quite a bit of feedback, even from those at the heart of the process, has been confused about the new Polartec High Efficiency fabrics, stating ‘it’s just Capilene’.

well, its not.

Capilene (and whatever other companies were calling it; grid, waffle etc) was a big deal when it emerged, making next-to-skin layers lighter and more efficient, whic then made everything on top of it more functional too. the reduced contact area combined with a more wicking textile and then spread oer a larger evaporation area was one of the biggest elements of progress in outdoor clothing for quite a while – even if it went barely noticed.

polartec high efficiency


 side by side: High Efficiency (left), Capilene (right)

the new generation of High Efficiency takes all that further. what Capilene did H.E. does better, wicking faster due to a greater contact area-to-evaporation area ration, retaining more body heat in its more aerated structure, dumping that heat faster due to this same structure and ending up a lot lighter (in some cases 25%) – which all means it works even better under the layers over it, and if those layers are designed to go over it youre looking at advances that are a big leap even on just what was available a season ago.

polartec and capilene

this is not just a simple matter of Polartec coming up with a minor variation and flogging it as a big deal. the intentional development and release of multiple fabrics designed to go together is something only Polartec has the wherewithal to do, taking them from being ‘the fleece people’ to being ‘the system people’. and not only that, the fabrics available function along new parameters, ones mostly unobtainable until very recently when the technology caught up.

when would you want this stuff around you?

any time what you are wearing impacts how you perform in demanding conditions. hanging out at the mall little of this matters, but at 7000m in the Pamir or dropping quickly into a remote valley it does; you carry less weight, you need to fiddle about less with what you have on, you have a greater range of conditions you can function in and adapt to and you expend less energy maintaining your optimum condition.

you want this stuff around you if you want your other layers to work well, especially if you are expecting very little to work very hard by cutting weight and/or using it all across a broad spectrum of conditions. this has made up a big part of the Gear Testing Project where gear and clothing has to do just as well when slogging up steep snow to sleeping on frozen rock, from the windy ridges and peaks to the shady gullies and stifling train rides.

within a system of fabrics, tho Neoshell gets the attention and Alpha gets the enigma, its the High Efficiency variants that set the baseline. by upping the function of the prime factor (ie, the process of heat and moisture coming from your body) Polartec can be very specific with what else is in the system. obviously it has its marketing advantages, but the real winner is the person going hard when conditions are grim because they can expand their trust in a series of fabrics they know is meant to work in their favour.