We experimentally realized and elucidated kinetically limited evaporation where the molecular gas dynamics close to the liquid–vapour interface dominates the overall transport. This process fundamentally dictates the performance of various evaporative systems and has received significant theoretical interest. However, experimental studies have been limited due to the difficulty of isolating the interfacial thermal resistance. Here, we overcome this challenge using an ultrathin nanoporous membrane in a pure vapour ambient. We demonstrate a fundamental relationship between the evaporation flux and driving potential in a dimensionless form, which unifies kinetically limited evaporation under different working conditions. We model the nonequilibrium gas kinetics and show good agreement between experiments and theory. Our work provides a general figure of merit for evaporative heat transfer as well as design guidelines for achieving efficient evaporation in applications such as water purification, steam generation, and thermal management.