to keep beading off like water off a duck’s back.
Not doing so won’t stop the jacket from being waterproof, it just means that the shell can become saturated and heavy in rainy conditions.
How To Wash Gore-Tex
To keep your Gore-Tex jacket performing as it was intended, occasional washing is required.
To do so, ensure all zips are securely fastened and wash at 40 degrees with a small amount of liquid detergent.
For best results, air-dry the garment. Once it’s no longer wet, tumble dry it for 20 minutes. The heat will reactivate the DWR coating.
If the outer layer isn’t beading liquids, you can purchase a DWR and reapply it yourself. Beware not to use it if your jacket is made from Gore-Tex Shakedry, though, it’ll work just fine without it.
How To Find The Best Gore-Tex Jacket
Picking a Gore-Tex jacket isn’t just about the fabric. There are a few other variables you’ll want to take into account when shopping for your new waterproof.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That means, Gore-Tex or not, if there’s somewhere for water to get in, it still will.
A good Gore-Tex jacket will come equipped with waterproof, rubberised zippers that lock the elements out, or at the very least, a storm flap that covers the zipper. That last thing you want is water pooling in your pockets.
Gore-Tex is highly breathable. However, if you’re going to be pushing your jacket to its limits by doing a HIIT workout up Ben Nevis, a little added breathability can help.
Pit zippers are an excellent way of letting some of the excess heat out, but make sure they’re watertight. Alternatively, some jackets use a mix of Gore-Tex and Gore-Tex Paclite to reduce weight and increase breathability in key areas, like the back and underarms.
Drawcords provide a handy way to tailor your jacket to your exact requirements. Examine the quality of the toggles and other hardware, as this is a good signifier of overall quality.
A good Gore-Tex jacket will have a drawcord at the hem and either one or two in the hood (one for adjusting the size of the hood from the back and another for decreasing and increasing the diameter of the face opening.)
Gore-Tex may be fully waterproof, but unless the seams of the jacket itself are ‘taped’, the hundreds of holes left behind by stitching won’t be.
Taped seams – a process in which a machine melts a coating over the seams to seal them – prevent water from creeping in at a jackets weak points. If a Gore-Tex jacket doesn’t have them, don’t buy it. Simple.
The Best Gore-Tex Jacket Brands
Scandanavians are no strangers to a bout of adverse weather. Perhaps that’s why they’re so good at making raincoats. Case in point: Haglofs.
The Swedish outdoor brand is known for its innovative approach to staying dry. Streamlined cuts, technical details and supreme functionality are all par for the course. Look out for fusion designs incorporating more than one type of Gore-Tex fabric for increased performance out in the elements.
Arc’teryx is the Tesla of the technical outerwear world. The gear is so advanced it may as well have been leaked from Area 51, and the prices are fittingly exorbitant.
Still, if you’re willing to take the plunge, you’ll see why the best mountaineers, alpinists and athletes favour the Canadian brand’s jackets above any other. They’re made with surgical attention to detail, no unnecessary gimmicks and top-tier Gore-Tex materials as standard.
Nike’s techwear-leaning ACG (All Conditions Gear) brand may no longer under the direction of Acronym legend Errolson Hugh, however the techninja aesthetic has survived, and there are still some very sharp Gore-Tex jackets to be had.
Expect a mixed colour palette of moody grey and shadowy black alongside fluorescent yellow and punchy pink. For Gore-Tex jackets with street appeal, you’d struggle to do better.
If you like the idea of superior build quality and attention to detail, but don’t want to walk around the city dressed like you’re on your way to go heliskiing up the Matterhorn, Veilance is the solution.
The moody, minimalist arm of revered Canadian outdoors label Arc’teryx, Veilance takes the same trademark precision engineering and applies it to everyday silhouettes. Didn’t think there was such a thing as a Gore-Tex blazer? Think again.
The North Face
Arguably the biggest name in outdoor gear, Gore-Tex jackets have become something of a calling card for The North Face.
The Californian label has been making waterproof outerwear for decades, which over the years have been bolstered by a number of high-profile hookups. There’s a long-running collaboration with hallowed skate brand Supreme, as well as The North Face Purple Label, a Japan-exclusive line with fellow Gore-Tex lovers Nanamica. If you’re looking for a brand to blame for fashion’s appropriation of dog-walking jackets, TNF is a good place to start.
Want to stay dry and do your bit for sustainability, too? A Gore-Tex jacket from Patagonia should do the trick.
The Californian outdoor brand has long been celebrated for its commitment to ethical and environmentally friendly production techniques. Couple that with a knack for a good fit and a dose of retro styling and you’re onto a winner.
Hailing from the outerwear-obsessed nation of Japan, Nanamica is a label that has garnered praise for its masterful fusion of casual and technical.
The brand’s key pieces are its jackets. Often constructed using Gore-Tex and employing techniques usually reserved for performance gear, these are garments built to withstand anything a mountain could throw at them but with styling that wouldn’t look out of place down the pub.