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Running in a Gore-tex Active Shell jacket

Written by Fiona

October 17 2011

Running uphill without any flat sections for 5k on a gorgeously sunny, but breezy and chilly, day in the Bavarian Alps with two top French bloggers and runners, Greg-Runner and Mountain Goat Sylvain, makes me sweat. Of course it does! It’s faster than my usual pace, steeper than my usual hills, at higher altitude than most of Scotland and it’s much warmer than my normal October.

Go sweat: It's a normal thing for a sporty person

Go sweat: It’s a normal thing for a sporty person

I start to sweat within minutes. I feel the perspiration on my back and (look away now if you’re of a sensitive disposition) in my armpits. Unusually for such conditions I am wearing a base-layer t-shirt with a waterproof jacket. If I’m honest I would never think to wear a waterproof jacket on a sunny day even if it’s blowing a chill wind.

Why I don’t normally wear a waterproof jacket for running

I have never, ever found a waterproof jacket that doesn’t make me sweat excessively while taking part in full-on outdoors sporting activities. I might pop one on if it’s raining hard but I always end up taking it off because it makes me sweat uncomfortably and I feel way too hot. Waterproof jackets also feel tacky and clingy against my skin and I hate that feeling.

So why am I running uphill in a Gore-tex Active Shell jacket?

The reason that I am running in the Bavarian Alps is that I am testing the new Gore-tex Active Shell jacket. Greg-runner and Mountain Goat Sylvain (MGS) are also wearing their Gore-tex Active Shell jackets. Behind us are another 25 or so outdoors bloggers from across Europe, including three from England, two from Italy, two from Spain and quite a few from Germany, who are putting their jackets through a test walk.

Mountain Equipment Firelite Gore-tex Active Shell jacket

Mountain Equipment Firelite Gore-tex Active Shell jacket

Haglofs Endo Gore-tex Active Shell jacket

Haglofs Endo Gore-tex Active Shell jacket

Gore-tex Active Shell is a pretty new concept. Launched earlier this year it offers a product to be made into jackets for people who like highly active sports that are “done in a day” (rather than done over many days in succession). Active sports might be ski touring, running, hill walking, cycling or one-day adventure races.

For example, see the two Gore-tex Active Shell jackets by Mountain Equipment and Haglofs.

The Active Shell is an addition to Gore-tex’s other ranges that are aimed at different outdoors activities, such as the Performance Shell, Pac-Lite Shell, Soft Shell and pro-Shell. They also make Gore-tex footwear (more of that in another blog!).

What I have learned about the Gore-tex Active Shell

Over the previous six hours (before heading to the Bavarian mountain top)  I have learned a huge amount about Gore-tex. More than I could ever have imagined that there was to learn about one waterproof product! Invited to an inaugural European Gore-tex Outdoors Bloggers Summit in Bavaria (* Cynics, please see note below! And read MyOutoors’ blog), along with the other outdoors bloggers, I have found out who created Gore-tex, how it works, why it’s waterproof, why it DOESN’T stop you sweating but does allow sweat to escape, why it’s claimed to be so brilliantly breathable, the hundreds of tests that Gore-tex goes through before making it to the shops, the brands that are allowed to use Gore-tex in their outdoor clothing products and the many other uses of Gore-tex, for example in medical procedures, technology and industry. This was the first time that Gore-tex HQ had opened its doors to “ordinary” folks, rather than retailers.

In fact, I feel a little embarrassed that I didn’t know most of this already. As a writer of outdoors activities and kit I should have been able to tell my readers so much more about Gore-tex… but now I can.

A few things I learned about Gore-tex:

  • Gore-tex is a membrane that is laminated to high-quality textiles for guaranteed waterproof protection.

    Gore-tex layer system

    Gore-tex layer system

  • You don’t often see the Gore-tex membrane in your clothing because it is sandwiched to an outer layer and sometimes an inner layer.
  • Gore-tex is a membrane that doesn’t allow rain drops to penetrate because the “holes” in the membrane are to small. This means that Gore-tex is guaranteed to keep you dry.
  • Meanwhile, the membrane’s “holes” do allow water vapour to escape in the form of sweat. This is because vapour or gas molecules are smaller than rain drops and works best when the body is warmer than the outside temperature.
  • Goretex doesn’t allow wind to penetrate because the layers of fibres prevent the air flying straight through the material.
  • The innovative fabric was created in the 50s and 60s by W L Gore and his son Robert. It was patented in 1976.
  • The fabric is actually called ePTFE. Or expanded polytetrafluoroethylene. Most of us are familiar with PTFE tape used in plumbing. Gore-tex is a larger, more expanded version of this and is a highly waterproof laminate material.
  • Gore-tex is a layer of material that can be adhered to an outer fabric layer, such as in waterproof jackets and also sandwiched between an outer layer and a softer inner layer
  • To be allowed to use Gore-tex, companies such as Berghaus, Arc’tyrx, North Face, Haglofs and Mountain Equipment, must submit clothing designs and have then approved after rigorous testing by Gore-tex.

    Gore-tex jacket and pants caught in a major indoors rainstorm

    Gore-tex jacket and pants caught in a major indoors rainstorm

  • Gore-tex labs carry out more than 100 tests to ensure it does exactly what is says it will on the label.

    Many hours of aggressive washing and spinning for Gore-tex products

    Many hours of aggressive washing and spinning for Gore-tex products

  • Gore-tex also has several sister products including Windstopper, which is windproof and breathable, but has ability to stretch and is not waterproof, as well as Gore running and Gore Bikewear.

