Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A consumers thoughts on new fabrics

So I have a dilemma.

But a good one.
For the past few years, breathable waterproof fabrics have come in pretty much 2 forms worth talking about. Gore-tex, in its many forms, (proshell, paclite and performance shell), and eVent. Anything else was pretty much a non-starter for serious outdoors business.
The problem has always been that Gore-tex in whatever form, never quite lived up to expectations. No matter what happened, you always ended up sweaty in a matter of minutes after starting any kind of actual effort. Ok, so it breathed, but it need the person on the inside to build up a lot of heat before it started forcing water vapour out... so you got sweaty wet instead of rain wet.
The answer can be seen with venting pockets, pit vents and various bit and pieces with more zips and zippers than you can shake a stick at. Each zip adding another potential weak spot or rain letting in point.

eVent was the alternative- meant to be more breathable because it lacked the PU backing to the membrane. The problem with that was that it had to be kept clean or else the fabric would suffer a radical degradedation in breathability.
This autumn there are 3 new fabrics coming out on the market.
Polartec Neoshell, Mountain Hardwear DryQ and Goretex Active shell.

Each of them is meant to be 5 times more breathable than "traditional" goretex- basically treading the line between waterproofness, breathablity and windchill. This is a rather exciting development, but, like buses, they all seem to have come along at the same time.
(for a discussion on the exact differences between the fabrics have a click here)

Now, my issue is this.

We have 3 brand new fabrics on the market at the same time, all making similar claims. How do I choose which one to go for? Is it actually any better than current membraned or non membraned soft shell? Each type of jacket is going to go for about £250 or so. But really, how do you choose between them?
Yes, its going to be fit specific, but if I know the outdoor industry, there will be few and far between places that will actually stock all the different types of fabric, let alone all the different types of jacket in each fabric for joe punter to make an informed decision.

(reality check here, I'm ranting about not having the ability to try on waterproof jackets- its not the end of the world, I know, but it annoys me)

So, I want to try on a Rab jacket, I go to one retailer who may or may not have it, even more unlikely- in my size. I want to try on a DryQ, but that retailer won't stock it, and the next one probably will have made the decision to order in a jacket that I don't want to try on, but in the right fabric... so I don't know if the actually jacket I want will actually fit me.
What do I do?
I could bury my head in the sand, ignore the fact that all these shiny new toys are coming out and just plug away in proshell and eVent, not worrying that they may actually be the answer to the breathable question.
I could wait a couple of years for market forces to work out which one is best, (but market forces are inordinately stupid, we've only just about got to the stage where soft/hard shell hybrids are around and being bought, I know there were a few some years ago, but market forces meant that they weren't a "hit" and so got relegated to the dustbin of history, mores the pity.
I could go out, get a loan and blow it all on new fabrics, destroy them all and then try to work out how to pay the loan back to the bank- unfortunately not a good option in todays economic turmoil, and I probably couldn't even get a loan even if I wanted one.

Give a British man a choice and he'll moan, give him a foregone conclusion and he'll moan about not having a choice. I've been waiting for years for someone to actually bring out a decent fabric that properly breathes, and now we have them (apparently) there is too much choice.
We shall have to see whether they actually perform as well as they are touted, after all, numbers from labs only go so far in making up peoples minds, its how it actually feels and performs that will be the acid test. So far a few lucky people have been able to get their hands on a garment made of one of the fabrics, and reports have been very promising. However, I have yet to read of anyone that has managed to get hold of items from differing camps. That should be an interesting one.

What I really want to know is that although all these jackets are being made for Alpine wear, just how breathable are they going to be? Will they work just as well hammering across a peat bog in the drizzle or are they going to suffer there? Will they actually breathe in hot humid tropical places where traditional goretex has failed utterly? Will there be any differential between the fabrics in those conditions? If I run cold, will they be as good for me in the Peaks/Lakes as wearing something that I normally sweat like an idiot in? If I run hot, will it actually work? If it is good when I am working hard, will it be great when I work REALLY hard... and what if I stop? Will I immediately get cold? Will it be any good for Search and Rescue?
Agh. Too many unanswered questions.
I suppose thats always going to be the problem with new tech. We just don't know.

I wonder if they will actually perform the same, and literally, it will be a case of, whose logo do you like the best and which cut fits you the best.
Maybe that's what we should be hoping for.

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