High-Tech Innovations in Jackets Can Keep Us Warmer

Outdoor Research Uberlayer JacketEvery Raynaud’s sufferer is familiar with the winter fashion statement we make wrapped up like Nanook of the North trying to stay warm under lots of thick layers.  Not really beauty pagent material!

But there’s good news for us Frosties:  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports technology is helping manufacturers develop thinner, better-insulated materials that offer improved warmth, better hold their insulation when wet, and no longer make us look like polar bears! These new fabrics combine wool, down and polyester in ways that support more intense, sweat-producing outdoor activities (like snowshoeing) with more fashionable styles that keep us photo-ready for our social media followers.

We can thank the military for inspiring some of these new creations, as soldiers stationed in mountainous areas can’t be adjusting their layers when under attack. Polartec’s new Alpha polyester insulation first originated with the troops three years ago.  Because fibers in Alpha’s fabric are closely knit together and laid on a material that doesn’t bunch, the jackets in the line don’t require the poofy quilting of the past.  This fabric won Outdoor Research’s Uber-Layer Jacket a the prize of “2016 Gear of the Year” from Outside Magazine.  The Mountain Khaki brand is using Alpha insulation in their outdoor workwear, and claim “It dries 60% faster than other synthetics, and it’s more breathable.”

These improved fabrics also meet new standards for sustainability and animal cruelty.  Primaloft is shifting it’s synthetic production to recycled polyester, blended with down treated with a water-repellent substance, and plans to offer a wool-blend insulation by next year.  The new North Face ThermoBall jackets use this Primaloft insulation and claim it’s so quick drying that “you could fall into a lake, and it would dry while you hike back to safety.”

Even Smartwool – a sock manufacturer with many loyal Frostie fans – is getting into the act.  The company is using wool to insulate jackets designed to generate body heat for outdoor enthusiasts.  The WSJ article compliments the stylish new Smartwool “lay-flat technology” and stretchy materials.

For those still loyal to the warmth and light weight of down, there’s also good news:  an oversupply in the market has forced prices lower, reducing the cost of pure down coats to be more on par with their synthetic counterparts, and they are also making great strides in their appearance and ability to weather the elements.

I personally just purchased a down sweater from LL Bean that is rated at 850 down and light as a feather at 10 ounces.  This high (850) down rating means it’s more resilient to compression, lofts better, and can trap more air, thus translating into greater warmth than a lower-rated product of the same weight.  Plus it’s water-resistant, unlike the thicker down of long ago.  It’s great on its own, or can be worn as an extra layer under another coat or jacket.  This worked great on a recent trip from the cold Northeast to Florida.  I layered the down sweater under a lighter leather jacket.  The down provided comfy warmth on the flight (Why are planes always so cold!).  Then when I arrived in Florida, I removed the down layer and stuffed it easily into my already stuffed suitcase and was ready to go.

We’ve also just become aware of a company called NuDown that introduced an adjustable jacket that works with air for insulation.  When you want more warmth, pump in more air; to cool off, just release some air – it’s a totally within your control.  Can’t wait to try this one!

Here’s the full article in the Wall Street JournalWhat Makes the Warmest Winter Coat? New Options in Down, Synthetic and Wool Insulation Create Blizzard of Choices.