Emerging new fabric technologies are the engines of innovation in the outdoor industry to a large extent. The fabric manufacturers constantly interact with gear and apparel manufacturers to understand their needs. In many cases, a new fabric construction is created to meet a manufacturer’s specifications; in other instances, a fabric manufacturer will develop a new technology then work with manufacturers to utilize it in one form or another. Often, a particular fabric technology will be translated into dozens of individual fabric constructions. Examples are different face fabrics laminated to a particular membrane, and specific yarn blends and weaving types. What can be confusing is each manufacturer usually comes up with a proprietary name for their particular construction using the technology, so we end up with a lot of different product names for the same technology.
In this article I describe some of the more interesting fabric stories we encountered at this Outdoor Retailer Show.
Columbia Thermal Reflective and Thermal Insulative
This is a technique that bonds an aluminized layer to a fabric. Columbia’s Thermal Reflective technology covers only 30% of the inside surface of a fabric, like in a softshell jacket. The aluminum reflects body heat back, making the garment 20% warmer without adding any additional insulation. And it actively draws heat away during periods of high exertion. Other properties of the fabric, like breathability, are retained.
Columbia’s Thermal Reflective technology is an aluminized layer applied to the inside of a fabric so it reflects body heat back to the wearer.
Thermal Insulative is the same technology applied to the lining in an insulated garment, like a synthetic insulated jacket. Columbia will be introducing a variety of garments using this fabric beginning in fall 2010. Perhaps we will eventually see baselayers with this technology?
Pertex Quantum GL
GL stands for “Gossamer Light.” This is sometimes referred to as the “new Quantum,” as distinguished from the “original Quantum.” It is essentially Pertex’s state-of-the-art in small denier fabrics. It is claimed to be softer, stronger, and less restrictive of garment loft compared to regular Quantum. Quantum GL is double calendared to make it downproof, yet it is fairly breathable because it is so thin.
The rule of thumb to distinguish the two Quantums is: Quantum is fabrics listed as15-20 denier with weights of about 27 g/m2, while Quantum GL is 10 denier fabric weighing less than 25 g/m2. Currently there are three constructions of Quantum GL: 10d x 7d (24 g/m2), 10d x 10d (25 g/m2), and 10d x 7d double ripstop (23.5 g/m2).
The new The North Face Diaz Down Jacket for fall 2010 uses 10d x 10d Pertex Quantum GL shell fabric.
So, why is there still a lot of use of regular Quantum? One reason is that it’s really not the “old” Quantum; Pertex representatives explained that fabrics are continually “refreshed” as new manufacturing processes are adopted. The other reason is Quantum costs about US$2 less than Quantum GL, so manufacturers will tend to use Quantum GL in a jacket shell which uses less fabric, but opt for Quantum in a sleeping bag which uses a lot more fabric.
Polartec Power Shield Pro Fabric
This membrane enables the fabric to block 99% of the wind and creates real water resistance; the remaining 1% circulates within the fabric to greatly enhance moisture vapor transmission. Power Shield Pro also delivers an initial 5000 mm hydrostatic head and remains durably water resistant to a minimum of 3000 mm for lift. Softshell jackets are the ideal application, so Power Shield Pro delivers a highly water-resistant softshell that breathes.
Polartec Power Shield Pro Fabrics work best for softshells. The fabric has a smooth tightly woven face for good abrasion resistance, and a polyester back for a high warmth to weight ratio. The membrane is in the middle of the fabric. Softshells made of this fabric are claimed to have 30% to 50% more breathability.
Following the successful launch of Primaloft Yarn in hiking socks, Primaloft is looking for additional applications. Primaloft fibers are very fine and soft, resulting in a warm and breathable garment. The hydrophobic properties of 100% Primaloft yarn enhance the transfer of moisture away from the skin to keep the wearer dry. When 100% Primaloft is paired with a hydrophilic yarn, like wool, the combination works together to transfer moisture away from the skin to the outside surface of the fabric, keeping the skin warm, dry, and comfortable.
Primaloft is now working with certain manufacturers to blend 100% Primaloft Yarn with other yarns (with a focus on wool) to create superior performing fabrics, like this sweater. Additional performance features can also be integrated, like density gradient weaving.
Polarmax Introduces TransDry Moisture Management Technology for Cotton
Yes, cotton. We typically avoid cotton fabrics because they absorb a lot of moisture and are slow to dry. Polarmax TransDry is the first technical wicking cotton fabric that transports moisture from the inside to the outside. According to their test data, TransDry cotton can be engineered to show a 2000% improvement in moisture transport and has less water absorbent capacity compared to untreated cotton or popular synthetic fabrics. These are bold claims, and we will just have to test it out to see how well it performs. I have been wearing a long sleeve TransDry “T” for a few days and find that it readily absorbs water and sweat, but it dries quite quickly. The sample I received is a heavier fabric weight (10.2 ounces/289 g for size Large long sleeve) compared to polyester baselayers, and it is not cool to wear in hot weather. However, they do have a lighter weight fabric for hot weather.
Thorlo Engineered Variable Density Pad
While merino wool hogs our attention, especially for socks and baselayers, the folks at Thorlo remain committed to acrylic fibers, specifically Thor-Lon. Years ago, the mantra was to wear wool socks in colder temperatures and synthetic socks in warmer temperatures. Now, it seems like the latter has been forgotten.
Thorlo maintains that foot protection is the root cause of comfort. Terry loops in the padding of socks need to absorb impact and shearing forces, basically a back and forth motion. Thick cushioned socks are the best for hiking in rougher conditions.
Cotton, wool, and silk (all natural fabrics) are hydrophilic, meaning they absorb and retain moisture. When socks made of these fabrics retain moisture, the fabric collapses and becomes ineffectual as far as foot protection.
Acrylic yarns are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water, and retain their resiliency for absorbing shock and shear. The condition of your feet and type of activity determine the amount of need for cushioning.
This agrees with my long-term experiences with hiking socks. For long hiking days in warmer temperatures, I much prefer highly cushioned synthetic socks. My feet feel much better at the end of the day.
We look forward to reporting further on these fabric developments and how they perform compared to their claims.