Marmot NanoPro Fabrics vs Gore-Tex Fabrics


Intro
I first came across Marmot's new waterproof technologies in one of their buyer's catalogs last year and was really impressed with the waterproof/breathable(WBP) ratings Marmot was advertising.  I knew it was going to be a game changer for the average consumer. All of a sudden the majority of Marmot's 2014's jackets were roughly twice as breathable as before with no price increase. This Spring, Marmot released jackets featuring their new NanoPro™ and NanoPro™ MemBrain® fabrics. Below is a chart I made for one to quickly compare the two different waterproofing fabrics from Marmot.
Marmot NanoPro Membrain vs NanoPro Table
As you can tell, I love numbers. When it comes to comparing WPB fabrics to other WPB fabrics, numbers don't lie. I don't want subjective descriptions, I want empirical data as to how waterproof, and more importantly to me,  how breathable a fabric is. When it comes to standardized testing for breath-ability among fabrics there isn't a single test, there are several. Each standard has their own testing methodologies because the testing parameters for breath-ability varies. Just think about it for a moment: what is breath-ability, how is breath-ability defined, and what factors effect breath-ability (humidity, temperature, air permeability...etc)? I have two purposes for this post:
  1. To give the general consumer, and particularly those more scientifically inclined, a break down of WPB fabrics 
  2. How Marmot's fabrics compare to Gore-Tex Fabrics
Breathable
So what does all these numbers mean for you, as the consumer? Well, Marmot was feeling generous and fortunately gave us several different standards to refer to. If you can cross compare different jackets that use the same testing standard, than you can confidently compare the two jackets for breath-ability. Basically, making sure you are comparing apples to apples, not apples to pears. 

Before we compare Marmot's new fabrics,let us first understand how just the evaporated heat transfer (RET) test is conducted and what it means.  Below is a detailed description from NEMO Equipment on the RET testing methodology: 
Evaporative resistance (ISO 11092, ISO 1999, and ASTM F 1868)

This test measures the amount of power it takes to keep the plate heated to skin temperature when water vapor is evaporating from the surface of the plate and diffusing through the fabric to the environment. Three 50.8 cm x 50.8 cm square specimens are cut from fabric. A PTFE liquid barrier is placed on the plate to prevent water from contacting the fabric, ensuring that only water vapor contacts the fabric sample. Each test specimen is placed on the horizontal and flat plate orientated with the side of fabric normally encountering more water vapor facing the hot plate. The plate temperature and the air temperature are controlled at 35 ± 0.5°C by a main heater and a set of guard and bucking heaters that eliminate both lateral and axial flow from the main heater. A dew point temperature of 19°C is used to achieve 40% relative humidity. A vertical flow of air from a hood is maintained at 1.0 m/s.
When the system reaches steady state, the test setup stays at equilibrium for 1 hour. The basic equation for calculating the total resistance to evaporative heat transfer provided by the liquid barrier, fabric, and air film is:
where Re,t= total resistance to evaporative heat transfer provided by the fabric system and air (m²Pa/W), A= area of test speciment (m²), Ps= water vapor pressure at the plate surface (Pa), Pa= water vapor pressure in the air (Pa), and H= power input (W).

Think of of the RET value as how much a certain fabric resists transferring heat. A fabric that doesn't breathe very well will have a high RET value. The hotplate will have to provide very little power in order to maintain skin temperature because of how resistant that fabric is to heat loss. A fabric that does breathe very well will have a low RET value. The hotplate will have to provide more power in order to maintain skin temperature because the fabric's minimal resistivity to heat loss. Now that we all understand what a RET value is, let's understand what the Hohenstein RET test is:
Hohenstein added a unique aspect to their testing. They had real people wear garments made with the fabrics of varying Ret values and work out on a treadmill. They gathered the comments of the testers and correlated this to the Ret values of the fabrics and came up with a Comfort Rating System.
Some of you may be curious as to how Gore's products compare to Marmot's new fabrics. The only breath-ability test I could find comes from the Hohenstein RET values. I compiled a table below of  popular fabrics from Marmot and Gore-tex by their RET value. Unfortunately, only some of the RET values were specifically Hohenstein RET values.

