Waterproofing Materials

Tent_by_intheopenoceanWaterproofing materials used on outdoor gear can really be mindboggling if you’re unsure on the science behind how they’re made—especially when there’s really no standardized testing for gear to prove its worth. Finding good gear usually means word of mouth referrals, lots of internet research, and finding a trustworthy retailer who won’t just hawk off some expensive item that doesn’t really work. Fear not! Uncle Sam’s is here to help you understand waterproofing materials for outdoor gear and help you find the best product for both your needs and your budget.

Gore-tex is the industry giant since the ePTFE membrane was first discovered. The story goes that a guy in his basement played with a compound that is used to make Teflon and discovered that when he stretched the compound really fast and hard, it created a super thin layer with microscopic pores that water can’t fit through in a liquid state but can pass through in a gas state. What this means is that the membrane keeps water out but keeps you from becoming a nasty ball of sweat inside of your waterproof gear.  What you need to know about Gore-Tex is that they have extremely stringent requirements for licenses of their product to manufacturers. However, Gore-Tex guarantees every single product that uses the techonology because Gore-certified techniques and machinery are used to manufacture the product. Because of this, Gore-Tex can be pretty pricey.

But since the arrival of newcomers, starting with GE’s eVent in 1999, the playing field has changed. Most waterproof/breathable gear uses a three-layer system, the first layer being the outside that you look at that’s coated with a durable water-repellant finish. The second is a membrane with something added to keep the membrane from being damaged by contact with you and what you put on your body (sunscreen, for instance). The inner and last layer is the soft one that’s up against your skin. Gore-Tex sprays their membrane with ployurethane eVent and infuses their membrane with polyacrylate.

Other newcomers include Columbia’s OmniDry and Polartec’s NeoShell as well as OutDry. Neoshell is a membrane built with polyurethane that isn’t coated or added to for strength and is touted for more breathability than Gore-Tex. Omnidry is another polyurethane membrane but is touted as the lightest in the industry. Outdry, however, is a spray on coating that can go on anything, instead of being layered inside of the product, though you’ll find this on products where watertight seams aren’t an option, like footwear or gloves.

The advantages of each are hard to compare, simply because there’s not industry standards of testing. It’s up to each company to test and apply their own standards however they choose. But based on what we know about them, Gore-Tex is tried and tested and held to high standards of manufacturing, eVent is a cheaper alternative but outer protective layers might be of lesser quality, OmniDry and Neoshell are both newer technologies that introduce more breathability but haven’t yet been around for decades. And OutDry is obviously the most versatile.

While all of these products have different benefits, all of them will keep you dry but they have a range of breathability. We can help you pick the best product for your budget and your needs.

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