An industry-standard outerwear fabric will get an upgrade next year. GearJunkie was on site in Canada for a launch and early test of 2020 GORE-TEX PRO.
It’s a cold October day in Banff, and I’m 200 feet above a scree field on the side of a cliff. Today, I’m rock climbing to test a prototype jacket made with a soon-to-launch fabric from W.L. Gore & Associates.
The jacket looks like any performance hardshell in my closet. But its fabric is a new iteration from the brand that decades ago launched a waterproof-breathable revolution.
A compound called polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) is the core material in Gore waterproof-breathable membranes. Microscopic holes let water vapor escape, but precipitation can’t penetrate from the outside.
It’s been 7 years since the company released a major upgrade to its PRO fabric technology. By mid-2020, brands including Arc’teryx, Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia, Mammut, and more will make available performance jackets with fabrics built to function better in the outdoors.
Perhaps surprisingly, the ePTFE guts of GORE-TEX PRO see no dramatic change for next year. Neither does the durable water-repellent (DWR) finish that makes water bead. Instead, the 2020 release focuses on fabric stretch and ruggedness. The brand will also unleash more freedom for designers to create jackets and pants in GORE-TEX configurations not offered before.
GORE-TEX PRO 2020: Product Test
On the cliff in Banff, my shoulder presses against sharp limestone, jacket rubbing as I lean into a corner pitch. A rope unfurls overhead, disappearing above a ledge where I’ll find a belay.
I came to Canada to get a first look at the new GORE-TEX PRO material. Product managers and company associates have convened with a couple dozen people, including media and athletes Greg Hill, Stefan Glowacz, and Tamara Lunger.
We climb and hike during the day. At night, slides and videos on a big screen at an event hall break down the details on the 2020 push.
“This is a major move for Gore,” said Mark McKinnie, a product specialist with the company. “It’s a global launch with all our partner brands.”
A press release cites a “reinvention” of the material technology. This includes three new category upgrades in fabrics built for ruggedness, stretch, and breathability.
GORE-TEX PRO was first introduced in 2007 as the top-end material available from the brand. New iterations came in the years after, including a major release in 2013.
For its autumn 2020 launch, different fabric templates will show up across multiple partners’ products for sports ranging from ice climbing to trail running, hiking, and skiing in all types of wet weather and wind.
Three New GORE-TEX PRO Types
Gore calls the first new GORE-TEX PRO fabric for 2020 the Most Rugged Technology. As the name suggests, it’s the strongest GORE-TEX yet for consumers in the company’s mountain-sports category.
This is thanks to a burlier face textile and backer fabric. “It is well-suited to high-wear situations and people who want the longest possible garment life,” Gore notes.
For increased protection, an element of polyurethane is added to the membrane. Fabrics ranging from 70- to 200-denier will be options from Gore in the rugged line.
Perhaps the biggest news, a Stretch Technology version of GORE-TEX PRO uses a thin elastic layer in the material that sits atop the ePTFE membrane. This allows the fabric to flex about 20 percent more, letting a wearer reach, bend, and move better in the outdoors.
Stretch was a challenge in the past, Gore noted, as it blended dynamic and non-stretch fibers to add dynamic properties to a waterproof membrane. The company says this resulted in “limited levels of ruggedness” for fabric. The new approach for next year retains durability with the added stretch.
Finally, a lightweight Most Breathable Technology version of GORE-TEX PRO will address high-exertion situations. It’s built on fabrics as fine as 30-denier and made to minimize moisture buildup as you sweat. This is the lightest-weight GORE-TEX PRO fabric ever developed.
How breathable is this new GORE-TEX? An industry test, the ISO 11092 standard, yields a RET rating of <6. That is essentially the same as existing GORE-TEX PRO breathability claims, which peg the material with RET scores of less than 6 (and as low as RET 3.0 in some configurations). That means that the new GORE-TEX PRO is certainly breathable, but that it makes no strides beyond its existing namesake in this category.
No Improvements in Breathability?
I asked McKinnie about this lack of progress in breathability specs. He confirmed that one element of the 2020 GORE-TEX PRO will use essentially the same ePTFE membrane as an available version. The new “rugged” GORE-TEX PRO has a “bi-component” membrane with ePTFE and polyurethane for increased protection and durability, though at the cost of some breathability (approximately RET <9).
While I was somewhat disappointed that no giant membrane leap was unveiled at the Banff event, it wasn’t a huge surprise. A fully breathable solution has evaded the outerwear category.