Table of RET values of Marmot's and Gore's Fabrics
From either chart above, it's clear that the NanoPro Membrain is by far the most breathable of Marmot's fabrics regardless of which standardized test was used. The RET table ranks NanoPro Membrain as breathable as Gore-Tex Active which is pretty impressive. While this table helps us start to form an idea of how breathable certain fabrics are, I do want to remind you that the RET and Hohestein RET are just a few ways to test for breath-ability.Another common way of measuring breathability is the moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR)  or water vapor flux, units of which are (g/m²/day) Even measuring the MVTR has several different methodologies as seen above in the first table. B1-being the inverted cup test, and A1-the upright cup test. The values for the MVTR test are unfortunately not available for the new generation of Gore-Tex fabrics. I'm sure Gore itself and other big outdoor outdoor companies have tested Gore-Tex fabrics measuring the MVTR, but they are not publicly available.

Waterproof
When it comes whether a fabric is waterproof or not, this too is subjective. For example a water jet cutter uses high pressure water to cut through metal and granite. You would certainly think granite or steel is waterproof, so nothing is necessarily waterproof! Perhaps a better way to parameterize a waterproof fabric would be the average pressure of hurricane rain or the pressure one exerts on a fabric as you sit down on a wet rock?Pressure itself is defined to be:
Where P=pressure (Pa) , F=Force(N), and A=Area(m²).  Even this can be vague because how much pressure is applied to a WPB fabric when you sit down on it? From the equation above it depends on your weight and how you distribute your weight over that area. Luckily engineers have come up with a cleaver way to measure the pressure on a WPB fabric by using a water column test.

Water Column Test Diagram
The water column test works by sandwiching a fabric underneath a column of water. As the column of water rises, the pressure on the fabric increases. This process is repeated until the fabric leaks, the height of the water column is then recorded. For the Japanese Industrial Standard, "JIS L 1092 A/ISO 811. The pressure gradient for this test is 600mm pressure rise/minute".

A fabric that can withstand 10,000mm column of water is twice as waterproof as a fabric that can withstand a 5,000mm colmn of water. This is only true because the hydro-static pressure is a linear function in this scenario.
Hydrostatic Pressure equation
Where p=pressure, ϱ(rho)=density of the liquid -water in this case, g=acceleration due to gravity, and H is the height of the water. Rho is constant for water and gravity is also constant, this result makes the hydro-static pressure a function of only the height of the water column; this is exactly why the water column test is used and it's linearity.

NanoPro and NanoPro Membrain are equally waterproof at a value of 10,000mm, roughly 14.2 PSI. Gore-Tex Active and Pro Shell are both rated to be 20,00mm, twice that of either NanoPro fabric. For almost all outdoor sports, I imagine that 10,000mm is a sufficient waterproof rating . I suppose under extreme circumstances a 20,000mm waterproof rating might be noticeable for example: mountaineering, alpine climbing, and even more likely, carrying a heavy expedition backpack.

Application
NanoPro is constructed by a microporous, slightly wind permeable, coating of polyurethane(PU). NanoPro Membrain on the other hand is constructed of a microporous, slightly wind permeable, laminate of PU. Figure 1 below gives a pictorial side view of how a microporous PU jacket works. This being said, most laminates will be more durable than a coating. Think of a PU coating as paint being air-sprayed onto a wall while a PU laminate is more like wallpaper. How the PU is sprayed on or turned into a laminate is very much a trade secret. 
Structure and Properties of Microporous Polyurethane
Gore-Tex Pro(newer generation) uses a multi-layer ePFTE sandwich to do the job without any PU backer that the older generation used.
Gore-Tex Pro Diagram
Gore-Tex Active uses a thinner ePTFE membrane while laminating the backer directly into the membrane. As mentioned in my Lanin Jacket review, a thinner ePFT membrane is more breathable than a thicker one.
Gore-Tex Active
Any jacket constructed of a laminate/membrane will be more durable than the sprayed on PU one. The difference among durability between any laminates/membranes has more to do with the construction of the jacket and the quality control of production.