    A machine to repeatedly crumple the Gore-tex laminate

    A machine to repeatedly crumple the Gore-tex laminate

  • Gore-tex is an element of many, many different types of jackets and trousers etc that are “made for purpose”.
  • You might want to own a different Gore-tex jacket to suit many different outdoors pursuits, including highly active sports, climbing, hill walking, mountaineering, skiing, sailing,

In short I was stunned by what I didn’t know about Gore-tex!

But now I do know a massive amount and I will be bringing a few blogs to readers on such topics as:

  • What Gore-tex jacket to buy for a range of activities
  • How to look after and wash your Gore-tex jacket
  • What brands use Gore-tex in their clothing.

How the Gore-tex Active Shell jacket performed in action

For two years, American Gore Technologies Developer, Timm Smith, has been creating a new Active Shell product. He wanted to design a version of the Gore-tex membrane, and ultimately a jacket, that would be “fit for use” for high-sweat activities such as running, cycling and ski touring. The new Active Shell is the result.

Timm enthusiastically, and in great detail, explained the reasons for creating this fabric and how it works.

In a nutshell: The Active Shell is lightweight, and its hi-tech fabric allows sweat and vapour to exit, while preventing moisture from entering.

You see, when we take part in high-speed activities we sweat. No fabric can “stop you sweating” because if you stop sweating your body isn’t working properly. (If this does ever happen to you be sure to tell your walking partner!) Sweating is the action of the body to help to cool down our inner temperature and skin. What is required is a material that can efficiently remove sweat from our bodies to the outside but still shield us form the chilling wind and rain.

For a jacket to be “wearable” while taking part in high-active pursuits it needs to be lightweight and comfortable. The Active Shell is Gore-tex’s lightest-weight creation and the Active Shell jackets come with both an outer layer which is highly water repellent, and a softer inner layer that can be comfortably worn against the skin.

This Active Shell Gore-tex material is not meant to be as robust as the Gore-tex used in other products such as the Pro-Shell and Performance Shell.

The compromise for being lightweight is that it is less durable, but if you’re running for a few hours or ski touring for a day you will not be carrying a large backpack and so there is less likelihood of wear and tear on the jacket. There will also be less chance of abrasion against rocks and trees, as compared to multi-day mountaineering and rock climbing. This jacket, as with all products, is “fit for use”. It also “fits” men and women very well as Gore-tex has designed the jackets with male and female tailoring.

If you are looking for more bike deals it’s also worth checking out Mamma as they have a number of discounts you can use to help save you money.

Back to the hill run test in the Bavarian Alps

So there I was after learning all about the Gore-tex technology indoors, sweating my way up a mountain at an elevation close to the height of Ben Nevis. Strangely, though, at no point did I feel too hot or too sweaty. When we slowed to a fast walk to cope with the steepness I didn’t feel the usual chill that comes with a damp baselayer and a non-breathable jacket. When we started to run again, I still felt cool and comfortable.

Greg-Runner and MGS "We ran here... so now for the beer."

Greg-Runner and MGS “We ran here… so now for the beer.”

The final test came when us three of runners stopped to take in the views at the top of the hill. (Look away now G-Force if you don’t want to be upset). When we stopped, after our 5k run, Greg-runner, MGS  and I did the obvious thing. We stripped off our Active Shell jackets. We then peered at each other’s baselayers to see if there was any obvious sweat marks. We patted each other’s backs with our bare hands to check for perspiration. Yes, we had all sweated but none of us were suffering the same level of sweat-logged baselayers that you would normally expect. There was some wetness but this actually evaporated as we stood around having put our jackets back on.

Brilliantly, I didn’t feel that horrible chill that I usually get when I finish a run.

The conclusion: While the Gore-tex Active Shell jacket didn’t allow all the sweat to escape it did allow an impressive amount to be evaporate. (In another test this morning while speed walking Wispa the Wonder Whippet through a torrential downpour I can report great waterproof qualities although I didn’t like the hood so much. It needed to have a peak to keep the rain off the front of my head and my face.) The key goal of Gore-tex is “comfort”. And I agree that I felt comfortable in the jacket.

The Bavarian mountain walkers also reported positive outcomes. The Lovely Mr Trekking Britain (see Trekking Britain) showed us his dry back without the jacket and reported: “This is the first time I can honestly say that I have not had a sweat-drenched back when walking. I am very impressed.” Delightful Dave from MyOutdoors gave his big thumbs up to Goretex Active Shell, too. And he’s a man who should know as he tests tons and tons of outdoors kit.

* PS. I had been worried about this Gore-tex Outdoors Bloggers Summit

I had worried that I would be hit with marketing hype and over-zealous promotion of products. I had been concerned that I  might be disappointed with the information and the products. But none of this could be further from the truth.

The Gore-tex people where highly informative and keen to pass on their knowledge about the products without being out for a big sell. They were honest and modest and they were keen to answer questions from all of the bloggers (even tricky questions!) and to reveal just how rigorous the testing is for all Gore-tex products. They were friendly without being brown-nosing. They were knowledgeable without being arrogant. They were, above all, very genuine and obviously proud of the company that they work for and the high-quality products that they produce.

I was under no pressure whatsoever to say nice things about them or to write  blog about my weekend trip. I spent only €6 all weekend and Gore-tex are keen for my readers to known that they paid for my travel, accommodation, food and an Active Shell jacket. Oh, and they also gave me Gore-tex Inov-8 trainers and a baselayer so that I could run with the French guys.

I am free to say all sorts of horrible things about Gore-tex but in all honesty I can’t because I was very impressed by this company and their message. I will continue to test my Gore-tex Active Shell jacket and if it shows any signs of weakness I’ll blog again. I expect that Gore-tex HQ will want to know about any problems I have with the jacket, if, indeed, I do. In fact, if you ever have a problem with your Gore-tex product why not get in touch with them directly. I imagine they will be very helpful.

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