autumn in Tibet is like autumn anywhere – rapidly cooling, some moisture still in the air and oscillating winds both cold and neutral. only in Tibet it’s all exaggerated. the winds are colder, the sun is stronger, the difference between sun and shade is huge and the cold fronts huge. this means clothing needs to cover a wide spectrum of use, from sun protection to frosted tents way below freezing.
but first a rant…
current developments in fabrics and insulation have changed high mountain climbing clothing a lot, doing away with both the old standards of what is used, and how they mix. when the layers change so do how you layer them, and anyone saying nothing has changed since the 80’s simply doesnt have their eyes open. the old notion of a polypro baselayer, a fleece or pile midlayer then a Goretex shell on top and a huge down jacket at the end is now as relevant as plastic boots and leashes.
today, baselayers are about being warm by being dry, not by insulating. this makes them lighter by being thinner and having less density. the layers on top do any insulating required. contemporary baselayers function as well as sun layers due to their proficiency at drawing moisture off the skin. midlayers today dont just insulate, they provide a protective barrier as well by shielding wind and moisture whilst allowing excess heat to pass outwards. in the past what took 3 garments (base, mid, shell) now takes 2 and the result is more efficient, lighter and ergonomic (recall that every zip, seam, pocket and layer of fabric accumulates to compromise the end result – something to be said for elegant simplicity). shell layers now bear little in common with the hefty Gore garments of 10 years ago; they weigh less, they use less pieces, the bits like zips and fasteners are lighter and better, they stretch, and as part of a system of new fabrics they get worn much less, serving only as outlier elements. where the shell jacket was once the signature of the alpine climber, its now a secondary thing as the belay jacket comes to the fore, much to the concert of the companies.
ahh yes, the belay jacket, perhaps the symbol of all thats evolving in the alpine climbing and clothing world. both as an indicator of changes in climbing style and industrial development, the very idea of a specific belay jacket has taken a long time to solidify: partly because such garments are expensive to produce, partly because climbers dont turn them over like some other garments, partly because it took time for climbing styles to catch up and partly because the textiles to really make the idea work lagged behind the demand for them. like shell jackets, polypros and fleeces, not long ago insulated jackets were bulky and full of problems – to the point where it wasnt abnormal to simply leave them behind. as insulation got better and base and mid layers got more efficient, the demands on belay layers shifted and we now have garments that were mere fantasy once.
a well-functioning system has little barrier preventing moisture escaping from the skin and within the layers itself, only just enough of a barrier to stop wind sucking warm air away faster than demanded. when external conditions start to steal warmth too fast for the system to maintain, a shell is added as a ‘heat cap’. like the other layers, this heat cap is only as permeable as needed, aiming to capture the higher pressure inside the system as a force to keep cold and moisture out.
new fabrics dont just do the job better, they have better structural integrity that allows them to be put together in more ergonomic designs. only 2 or 3 years ago ‘cutting edge’ designs had dozens of panels of special fabrics that ‘body mapped’ for a garments demands. now as single fabrics have broader spectrums of function – and construction methods have evolved in parallel – garments are becoming more streamlined with less seams to fail and less bits to get in the way.
insulating, breathing, protective & ergonomic; fabrics have evolved to a remarkable state recently, altering the old definitions of how they worked together
this years clothing
as a next-to-skin layer Powerwool from Polartec is the latest thing. early protos last year in Tibet were a big success so this year it’s back. a firm stretch, stable wicking and drying and great as a sun layer, Powerwool creates a stable layer as the foundation of everything that goes over it, and unlike previous generations of wool or synthetic base layers suffers little with extended use, staying tight and odourless. in Tibet this layer doesnt get taken off, serving as protection from the sun, sleep layer and high output layer. it needs a full coverage hood, sleeves that cover the hands, large front opening and pockets for storing batteries and day food without freezing. usage time will be 100%
Alpha insulation, also from Polartec, is the obvious choice as a mid or light insulation layer. grams to insulation value it far exceeds any fleece or pile, and with a totally breathable structure paired with a mildly wind protected stretch facing covers a huge spectrum of exertion levels and conditions. tho Polartec was the first to market, Patagonia beat their marketing with an identical product, nailing effectively the notion of put it on, keep it on. this layer also needs a full storm hood – not least for breathing thru when sleeping, big stash pockets for things like gas canisters (ideally the entire stove base) and to fit snug under a shell or belay jacket. aside from the highest output periods or in direct sun this layer is expected to be worn all the time. usage time 80%