Performance / Dollar Ratio (MSRP)
Let's take a look at the price difference between the two NanoPro fabrics. Marmot's entry level rain jacket is the PreCip jacket which starts at $100 and uses NanoPro. The cheapest Marmot jacket featuring NanoPro Membrain is the Essence jacket at $200. So for roughly twice the price, the breath-ability is roughly doubled and you get a more durable jacket. Marmot's Cheapest Gore-Tex Paclite jacket is the Minimalist Jacket at $200 while the cheapest Gore-Tex Active jacket is Nano AS at 285$. Marmot's cheapest Gore-Tex Pro jacket is the Speed Light jacket at $425.

Between Gore-Tex Pro and Active, I don't think the extra money is worth it for the Pro shell. The only reason to buy a Pro shell jackets is that they often use a larger denier face fabric, minimum 40, for extra abrasion resistance for sports like skiing or alpine climbing. I think the sweet spot for the performance/dollar ratio is around mid $200's. This would include any of the jackets using NanoPro Membrain fabric and the Nano AS jacket. I see no reason to buy a Gore-Tex Paclite jacket because NanoPro Membrain breathes better at the same price point. 

Marmot's NanoPro Membrain laminate has added a lot of mid price options for weekend warriors and enthusiasts to the WBP jacket market. I expect we will continue to see more breakthroughs in the WPB materials in the coming years.We live in a golden era of material science and textile engineering.

***Update 10/31/2014***
I have noticed in real world applications that jackets using Nanopro Membrain wet out quicker than Gore-Tex active or pro shell. I feel that for individuals with heavy packs or out for than one day will find that the Gore-Tex products perform better. Those looking for a day hiking jacket will not notice this difference. I have an inclination that this has to do with how Marmot weaves their face-fabric. It would be interesting to know if Gore sells active shell or Pro shell in sheets of difference denier or if companies like Marmot and Patagonia are able to laminate their own face-fabrics to the membrane. 

***Update 1/11/2016***
With Gore's introduction of Gore-Tex C-Knit, I feel that it's important that customers know that C-Knit fills the gap between Active shell and Pro Shell. It splits the difference between Active Shell being the lightest and Pro Shell being the most durable. Pro shell and active will be slightly more breathable than C-knit. The C-knit backer does improve breathability over the older traditional backers like like gore-performance and Paclite. I feel that most outdoor enthusiasts will find a nice performance and price point that it offers.

Comments

  1. Great technical blog post! I just bought a Marmot Artemis jacket and Precip pants. I hope this new NanoPro coating holds up better than Marmot's previous generation coatings.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed the blog post! Always wonderful to hear that people are reading it, let alone enjoying it. Only time will tell whether the new coating is more durable.

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  3. This helped me narrow down my jacket choices - thank you! Excellent piece!

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  4. Great post! So you disagree with this review which claims that Marmot Essence is less durable than Marmot Precip?
    http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Rain-Jacket-Reviews/Marmot-Essence

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    1. Its very important to distinguish what part of the jacket is "less durable". The waterproof construction of the Essence should, theoretically, be more durable. The question is what about the rest of the jacket? Marmot's website says that the essence uses a 12D fabric. I'm not surprised that the jacket material is less durable then the Precip because the essence is a Fast and light minimalist jacket vs an entry level everyday activity jacket.

