For outdoor activities, waterproof and breathable membranes are a core protective component. But for optimum comfort, be sure to pick the one best suited to your activity. Should you put protection or breathability first? And opt for a Gore-Tex or Climactive membrane, or a softshell instead? Camille and Michaël, Lafuma product managers, unveil these membranes’ secrets for us.
It’s a very thin micro-perforated film that lets the water vapour of sweat escape”
To start with, a bit of background. The waterproof and breathable membrane, invented by Gore-Tex, revolutionised outdoor leisure in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It provides athletes with two crucial properties: protection, with its waterproofness; and comfort, thanks to its breathability. “It’s a very thin micro-perforated film that lets the water vapour of sweat escape but also stops raindrops getting in,” explains Camille Miquerol. “This film is sandwiched and protected between the outer and inner fabrics, so the whole structure is called a laminate.”
Both waterproof and breathable, these membranes may have no thermal insulation, and be used as occasional protection. Such models are very light and packable, enabling the keenest enthusiasts to push on in rain or wind. A membrane can also be paired with a lining (a Mix & Match compatible zip-out liner, for example). In this case it becomes your main jacket, both protective and warm, and able to deal with any weather – the ultimate grade of comfort, whether you’re up a mountain or downtown!
“What sets us apart from other brands,” says Michaël Svitex, “is that for each of our technical products, we offer a waterproof and breathable membrane, with or without lining. That’s our philosophy.” At Lafuma, three kinds of membrane are used, based on the type of activity. Let’s start with the most protective: the Gore-Tex.
“The advantage of Gore-Tex is that, besides the fabric, Gore-Tex is a label that validates the whole manufacturing process; sets assembly methods – for instance, all seams are sealed to stop water getting in; and also, the factories comply with the label’s standards,” explains Michaël. It’s the best waterproof and breathable membrane in its category, and lets you stay out in the rain for many hours without losing your motivation! Its favourite playground is mountains or sea – which are fairly hostile environments.
The advantage of Gore-Tex is that, besides the fabric, Gore-Tex is a label that validates the whole manufacturing process”
Example: the Shift Gore-Tex model. It’s a very lightweight jacket in unlined PacLite, for fast hikes lasting one or two days. It’s also the ideal jacket for trail running when you get up into cold, high surroundings. Lightweight and compact, it can be stashed deep in your pack, and only pulled out if it turns rainy or windy. It transforms an iffy situation into an enjoyable trip! In a nutshell: the promise of protection from water, and of comfort by wicking sweat away.
This house membrane is the most versatile, and suited to every situation. Its build varies, as per the technical level required. “Some Climactive models have all seams sealed, while in others – intended for less challenging weather – seams are only sealed in strategic areas: shoulders, hood and jacket front,” says Camille.
Some Climactive models have seams only sealed in strategic areas: shoulders, hood and jacket front”
Example: the Traveler (men’s or women’s version) is partly proofed, whereas the Donegal has all its seams sealed. It’s your job to pick the right option, depending on what you have in mind: the former is better for urban wear and short walks, while the latter is recommended for longer excursions.
The softshell is an evolution of the original membrane, providing greater suppleness and comfort as well as higher breathability – but there’s a protection payoff. A softshell is not waterproof but water repellent, i.e. drops roll off the fabric like on duck feathers. But this repellency, though less effective than a waterproof membrane, still blocks light fine rain. Softshells are therefore suited to cold and windy environments but low rainfall. “These models are far more versatile,” says Michaël. “They’re ideal for walking and easy runs when it’s a bit chilly or a bit windy – by the sea ,for instance, when there’s a spot of drizzle.” In winter, you may want to add a fleece lining for warmth.
These models are far more versatile”
Example: the Jasper combines all the qualities of a softshell, and versatility in particular. Protective yet light, breathable and supple, and adaptable to everyday life, it also features a PFC-free water-repellent finish. To stay dry and protected from the elements.
Over recent decades, thanks to evolving fabrics, design and construction techniques, athletes have been able to go further, protected from adverse weather and kept dry because sweat is shifted away from the skin.