by Janet Preus
The level of thermal management possible in textiles today is, quite literally, out of this world. The requirements of NASA and other enterprises venturing beyond earth have driven development of extraordinary materials that tolerate the extreme environment in Space.
But for most of us, it’s a little hard to wrap our heads around all that. We’re more interested in keeping warm when the weather’s cold and staying cool enough to be comfortable in any weather circumstance. There is, however, enough connection to justify a feature on this site that discusses both.
“Managing one’s personal climate” by Marie O’Mahony covers breakthroughs in the thermal management market area. Among the developments are new uses for graphene, nanoporous textile materials, modified recycled PE with passive cooling, and reversible textiles that can offer both heating and cooling. Another article, “NASA heat shield features a new design architecture,” explains Bally Ribbon Mills’ development of a new material for NASA’s deployable heat shield design called ADEPT.
Succeeding at keeping space exploration viable and travelers safe and comfortable requires sophisticated new materials, including textiles. But keeping me comfortable while I’m skiing in the north woods also demands a certain level of achievement in textile end products. So, yes, I have a personal interest in thermal control products for apparel.
Historically, I’m cold for the first half of my ski and too warm during the last half. By the time I’m loading my skis back in the car, I’ve shed my jacket, neck gator, hat and maybe even my mittens. In more recent years, with new materials in apparel, I have taken to reading the hang tags carefully. I recognize the technology used in those brands, and I know what they’re supposed to do, so I probably have a jump on most consumers out shopping for outdoor apparel.
I’m also picky. I used to wear a cotton base layer; it’s comfortable, but it also absorbs moisture. Not good. I prefer down in my jacket because it’s lightweight and reliably warm; however, it absorbs moisture, too. Well, this is just the beginning. I’ve tried many combinations (and they’re all still hanging in my closet). Depending on the temperature, wind and other conditions (like a snowstorm), I have almost any mix of materials and functionalities available to me to wick that moisture away, breathe, stop the wind, keep my outer layer dry, and so on.
I take this seriously, and I don’t mind layering up to go out in the cold, but I think this conundrum is on its way out. With new technologies in development – and others already commercialized – I will be able to simplify dressing for the outdoors considerably.
Unless it’s so cold that I have to cover my face. That I mind. I’ll do it, but if some brilliant innovator could find a way to keep my face warm without covering it in fleece up to my eyelashes, my skiing wardrobe would by complete. For now.
Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.