Waterproof breathable shells: All you need to know

ATtoday we will talk about the last and not the least layer essential to the multilayer system: The shells.

The shells have the function of protecting you from inclement weather such as wind, rain and snow. They will also allow your layers which are below to perform better. Because it is certain that if you have an insulating layer that is not windproof and the wind passes through it, you lose its insulating capacity. So putting something windproof on top of it will help the insulating layer retain its warmth.

Softshell VS. Hardshell

In shells, there are 2 distinct categories: soft and windproof shells "Softshell" as well as rigid "hardshell" shells. A hard shell is always raincoat.

The soft shell

A soft shell will be a shell that will have a windproof capacity, but which will not be waterproof. It will be resistant in several cases. It can even offer very good resistance, but it will not be waterproof.

A soft, windproof shell is made from stretch nylon. They serve to protect you from the wind. However, it will not be 100% of the wind that will be blocked. Good news because this is what gives the optimal moisture exchange. You release your moisture better, so you freeze less.

For example, for people who do an activity in cold and / or windy weather, but where it is not raining, it will be advantageous to wear a windbreaker rather than a hard shell in which they will sweat excessively. The soft shells are made for maximum breathing. A cross-country skier, a hiker, someone who snowshoes or runners are in Cadillacs with a windbreaker. Except when it starts to rain heavily. However, most soft shells have a water repellent treatment on the outer fiber. A water repellent product, it causes water to bead off the nylon fabric for a while. You can renew the water repellent product each season and this will give resistance and durability to your soft shell or windbreaker.

The rigid shell

Rigid shells, what we call a raincoat: this will include different types of membranes: we always deal with waterproof-breathable membrane.

There is also what is called plasters : in short, it is a nylon on which the manufacturers have sprayed a polyurethane. This type of raincoat won't breathe, but it will be very waterproof. This is not advisable for people who are going to move.

The waterproof-breathable membranes have pores, small holes on their surface. The principle: the holes are just small enough to prevent water from entering, but large enough so that your water vapor, your moisture, can go out. All to stay dry. This is the principle of all typos.

All shells will be different from one manufacturer to another varying in types of construction and membrane qualities.

The waterproof-breathable membranes: you have 2 types of membranes:

  1. GORE-TEX which is the best known company, the first to be launched in the market and will be made of Tephlon.
  2. And you have all the other membranes. There are 200 and a few on the market. These will be in a different material, but mostly polyurethane.

Advantages disadvantages

  1. GORE-TEX: You have the advantage of consistently strong waterproofing, proven durability, and excellent warranty. Most companies that want to make high-end products will use GORE-TEX. It will be more expensive.
  2. Polyurethane: Its lightness, its very interesting cost, excellent breathability: often much better than a GORE-TEX membrane.  On the other hand, it will be less sustainable. That's the big defect of polyurethane.

These are not membranes that have the same price and durability.

Shell 2.5 folds or 3 folds?

The construction of an imper-breathing membrane:

First, you will always have a nylon on the outside more or less thick depending on whether you need a coat that is very resistant to abrasion or very light.

The shell 2 folds and a half:

When there are 2 layers rolled together we will say that it is a 2 thicknesses, 2 folds. The reason for the two and a half folds is the addition of a protective vaporizer on the membrane to protect it from sweating. Notwithstanding, you have 2 layers rolled together with a vaporized layer. You have two and a half folds.

At GORE-TEX, this membrane is called PACLITE. There are a lot of other companies. You have to learn to recognize them or ask your super advisers from Plein Air Warehouse.

The shell 3 folds:

If ever over this membrane a third layer has been added that is relaminated on top. We are talking about a 3 folds, 3 thicknesses. The 3 folds are the coats that will have the highest durability rate because there will be no friction that will be done directly on the membrane. More resistant and versatile in terms of temperatures. So 3 folds coats are often used 4 seasons. They are efficient and durable even in the coldest temperatures.

While the 2 and a half folds will often be raincoats that will instead be designed for the 3 seasons.

You will always have the GORE-TEX PACLITE which can go in very cold temperatures. You can descend to any temperature with a GORE-TEX PACLITE.

On the contrary, polyurethane, because it eventually cracks, make micro cracks and peel, you will not be able to use it to go skiing for example.

Impeccable maintenance: a guarantee of sustainability

The reason polyurethane detaches is the non-maintenance of a membrane. When we wear a raincoat, we send body oil residue onto the membrane. Sweating blocks the pores of the membrane and renders it ineffective. The secret: you have to wash them. This way to our maintenance guide. A seasonal wash will help your membrane perform much longer!