How and Why Three Layer Fabrics Work
An experienced hunter, hiker, explorer or non-civilian may already know the reason why three layers of fabric work and work well for them. Fabric layers that can answer the demand of any job or recreational activity is extremely important for freedom of movement and survivability. But what’s the exact reason behind three layers? What sorts of layers work for what you are doing, and why? Let’s find out!
Two layers verses three layers
- Both two layer and three-layer fabrics are built around the same intention: protection from elements and breathability.
- A common phrase you’ll come across in activewear is, “2, 2.5 or 3 layers,” (Also known as “ply.”)
- Two-layer fabrics are usually bonded together. Some two-layer fabrics may come with a third that wicks away moisture, but it isn’t bonded. It’s often considered a “2.5,” layer that protects the first two bonded layers from body oils and sweat that may contaminate and degrade the bonded layers.
- Two-layer fabrics with a loose shell many be bulkier than three-layer bonded fabrics.
- Three-layer fabrics have three layers of fabrics, all of them bonded to one another. The third player is inside the membrane, made to separate from inner layers. This third layer complements the membrane and protects it from body oil and sweat which can degrade performance.
- Three-layer fabrics are extremely more efficient at moisture transfer, being lightweight, durability, and the technology in backing materials have grown so much that the third layer is soft and quiet.
Why are layers important?
Jacket materials with breathability allow a layered fabric to ‘breathe.’ Breathability will allow your body’s moisture to be pulled away from your skin, turned into water vapor, and carried out of the fabric while the material is woven in such a way as to keep the larger water molecules out. Jackets with Gore-Tex (Microporous PTFE (polytetrafluorethylene) laminate) will repel the rain and snow while letting your skin stay dry.
Staying dry is imperative when fighting the elements, especially hypothermia. Exposure to cold water, rain, snow, wind and even your own perspiration can accelerate the progression of hypothermia—so having a breathable fabric is a must.
Not just hypothermia—but overheating in the summer too. Wearing a 3 layered piece of clothing traps air between your skin, keeping you cooler, wicking away sweat (which can prevent chafing) and helping your body from dehydrating faster.
How does three-layered fabric work?
Comfort, as well as thermal balance, is a key factor when considering tactical or activewear. Layered fabrics help ensure that heat loss, skin temperature, air movement, and humidity at the body surface is maintained with a sense of well-being of not having to worry about the weather or what your body is doing.
In three-layer fabrics, there consists of an outer layer, called a “face fabric,” usually made of nylon or polyester with a membrane bonded to it. Membranes are the waterproof layer that are most commonly made of expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) or Polyurethane (PU). Attached to the interior a lightweight backing is placed but doesn’t hang loose as it would in a two-layered piece of activewear. That lightweight layer adds extra comfort by helping moisture be transported through the membrane and out of the surface layer, the “face fabric.”
Compared to two-layered fabrics, three-layered fabric construction will be the most advanced, protective, packable, lightweight, rugged, and breathable material you can own. Jackets, pants, shoes made with three-layer textiles were made for extreme conditions.
Gore-Tex, eVent, Polartec. Which one to choose and what’s the difference?
Gore-Tex, founded in 1969, is a sandwich of three layers. Two layers of nylon for the top and base, and a layer of PTFE in between. PTFE is great for waterproofing. Since it’s microporous, less than one micrometer (or one-millionth of a meter) in diameter, this helps larger water molecules from getting in, while letting water vapor out. Since a body sweating produces steam, which is water in gas form, it can pass through while rain and snow won’t.
Gore-Tex usually has a soft inner liner, a protection layer, a Gore-Tex membrane, another layer of protection and an abrasion resistant outer shell.
The inside layer next to the liner is a thin, delicate membrane that’s hydrophilic that lets your sweat escape, keeping outside moisture from getting in at the same time. This membrane is made often of polyurethane—or PU (Teflon©), which is about 9 million pores per square inch. Each of these pores are approximately 1/20,000 the size of a water droplet. It absorbs the sweat then transports it, by diffusion to the outside. Diffusion is unlike many other textiles that remove moisture from the body with wicking and capillary action (where water soaks the fabric and then is channeled through it). Next to this is a hydrophobic layer that resists the water from the outside, even in high impact, high speeds, high pressure, or when the fabric is being flexed back and forth (walking and running).
Outer layers are coated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent), preventing that layer from becoming wet, as a wet outer layer would prevent the breathability of the entire fabric.
Gore-Tex has a requirement that all garments made must have taping over seams, which eliminates leaks. Gore-Tex is also actively engaged in ensuring research to continuously innovate taping and sealing of garments to improve waterproofness with Gore-Seam©.
There are many different categories of Gore-Tex, Gore-Tex Infinium™, Gore® Windstopper®, Gore-Tex Thermium™ ,Gore-Tex Pro, Go-Tex Paclite, and Gore-Tex Active.
