Staying dry inside and out is one of the core challenges designers and materials scientists face when creating apparel and footwear for performance in the elements. Oftentimes, breathability is sacrificed for greater waterproofing or vice versa—except in the case of Gore-Tex, a breathable and waterproof membrane material which is often the mark of performance in the outdoor world. Long used in footwear to provide lateral and upper ventilation, the dynamic material has actually been applied to everything from medical to military purposes. But Gore's researchers still found a lack of breathability in even the most technically advanced shoes on the market. The reason? One-third of the sweat glands on our feet are on the soles, an area commonly overlooked in existing technologies until now. The company's new Surround technology is the first to offer breathability all around the foot while retaining waterproofing.
The technology is deceptively simple. A hydrophobic-treated spacer is placed between the foot's contact point and the sole of the shoe. Sweat leaves the shoe and enters the spacer where moisture is pushed outward, eventually exiting the shoe through ventilation outlets. "The first thing we did was stand in water," says Gore product specialist Marc Preikert, "When you walk through normal puddles, nothing. Small rivers, still nothing." Extensive testing in some of the harshest hiking conditions revealed that the spacer didn't retain moisture or make noise after submersion. "The structure gives a capillary effect, so water flows outward naturally," Preikert adds.
Like many inventions, the idea was born out of coincidence. "Another team at Gore was using the type of material that the spacer is made of for an entirely different application," Preikert says with a laugh. "Then one of the engineers came to our footwear team and we started to try different materials, then we started playing around with this one and it worked great."
Gore-Tex's 360-degree breathable and waterproof Surround technology can be found in hiking and trail shoes across 24 brands coming spring 2015. Keep an eye out for more applications in the future and check out Gore-Tex for the latest on new products and technologies.
Photos by Hans Aschim