at iceclimbingjapan we don’t really test garments, we test systems. Japan is an ideal testing ground as results can be gained and processed rapidly, in direct conjunction with the developers.

difficult, cold and complex: the mountain ranges of Japan allow for efficient R&D

tasking from Teton Bros, who interface for Polartec, means we are a vehicle for the Polartec range, which is interesting as they are the only producer putting a full system of compatible fabrics out there. sure, Neoshell is interesting. yes, Alpha insulation is innovative. and High Efficiency, Stretch Woven and Power Wool etc are all useful, but it’s the combination that counts.

so what do we have to play with? theres dozens of variants of dozens of fabrics, which means hundreds of possible combinations. iceclimbingjapan is mostly winter and alpine specific so what we center on a system that keeps an exerting human functional down to very cold and unstable temperatures (about -30c with winds gusting to about 80kmph).

systemized textiles with innovative results

just like testing the latest Ferrari but with tires from the 80s and an exhaust system from the Clinton years would be a severely compromised ’test’, so would be evaluating any component from Polartecs latest range when combined with random elements of old gear. what makes a system good is that it minimizes outliers and therefore makes the function more predictable – something that really matters when planning edgy endeavors.

it also really matters in the market place, where the consuming public – rightly so – disputes manufacturers claims for performance. ‘Neoshell feels cold’, ‘Alpha doesn’t wick’ etc are common complaints heard from consumers who almost always have combined these innovative textiles with others that are not. its just a fact of innovation that your favourite fleece may well be the weak link in an otherwise efficient matrix.

so what have we found?

for a start, the Polartec system works, across a wide range of conditions, for a wide range of activities. ‘works’ here means staying more regulated, comfortable and within a safe functional zone than other random collections of gear allow, and is evaluated simply by experience. whatever the factors, combined as a system, the Polartec range functions with a true sense of integration. the next-to-skin fabrics keep you dry, the midlayer textiles insulated without condensing moisture, the shelter layers block the elements whilst allowing excess heat and moisture to dissipate. all fabrics stretch to math the range of motion of the body. they also all interface smoothly with each other and can be pieced together using construction technology that doesnt compromise function.

weve also found the system to be simple. gone are the days of complex combinations. with each fabric working well over a larger spectrum of conditions, systemizing them becomes simpler. the function of each element still needs to be understood, but the way they work when unimpeded is profound.

weve found too that old notions of ‘layers’ and ‘systems’ no longer apply. sure, weve all known this for a while now, but the resolution has been unclear. old school fleece and shells haven’t really had a part in most active systems for years, but without replacing what goes either side of it has been hard to substitute. applying the out dated layer system gets harder and harder as innovations get more and more profound. anyone advocating a regular way of layering along the lines ‘base-mid-shell-down’ is ignoring the technology currently available. its just not that rudimentary anymore.

one example of a Polartec system: Power Wool base, stretch Alpha midlayer, Powershield outer layer. all elements stretch, move and respirate moisture in harmony.

now single garments do much more than function as a single layer, with garments using fabrics like Power Wool, Alpha and Powershield being referred to as ‘1.5 layers’ or ‘+layers’ that do multiple things at once. combining these ‘1.5 layers’ gets simpler and simpler because they are more and more functional. there really is no reason to be overheating or getting windchilled anymore.

so where to go with it? design.

its one thing to innovate with fabric technology, but quite another to innovate with design, and sadly this is what lets the paradigm down. these new fabrics really demand new designs to feel them at their best, but the consumer market just doesn’t float it. complete systems like what Polartec has developed could easily put seamless, integrated garment ranges onto climbers bodies – but climbers are reluctant to try it, which means giving up the dinosaur gear and showing a demand for the future.