Sure, I would love to see a game-changing evolution of new material science that lets companies make jackets that can handle anything human anatomy and its sweat and body heat can throw its way. The current reality is that, however, waterproof jackets are not ubiquitously wearable, especially in aerobic situations where heart rate is high.
GORE-TEX PRO: Impressive Performance
All that said, I’m impressed by GORE-TEX PRO, as well as options from many competing waterproof-breathable brands. These jackets have literally kept me alive when crap hits the fan and I’m a long way from the trailhead. A thin sheen of sandwiched nylon and microporous polymer zipped up and hood pulled tight, it’s a miracle piece of gear compared to alternate outerwear options.
And despite no leap in a RET spec or MVTR, the Gore jacket I used all week in Banff was solid. It breathed about as well as any hardshell of this type that I’ve tried.
One day, after summiting a peak near town, I hiked toward the trailhead with an insulating layer under the Gore shell. I was cold on the climb, and then warm as we trekked with packs on, a climbing rope coiled up and balanced behind my neck. I kept the jacket on as a test while I started to sweat on the hike out.
As anticipated, the jacket remained comfortable and noticeably breathable on a cool October afternoon.
A First: Hybrid Designs With GORE-TEX PRO
Throughout the week in Banff, we wore pre-market samples built for sponsored athletes and product testers. The jackets combined multiple types of the new GORE-TEX PRO material in a single shell.
For 2020, manufacturers will sell hybrid jackets like the ones we tested. For the first time, Gore is encouraging companies to mix and match to pick between its durable, stretchy, and lightweight material offerings.
This will let a brand build jackets and apparel targeting specific activities. Ice-climbing jackets, as one example, require abrasion resistance, mobility, and breathability in different areas of the shell.
The company believes the menu of materials will result in higher-performing products for several outdoor pursuits. The push for ultimate outerwear marches ahead, and now with more freedom for the brands who work with Gore.
Sustainability Goals: 2020 and Beyond
Beyond performance, there’s a sustainability story for 2020. Gore gave attendees of the Banff retreat a brochure detailing “more than 30 years of sustainability in practice.” This included a 1986 move to eliminate solvent-free adhesives, as well as more than 10 additional callout dates with eco-positive initiatives up to the present day.
Bernhard Kiehl, the company’s sustainability lead, spoke one night on continuing the roadmap. People flew in from Europe and America to attend the event. Gore brokered carbon-footprint concerns via AtmosFair, a Berlin-based firm focused on “climate-conscious” flying.
For its jackets, Gore has a litany of projects in the works. One major initiative focuses on perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, of environmental concern. These chemicals in the DWR finishes on jacket face fabrics make water bead. But PFCs can accumulate consequentially in nature and have been in the sights of both environmental groups and the apparel industry for years.
About 50 percent of consumer Gore jackets are already made with a PFC-free DWR. (That is, free of PFCs of “environmental concern,” as some PFCs are benign.) But the company is working toward a solution to find a formulation that can match its stringent standards for GORE-TEX PRO and eliminate the chemicals on the remaining 50 percent of its line.
Kiehl noted that Gore has no less than seven R&D teams committed to the PFC problem, with elimination from outerwear planned by 2023. Initially, 2020 was the goal for a list of “environmental and chemical management goals.” But Kiehl confirmed parts of the timeline have been extended. “You can research and innovate,” he said, “but you cannot command innovation” from the laws of physics.
Next year, Gore offers a variety of recycled fabrics with the PRO line. In addition, a different kind of dye process cuts carbon emissions in manufacturing.
The company notes that its “solution-dye” process replaces traditional dyeing on the backer fabric. It substantially reduces water use and helps “also reduce carbon emissions in the process,” Gore explained.
Beyond the process audits and improvements in manufacturing, Kiehl believes higher-quality jackets result in sustainability. “If we make a jacket that lasts, that a consumer does not need to replace every couple of years, then that is the most sustainable thing Gore can do,” he said.
GORE-TEX PRO 2020: An Effective Waterproof Choice
After 4 days in Banff, up and down multiple peaks, including “abrasion tests” squeezed climbing up in limestone dihedrals, my test jacket looked more or less like new. The fabric held up to this initial abuse. It stretched thanks to a back panel with elastic properties. Rain and early-winter snow each day beaded and bounced off, validating the weather protection Gore guarantees.
It was a good few days in Canada. Gore is an evolving brand on the cusp of some major change. As a dominant player in the space, anything it does — from performance to quality and sustainability — refracts across the industry and with its multitude of partner brands.
I’ll continue to zip up and trust the material to keep me comfortable, protected, and moving with confidence, no matter the weather or the terrain up ahead.