- Gore-Tex Pro was made to be the ultimate in durability and protection for those who need the toughest wearing materials.
- Gore-Tex Active is fast and lightweight
- Gore-Tex Paclite is also lightweight but specifically designed to be packed and stored in smaller spaces.
- Gore-Tex Infinium™ was designed in mind for both wilderness, city, and town in moderate climates. It is also used in gloves combined with a stretching technology made to be slim fitting and soft to the touch.
- Gore® Windstopper® are specially made to be both light and highly mobile to protect against the wind in balanced smaller climates and better suited for intense activities.
- Gore-Tex Thermium™ is a specially designed technology to insulate as well as style indoor and outdoor footwear with a reduced profile. This fabric helps eliminate the need to collect many different types of footwear for many different types of outdoor weather.
eVent, founded in 1999, was created as another solution for air-permeable, waterproof textiles. Its synthetic compound ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene) creates resistance to liquid yet allows air to flow through. While Gore-Tex uses Teflon©, eVent developed its own oleophobic microscopic coating (oil repelling) method.
eVent calls this Direct Venting™, meaning eVent fabrics don’t even need to get damp to start working. Its dry system always allows the fabric to be waterproof and fully breathable without a percentage of sweat, steam, or moisture to trigger the process of diffusion.
The Direct Venting™ means those wearing eVent fabrics should remain dry and comfortable in wider rangers of temperatures and conditions, maintaining a balanced body temperature and humidity levels. eVent textiles also employ the use of DWR treatment for their face fabrics. Their layers consist of the outer layer (face fabric), a layer of Direct Venting™ membrane using ePTFE and a backer fabric layer that sits closest to the skin. Many consider eVent fabrics more durable to wear than Gore-Tex, as it appears that eVent holds up against heavy environment abrasions.
Like Gore-Tex, eVent offers a large selection of products and gear for everyday or extreme usage, such as DVwind, DVstretch, Professional, DVelite, DVshield, DVdryLT, DVdry, and Protective. However, many who compare Gore-Tex to eVent consider eVent fabrics to be heavier than the latter, so keep that in mind.
- Though similar properties with Gore-Tex, eVent uses the dry system of Direct Venting™, letting moisture out instantly.
- DvWind protects you from harsh winds and is recommended for cycling, hiking, running, and trekking.
- DVstretch is both windproof and high performance stretched clothing for rigorous activity in cycling, Nordic ski and winter sports.
- Professional is best for those in the Military, police force, firefighters, and tactical. Professional provides added protection against chemicals and hazardous substances.
- DVelite is for the most demanding conditions for professionals in extreme work conditions and also great for tactical wear.
- DVshield is virtually windproof and directed to professional workers as well as serious tactical enthusiasts.
- DVdryLT footwear is very lightweight and great for the golf course, a hike, everyday wear, or running and trail running.
- DVdry would interest those who spend a lot of time backpacking, golfing, hiking, mountaineering and trail running as it is all weather protected and more rugged.
- Protective is eVent’s most professional grade footwear designed for firefighters, first responders, tactical and labor-intensive jobs.
Formerly Malden Mills Industries, the company name was changed when purchased in 2007 and is now known as Polartec. Neoshell was revealed in late 2009. Neoshell technology by Polartec is another alternative to breathable, waterproof, wind resistant, durable and lightweight materials with a large selection of stretching added. Polartec wanted to focus on breathability with NeoShell as well as ultimate comfort. Michael Cattanach, Polartec’s global product director has said comfort was the company’s main goal. Allowing sweat and heat out of fabric while being absolutely cozy to wear should be important, as it’s easy now to create waterproof gear.
Their focus on air permeability—as opposed to breathability—meaning Neoshell doesn’t have the same restrictions on airflow as other brands that can be found on the market.
Polartec’s company tests showed that Neoshell fabric allowed air permeability at 0.5 CFM or 2 l/m2/sec in the lab. They compared that rating with other membranes which registered less than 0.1 CFM.
Neoshell’s membrane is an exclusively designed sub-micron fiber that is a hydrophobic, porous polyurethane.
With over 109 different brands using Neoshell, the gear, clothing, shoes are near endless for the consumer to search for the right item.
So which one is best?
Always a complex question! Jacket, boot, shoe, pants—what you need and what design you like will influence your decision and personal preference can have a factor in how these three-layer fabrics perform for you. For long term durability, Gore-Tex has been named multiple times as the one to be the go-to for ruggedness. Both eVent and Neoshell has been named as the most breathable, with eVent mentioned to be priced lower than some Gore-Tex products.
All these technologies pander to a wide variety of activities, jobs, and hobbies. If you’re finding yourself on a budget, taking a look at eVent’s brands is a good idea. If you find yourself in emergency situations, combat action or dangerous as well as hazardous events, then Gore-Tex might be the right one for you.
Either way you choose, the obvious benefits of a three-layer fabric is difficult to deny!