There are countless materials, membranes, systems and other things engineered to keep us dry in the great outdoors, but how are we supposed to keep track of what does what? No worries, not many of us can, nor have to. But, since it is important to know which shoes, jacket or trousers to wear the next time you go on a trip, we figured we’d gradually introduce the most important membranes on the market today. Besides, a couple of technical terms never hurt anybody!
In the following, we’re going to talk about Sympatex and address basic questions, such as what this membrane provides and how it differs from others on the market. Plus, we’re going to touch on environmental protection and what it has to do with membranes.
Functional fabrics and environmental protection – do these two things even go together? It’s not at all rare to hear about membranes that are supposedly harmful to the environment or even carcinogenic. Oftentimes, you’ll hear about membranes that are made of polytetrafluoroethylene (a difficult word, I know), or PTFE for short. The process of making PTFE involves perfluorooctanoic acid, which may be carcinogenic and have a few other negative properties as well. The scary thing is that despite the fact that this substance does not exist in nature, it was detected in Antarctica! The good news? Fortunately, many manufacturers of membranes are now able to exclude this from their products.
If you’ve recently purchased a new jacket, you should check to see whether the manufacturer can exclude PFOA or not, since PTFE per se has not been proven to be harmful to our health. Alternatively, you could look for a membrane free of per- and polyfluorinated chemicals. That would save you a lot of work.
The Sympatex membrane is PTFE-free, recyclable and bluesign-certified!
If you’d rather not use membranes that are potentially harmful to you or the environment, you should definitely have a closer look at Sympatex membranes. These membranes are made by Sympatex Technologies GmbH in the Bavarian town of Unterföhring, Germany. A Sympatex membrane is much like a PET bottle: it’s 100% recyclable!
It’s not made out of PTFE, but rather polyether/ester. Yes, yet another rather difficult word, but it’s pretty simple in terms of its composition. It’s basically a safe, environmentally-friendly compound of polyester and polyether. How do we know it’s safe? Well, if the membrane’s countless certifications are any indication, the word is out – Sympatex is safe. Not only is the Sympatex membrane certified according to the Oeko-Tex Standard, but Sympatex is a bluesign-certified manufacturer as well. The Oeko-Tex Standard ensures that the material is not harmful to our health, and the bluesign certification guarantees that the product was manufactured in an environmentally-friendly way.
How does the Sympatex membrane work?
So, now that we’ve got an environmentally and skin-friendly membrane, it’d probably be a good idea to explain how it works. Is it as reliable as other membranes? Well, in terms of function, Sympatex differs quite a bit from other membranes. For a start, the Sympatex membrane is nonporous. Uh, ok, but what happens to the breathability? The solution: The function of the membrane is based on a physical and chemical principle.
Here’s a quick crash course in chemistry! The hydrophilic components of the membrane absorb moisture and transport it to the outside so that it can then evaporate. The water vapour molecules are transported along the molecule chains through the membrane. The compact molecular structure of the Sympatex membrane swells as a result of the moisture from the outside, thereby providing room for the transfer of body moisture. The requirement for this function is a partial pressure gradient of temperature and humidity from the inside to the outside.
If chemistry has never really been your jam, here’s a brief summary in layman’s terms: If you really work up a sweat during highly-aerobic physical activity, the temperature and humidity underneath the jacket will rise. If the temperature and humidity underneath the jacket become higher those on the outside of the jacket, this is when the Sympatex membrane is in its element. So, the more the body sweats, the more body moisture the membrane can transfer to the outside. We usually referred to this as “breathable”.
Windproof and waterproof protection guaranteed
The Sympatex membrane is 100% waterproof. As it should be! After all, waterproof protection is absolutely essential in bad weather. The measure of how waterproof a membrane is, called hydrostatic head. It measures how tall a column of water the fabric can hold before water seeps through. According to the EN 343, a rating of 1300mm and above is considered to be waterproof. The Sympatex membrane boasts a waterproof rating of 45,000mm, so it’s pretty darn waterproof!
Another important aspect is windproof protection, even if you won’t be travelling in extremely windy conditions, because it will stop the dreaded wind chill before it starts. Why is this bad? Well, wind causes that warm layer of air around your body to be drawn away, resulting in you thinking it’s much colder than it actually is. The windproof Sympatex membrane, however, shields your body from the wind, preventing wind chill and the decrease in performance associated with it.
Of course, as no windproof, waterproof and breathable membrane could go without a quality DWR finish, Sympatex doesn’t either! If you’re unfamiliar with what a DWR does, it provides the water and dirt-repellent protection needed to prevent the material and the membrane becoming saturated. Which DWR treatment is used is completely up to the manufacturer of the finished product and us, the consumer, as we decide which product we use to re-proof our clothing. An important thing to consider when it comes to DWR treatments is, however, the environmental aspect. Even though not all DWRs are environmentally friendly, there are some environmentally-friendly options available on the market today.
What laminates with Sympatex membranes are there?
There are different laminates for different applications. For example, you would need a different laminate for climbing in the mountains than you would for walking the dog or backpacking. For this reason, Sympatex has developed 2, 2½, 3, and 4-layer laminates to suit the specific requirements of users (i.e., usage, performance and properties).
The Sympatex membrane can be connected to several different base materials, such as knitwear, fleece, woven fabrics, leather or even foam to form a laminate for a certain application. For example, a laminate for waterproof shoes consists of (starting from the inside) a soft liner, the membrane, a textile layer and the upper material. The laminate for particularly lightweight jackets often leave out the lining to keep the weight and pack size of the garment to a minimum.
In sum, there are several solid membranes out there, but there is only one Sympatex. If health and environmental protection are things that are important to you, Sympatex is a good choice. After all, topics like sustainability, recycling and environmental protection aren’t going anywhere anytime soon!