You associate the words “high tech” with computers, electronics, and video games. But clothing? Yes, clothing. Especially warm weather clothing for active people. Jackets, parkas, linings — they’ve all undergone a scientific overhaul designed to make you warmer, drier and more comfortable. In the “old days,” staying warm outside was pretty simple — bundle up with heavy materials to keep you (relatively) comfortable in sub-zero weather. But as winter lifestyles trended toward more athletic pursuits, mobility became a priority, as was staying dry. Clothing manufacturers who have found ways to provide warmth and dryness without bulk have seen their sales skyrocket.
Lots of Names
These days, shopping for winter clothing usually involves at least a cursory visit to the U.S. Patent Office. Virtually all manufacturers have patented, trademarked, copyrighted or at least registered their proprietary technologies. Perhaps the best known material is Gore-Tex®, first introduced in 1969. Using a polymer construction (actually an expanded polytetraflourethylene for you science geeks), Gore-Tex has an outer layer to keep liquid moisture from penetrating, and its microporous structure aids the body’s natural cooling process by allowing perspiration vapor to escape.
Columbia Sportswear has its family of technologies: Omni-Tech® provides maximum waterproof-breathable protection, while allowing moisture to move away from the skin, Omni-Shield® prevents most water from making contact with the inner clothing layers, and Omni-Dry™ disperses sweat away from the body for quick evaporation.
Trespass utilizes Tres-Tex® technology. It uses special coatings and membranes which keep external moisture off the fabric, yet allow the internal water vapor to escape.
While chemical engineers and patent attorneys can debate the pluses and minuses of these hyphenated brand names, the bottom line for you is a wide choice of fabrics that keep you comfortable during the most strenuous exercise in the coldest of climates.
One of the easiest ways to stay warm outdoors is layering, especially when you are active. Not only does it allow you flexibility to add or remove layers, but the layers trap warm air inside the body, providing natural insulation. Layering is why wearing three shirts are usually warmer than having a single coat. For very cold weather applications, such as skiing, the layering principal is as easy as “1-2-3”:
Layer 1 – Long underwear/base layer
Layer 2 – Insulating tops and pants
Layer 3 – Outerwear
Yet technology has taken over something as simple as layering. Under Armour® began in the 1990s when a University of Maryland football player got tired of sweating through his t-shirt. Now a multi-million dollar athletic apparel supplier, the company has developed a number of innovative underwear products specifically designed for cold weather. Its ColdGear® material starts with a soft inner layer which channels moisture to an outer layer where rapid evaporation takes over.
Fit and Function
Of course, the most sophisticated technology in the world won’t mean much if your jacket doesn’t fit. And the more active you are, the more important fit is. When you try the jacket on don’t just stand and look in the mirror, make sure it gives you mobility. You don’t need an in-store ski run to know if the jacket will work on the slopes. “As long as the garment gives you full range of motion, that should replicate anything you will put it through while outdoors,” says Columbia Sportswear. Columbia Sportswear has two fits to choose from: Authentic, which is not too fit, but not too loose, and Relaxed, which is generously cut for comfort.
Versatility is another important factor in shopping for a jacket. While some outdoor activities tend to have special requirements in a jacket (e.g., skiers and hunters need different kinds of zippers, pockets, flaps and hoods), the more uses you can get for a jacket, the smarter your investment.
Men, Women and Children
Winter attire is like most clothing with different versions for men, women and children. Besides the obvious differences in sizing, styling seems to be the most important consideration. “Men are about function first, fashion second,” says Columbia. “Women are looking for fashion with function. Kids are all about perception of warmth, because their parents are buying the product.”
Yet gender and age differences in winter clothing aren’t all about style. “Not only are body shapes different,” says Trespass, “but there is different motion to consider. This is not just about giving a jacket a ‘cute’ figure, but pocket placements, hood shapes and other features are all dictated by the end user and their needs.”
So, you want to stay warm, you want to stay active and you want to look good. Have no fear; advanced technology is here to serve you.
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