Has it ever crossed your mind while traversing Snowdonia's Crib Goch on a blustery spring day that you are closely linked with astronauts, soldiers and hernia surgeons? Given the relative simplicity of acts such as hiking and mountain biking, it's amazing the impact that hi-tech human activities such as space travel, waging war and medical operations have had on our adventures in nature. The outdoor industry has truly come of age, with market leaders delivering quite incredible products the likes of which Scott, Shackleton, Hillary et al could never even have dreamt.
Among the most striking developments over the past few months have been those in waterproof, breathable fabrics. Since 1976, when WL Gore launched its ground-breaking polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) Gore-Tex membrane into the outdoor market after successes in the space industry and medicine, clammy, sweaty days in the mountains have become a thing of the past. Gore's latest fabric, Paclite 3, is around 40 per cent more breathable than those first offerings: more breathable than the current Gore-Tex XCR fabric and, with its new protective inner layer, more durable than previous incarnations of Paclite. A host of UK manufacturers are lined up to incorporate the new fabric in this year's ranges, including Sprayway--in its fashion-conscious Alpha jacket, for example--Karrimor, Berghaus, Haglofs and Mountain Equipment.
Despite the appearance over the years of competitive fabrics such as Sympatex and Lowe Alpine's Triple Point, Gore-Tex has built up a healthy lead in the marketplace. But now that might be under serious threat for the first time. Lowe Alpine's brand new fabric event, due for launch this autumn, claims to be the most breathable around. Developed in conjunction with event Fabrics, this material is also made of a PTFE membrane, but it doesn't require the extra PU-coated layer that Gore-Tex needs to keep clogging body oils at bay. …