The Moisture Transfer Rate Equation
After breakfast in the hotel the next order of the day was a visit to the Gore facilities in Elkton, Maryland. This is an actual testing and production plant so occasionally we were not allowed to take photos, such as on the production floor where laminate was being made (the process of how the ePTFE is made into different laminates is one of the secrets that mades Gore-tex and Windstopper work as well as they do).
We started off in a conference room where we got to participate and observe a few tests that brought home the idea of comfort in relation to moisture. We also learned that the Moisture Vapor Transfer Rate is equal to the Driving Force divided by Resistance. This is also known as the Ret rating. A rating of 0-6 is noted as being “very good” and 6-13 is rated as “good” of more importance to the wearer of this stuff, items with those rating will feel “very good” to “good” as well in terms of discernable breathability.
One bit of trivia I hadn’t known before is that we lose a lot of moisture from our hands compared to the rest of our body. I’m not a huge chalk user so this bit of knowledge is probably more intuitive to climbing lovers of the white stuff. A Gore guy had us try an experiment, we each put on two oversized gloves, one made of a clear, thin, plastic, the other of the Gore-tex membrane. Then we opened and closed our hands rapidly. In just a few seconds you could see condensation building up in the plastic glove and then you could feel it. Meanwhile the Gore-Tex gloved hand felt dry. This was with large openings at the bottom of both gloves.
As an extreme example of how Driving Force was a factor in any testing done for “Breathability” an ice water test was performed. Steve (Teton AT) was the guinea pig for this one. His hand was dunked in water and was then placed in a Gore-Tex glove, the covered hand then went into a bucket of ice water and the hand was exercised. After a few minutes the hand was dry and the glove had wrinkled around it. The warmer, moisture laden air had moved out into the ice water, leaving his hand dry.
This portion of the day surprised me the most. I learned that not only am I supposed to machine wash my Windstopper jacket, but that I am supposed to machine dry it as well! And in fact, that by not drying it, I am making the water repellency less effective! The reason behind this was that the DWR (durable water repellant finish) treatment needed heat to be able to more effectively cover the fabric. While it wouldn’t last indefinitely (the windproofness will, by the way, last the lifetime of the garment) by not drying my Windstopper jacket I was not allowing the DWR finish to spread itself out again (heat facilitates this process) and for it to “stand” up to repel water.
All this time I thought I was lengthening the life of the fabric by not machine drying it.
We visited various testing areas in the Gore facilities, there were so many that it was clear that Gore wanted to make sure they could stand up to their “Repair, replace or refund Guarantee”. What I didn’t know at first was that Gore tested all finished products made with Gore materials and did not allow any seconds to be sold. So things either passed or they got recycled.
For hands on testing we got to experience the “Comfort Room” in which we donned Windstopper Burton zip hoodies (soft) and then enter a room with a fan that cooled us down with a stiff breeze to put us all at 15 degrees. My face got cold, so did my legs a little but the hoody did its job.
Next for hands on testing was the “Rain Room”. We donned Gore-tex jackets, pants and booties and went into the room with a dummy, a motorcycle, and many rain spouts — some coming from sideways directions. We came out nearly dry. I say nearly because we were told to look up so a Gore guy could take our picture (which of course had our faces get a little wet since that’s where water spouts were). Aside from my face and hands, I was completely dry.
Working Lunch – Environmentalism, Competition
Say “Gore” and unless you’re talking politics, you don’t really think of environmentalism as much as you would for a company like Patagonia for instance. Does this mean Gore doesn’t care? Apparently not. At lunch they showed us all the steps they are doing and apparently have been doing for many years now. For example, they were the first to offer “end of life” recycling, in which they will recycle old Gore products. Their environmental stance is founded on 3 key elements: 1. They are committed to sound science (they only use something if it’s proven). 2. They use life cycle assessments as their benchmarks (from the point of excavating raw materials up to disposal). 3. They see the durability of their products as the cornerstone of their approach.
Other facts I took interest in includes that they invented a special Gore cover for composting that reduces the release of gases and that they have been using solvent free emissions since 1986.
So why haven’t they stepped up to the Green Bullhorn? They say being environmental is just an aspect of performance to them, it’s just doing “business as usual” and they don’t feel it needs to be the center of their communications.
Now on to the “Hot topic” of the trip, Gore’s competition in the world of waterproof choices.
During our trip we learned about different types of waterproof products.
I’ll break down how Gore folks explained all this.
1. Microporous coatings – Predominate the North American marketplace. Polyurethane coating is an example. Micropores allow material to breathe but also mean a weaker fabric. Durability is an issue. Some The North Face products and Marmot Precip use this.
2. Monolithic coatings – Solid layer. While this can offer more initial waterproofness, there is an issue in variations of thickness. This is found more in European countries, and is used for example in Mountain Hardwear’s Conduit products.
