At the risk of over-generalizing, here's the difference: Gore-Tex remains the most breathable waterproof out there, particularly in its newest XCR iteration. However, the "Gore-Tex wannabes" all offer good to excellent waterproofing, adequate breathability, and generally much lower prices. Mountain Hardwear's Conduit-based Exposure II Parka, for instance, sells for $260about $140 less than Mountain Hardwear's Gore-Tex-based garments of similar design. And some of these pieces are really incredible bargains. Marmot's Precip Jacket, for instance, has been a raging success in the outdoor world, with features that include a clamminess-fighting lining, full hood, and pit zipsall for the absurdly low price of $99. And it's a good jacket. I'd take it anywhere for general-purpose backpacking. Maybe not for a month in the rainforest or up Mount Rainier, but anything else, sure. I've also had very good luck with Lowe Alpine's stuff and Patagonia's non-Gore-Tex offerings, such as the $199 Torrentshell Jacket.
Anyway, my point is that among the non-Gore-Tex jackets there is not a ton of difference. (The makers protest to the contrary.) Get one with good features, that looks well-made, fits well, and has the right price tag attached.
Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.Contribute to Outside →