goosing the waterproof breathable outer shell debate...

12:14 p.m. on October 6, 2011 (EDT)
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just when you thought it was safe to go get that pricy eVent storm shell, quasi-softshells made from polartec neoshell are going to hit the shelves this fall.  will this new fabric the new standard by which all other waterproof/breathable fabrics will be judged? polartec's marketing says it breathes 'twice as well' as the next best fabric yet remains fully waterproof - and has some stretch and give like a softshell.

i suspect it will be hard to tell.  so far as i am aware, there are no universal testing standards for measuring how waterproof or breathable a fabric really is. 

water resistance is generally derived from the amount of water pressure a fabric can withstand (in millimeters) before leaking.  i think this is interesting, but should water pressure really be the measuring stick? stretching a sheet of gore tex or eVent and spraying it with a garden hose doesn't have much in common with the field conditions most people encounter.  to provide some real-world perspective, rain driven by hurricane-force winds exerts roughly 10 PSI of force.  that's 6680mm, well less than the waterproofness ratings commonly associated with gore tex or eVent, or the 10,000mm i have seen thrown around for neoshell.  we are much more likely to see a day alternate between drizzle, stead rain, and bands of thunderstormsand to have fabric that is sat on and scrunched under a hip belt and shoulder straps.   how much psi does a backpack shoulder strap or hipbelt exert? what if you sit on a wet log on a break? i don't think anyone knows or has tested that.  (marketing materials will usually cite figures between 10,000 and 30,000 mm),  

breathability is generally derived from the number of grams of water that can pass through a membrane in a 24 hour period.  (marketing materials will cite figures like 10,000 grams/millimeters squared/day).  it looks to me like polartec is trying to say their fabric is more breathable 'in active conditions' because the fabric is mildly more permeable to air.  whether that really makes a difference is anyone's guess at this point.

i guarantee, though, that these neoshell jackets will get rave reviews because people will see them as the holy grail, finally, a truly waterproof softshell that retains the breathability. 

REI published a nice, detailed article about this:

a report of the military's test results (if you can understand it) is also out there:

should be interesting.   if anyone has any thoughts about the neoshell, happy to hear about it.  my view is that an open vent to the outside, whether it's a pit zip or simply unzipping the front of your jacket, is a quick, easy, and effective way to vent moisture, but it doesn't hurt to have a jacket that breathes. 

2:21 p.m. on October 6, 2011 (EDT)
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I know one thing.  Like all other new break throughs and innovations it will be very expensive.  Then there will be big debate with many believing different things for different reasons, some real and true, and some not.  When the stuff is out for a few years then I'll take a look at it.  I'm now just starting to get the latest Gore-tex pordcucts for 10-40% on the dollar.  The new generation of Gore-tex is great stuff and workes well for me.  In a few years Event will be old stuff, old news and I'll be getting it for the same prices that I now get Gore-tex for which is nothing...............and Event is suppose to be better than Gore-tex.   I love to sit on the sidlines and watch REI and others sell all the gear that I will own in a few years.  It's what I live for, Literally

Ya know. I often wonder why they keep making better things when the things we have works perfectly.  It all smacks of marketing for the sake of consumption and the ever elusive need to have a better product than ones neighboor.  I look foward to owning something made of this material if it 5-8 years.

Regarding water testing.  I often hear of people setting there tents in a sprinkler to see if it will leak.  That's great as a start, but some of the storms I've been in aint no sprinkler.  No compairison to a wind driven thunder storm.  If you take a pressure washer and stand back and pound it you will find out what your tent is made of (being careful  not to destroy your new $700 tent of cource).  I've done this a few times to test my seam sealing.  Get in the tent and have a friend blast it with a cheapy  pressure washer and mark the areas that leak with chaulk. Then when the thing drys, redo your seam sealing.

I don't know much about the material and there ratings.  I do know now by sight, feel, and actual consumer testing what works.  I actully don't even read the specs much anymore.  The only thing that maters to me is years of  consumer testing.  Thats what I base all my buying on.  If it fits my needs wants and desires and if it's worked for people for the intended use for a number of years then I might jsut consider buing it if I get to set the price not them.  All of this is of cource is just IMHO.

