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Gear Guy

Will salt water ruin Gore-Tex?

Will salt water break down Gore-Tex and other waterproof-breathable fabrics? (I've heard tales of salt spray drying in the fabric and grinding away at it from the inside like tiny saws.) Is there a better choice in outerwear for kayaking and sailing on the Maine coast? Stephanie South Thomaston, Maine

A: When Gore-Tex first came out, salt from seawater had a tendency to get into the tiny pores in the material. The idea that the salt grinds away at the material is an interesting one, although not really the main problem gear makers were up against. Instead, the salt blocked the pores and eliminated the stuff's ability to vent moisture from near the wearer's body. W.L. Gore did some things with Gore-Tex's microscopic-level design, and the problem was eliminated, although at the loss of some breathability.

So today it's perfectly OK to use Gore-Tex in marine environments. Companies such as Kokatat use the same Gore-Tex you find in an REI store to make their paddling gear, such as the Kokatat Wave Drytop, a paddling/water-sport jacket that sells for $339 ( But Gore also makes what it calls "Ocean Technology" Gore-Tex, which uses a sturdier lamination formula and heavier face fabrics. It's not designed for hiking around in, but for a wearer who's constantly being doused with cold seawater. It's also expensive—Gill's Ocean Jacket goes for $725 (

So there you go. No worries about using Gore-Tex around salt water—it works well and features in many seaworthy jacket designs.

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