3. Bicomponent – Microporous material plus a coating. Trade off is breathability. Patagonia’s H2No is an example.
4. Other ePTFE’s – eVent is an example as well as a few other ins the US and around the world. eVent is a solid ePTFE, no coating. Durability is an issue because it’s how you put materials together that makes a big difference. For example, Gore has proprietary methods to coat their membranes for protection against sunblock, DEET and other substances.
Bloggers brought up that some folks seem to say that eVent breathes better. The problem is that there hasn’t been an apples to apples standard for tests and that many folks are just experiencing a placebo effect. The closest to an apples to apples test seemed to be those that different companies could run but would still vary under different conditions. As a quick example, we were shown, right in the conference room, an example of how close some products could be. Hot water was poured into two cups. Round fabric samples, one of Gore-Tex, one of eVent, were placed on top of the cups. Then a clear rectangle of plexiglass was put on top of both cups. It seemed to steam up at the same time from either cup. The glass was wiped and dropped several times. I thought I saw the tiniest of lags for the eVent (black) fabric but I wasn’t sure. Another blogger mentioned he saw that the black fabric was just a “skosh behind”. You can see a video from Jason Klass of Gear Talk (you can see part of my hand and see my name tag in the video 😛 ):
During the question and answer session, I specifically brought up cost, “Does Gore have any plans on making a cheaper alternative?” The answer was, “You mean will Gore come up with a membrane that’s the Bargain version but doesnt work as well? Nope”. Gore-Tex does however stand behind its guarantee and the longevity of their products. So in the long run if you pay a little more, but your jacket lasts forever, who got the bargain?
We wrapped up the day with a look at gloves and footgear. Remember that Gore tests and guarantees the final product that is made with a Gore membrane. So on their own dime they test these completed products as well. I was amused by the forever marching shoes and boots sloshing about in water. We also got to see a new kind of glove in which the inner liner did not move around inside the glove as you were gripping a surface. It was a ski glove but I thought of climbing naturally. Perhaps it’d be of interest to ice climbers.
Soon we were off.
We piled into a bus and knew, according to the itinerary that we would be visiting a Gore Outdoors store. However, as we approached it, Cynthia from Gore told us we were going to play a game and that the time for the game had been shortened from 30 minutes to 10. The game was to go like this: we had 10 minutes to go into the store and grab our favorite jacket for under $300. She added that if we did not want to keep the jacket we could return it after testing it during our scavenger hunt during the evening. I talked to Rebecca (@calipidder of http://calipidder.com) and we started strategizing about what kind of jacket we’d get and on finding the women’s section right away. Turns out we didn’t have issues with that part, just deciding on what to get. I decided on a Gore-Tex Performance Shell, the Mountain Hardwear Lyra Jacket. since they had already given me a Windstopper jacket. She got a PacLite (my second choice). I was really surprised we were getting another jacket but I was really glad as I wanted to test out Gore-Tex for myself (I only owned Windstopper, not Gore-Tex before this trip). In the end, all the bloggers won this game.
Events weren’t over yet though. We went to Philadelphia and learned were going to do a City Hunt, a type of scavenger hunt which involved hunting things down, solving puzzles, taking pictures and interacting with strangers. We were divided into three teams. I ended up with Cynthia (Gore), Travis (@wude72), Jake (Mountain Techs), Justin (@justinrains), and Tim (@timliffel / Perceptive Travel) and we soon found ourselves going all around the City of Brotherly Love visiting such places as Benjamin Franklin’s grave and Betsy Ross’ house. Some clues and stunts were obviously geared towards Gore knowledge and some also played into the outdoor lifestyle. We had to have a picture of all of us doing a “dangerous climb” so I took one for the team and heel hooked my way on a brick wall (it was slicker than it looked, haha).
It was a fun event and later that night (another surprise) we found ourselves heading to a tall ship for dinner. After a slideshow of all the pictures the teams brought in, the City Hunt folks announced my team was the winner! We won coffee mugs and Cynthia got into the bragging rights aspect of it. She was a hoot and we all had a good time!
Nothing was officially planned for this day but Rebecca and I had breakfast with Cynthia and then took off on a walking tour of the University of Delaware and thereabouts. I wanted to hunt down some fall color and indeed found it. After that it was a ride to the airport (Rebecca and I had the same flight out of Philadelphia though for her it was to her final destination and to me it was one leg of my trip). Thankfully we had time to grab a Philly cheesesteak at the airport before we took off. It was a fitting send off.
After some hours on the plane, we flew over Tuolumne and Rebecca tapped my shoulder (she’d arranged to have the seat right behind me as we both liked window seats). I looked down and longingly thought of going down to test my jacket right then.
In the end, it’s not really about the products after all, it’s about what we can do in them.
Link to full set of photos from the trip.
Link to set of City Hunt photos & video!