Waterproof Journey

Journey to understand waterproofs

Keeping Dry and Staying Warm, Researching and writing our book and training programme has been a long journey.

Along the way we have consulted many garment and fabric manufacturers, academics, physiologists, professional outdoor instructors and guides and retailers.  There is a constant flow of emails between the key writers discussing and debating to ensure that we are in consensus on all points and issues.

It is vital though to understand what you, as the purchaser and user of garments do and don’t understand about how they do and don’t work and why.  There are so many competing marketing claims so differentiating fact from fiction is tough. During our first KDSW workshop in November 2017 we began by asking all the outdoor professionals (three UIAGM guides, and 10 AMI and 11 BAIML’s)  what they didn’t know and understand; using Post-it notes, we gathered 32 points from the 24 people there.


In order to get closer to the customer we have Outdoor Gear Coach on Facebook and other social media. But talking to the people who are selling gear is important.  We have a long-standing arrangement/relationship with Climbers’ Shop/Joe Brown. A recent conversation with Paul Casey,

Paul Casey and Mike Parsons, KORS 2017

Paul Casey and Mike Parsons, KORS 2017

and Nick, the general manager and buyer, and Brian, the  Ambleside shop manager, produced some interesting information between us which we would like to share.

Conversation  informs understanding of waterproofing, breathability and wicking

Mike’s story: Experience of Waterproof garments

I wanted to find out what it is Climbers’ Shop customers do and don’t understand.  I opened up by talking frankly about the period when I switched from being a Sympatex® licensee to a GORE-TEX® licensee.  I said I thought that since it was first introduced, the “Guaranteed to keep you dry” claim is perhaps now treated too literally.  

 Back in 1990, I had heard on the grapevine that there was going to be a launch of a new standard of GORE-TEX® items, called ‘Guaranteed to keep you dry’. Some manufacturers that I knew were muttering about the requirements to make this new standard.  From my part I could see that W.L.Gore Inc had an enormous amount of expertise and were going to take things to the next level: I wanted to be a part of this big step forward. To be honest, waterproof garment design and construction was still in a primitive state in the late 80s, although all the problems of leaking through soiling (with the release of 2nd generation GORE-TEX®) had been overcome, taped seam sealing and the cross-over points were still problem areas. (For the full story see Waterproof Jacket Part 2) Additionally, and most important, garment construction by each of the garment manufacturers was very variable and garments often leaked because of complex seams which weren’t taped.  What Gore did at this point was improve all the taping processes, set standards and also put together a final test of the finished garments which the manufacturers had to submit garments for test. And to redesign if they failed. A special very high rain tower was constructed by W.L.Gore, ensuring the rain droplets reached maximum velocity when they hit the garment on the dummy. In addition, water was sprayed  horizontally at a rotating dummy at a Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) pressure which equated with the very highest wind speeds possible in the outdoors. Results: very much better garments. Hence the confidence in the guarantee. It should also be said that over time, all manufacturers of all brands of garments benefited from this increase of design expertise.

Paul Casey, Climbers’ Shop owner replied, ‘ Yes but that was also followed up by a very extensive training programme, where they emphasised not only the outer fabric but the need for use of all the different layers in the right way from base layer to middle layers et cetera.  However that training no longer continues and I think if we are honest we also as a retailer have stopped talking about it. We know about it but it’s no longer part of our dialogue with customers. That’s why we are working with you Mike, as Outdoor Gear Coach and we are looking forward to further extending our expertise to guide customers with their purchases.’

We asked our USA editor Chuck Kukla, his thoughts on this matter of customer understanding.

When I talk about this in-store I often use the phrase, ‘the water does not always make it out of your layers’. When I say that it takes people by surprise. But it also explains their experience to some extent.  They read the ‘ads’ which do not match their experience, so something must be ‘broken’ or not working. Then I explain that breathability and ‘mvtr’ are useful parameters but it’s an incomplete picture. Personal layering and garment adjustment skills are an important part of the broader picture.  

Chris Townsend ,TGO Gear Expert commented: Chuck’s comment reminds me of someone complaining their waterproof wasn’t breathable enough because their base layer was wet,



even though their midlayer was dry! They wouldn’t accept that the moisture had never made it as far as the waterproof. Expectations are high!


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