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  5. You know it is curious. People say that 10k is 2x better than 5k, 20k is 4x better than 5k. But if you are walking in the rain, the 5k pressure will never appear, and unless you abuse your stuff, you will never wet through, because even if you measure the waterproofness of amounts of rain fallen, or just by the pressure, in real life there will never be a case when 5k is exceeded. And a sane person does not sit in the rain for 24 hours anyway, so in my mind 3k-5k should be = to 20k without the 50 kg backpack. Even in that case you buy a poncho on top. So what is the meaning of 20k other than marketing? The companies have just realized that people should wear softshells, which are breathable, and when it rains, you either take an umbrella, or a light hardshell with high breathability. So how do you figure that? 5k vs 20k?

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    1. I did a rough calculation for to figure out how many pounds someone would need to weigh for them to leak a 10K WPB fabric with a small sitting area of 10"x15"= 150" inches squared. They would have to weigh 2130lbs over that surface area to create 14.2PSI pressure on that surface area.

      So for someone sitting on a ski lift, there really is no way that a 10K fabric would leak. The biggest issue with the cheaper jackets are the face fabrics. Not all face fabrics are the same. Denser the weave, better DWR, all make a huge difference. Once that face fabric is saturated, the water vapor inside the jacket is going no where.

      For me, breathability is most important, but also how likely the jacket is going to wet out. so a 5K vs 20K comparison is too simplified of question when one takes in other variables like how likely the jacket is going to wet out.

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    2. In "real life" all these jackets will wet through eventually. The variable is how fresh the DWR is and the hydrostatic number combined with how hard it is raining (among other things). 10k isnt even considered waterproof from what I understand. I believe 14k-15k+ is accepted as waterproof. The North Face Asylum Bivy Tent I bought a while back was 12k, and was advertised as a Water Resistent Bivy. I found that to be quite accurate in a long, hard rain!

      I have come to rely upon lightweight rain jackets with at least 10k hyrdostatic. the heavier ones still wet out and weigh more and take longer to dry once wetted out (goretex). I also never buy boots (for non-snow situations) with goretex, i prefer quicker drying then longer-to-wet-out.

      Remember, the size of the water droplets from rain and the frequency along with the pressure in which they hit have a lot of influence in how quick your jacket will wet out.

      Breathability metric wise is only relevent if you have a good DWR coating on because it basically moves water around enough to allow air to escape. The crappier the DWR, the less relevent that number really becomes. To be honest, Ive never bought the breathability hype of rain jackets, I do acknowledge some are better then others ... but IME, they all suck.

      (I understand some of you might be using these jackets for winter use, so this might not apply in all situations)

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  6. How does Goretex active compare to goretex pro when it comes to how windproof the pant is? I am trying to decide between the Black Diamond Vapor and the Black Diamond Vapor for my new ski pants. The Front point uses t GORE-TEX® Pro 3L, 70d nylon plain-weave face with a nylon mini-ripstop backer and DWR (155 g/m2) fabric
    while the Vapor Point is constructed of GORE-TEX® Active 3L, 30d nylon plain-weave with a poly-tricot backer and DWR finish (100 g/m2) . I am using it for alpine skiing with possibly some backcountry skiing. I need my pant to be breathable, but windproofness is very important for this Florida boy. Is the Active less windproof because it only has 1 layer of Gore-Tex fabric vs 2?

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    1. They are both 3 layer fabrics. The main difference you would notice in a pant is the durability/weight

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  7. At the moment, every Gore-Tex proshell, active, paclite, etc... product is 100% windproof. Only air-permeable membranes like Marmot NanoPro mambrane, neoshell, and Dry Q Elite aren't 100% windproof but that minute amount of wind increases breathablity.

    The main difference is the breathability and durability of the two pant fabrics. The Vapor point with active shell will be more breathable and lighter than the Pro shell front point pant because its membrane is thinner and constructed differently. Along with the face fabric is 30D instead of 70D which allows the vapor point to breathe better at the expense of durability.

    Both are windproof. Vapor Point is a pant designed as a light weight pant for high output activities while the front point is designed for maximum durability. Which one is more functional for you, only you can answer that.

