December 16, 2016 3 min read

Beyond the Lingo: Breaking Down Your Outerwear Choices

By: Tess Weaver Strokes

Think how much skis have changed in 40 years. From length to shape, rockered to tapered, the evolution of ski construction has drastically changed the way we slide down mountains. Up until the last handful of years, ski clothing hadn’t changed much since Bob Gore invented the waterproof jacket in the 70’s. Finding the elusive balance between protection and true breathability had yet to exist in a hard shell fabric. The recent advancement in outerwear technology might not be the sexiest of conversation topics on the chairlift, but skiing’s new air permeable fabrics are working harder than ever to keep you dry and comfortable for longer periods. If that’s important to you (and who doesn’t want to be comfortable?), it’s advantageous to understand the outerwear choices today.

Air permeable fabrics allow a small amount of airflow, which allows for breathability. And these fabrics are challenging everything the waterproof-above-all-else outerwear culture stands for. The king of this waterproof breathable materials world, Gore-Tex, has not yet invented an air permeable option, but Gore still remains the household name for staying dry. The problem is that a lack of internal airflow causes overheating, excessive sweating and discomfort. Gore-Tex does spend millions of dollars in R&D every year and guarantees every product made with their fabrics to be 100% waterproof for the life of the garment. Their products keep you dry, but the PU layer in their technologies doesn’t allow for the breathability you find in air permeable fabrics. Traditional waterproof breathable fabrics transmit water vapor through the membrane via solid-state diffusion, and that’s how they breathe. Air permeable fabrics breathe this way, too, but they truly excel by moving air straight through the membrane. Basically, they offer advanced wicking capabilities to keep moisture vapor moving away from your core.

Dr. Mike North, PhD. in material science and host of the web series, “In the Making”, made a visit to Strafe Outerwear headquarters here at Aspen Highlands to discuss the advantages of NeoShell and why we love it.

Powder faceshot in revelstokeWhit Boucher puts the capabilities of NeoShell to the test in Revelstoke British Columbia. Photo by Jeff Cricco.
Backcountry skiers uphillingSammy Podhurst and Jordie Karlinski test the breathability of eVent on a spring tour in the Elk Mountains. Photo by Ian Fohrman.

Companies like Polartec and eVent know these air permeable fabrics are the way of the future and are bringing to the market more and more waterproof, breathable outerwear. (While they aren’t windproof, they effectively block the wind.) Polartec NeoShell revolutionized waterproof breathability capabilities by lowering the internal pressure required for vapor to permeate the sub-micron membrane. This releases moisture more easily and keeps microclimates circulating with cool air faster than other protective materials. NeoShell’s oleophobic properties are incorporated into the membrane, not glued on top of it. The material is pliable and durable, and performs well in dynamic designs. Releasing excess heat directly through the fabric membrane reduces the need to manually adjust gear during activity. Polartec aims to enhance breathability so much that shedding layers or dumping heat through pit zips becomes a thing of the past.

Ski mountaineers on ridge in COWe here at Strafe are proud to call brands like eVent and Polartec partners. Image by Ian Fohrman.
Skinning highlands bowlHighland Bowl is a great place to test the breathability of Polartec NeoShell. George Rodney makes his way to the top of the bowl. Image by Ian Fohrman.

eVent uses an expanded polytetrafluoroethylene membrane (ePTFE), the same material that Gore uses on the outer layer of their membranes. Instead of protecting the ePTFE with a thin PU layer, however, eVent coats it with a proprietary oil hating oleophobic material. eVent is still expensive and its oleophobic coating isn’t as durable or windproof as something with a PU liner, but the eVent membrane allows air to flow directly through it, allowing for direct evaporation without the need of forced diffusion. Some say eVent garments have to be carefully and frequently washed to maintain their performance.

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Basically, if you value comfort in the mountains, it’s worth taking 15 minutes to brush up on modern outerwear choices, particularly air permeable fabrics. Choosing the right one might mean the difference in touring just a bit farther or skiing until last chair.