Showers Pass – Mountain Elite Jacket Review

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Reviewed by Brian Mullin aka Gram and MTBR.com Pastajet
http://www.gramslightbikes.com/

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The Company
Showers Pass, known for its wind and waterproof cycling garments, was originally founded in 1998 in Arcata, California. In 2005, Ed Dalton took over the company, moved it to Oregon, and revamped the brand and the product line. They recently added Kyle Ranson as co-president, and consolidated to a new 6000 sq ft building in SW Portland. The company makes some incredible gear that is specific for the cycling community, and not some garment that was morphed from the backpack world into the cycling world. Their gear is for the serious cyclist who spends their time out in any weather, year round.

The name Showers Pass, comes from the same named mountain pass just inland in the foothills of Eureka California. Obviously, it is a place that the weather can be pretty wet and miserable fairly frequently due to the North Pacific storm systems, and an ideal place to test and own good inclement weather cycling gear.

Waterproof Garments
Over the years, waterproof and breathable fabrics have revolutionized the apparel we wear during our outdoor activities, whether that is running, biking, cycling, backpacking, mountaineering, or running to the grocery store. All of these fabrics are waterproof; where they have varied is in their breathability, which is their ability to pass the sweat that our bodies generate during exercise out through the garment material.

Evaporation of sweat is a major cooling mechanism. If these outer layers do not pass that sweat moisture out through them, our insulating or inner layers get wet and lose their ability to hold in our body heat. In cycling, we tend to be creating a lot of sweat and heat when pedaling up and then when going down, we cool off with fast downhill speeds. Therefore, one moment you are a hot house and the next an ice box, and the last thing you want is to be trapped in a wet cold clammy environment.

Most of the best brands of the waterproof and breathable fabrics use an expanded PTFE (puffed Teflon, properly called ePTFE) membrane layered with woven shell fabric to stop liquid moisture from the outside world and pass moisture vapor from the inside. By expanding the PTFE material into a thin sheet, tiny pores are formed, providing exceptional breathability. Water droplets (rain) are large in comparison to the PTFE pores so they get stopped from passing through to the inside, while water vapor (sweat) is smaller than the pores and can pass through to the outside. PTFE is hydrophobic, that is it repels liquid water, while letting water vapor pass through.

But, there is a catch. PTFE, in its natural state, is readily contaminated with oils from our body and other environmental substances. The oil contamination eliminates the hydrophobic quality and the fabrics leak.

To solve this, some manufacturers put a layer of polyurethane (PU) over the PTFE membrane to protect it from contamination. The PU is hydrophilic; it absorbs water. First, sweat is condensed and absorbed into the PU layer on the inside of the fabric. Because PU absorbs and retains sweat, the inside of the fabric becomes wet. Then, body heat begins to push that dampness through to the outside of the fabric where it can finally evaporate – a very inefficient process. This combination “breathes” but not nearly as efficiently as the PTFE membrane alone.

eVent fabrics, which the Mountain Elite uses, have developed a way to make PTFE oleophobic (oil repelling) while still retaining the hydrophobic (water repelling) characteristics of PTFE. It keeps outside water out and lets the inside sweat pass right through it.

PTFE 101
In chemistry, poly(tetrafluoroethylene) or poly(tetrafluoroethene) (PTFE) is a synthetic fluoropolymers which finds numerous applications. PTFE was accidentally invented by Roy Plunkett of Kinetic Chemicals in 1938, while he was attempting to make a new CFC refrigerant. PTFE is most well known by the DuPont brand name Teflon.

Fluorocarbons are not as susceptible to the London dispersion force (van der Waals force) due to the high electronegativity of fluorine. Therefore, water, oils and most foods do not wet PTFE.

In 1954, French engineer Marc Grégoire created the first pan coated with Teflon non-stick resin under the brand name of Tefal after his wife urged him to try the material he had been using on fishing tackle on her cooking pans. That is a bit scary, fishing tackle to cooking pans, and now jackets!

ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene), was created by Bob Gore in 1969 when he rapidly stretched PTFE and created a very strong, microporous material that today is used in next-generation electronics, medical products, and with high-performance fabrics. The Gore family created the Gore-Tex fabric in 1976 that we now know as the ubiquitous waterproof material.

While PTFE is stable and non-toxic, it begins to deteriorate after the temperature of 500 °F, and decompose above 660 °F. Therefore, make sure you don’t get your jacket above 500 °F, or it can become toxic!

For the chemical geeks:

Molecular formula CnF2n+2
Density 2200 kg m-3
Melting point 327 °C


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About the author: Brian Mullin

Brian has been part of the Mtbr team since 2007, where he has become an integral member of the review and test staff, specializing in technical articles. He likes to push the limits in all the sports he obsesses in, whether it's mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, extreme skiing, or sport climbing. He takes those same strengths and a good dose of insanity to his reviewing and writing on mountain biking products, creating technical, in-depth and hyperbolic articles. Whenever he's not on the bike, he might be found watching MotoGP racing, otherwise look for him out on extremely technical singletrack.


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