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This season, what used to be a gospel truth of shell construction—waterproof/breathable membranes are fragile and need to be protected by a face fabric—gets turned inside out with the launch of Gore-Tex’s new Active Shell with Permanent Beading Surface and Columbia’s OutDry Extreme technologies. Both innovative new fabrics place the membrane on the outside of a jacket, ditching the face fabric entirely. By taking the typical DWR-treated outer layer out of the equation, both companies claim their new fabrics enhance breathability and eliminate issues with a face fabric’s DWR degrading over time—in other words, these shells should never wet out.
First to market will be Gore’s new Active Shell, hitting stores December 15 with the release of The North Face’s HyperAir GTX Jacket ($249); Arc’Teryx, Italian cycling brand Castelli, and the company’s own Gore Bike Wear and Gore Running Wear will also use it in new fall shells. The previous version of Active Shell uses a three-layer construction, but this new Active pairs the outer durable membrane with only a light microgrid backer made from woven nylon.
Gore also says the new, stripped-down technology responds to changes in body temperature faster than its other products, making it ideal for cyclic aerobic activities such as running. “Our motivation was to maintain the protection we deliver with Gore-Tex in general, but to maximize the wearing comfort to a new level,” said Johannes Ebert, product specialist for Gore-Tex Active Range. “The climate comfort is really different from anything else in the market in the waterproof space.”
Active Shell with Permanent Beading Surface uses an EPTFE-based membrane, like all Gore-Tex fabrics, but the similarities end there. “It’s a completely new membrane that is not directly comparable to other Gore-Tex membranes,” Ebert said. It took the company years to develop the new version, which is mechanically durable enough to handle abrasion from the environment and resist contamination, but also good-looking enough as the outer layer of a garment to appeal to consumers. The finished result is also about 50 percent lighter than the three-layer Active Shell.
Columbia’s own membrane-on-the-outside innovation, OutDry Extreme, hits the market in February 2016 in several spring hardshells; additional shells, insulation pieces, bibs, and gloves with the technology will follow in the fall. OutDry Extreme features an outer membrane with a protective coating and a wicking interior fabric; its top-of-the-line spring style, the Diamond ($400), upgrades to the company’s Omni-Wick EVAP technology for even quicker moisture movement. Instead of lighter aerobic pieces, Columbia opted to introduce the technology in a line of heavier-duty hardshells suited for extended hiking and backpacking in wet weather.
We’ve been testing several hardshells with OutDry Extreme for months and can attest to its impressively durable waterproofness—and to its thicker, rubber-slicker feel (a turnoff for some testers). But we haven’t yet seen samples of Active Shell with Permanent Beading Surface for comparison. Stay tuned for a closer look at how Gore’s latest offering does in the field.