1:58 p.m. on October 10, 2011 (EDT)
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I own three (for sake of simplicity) wp/b shells.

Lowe Alpine Triple Ceramic 2 layer jacket with mesh lining(goodwill $10)

Generic 3 layer gore tex jacket (ebay $20)

Teva 3 layer eVent jacket (closeout $80)

The lowe's breathability is ok, not great, but ok.  The 3 layer gore tex jacket breathes better than the lowe.  I've used the eVent jacket, but not enough in situations where I pushed myself hard enough to heavily sweat.  I hope to find more opportunities to do test this jacket in the coming months and see how I think it compares to the gore tex jacket.

All in all the three are a lot better than what I used 10 years ago.  I like the cut of the Lowe the best, it is the most oversized of the jackets so a  lot of layers fit underneath.  Also the Lowe is cut longer so you have better coverage than shorter jackets which are trendy now.  The lowe, as with the gore tex jacket, has a drawcord at the waist and bottom hem so you can really cinch the jacket tight and seal in warmth.  Breathability aside, if I had to spend an unplanned night outside the Lowe would win hands down.  The Teva eVent jacket has all sorts of pockets and zippers and gizmos which are fun to play with

All three seem waterproof enough.  Standing around under a sprinkler is a waste of time.  The real test is in the field when you are in rain for many hours at a time. How fast will the jacket wet out is the real test.

I doubt some new membrain will make a huge difference in waterproofness or breathability.  My eVent may prove to be an improvement over my gore tex jacket, but I doubt the difference will amount to much.  Better, perhaps but a greatly improved, maybe.

2:29 p.m. on October 10, 2011 (EDT)
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I know we are talking here of rain shells. But PSI measurements might not be the answer ether. I have had tents that have gone though hard PNW storms. Not a drop got in. But the same tent in a one week non stop light rain fail.

2:44 p.m. on October 10, 2011 (EDT)
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I've been traipsing 'round, / hiking  lately wearing my 'old-school' VENTILE Cotton,  hooded rain jacket / casual 'about-town' coat.   Made in Italy.

This thing is OLD, but in primo-condition  ( I take good care of stuff ).   Light, too.   Breathes about 1000% better than any Gore-Tex or similar rain shells I have  ( and, I have several ).   EXTREMELY water-resistant.

When I wear it, I think of things like Brian, Alan and lead are mentioning here.

Do you guys know ANYTHING about VENTILE ?

I have used this jacket / coat for years ... and have other similar, much older, from waaay before there was anything such as 'technical fabrics'.

I haven't thought much about Ventile.   I just thought it was "old stuff".


Just for 'poops-'n'-grins' ... get on eBay and enter "ventile" in the search-box under ALL CATEGORIES.

Not a whole lot listed ... but, check-out the prices.   That oughtta  make you reach for some good Scotch!

Makes me feel a whole lot smarter than I look ....

~ r2 ~

10:15 p.m. on October 10, 2011 (EDT)
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Lots of the classic gear makers made ventile jackets back in the day.  The cost was just enough more than regular mountain parkas that I don't think most firms sold much ventile relative to 60/40 or 65/35 parkas.   The ultimate ventile parka was by Synergy Works which cost a LOT of dough at the time.  I think eventually gore tex won out because it was cheaper and lighter.  Also, everything wets out eventually, including ventile.   The downside with ventile is that since it is made of cotton it will take longer to dry.

11:30 p.m. on October 10, 2011 (EDT)
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I've never had the ventile coats / jackets wet-out (yet). 

Probably, THE most comfortable rain shells I have ever worn.   They BREATHE.  (What a concept !)

I'm thinking about getting a pair of ventile gaiters.   I can't take the heat and sweat build-up in my OR "Crocs" Gore-Tex gaiters.   LIke wearing Saran Wrap.

~ r 2 ~

12:01 a.m. on October 12, 2011 (EDT)
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...both Alan and Robert are right about ventile. It was what Shackelton used (Burberry made them for the expedition I think) and ventile actually does work really well. They had to use a soft wax to make them water and windproof and so the cotton would not wet out as quick. Fluorocarbons or acrylates (Nikwax techwash type products) work well on the cotton these days.

