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Waterproof Fabrics


Until the late nineteen seventies, waterproof rainwear used in the outdoors consisted of nylon fabric coated plentifully with a layer of either polyurethane or neoprene on the inside. Jackets and trousers were heavy, stiff and noisy as well as impermeable.

Such garments were usually quite good at keeping the rain out and equally good at keeping the sweat in. The result was that the mountain walker got wet from one source or other no matter what. Gear articles in magazines and books such as the Spur book of walking gave advice based on the idea that it was safer to be wet and warm rather than wet and cold so keep your waterproofs on. The walker caught in a series of showers had to make a judgement call as to whether it was rainy enough to make it worth getting suited up in raingear or just to continue, hoping that the shower would pass and that one would dry off in due course. It was not uncommon to pass groups of people where different choices had been made and note that some were drenched in breeches and woolly shirts whilst others were drenched in sweat inside a nylon bin liner with sleeves. Some days there was just no right answer. In 1978 a new fabric appeared and nothing would ever be the same again.


L. Gore and Co. introduced a new material called Gore-Tex. This was light, soft, flexible and … BREATHABLE. Suddenly perspiration could escape from the inside of the jacket and somehow, magically get through the fabric of the garment. The concept behind this new laminated wonder fabric was that it would be comfortable rainwear that we could wear between showers and not feel like we were trying to make the weight for a middleweight boxing match. According to some of the early claims we would wear this stuff all day in perfect climate controlled bliss and the nasty weather was something that happened outside that didn’t need to concern us. Back on Earth there were a few problems with the early editions of the fabric. It was prone to delaminating so that the layers of fabric would separate and leak. The durability was hugely inferior to the old neoprene coated cagoules and the much vaunted breathability was not quite as similar to a running vest as some people had convinced themselves it would be. At an unscientific estimate however it was about a trillion times more comfortable than anything else on the market and there was to be no going back. In no time at all every outdoor clothing manufacturer had a range of breathable rainwear and soon that’s all there was. As the years went by technology, design and manufacturing expertise improved at an incredible rate and looking at a nineteen seventies raincoat alongside a modern equivalent is a bit like staring back to a long lost time. Truly that was the age of the steam powered jacket. Modern waterproofs are now more waterproof than ever, lighter, highly breathable to an extent never before possible, durable and available in a range of styles and fabrics to suit every budget and any possible use. They have made the leap from the mountain to the mainstream and many T.V. reporters seem to have an outside broadcast wardrobe consisting only of a North Face raincoat or a Flak jacket to be donned for the cameras depending on what is falling from the sky. There has never been a better time to buy performance outdoor rainwear.

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