Like water off a biker's back: Why Belstaff turned to Gore-Tex to create kit for the Long Way Up

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You might think of Gore-Tex – as used in Charley and Ewan’s kit for their latest TV epic – as a bit of a wonder material. It magically stops water getting in while letting sweat get out. But you might not know it was discovered almost entirely by accident in 1969 and that the formula has remained virtually the same ever since.

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Gore-Tex is made up of three layers: the inner material, the Gore-Tex membrane itself and the outer material, sometimes known as a ‘face fabric’. The central membrane in the sandwich is the key part of the puzzle and it’s what does most of the work.

That central layer is made from polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE for short. You might know it by its more common brand name: Teflon. You know, that stuff in non-stick pans.

PTFE was discovered by accident in 1938 but it wasn’t until 1969 when Robert ‘Bob’ Gore, who sadly passed away in 2020, discovered its weather-beating potential (again, almost entirely by accident). Gore discovered that if you heated PTFE and stretched it very quickly (by literally yanking on it) it would stretch by nearly 800%. In doing so it formed a structure that was around 70% air and became known as ‘ePTFE’.

Belstaff Long Way Up jacket

What made the ePTFE so special was that when stretched it formed a fairly uniform microporous structure. That means the material was full of billions of microscopic holes (in the region of nine billion per centimetre).

These holes were so small that water was unable to penetrate the material as a water droplet is around 20,000 times larger than one of the pores. Water vapour molecules, on the other hand, are considerably smaller, so they were able to pass through the material.

Fast-forward to the modern day and the principles of the material remain the same, however the technology has advanced.

Gore-Tex’s latest material is Gore-Tex Pro, which is what Belstaff have used in their Long Way Up jacket which was designed with input from Charley Boorman, who wore the jacket and trousers on his latest South American journey with Ewan McGregor.

Gore-Tex Pro layers

Belstaff say they chose Gore-Tex because the tough conditions of the trip meant they wanted something proven and the “Guaranteed to keep you dry” promise was just what they were looking for.

Gore-Tex Pro material is made from three thin layers that are sandwiched together. Its waterproofing is tested by placing the material under a column of water. Gore-Tex Pro will keep waterproof in a 28,000mm high column (the minimum is a mere 10,000mm).

For the Long Way Up gear, Belstaff added extra vents to assist with cooling and designed the garments to keep seams to a minimum as seam tape isn’t breathable. The outer-most layer of fabric (the one you see) not only protects the rider, but also the Gore-Tex Pro layer underneath it.