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  8. I did an extensive test on NanoPro vs. GoreTex Active and found the GoreTex Active to be far more breathable for me and the conditions I had. I REALLY liked the Artemis, but ended up with the Nano AS, as the Artemis and Spectra tended to wet out a little faster also.

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  9. FYI.... GoreTex is sold as a complete laminate so garment manufactures (Marmot, Patagonia...) do no have the freedom to laminate whatever face fabric they like. Although they do provide input.

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    1. Interesting to hear. I bet manufacturer's don't want the consumer base to know this. Although Arc'teryx does get some exclusive facefabrics.

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  10. I know Marmot doesn't use eVent, but do you know of any studies on the breathability/durabilityin comparison to Gore or NanoPro?

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    1. Only RET values that are floating around the internet for eVent is around 4.

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  11. Hi,
    I thinking to by PreCip Jacket NanoPro(for around 85 eur) and Mammut CONVEY JACKET (around 150 eur). What u think? Waterproofness: 10,000 mm, Breathability: 17,000 gm VS GORE-TEX® with 28,000 mm water column, 2.5-layer fabric combined with a more robust GORE-TEX® 3-layer fabric for absolute weather protection :) I live in mediterranean area, so we have hot summers and raining winters. Every weekend in winter, i'm in high mountains (higer than 2000m). In all other seasons i prefer sport climbing :)
    thanks for your review!

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    1. I would get the Mammut convey. I don't like PU coated jackets due too durability.

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  12. Adam have you had a chance to review the Marmot Red Star Jacket? It says it uses three-layer NanoPro, but I can't find a good comparison of 3L NanoPro to 2.5L NanoPro Membrain. And the Red Star is $300 MSRP vs. $200 for Essence, and also 2.5X the weight. Thanks!

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  13. It looks like one of my local REI's carries the Marmot Red Star Jacket. I'll have to take a look at it in person. The Marmot website is very vague about what they use in Marmot Red Star jacket. I'm going to assume it's a more robust/durable version of their 2.5L NanoPro Membrain.

    The main differences is going to be application for the jacket. The essence is really a super breathable lightweight emergency shell for backpacking or hiking. Its lightweight as you saw yourself. I wouldn't ski, climb, or mountaineer in it though because of the jacket isn't durable enough for those type of activities. The red star looks like a NanoPro jacket meant for those type of activities. If your a fair weather hiker and need a shell for emergencies or for unexpected bad weather, the essence is great. Choose the jacket that fits your needs.

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    1. Hey great article about fabrics. I too am interested in the Red Star Jacket, did you manage to get your hands on one and find out about what fabric they use?

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    2. From my understanding the Red Star is a 3L vs 2.5L jacket. Dedicated Liner, membrane, and Outer face fabric. Same fabric per say, but different construction. You gain better DWR performance and durability but loose some breathability

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  14. I would like to get some information about breathability of Windstopper Active Shell (2.5 L) vs NanoPro Membrain and GoreTex Active Shell. The information I find is very contradicting. Some sources say that Windstopper Active is no better than the rest of Goreˋs range when it comes to breathability while some say that it is very good. I want to know if it is worth having both Windstopper Active and another waterproof jacket from a breathability point of view. I appreciate anyone taking time to give me an answer.

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    1. HK, I have several windstopper jackets and one pant. Windstopper will leak through the seam as soon as the fabric wet out. However I got a seam sealed jacket and pant from Black Diamond (the induction pant and convergent jacket) and use it for skiing and running in cold weather. I can't tell the difference between windstopper and neoshell. I can totally tell the difference between Windstopper and Gore-tex. Gore-tex also sound like a water bottle being continuously crush when I move, so I avoid it.

      Adam Watts, thanks for the detailed review.

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    2. Great review and information Adam. I bought the Artemis jacket two years ago for snowshoeing and the NanoPro Membrain has been phenominal for breathability and has always kept me dry. When I get caught in a rainstorm with it, it is annoying because it wets out so quickly, but I stay dry underneath. I am very curious about the new 3 layer NanoPro for my next purchase...

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