POLARTEC: POWER WOOL

iceclimbingjapan functions as a testing project for Polartec, with Teton Bros acting as the Japan interface and production element. this means we are given full access to all Polartecs innovations (including many that never make the mainstream and/or climbing market). from Neoshell to Alpha and dozens of variants of more esoteric fabrics – cast into all sorts of innovative designs – its been a pleasure to R&D for them.

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many new fabrics are simply retakes of old ones, produced with updated technology that refines their production capabilities and functional properties. but some new fabrics are exactly that – new, in every way. new concepts, new demands, new technology to produce them, new ways of functioning and a new place in the market. its been a very long time since traditional clothing systems have been relevant.

in the sequence of Neoshell, Alpha and some of the Powershields now comes Power Wool, a new take that combines properties of both wool and synthetic baselayers.

long unimpressed with wool as a functional layer for serious climbing, this was immediately interesting. the problems with wool are profound and many, far overshadowing the few positives that get touted as making the stuff a good choice. poor durability, textile degradation, average wicking and insulating properties, wool’s advantages were based on aging folk wisdom from a pre-synthetic era. the re-emergence of wool was more due to global industry than to actual demand (ever notice the big R&D companies took minimal interest?) wool has been a good example of how most climbing clothing functions fine for a day or two and companies base their development on this window of use for the majority of what they produce. thru this window its easy to be impressed with most gear.

what changes the equation tho is extended use – a week of constant use, ie 24hrs a day or 169hrs straight. minimum. this is where wool has always failed.

sure, its remained relatively odour-free, but the downside has been the loss of structural integrity that means loss of fit, which means its wicking properties (the #1 factor in maintaining a regulable body climate) is diminished. and that’s a major problem.

Power Wool solves that.

in what seems a simple idea, Polartec combined high quality wool with specific synthetic textile, but simple it aint. to keep appropriate levels of durability and textile function, getting the formula right wasn’t straightforward. like blending oil and water, the differences in properties made for problem requiring new technology to solve – the reason for the legion of hybrid garments about that were using synthetic panels to make up for the wools deficiencies.

where Power Wool works is the way it puts the wool against the skin then faces it with a more stable synthetic layer that resolves the wools problems. the wool keeps things clean and nice against the skin, but where in the past it had trouble moving moisture away the moisture is now pulled from the wool by the synthetic layer, to be evaporated away from the body.

smart? by lightyears. but a radical function that didn’t happen overnight.

eventually they got it right, then we got to play with it, and it wasn’t long before we were converted. Power Wool is very good stuff. like Alpha etc a sudden rush of new design ideas mushroomed that surrounded the possibilities. the stretch alone is insane, meaning totally form fitting designs can be produced with minimal compromise from construction and optimum performance with wicking and regulating the skins micro-climate (remember, the #1 factor in regulating body condition). the main property of wool – its odour reducing capacity – is retained, a useful tho superficial element but one that gains market points. where Power Wool really shines is its function as a sort of ‘1.5 layer’. having such high levels of wicking and stabilizing properties the concept of a ‘baselayer’ is extended beyond that of wicking and/or insulating. now the demanded function is simply less compromised by the fabric.

what will be done with Power Wool? think highly functional baselayers. less of the bitsy ‘hybrid’ designs and more of the form fitting variety, and ones that also function better when used as a single layer. runners, skiers and big mountain alpinsts (those who want to strip to minimal layers for high output periods) will rapidly see the advances.

true to Polartecs vision, Power Wool fits seamlessly into the ‘Polar-system’, working symbiotically with Alpha insulation and the array of weather-resistant ‘Shelter’ layers. well aware that the next-to-skin layer is the foundation for all that goes over it – and as profound as things like Neoshell, Alpha, Hardface etc are – its Power Wool that is the silent achiever with the biggest effect.