I was fortunate to get one of the Ibex ventile parkas that John Fernsel had made for Ibex about ten years ago. It is great in the current damp and dreary PacNW weather we are having but for climbing or scrambling trips I often take a Marmot Membrane anorak or parka instead...they are cheap, easily replaced (unlike my Ibex ventile parka), light, windproof, and  the color photgraphs well against the snow. Plus they work pretty well. For comfort though the Ibex is better I have to say.

Robert...look into some Ferrata gaitors from MEC...they are softshell and work really well. Get them much larger than normal  as they are cut tight now compared to the earlier versions. And they are shorties.



1:03 a.m. on October 12, 2011 (EDT)
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I had an English ventile anorak back in the '70s.  I remember a snow camping trip that turned me off from it. It became wet from half rain/snow on the way in and then froze over night. Pulling on that half frozen anorak the next morning was not fun.

For some conditions it was quite nice, but I used a hard shell a lot after that trip.

11:51 a.m. on October 12, 2011 (EDT)
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Mazama said:

Robert...look into some Ferrata gaitors from MEC...they are softshell and work really well. Get them much larger than normal  as they are cut tight now compared to the earlier versions. And they are shorties.



 Thanks for the 'tip', Mazama ....

Looking into them.

~ r2 ~

11:50 a.m. on October 13, 2011 (EDT)
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I have had two Ventile parkas, and used them very extensively throughout BC and into the Alberta Rockies. The first was a Black's of Greenock Anorak bought in 1974 and worn for many weeklong solo snowshoe camping treks in the Selkirks in BC. I also used this on the BC Coast and in every month of the year.

It would wet out easily, even after treatment and was difficult to keep dry, however, this is the wettest and snowiest region of North America, as well as having winter temps to just below -40*, so, one can expect any garment to lack the performance it may have in the manufacture's brochure.

In 1978, I bought a Synergy Works Expedition Parka, from Daniel Sherman; I wore this constantly as I lived two miles from my place of business and walked to and fro every day. It snows and rains and I used this for the same kind of trips as I did the Black's. I also used it when alone in a 14Ft. boat on the Pacific during my stint as a Canadian Coast Guard Lightkeeper.

Ventile jackets like these just gave mediocre performance under tough outdoor conditions; they wet out quickly, will not dry and are quite heavy. I began to supplement mine with Gore-Tex parkas, Early Winters, Marmot Mountain Works, MEC-2, Jack Wolfskin and then bought two eVENT shells from Integral Designs.

eVENT is so superior to Ventile that comparision is pointless and the ONLY aspects of Ventile I find useful are it's use in extreme, dry, cold as an overshell over duffle and it's resistance to fire. Ventile is also VERY expensive and does not wear well, I still have my battered Synergy Parka and it shows the wear of years of hard use to a degree than other fabrics will not.

That said, in REAL cold, merino baselayer, merino sweater and Synergy Parka was a very comfortable and warm system and with windpants over merino, I was good to -40* all day long.

12:43 p.m. on October 17, 2011 (EDT)
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..I'd agree with Ventile is relegated to use around town and for serious stuff on a climb I use either a synthetic like eVent or the relatively cheaper Marmot Membrane.

Re the merino wool base layers....I threw out all my poly base layers and went with multiple layers of Merino wool just like Dewey says. I was always cold and wet in the polypr. Plus polypro reeked quickly and the only way to get the stench out was to use Mirazyme then to wash it normally.

1:53 p.m. on October 17, 2011 (EDT)
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+1 on merino wool layers.  I am too cheap to ditch my synthetics though I rarely wear them, merino wool really is worth the money.

For cold and dry conditions, old school 60/40 parkas work well though they are heavy.  I actually wear my old mountain parkas around town, they are comfortable, windproof, have lots of pockets and will repel a light rain.

3:18 p.m. on October 18, 2011 (EDT)
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i loved the feel of 60/40 (so long as it had a nylon inner lining) and the wind resistance.  i did not like that the 60/40 parkas would get wet quickly - at least that was my pre-DWR experience with them. 

i'm not a huge fan of softshells for overnights because i have trouble getting them to dry out - I doubt that would be any different for neoshell.  not so much with hard shells.  having a softshell that's truly waterproof could be an advantage, though, if you're really active, climbing or x-country skiing in the 25-45 degree range where hard shells start to feel too warm. 

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