On Thursday 17th September, the outdoor industry lost an icon. Robert W Gore, the man behind the revolutionary waterproofing technology GORE-TEX died at the age of 83, the company has confirmed. We take a look at what Robert invented, and how his pioneering technology continues to make rainy days more enjoyable for the masses.
What is GORE-TEX?
Introduced in 1976, GORE-TEX is a waterproof and breathable fabric which is featured in raincoats, waterproof trousers and walking shoes to name a few. The material Robert discovered created a fabric which has billions of pores smaller than water droplets, forming a waterproof and breathable surface that does not let water in, but can let sweat vapour out. Check out this tech video to see how the technology works.
Who was Robert W Gore?
Robert was born in Utah and joined the company WL Gore & Associates founded by his mother and father in 1958. Like many discoveries in history, GORE-TEX was a by-product of Robert looking for a solution to another problem, to find a new way to manufacture plumber’s tape.
Robert discovered that when yanking a material called PTFE (also known as Teflon), it stretched by 1000% to create microporous structure. The micropores that appeared were 700 times larger than a water vapour molecule but 20,000 times smaller than a droplet. Robert thought that if you made a fabric out of ePTFE, it could keep out rain whilst allowing perspiration to vent. Plus, as a bonus the fabric would offer excellent wind protection too.
This fabric with billions of pores became GORE-TEX and went on to transform the outdoor leisure, medical and space industries. Who knew that the search for plumber’s tape would result in the high-performance technology we find in outdoor clothing, footwear and accessories today.
The Road to GORE-TEX
Before GORE-TEX, there were several materials which would protect you in challenging weather, but they all had compromises. Waxed cotton was heavy, while vinyl couldn’t deal with sweat well. GORE-TEX was a lightweight, high-performance fabric which could keep out rain and wind, whilst allowing perspiration to occur naturally.
The first GORE-TEX jacket was manufactured in 1977 by a small Seattle company called Early Winters and marketed as “possibly the most versatile piece of clothing you’ll ever wear.” Since then brands like Berghaus, The North Face and Merrell have used the fabric in their clothing, footwear and accessories to the joy of outdoor enthusiasts across the world. Although often a more expensive purchase, we’d highly recommend investing in a GORE-TEX jacket, waterproof trousers or footwear for peace of mind.
Robert W Gore’s impact on the outdoor industry is unquestionably profound. This icon of innovation will be greatly missed and the outdoor community won’t be the same without him. Robert’s contribution raised the bar and allowed outdoor enthusiasts to adventure further, harder and for longer in all conditions. The manufacturer’s promise that their gear is “Guaranteed to Keep You Dry” sums up the technological advancement that Robert brought to our industry.
Laminate: GORE-TEX is a laminate. The microporous membrane is sandwiched between a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coated outer fabric and high-performance lining.
DWR (Durable Water Repellent): This non-permanent finish is coated to the outer fabric to repel water while allowing perspiration to happen naturally. DWR finishes can be restored by cleaning with Nikwax or Grangers products.
ePTFE Membrane: This thin microporous membrane allows vapour to pass through but not water droplets.