POLARTEC POWER WOOL: TALES FROM THE TESTING

still a way from its full release, Polartec has OKed comments from the testing process to ferment interest in another of its game-changing innovations.

expedition use is what matters: weeks of constant use, minimal maintenance, just a squirt of dish liquid to clean it and an hour in the sun to dry – true expedition functionality

unlike Neoshell that took on the big players like Gore and Toray, and Alpha which was all hush-hush with the special forces, Power Wool is an everyman fabric that slides straight in with Polartec doing what Polartec does best – produce comfortable next-to-skin fabrics.

at first it seems weird that this hasn’t been done before, afterall blends of wool and synthetic fibers have been around as long as people have felt itchy, but its not till now it could be produced in a dual-density weave that put the different fibers where they were wanted in durable and comfortable form. like any two materials that don’t naturally mix, problems had to be solved to make them integrate and remain stable.

but yeah yeah, whats it like in the real world? and how is this any better than what we already have?

 

very cold and very bright: as a layer that wicks, stabilizes and protects from the sun, Power Wool has the function of multiple other fabrics

first we need to define performance as simply saying ‘its great’ or ‘it sucks’ after a bout of normal use doesn’t mean much. things need to be seriously thrown against the wall before we can say if they work or not. in this case the test ground was the trip to Gangga VII, which fulfilled the ‘expedition criteria’ of all Teton Bro’s Mountain Project designs.

  • 14 days continuous use

  • interfaced with expedition gear

  • subject to constant expedition stressors

  • maintained under expedition conditions

the primary factors to judge on are;

  1. fabric function – how well it does what its meant to

  2. construction function – how well it can be made into what it should be

  3. integrated function – how well it interfaces with what its expected to

the aim here is not to set out to destroy it, but to provide an environment that’s expected to render it significantly useless – for it to fail of its own accord, failure meaning a degradation of performance to below the standard required. in this case this includes the standards of existing fabrics that already do pretty well, which means the stakes were pretty high.

to not fail means to continue doing what its meant to at the limits of testing. where a baselayer fabric has to shine is its capacity for non-stop wear. shell layers and most midlayers go on and off, making ‘constant’ for a shell very different to ‘constant’ for a base. round-the-clock for a baselayer is just that.

where the Power Wool really shone – pun impending – is that its 24/7 use included that as a sun layer. protective sun layers are nothing new of course, but they rarely double as an insulating layer too, the concept of either being viewed as opposite ends of the spectrum. what alters this is Power Wools remarkable wicking ability which works to dry the skin, not insulate it, achieving its warming properties mostly thru minimal heat loss from convection, rather than trapping radiated heat like most baselayers.

contrary to current baselayer trends Power Wool doesn’t need body mapped paneling to achieve fit and stretch – a really big deal design & construction-wise. body mapping is great in theory but every seam and every method of construction used compromises

 

Power Wool as an interface fabric: warm and dry when covered, fast to dump heat when its vented. Power Wool (shown here under a layer of Neoshell) profoundly increases the performance of other layers by getting things stable at skin-level

in a layer system is where Power Wool really matters. being so thermally efficient all other layers over it have a better chance to work effectively, and having a finely textured outer facing and requiring minimal construction it slips under layers with nothing to impede it. because of its high stretch Power Wool barely bunches up in the crooks of elbows, behind the knees etc.

over the 2 weeks of continual use the deodorant properties stayed within acceptable and over a month of expedition maintenance a single quick wash with dish detergent was enough to bring cleanliness back to baseline.

the problems

the only issue was one of minor durability. caught with a crampon during a fall, a hole in the leg laddered in a way something like a stocking. the hole itself didn’t expand over a further week of use, and the laddering didn’t compromise the fit or construction, but it was unexpected to see.

another issue is where a problem was solved; avoiding the durability issues of wool, Power Wool has a firm stretch. unlike pure wool that sits lightly against the skin because it doesn’t handle constant stretch so well, Power Wool’s dynamic stretch makes for a firmer fit, something more like a wetsuit. its not a problem, just more demand on good quality 3D construction.

the big issue tho will be consumer demand: baselayer design has stagnated due to lack of glamour (who cares when you cant see it right?) and understanding (theyre just ‘thermals’, right?) which means even tho Power Wool can easily improve the performance of an entire clothing system it needs the interest from climbers to get the best designs on the market – and thats not easy. its another rant in its own right (stay tuned), but if climbers spent more on baselayers and less on shell layer bling then the near-mythical properties that these fabrics have could be realized.

 

so a verdict?

it wins hands down. as a functional fabric, as a material for clothing construction, and as a primary element in an integrated system it excelled. no other baselayer material does any of those things quite as well, and usually 1 out of 3 below standard. Power Wool in the right design makes a baselayer that achieves more than any other fabric, and this in turn lets the layers over it work better.