as the capacities for base and midlayers to deal with moisture soar, reliance on a shell declines in places like Tibet, with light and stretchy shell layers like Neoshell acting more as stabilizers than as full waterproof armor. shell layers today have little relation to their ancestors of even 7 or 8 years ago, when a shell weighed twice as much, insulated too much, didnt stretch and was seen as a near-constant layer. in Tibet this will be a sub-300gm layer with priority on the hood and sealing ability, ie to lock out snow and spindrift but also act as a simple windshell so no need for any insulating properties. usage time 10%
Tibet being cold the outer insulation is all important, and todays Primaloft Gold resolves what was the grail of insulation – the properties of down unaffected by moisture. Primaloft Gold combines waterproofed down with a blend of just enough synthetic fiber to minimize the extend to which the down collapses when wet, allowing warmth to circulate and push out the moisture that got beyond the downs nano proofing. unlike regular down, Primaloft Gold doesnt collapse when wet, the synthetic fiber alone retaining about 30% heat, enough to kickstart the down drying. for longer trips in tents and portaledges, keeping the slow invasion of moisture at bay is vital and as yet this is the best solution. this layer directly relates to survival and resilience – the longer it keeps its loft values to less cold-creep as we give in to the entropy of fatigue and loss of kcals. the garment needs a serious hood, to go over everything else, to seal out snow and wind and to store large things like 1L bottles. usage time 20%
for the legs Polartec’s Powershield Pro is the vanguard of softshell fabrics. a more breathable membrane and heavier weave creates a barrier that keeps snow out and lightly insulates without being too big a heat trap, requiring only a light Powerwool layer beneath. Powershield Pro has the durability to handle abrasion and the wicking and permeability to not get clammy. they need to be tough enough for climbing, warm enough for sitting around and ergonomic enough to sleep in. they want a high cut back, a long front zip and pockets for things like a knife. usage time 80%
combined and in action, these textiles create a microclimate that moves, breathes and protects far more efficiently and at a much reduced weight and bulk than what existed even 5 years ago. designs can be simpler yet more ergonomic, requiring less pieces and less space to stuff them into. in action the user has a greater range of comfort and movement. these are genuine improvements that may be little more than novelty on weekends out or from the comfort of large basecamps, but that come into their own with weeks of 24hr use when there’s no alternative available, ie real expedition use.
should you go out and spend big on the latest gear?
only if you do it properly. not all new gear combines the latest fabrics with construction, and its often the construction that sends up the price. also, a single whiz bang garment in a mix of outdated junk wont do what it says on the tin, meaning you may be better replacing that favorite old baselayer than getting the latest Neoshell jacket. garments need to be used integrated with the others in the system and unless you can lay down $1000 at a time to get the whole set it makes sense to just get the best when you can. this years latest development will be next years sale items so spending a bit each year means you will have a near-current system in 2 or 3 seasons. consider too your actual demands – producers will sell you the idea of Himalayan (or Greenlandic or Antarctic or Baffinesque) use but you may be able to drop a level back from that if you just climb weekends.
will the latest gear make any real-world difference?
realistically, for weekend and occasional holiday climbers, no. most use will be well within what the garments can tolerate and most issues will be comfort issues, not survival ones. functional differences begin to creep in the moment you have to carry everything (ie its about weight) and use it non-stop for more than a few days (ie its about durability of function). its a double edged equation because not only are you more reliant on less, but you have less ability to do something about a problem should it arise. a 20% compromise on insulation for a night out in Hyalite will be uncomfortable, but at 5000m in Tibet 4 days into a 10 day trip it changes the equation.
highly functional clothing allows you to plan around it. heading up a winter big wall with an all-down system is insane to the point of negligent, but advances in moisture-proofing down and mixing it with synthetic fibers means by day 5 you probably wont have found the limits of what a jacket or sleeping bag can go to. fabrics like Powerwool are more hygenic than some others, not to mention more team-friendly after a week without showering, and knowing it functions as a sunlayer means the transition from baking approach to chilling shadows at the base of a route wont require a change of tops. new midlayer textiles like Alpha truly can be left on almost all the time, meaning less messing about at belays and in tents when you have better things to do. add it all up and the minutes saved become hours and the grams saved become food, fuel and batteries – things that directly relate to safety and survival regardless of how well you climb.
power wool is soon to have it’s big release for fall-winter, so it’s a good time to get some real-world beta out there along side the endless press releases and showroom fondling from the trade show circuit. having used the stuff over almost a year and taken it from baking granite walls to nasty tibetan snow storms and lots of variety of trips between, a decent perspective on the stuff exists.
