Originally posted on SnowboarderGuide.com
Day 3 of 30 Days on the Road was my second day for Gore, and it was a huge day. There will definitely be some follow-up posts coming out of this trip, but I’ll do my best at capturing the day in Day 3 (which I’ve split into two parts). This was a really cool trip, and I learned a lot; hopefully I can share that with you here.
My internal clock was pretty much fried, and the 8am start to the day definitely felt like 4am, but after a great breakfast and copious amounts of coffee at the hotel, I was starting to feel alive. Our first stop was the Elk Mills 5 facility, where John Reaney (Snow Product Specialist) and Brad Hill (Snow Marketing) talked to us about Gore-Tex and showed us some pretty cool demonstrations and explained some of the technical aspects.
The first demo Brad ran us through was to show the difference between a non-breathing plastic bag and the breathable Gore-Tex. He passed out two “mittens” to each person there, one made from each material. With a mitten on each hand, we held up our hands and made them “run,” rapidly and repeatedly opening and closing our fists. Within moments you could feel the moisture in the regular plastic bag, while the Gore-Tex mitten was clearly different, wicking the sweat away from that hand and preventing moisture buildup.
One of the things they described is that the overall goal of a Gore-Tex snow product is to create a micro-climate within your outerwear that keeps you in your comfort zone. One of the primary ways this is accomplished is through the breathability of the Gore membrane. This is one of the areas where some confusion comes up. Believe it or not, breathability doesn’t mean air can pass through the membrane. A common misconception is that gear with a high breathability rating will pass air through it, and people will try to test this by holding the fabric to their mouth and trying to breath through it. The ability for air to pass through fabric is called “air permiability,” and is a completely separate issue. Breathability is actually the ability of sweat to move through the fabric as it evaporates into water vapor.
In another demo, Brad had Steve from TetonAT dip his hand in water, and then put that wet hand into a glove-shaped Gore-Tex membrane he then put his gloved hand into a bucket of ice water. Steve then exercised his hand for a few minutes. The heat generated by his hand moving was enough to make the water on his hand heat and then evaporate out through the membrane; the same membrane that kept the outside water from moving inward. Cool fact, human skin doesn’t actually detect wetness; it can feel hot and cold, and it can feel pressure, and the combination of those two senses are what creates the sensation of being wet. So while Steve’s hand was in the ice water, he actually couldn’t tell that his hand was drying out. It wasn’t until he took his hand out of the water and the Gore-Tex glove that he could tell that his hand had dried out. Likewise, when you’re sitting on a chair lift and the snow is accumulating on your lap, you may think you’re getting wet because you can see the water on your lap and you can feel the cold and pressure.
After the intro we moved into a tour of the factory floor and testing areas. Because Gore has some proprietary systems in the factory, there were areas where we couldn’t take photos. The factory itself was pretty impressive; I’ve been in a few textile factories before, and Gore’s was almost unrecognizable as a factory. The rooms we toured through were clean, with high ceilings and full-spectrum lights. The facility’s cleanliness is just one more example of the high standards Gore has in all areas of its business. The first thing you see when you walk into the factory is endless rolls of material. Gore does the lamination between the Gore-Tex membrane and the outerwear fabric for all Gore-Tex products sold. So when Burton is designing a new AK jacket, they work with Gore to choose a fabric and pattern for the jacket. Once the fabric has been found, Gore laminates their membrane to the outer face fabric, and delivers it to Burton. Burton then begins making jackets using that fabric.
From the factory floor we toured some of the evaluation and testing facilities. The first thing we saw was the ways fabric breathability is measured and learned a quite a bit about breathability that will be going into a separate post at a later date. The most important thing to know about breathability though is that there is no industry standard for testing breathability, and the results can be drastically different from test to test. When you’re shopping for gear, don’t rely on the numbers listed for breathability.
The next piece of equipment was the High Pressure Hydrostatic Tester, and I was stoked to see it. Hydrostatic testing is how companies determine a how waterproof a piece of outerwear is, communicated to customers as “mm of waterproofing.” Fabric samples are clamped into the ring and water is introduced below the fabric at a low pressure. Over time the pressure is increased, until liquid water is detected on the top side of the fabric, or the fabric fails. When a jacket is advertised as having 20,000 mm waterproofing, it means that the water pressure was equivalent to a water column 20,000mm (or 65 feet) tall. Gore does not publish it’s waterproofing numbers, because they say it doesn’t factor in the longevity or durability of the fabric, but they did say their membrane tests to above 20,000mm.
Our next stop was a room full of washing machines, my guess is over 100 of them. All of them had their lids removed, and all were running. In the washing machine room, John explained that this was the best way they had come up with to test the durability of their products and simulate use. The machines get roughly 100 hours of run time per week, and all products see 500 hours of testing. Once a product has gone through the extended rinse cycle it’s dried, visually inspected to see how it has handled the wear, and then re-tested in a low-pressure hydrostatic tester to make sure it is still waterproof. If it fails either the visual inspection or the hydrostatic pressure testing the fabric is evaluated to see what needs to be changed in order to make it pass.
Another area we’ll be delving into in a later post is DWR, Durable Water Repellent, the coating that keeps the face fabric from getting wet. DWR works like little pegs sticking up from the fabric that prevent water droplets from being absorbed. When DWR gets dirty or becomes worn down, the fabric may absorb water, and as mentioned earlier, if the outer fabric is wet, you may feel wet even if a Gore-Tex or other membrane is keeping the water from reaching your skin. Pretty basic stuff, but what you may not know about DWR is that it can be refreshed without applying additional waterproofing to your outerwear. Gore recommends washing their jackets with a small amount of light detergent, and then running an extra rinse cycle. Here’s the kicker, Gore recommends putting your outerwear in the dryer to dry it, rather than hang drying. The heat in the dryer helps the DWR “pegs” stand back up. They recognize that it’s a hard sell to tell people to put a $400 jacket in the dryer, but that it’s the best way to keep your gear clean and waterproof. By cleaning and drying in this manner, Gore says the DWR on their jackets can be renewed 10-15 times.
Continued in Gore Tour: Day 3 of 30 Days on the Road – Part 2
“30 Days on the Road” is a blog series tracking my travel for thirty days in October and November; from leaving Alaska on October 27th until Steamboat opens on November 25th. Due to a series of cool opportunities I don’t have to be back at a “real job” until 11/26th, and after a summer that seemed way too long, I’ll be making the most of my free month with as much snow and snow industry fun as I can cram in. The goal is two-fold, first to get you pumped about the upcoming season, and two to help keep track of time as I wander aimlessly for a month.