You should spend that time and money for it…

Last time in his look at waterproof shell clothing Bill from PMCI Magazine put a big emphasis on regular and thorough maintenance to keep your gear performing at its best. He now looks at why this is necessary and what you can use to carry it out on a seasonal basis.

If you’re spending a lot of money on a set of waterproof gear, then you really want to get the best out of it don’t you? Just like changing tyres or the oil in a car your “shell gear” will really, really benefit from some regular “TLC”, a bit of a service if you like. I truly believe that there is a far better understanding of the fabric technology used in our clothing systems than ever before, and it’s a subject that is a bit of a “holy grail” for me. All too often I’m out training with my mates and when we get back in the car or into the bar their “Gucci” waterproof shell gear just gets dumped unceremoniously in a pile on the floor or in the foot well of their car.

These are usually the self-same people that I will see at a later date bemoaning the fact that their expensive waterproof jacket “isn’t working”, complaining to all and sundry that somehow the technology has failed, and that they are wet and uncomfortable. The most common gripe I hear is that “this bloody thing is leaking” when actually it’s still perfectly fine, and the fact is, it just isn’t “breathing” anymore!

Like all performance items top-end shell gear needs maintaining regularly to get the best from it. You might only change the tyres on your car infrequently (probably when the MOT rolls around!), but on a Formula One car they may change the tyres during a single race to get the very best performance… see where I’m heading with this?

When you buy a Gore-Tex (or similar) jacket you’re investing in a high-performance item, and as such, it needs treating like one! Over time things like the Durable Water Repellent (DWR, think a microscopic “film”) on the outer face fabric of the garment will begin to wear and crack, and the fabric will start to hold the water that’s now allowed through to it. As new water droplets will be held on the DWR layer, simply rolling off the fabric before they penetrate. You’ll notice after a while that this “beading” process will start to lessen, and that the water is being absorbed into the fabric itself; this is usually noticeable first in areas like the shoulders where pack straps or a plate carrier rub and abrade the DWR, or on cuff ends where the fabric rubs against itself.

Internally over time, body oils, grease and general dirt will also build up and the net result is that your jacket will stop “breathing” as well as it did when it was new. You won’t really notice this until it becomes obvious, and water vapour that was previously being transferred out of the system stays inside and re-condenses. You’ll feel cold, clammy and uncomfortable, put your hand inside your jacket, feel “water” and of course your quite natural conclusion will be that the jacket is leaking!

A decent wash product in line with the manufacturers guidelines will remove grease and dirt from the structure of your garment, and a re-proofer will restore the waterproof performance of your gear to ensure it continues to keep you dry and protected. To combat the degradation of performance you simply need to give your jacket (or pant) a bit of care and invest in a maintenance product. In essence a little maintenance each year, and a minimal outlay will mean that your expensive waterproof jacket or suit will keep on performing like new. Not only will it provide greater comfort, but it also means you’ll be able to stay switched on and in the game for longer rather than worrying about your gear!