Some backpacking clothing and even boots might be coated with a waterproofing treatment called Gore-Tex, which makes the item more expensive. Is it worth spending the extra money? While a backpacker should always consider the merits of waterproof boots or jackets versus non-waterproof items when purchasing equipment, remember there are lots of ways to stay dry and Gore-Tex is only one of them. However, Gore-Tex the market leader.
Gore-Tex is a proprietary coating developed in 1969 to provide both waterproof and breathability characteristics to clothing and footwear. From their website:
The secret of GORE-TEX® products — which are both completely waterproof and completely breathable at the same time — lies within its revolutionary bi-component membrane. The membrane contains over 9 billion microscopic pores which are approximately 20,000 times smaller than a drop of water, but 700 times bigger than a molecule of moisture vapor. So while water in its liquid form cannot penetrate the GORE-TEX® membrane, as moisture vapor it can easily escape. In addition, all garments using Gore Tex must also have taped seams to provide added protection against water.
Many clothing manufacturers licence the waterproofing process from Gore-Tex and advertise their relationship. Other clothing companies have opted to develop their own waterproofing processes or license competing technology from companies like Polartec (called NeoShell) in an increasingly competitive industry. However, analysts report that Gore Tex still commands at least 65% of the market.
Waterproof fabrics do have their limitations. Extreme humidity or ongoing rain can make it difficult to transport moisture away from the body, creating a “greenhouse effect” under your jacket. This is especially problematic when the temperature is in the 30s or 40s. Waterproof and breathable products also get dirty over time, reducing their effectiveness. That’s why there are products (like Nicwax Tech Wash) that can be used to clean the garments and mostly restore their effectiveness.
Waterproof boots are great in winter, when snow and slush are just waiting to get your socks wet and ruin an outing. However, in the summer, waterproof boots keep moisture (sweat) inside and that can contribute to blisters. This is why many outdoorsmen have a waterproof pair of boots for cold weather and a breathable pair for summer hiking.