I was working in store management and staff training back in the 1970s when GoreTex came out and therefor was sent to numerous training sessions given by the Gore reps sponsored by the manufacturers of gear that were beginning to use the material. I had also worked, prior to that, as a lab tech in Carnegie Mellon U’s polymer chemistry research department where we did studies on Teflon (which is the microporous film medium used in GoreTex materials) as it was being developed for medical uses. So I knew a bit about the stuff to begin with which helped to understand how it worked.
The reason that the film is supposed to work is that the pores in the film are too small for liquid water to penetrate (due to surface tension). But moisture VAPOR can pass through the micropores, but ONLY if there is an air gap on both sides of the material to allow pressure for transpiration. Therefore, lining footwear with Goretex is a waste of material because it is trapped tightly between the sweaty sock and the shoe leather. Rain won’t migrate through, but sweat vapor won’t either. It took a while for most manufacturers to figure out that it worked best for garments that would be loosely worn and also for tents and sleeping bags, both of which have air space for transpiration on both sides while in use.
But GoreTex achieved a “magical” panache and customers began demanding it in more and more products, so it continues to be used in applications where it can’t really perform its intended function. I like it in shell garments and hats with a spacious crown – but recognize that cheaper and more durable coated waterproof materials are more practical and perform the same as GT in footwear or anything worn close to the skin. I love my Kokatat GFER dry suits, NRS wide brimmed hats, Stohlquist dry top and OR paddling pants, all of which have GT or other branded analogs that keep me comfortable in any conditions. But when I went to add booties to my first Kokatat dry suit I opted for latex instead of GoreTex, since I knew both would trap sweat anyway.
An real issue with GT is that it is a fragile membrane and must be sandwiched between other materials to be used in products. High temps, cleaning products, rough handling and even the various oils and other secretions from the human body can break down the adhesives used to bond the membrane. And the bodily sludges (including sunscreen, bug dope and other dermal applications) can also clog the tiny pores in it so that it no longer breathes.
Years ago I stupidly forgot that the International Orange rain jacket that I wore for years as a construction site manager was GoreTex and doused it with a petroleum-based prewash stain-lifting spray before machine washing it. When the wash cycle ended, all the GT film (which had been only bonded to the exterior nylon shell and was protected inside the jacket by mesh lining) had delaminated from the shell and was nothing but clots of white shreds sagged against the mesh. I nearly cried as it was irreplaceable and a crucial piece of my worksite gear. As CraigF reports, GT doesn’t stand up well to heat and it is often trashed by people putting it in clothes dryers (or leaving it in cars, or boat hatches, in hot weather)
Another reason GT may work better for me than for a lot of other people is that I barely perspire at all even with exertion (other than my face and scalp) and also do not use soap, deodorant or skin moisturizers, so there is very little that seeps off me that would penetrate the GT and mess with its function.
As with many products, YMMV. But if you understand how the stuff works (and how vulnerable it is, so you are willing to treat it well) I still think it’s a revolutionary material for dry wear.