high exertion, bleaching sun, cold conditions: Polartec’s Power Wool is a quantum leap in next-to-skin fabrics
having worn capilene, various merino wools, maybe every form of Powerdry, Powergrid and Power stretch and like everyone, the old school poly pros, Power Wool is as close to getting it right as has been achieved. now into 2nd and 3rd generation versions, some of the issues have been worked on and what now exists is impressive.
what matters is that the entire clothing ‘system’ rests on the foundation of the baselayer. compromise it and that $700 jacket is off to a poor start. baselayers need to fill a range of functions much more sophisticated than the other layers, so stakes are high, and as it goes Power Wool is as big – if not a bigger – leap in function that Neoshell or Alpha.
the way Power Wool works is straightforward: the inner side is wool that has a degree of insulation yet allows heat to dissipate consistantly, and the outer side is a synthetic fiber that wicks efficiently and allows moisture to pass thru unimpeded.
how they’ve made it work is very sophisticated: this is not 2 layers stuck together. evolved from Alpha-style technology, Power Wool is a bi-component 3D knit (not a traditional weave) thats the one layer but with 2 sides to it. the wool inner side is a waffle texture, the synthetic outer side is a denser uniform texture.
beyond all that are the properties of the fibres: the wool doest reek, it keeps your skin in good condition and it gives a firmness to the fabrics dynamic. the synthetic element gives it durability, provides most of the wicking properties and retains the elasticity of the ‘firm stretch’ factor that makes it fit so well.
speaking of which, the fit is a major factor at work here. firmer than a normal high-stretch baselayer but not prone to the stretch degradation of wool, Power Wool acheives much of it function by form fitting alone. it sits tight against the skin to have maximum thermal and wicking efficiency, but has minimal bunching around the joints or riding up like many tight layers do. perhaps the best factor is that by combining wool and synthetic 3 dimensionally theres no need for a patchwork of ‘body mapping’ panels – which means construction can be kept simpler and more durable yet function is heightened. this then leads to more sophisticated design possibilities ie, how panels conform to the body, where zips go, ways of connecting panels etc.
Power Wools body-conforming ability makes it super efficient: it stretches but doesnt sag, sitting firmly against the skin but not loosing integrity with use
in use Power Wool is a true ‘put it on, leave it on’ fabric – which is vital for a baselayer. the days of stripping to a baselayer yet still sweltering are a big step closer to being over. Power Wool doesnt work by being thick – it works by being efficient, which means it’s almost neutral to the touch. as a single layer it will work comfortably well into warmer temperatures. this is largely increased by it currently being produced in a silver-grey that reflects radiant heat well. this stuff is as much sun layer as it is warmth layer.
on extended trips Power Wool has the odour minimizing properties of any wool, with the quick dry properties of synthetic. the minimal amount of seams needed to achieve high function also makes a garment with less pieces to come apart. over time is where the stuff really come to the fore, allowing the other layers in the system to maintain their functions too, remaining less compromised by the effects of grime as a trip wears on.
all this could only be done by Polartec, the only company working on a full spectrum of functional layers. they realize that for Alpha, Powershield, Neoshell etc to work properly they need to be on top of a foundation layer that gives them the best possible chance. of all the layers it’s taken the technology for Power Wool the longest to emerge, and in producing it theyve reinterpreted how baselayers can function.
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;
fabric function – how well it does what its meant to
construction function – how well it can be made into what it should be
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 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.
the neoshell exped bivy bag: putting evolution into the technology, not the bling
new places generate new ideas. bivy bags have stalled a bit with designs for alpine use, getting more complex and tent-like rather than lighter simpler. but what hasnt stalled is Neoshell and its constant evolution as polartec develops more and more variants for more and more uses.
having used this design for years teton bros got hold of the perfect neoshell for it and here we are – the first available* neoshell bivy bag. the interesting factors are;
its light at 95gm2 this bivy bag comes in at around 350g.
it stretches who doesnt want that? finally a bivy bag that doesnt just feel like a sack.
its long we added an extra 20cms so you can sit up in it with a helmet on, stuff your boots in the end and totally hide away inside with the drawstring cinched shut.
its tough this neoshell is a ripstop version.
its simple minimal seams, minimal openings. the zip is centered so you can sit up in it with it open and when things are grim, turn it over to act as a cowl.
its orange, very if you need to be found stay warm inside. reflective logos make this bag a defacto survival bag.
