Aspen Times Weekly: 2016 Waterproof/Breathable Redux
A new kind of hardshell jacket will come to market next year, and it promises to be different than Gore-Tex and existing options. Last week, on a trip to South America, I got a first look at OutDry Extreme, a to-be-released waterproof/breathable membrane made by Columbia Sportswear.
The shell jackets look like techy “rain slickers,” including exposed seam tape and shiny, rubbery face fabrics. But the jackets are breathable instead of clammy, and they include never-before-seen construction and design.
In short, OutDry Extreme flips waterproof/breathable fabric around, moving the jacket membrane to the outside. A single ply of wicking material is next to the skin.
The result is a new type of jacket that is more durable than most breathable hardshells, and it’s possibly more waterproof, too.
Backing up. For context, jacket membranes on traditional winter-oriented hardshells and rainwear are thin, porous, waterproof and breathable materials sandwiched in between layers of fabric. Gore-Tex is the most recognizable membrane in the outdoors.
The type of Gore-Tex used in jackets is too fragile to be exterior facing. The company sells its membrane sandwiched under an exterior fabric coated with a water-repellent chemical.
The surface chemical, simplified and called a DWR (durable water repellent), can rub off, which is a major Achilles heel with many hardshell jackets. It causes an effect called “wetting out” where the exterior fabric is saturated with water.
OutDry Extreme employs a different fabric that’s much more durable. Its DWR does not rub off easily, and the jacket will not “wet out” under normal wear.
The polyurethane used for the membrane in OutDry Extreme, Columbia cites, is the highest-density jacket membrane that it knows of in the industry. In addition, a thin diamond-pattern layer, also made of polyurethane, sits atop the membrane, serving as an armor.
In the membrane’s bonding to a wicking fabric, the process uses no adhesive. The fibers are mechanically bonded via heat and pressure as opposed to a glue, which Columbia cites increases breathability.
The patent-pending material, which has microscopic perforations for breathability, was concepted in 2013. It will be for sale in early 2016 starting at $120 for a basic rain shell.
I tested OutDry Extreme on a foggy, rainy day in the mountains of Colombia last week. The alien forests of Chingaza, a national park east of Bogota, are home to succulents, grasses and strange tree-plants called frailejones.
Wetness came from above and all sides as we hiked and bushwhacked for hours in the park. Wind almost blew me sideways.
At the end, despite constant rain and contact with drenched vegetation, I was dry. The OutDry Extreme jacket and rain pants served as a rubbery shell, shedding all water but letting my body breathe.
It was a day-long test with a new jacket, so it was far from conclusive. But OutDry Extreme is something new, and it deserves attention from gear geeks as well as anyone obsessed with staying dry in any weather outside.
Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.
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