Sometimes the best trips include some rough weather. Conquering a summit feels twice as good if you have made it through the elements. Modern equipment turns bad weather into something you can deal with. Gore-Tex footwear has really developed in recent years and should be definite consideration as you piece together your kit. Wet feet really spoil any trip!
But, what about when you are back from your trip. The shoes are filthy and are in need of some TLC. Here we pass on to you our notes from the last Gore-Tex training for Alpinetrek.
How GORE-TEX shoes work
If you would like to understand how GORE-TEX shoes work, it is good to be aware of the way a GTX-shoe is made. When you understand the way in which the different layers interact, quite a few things will become clearer to you. The basic construction of the three types of GORE-shoes (Gore-Tex Extended Comfort, Gore-Tex Performance Comfort and Gore-Tex Insulated Comfort) is identical. I’ll explain it using Gore-Tex Performance Comfort shoes as an example.
Please note: GORE-TEX itself does not produce any shoes. This part is done by manufacturers such as Garmont, La Sportiva, Salewa, Scarpa, The North Face or Salomon, among others. GORE ‘only’ provides the expertise of how to develop and produce the membranes.
The Gore-Tex membrane is the third layer from the outside. It is below the upper material (such as leather) and a protective knit. Between your foot and the Gore-tex is a insulation layer and the lining.
The membrane stops water from the outside from getting into the shoe. This means that the shoe is waterproof. At the same, however, sweat is transferred to the outside. Explanation: The size of the tiny drops that make up the moisture inside the shoe is significantly smaller than that of water drops. The framework of the membrane is constructed like a grid, through which the internal moisture can make its way to the outside. The much larger water drops, however, do not fit through. We will use one of our own products to explain how this works exactly. The two outer layers basically function to protect the membrane. Of course the outer material gives the shoe its look and significantly influences its breathability.
Cleaning and maintaining GORE-TEX shoes
In order to keep your shoes in good shape, you need to keep in mind that there is the upper material and the membrane. The membrane functions through its physical structure. Its place is between the other layers, which means you can’t actually reach it. So in fact, no special kind of treatment is required for it. And what’s more: according to GORE-TEX care products do not damage the membrane. No need for worrying.
When it comes to the outer material, GORE-TEX always refers to the care instructions of the manufacturers. They always include instructions on how to treat the material to give it the longest possible life span. Of course leather needs a different kind of maintenance than textile fabric. The fact that there is a GORE-TEX membrane two layers below the outer material doesn’t have any impacts on this. But in any case you can’t go wrong with removing the dirt from the outside layer of the shoes, using a piece of cloth or a brush and some lukewarm water. If you plan to recondition the dry treatment of the shoes, this is one of the absolutely necessary steps.
However, GORE-TEX recommends not to apply shoe polish with a fat or oil basis or special leather oils. Those do not damage the membrane (in fact you would have to rub in large amounts of oil very thoroughly to get through to the membrane). But they lessen the breathability of the outer material and clog the pores of the leather. These products help to keep leather shoes without a membrane waterproof. For shoes with a membrane, however, this means that the outer material cannot transmit the vapor from the inner part of the shoes to the outside any longer. The moisture would be caught between membrane and outer material.
But here the usual principle applies: Don’t panic. Everything is quite simple. No matter whether your shoe is a GORE-TEX shoe or not – the upper material should be treated according to the recommendations of the manufacturer.
Dry treatment of GORE-TEX shoes
There is still one frequently asked question: how can I waterproof my shoes? If you read through this post, you already know the answer: No matter whether you used some waterproof treatment or not, GORE-TEX shoes are completely waterproof. The membrane does not get worn off, even when you wear the shoes on a regular basis.
Despite this, all shoes normally have DWR treatment (Durable Water Repellent) in addition. This is applied to the outer material and makes its way into the fibres. Through the treatment you reduce the surface tension of the outer material. This means that water simply drips of the surface. The membrane does stop everything that makes its way through the outer material into the shoe, but the waterproof treatment has a number of advantages:
- Large drops of water bead and roll off the outer material because of the treatment.
- Along with the water dirt is prevented from penetrating the upper material more efficiently.
- Since no water is being absorbed by the outer layer the shoes will not get waterlogged and become heavier.
- The outer material is normally a part of the insulation concept and works more efficiently, if it stays dry.
- By preventing the shoes absorbing water you prevent the likelihood of water transferring through the materials which might result in moisture making its way into the shoe. A classic example is protruding lining material, that sticks out of the cuff.
Even though the name suggests it: DWR treatment does not stay waterproof forever. Wearing it on a regular basis, natural degradation, dirt and detergents reduce the efficiency of the dry treatment. GORE-TEX shoes are still waterproof but the upper materials will absorb more and more water.
Bringing the water resistance of outer layers back to life is, however, very easy. There is a variety of treatment products, which you can apply in a minute. GORE-TEX do not recommend one particular manufacturer. All manufacturers offer very similar products – and the technologies have similar capabilities. The GORE-TeX team also point out that labels like ‘…recommended for GORE-TEX…’ only indicate that the manufacturers – not GORE-TEX – suggest them.
We got only one recommendation from the GORE – TEX team: they see some advantages in using a waterproof treatment spray. While you actually need to soak the piece of clothing in some dry treatments, you can easily apply a spray to the outer layer. This way you need a smaller amount of the treatment and the inner fabric does not receive an unnecessary amount of it.
But also in this case: everything is simple. No extra advice necessary. Buy spray, clean shoes, spray it on and head outside for your next adventure. Here’s to dry feet.
If you have any further questions, our customer service team are happy to help. Johannes is our expert for outdoor shoes. You can contact him on weekdays from 10:00 to 16:00 by telephone +49 (0)7121/70 120 or by email.