* this bivy bag is available as a direct supply only – it wont be sold on shelves. due to international differences regarding drip testing neoshell hasnt been finally evaluated yet, meaning we are only selling these direct.
contact iceclimbingjapan thru the bookings & contact tab for details on orders
its usually hard to get excited about ‘new’ developments in clothing, most being just marginal variations on accepted themes. the leaps are usually pretty minor in both function and weight savings.
but every now and then a leap occurs. it takes technology and elegance of design to fuse for it to happen, and when it does notice needs to be given. genuine significant development dont happen by chance, almost always being the result of sophisticated processes.
often what hinders developmental leaps in extreme weather clothing is the lack of systemization; enhancing function by 10% and cutting weight by 10% on a single garment usually goes unnoticed, being lost amongst the inefficiencies of whatever else is being worn. only by systemizing can the factors be tuned enough for serious innovations to exist. in one way its about controlling as many factors as possible, in another way its about streamlining a complex set of processes. in both ways its about increasing function as efficiently as possible. so now one of those leaps has arrived. symbioticly applied together two of Polartecs latest textiles have formed a combination that is both elegant in its function and dynamic in its abilities.
PowerWool and ‘alpine’ Neoshell: a quantum leap in clothing systems.
new versions of Neoshell include a superlight, hi-stretch variant that comes in under 120g/m2, which combined with a radical take on Teton Bros Apex Award winning Tsurugi Jacket produces a full shell layer at about 230g – which is over 100g lighter than the next lightest Neoshell jacket. under this sits a ‘1.5 layer’ made of PowerWool, combining the best elements of wool against the skin and Powerdry to wick moisture away; a combined process that took 2 fabrics to achieve in the past now being done by a single layer at 149g/m2 – light even by baselayer standards alone.
PowerWool; merino, synthetic, fleece – whatever youve got against your skin doesnt work as well as this stuff
combined is a system that weighs in at about 515g for both, yet the whole being greater than the sum of the parts this doesnt function like some low calorie mismatch. profound design optimizes on the fabrics to create a series of micro-climates with the functional spectrum of systems 50% heavier (ie any other system). the Neoshell breathes, protects and moves like a true second skin, its function at maximum capacity due to the seamless layer of PowerWool beneath that keeps the skin regulated and dry by transporting unstable moisture across the easily-controlled air mass surrounding the body. the stretch of both layers results in minimal dead air mass, and large vents allow for consistant temperature regulation that evens the curve of body temperature fluctuation. the PowerWool forms a seamless layer that has total body surface conformity which is the foundation for temperature regulation, the hydrophobic nature of wool finally having the durability of structure to optimize on those properties.
so there you have it; a full function Alpine skin-to-shell system that moves and breathes with the body and weighs under 520g. advanced construction means no compromising elements and innovative design-work results in ferrari-like ergonomics that make piloting the system intuitive.
currently this combination is not available for general release tho a limited number will be made available. enquiries for further details are welcome.
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.
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.
watch for this little tag
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.
just back from another great early season trip to yatsugatake.
this time was spent testing the latest Neoshell products from Teton Bros by getting onto some of the more obscure routes that are only accessible early in the season and climbing fast to see just how well these textiles and designs really perform: and lets just say they are impressive.
the key to breathability isnt just the textile, but the design – vents in the right places, cuts that allow humidity to be dumped, features that let you custom the way things flow. Teton Bros is good at nailing all that, and even before Neoshell came into the equation had designs that let trapped heat escape when and how you wanted it. combine the two and you have a very good bit of gear.
click here to read the full review, and here if you’re interested in getting your hands on one yourself.
good gear needs good places to test it, the routes it all got tested on being more examples of fine japanese ice sat along beautiful frozen streams thru conifer forest in some places, or up steep snow blown gullies in others. all great routes and all leading to alpine pillars and mini-cirques of more ice that are still yet to peak in form. its great knowing theres still so much of winter left ahead!
some of the linked ice falls in the Sansahou Runze, yatsugatake.
and some of the lower ice below the snow line
and meanwhile, back at Akadake Kosen, evenings were spent discussing Pakistan and China logistics with no other than Yasushi Okada from the Giri giri boys. i try generally not to be one to name drop – but hey, when its a giri giri boy whos picked up a piolet d’or and he wants to talk Pakistan…
some trips you just have to do.
after being hit by record snows across central Honshu with 165cm/24hrs on Fuji itself we opted for the south east route. closed roads and mass clearing efforts put us waaaay back from the trailhead, with an 8hr slog and 5hr retreat ensuing. days like this its all about the right people in the right place at the right time – not everyone puts their hand up for such things.
looking happy before the 8hr approach
the way it was; 5hrs into 8hrs of thigh deep plunging with full loads. some trips are simply hard, grinding down into the darker elements of mountaineering, yet in the bigger picture it says a lot about a climbers real motivation.
road signs in Japan are the same height as any other country….