New High Tech Fabrics: Industry Changing Revolution



Just as digital technology has changed our social and working lives, developments in textile technology are changing our active lives. For decades, breathable and waterproof synthetic fabrics and insulation have been pushing out the old standbys of cotton and wool, improving the way we play and perform in the outdoors. But now many of these standbys are being retooled, including wool and goose down.

DriDown: Synthetic Down
Goose down, with proper care, maintains it’s loft and will keep you warm without weighing you down, and gives you a good bang for your buck since it lasts a lot longer than most synthetic insulations. It also is a more breathable. Several companies dove into research and development and brought to market their proprietary down technology, which successfully addresses the one thing traditional down lacks: water-repellency. Called Dri-Down, the natural insulation is treated with a nano-technology coating to address the biggest problem with down: when it gets wet, it gets downright soggy and heavy. The coating does add a tiny, nearly negligible bit of weight (average of 1-ounce per bag), but it also helps the hydrophobic insulation dry faster. And even wet, it retains significantly more loft than untreated down.

DownTek™: Synthetic Down
Another first-generation water-resistant down, DownTek,™ has become the leading technology to replace down in a range of outdoor products by Eddie Bauer, GoLite, Kathmandu, LLBean, Mountain Hardwear, Salomon, Big Agnes, EMS,  Salewa, Brooks-Range, NEMO, Sea to Summit, Mountain Designs, Millet, Fly Low, Jottnar, Peak Performance, Helsport, Camofire and Obermeyer. DownTek is free of PFOA and PFOS (synthetic chemicals), and is allegedly all natural and non-synthetic. If you have the cashola, this is probably the ultimate gear buy.

Thermoball™: Synthetic Down
Not to be outdone by down innovations, The North Face® (in partnership with Primaloft®) developed a new synthetic down alternative. The goal was the low weight, loft, warmth, and compressibility of high-loft goose down, but with the wet-conditions insulating performance of synthetics. Unlike traditional, continuous-filament synthetic insulations, the small round Primaloft synthetic fiber bond together like cumulus clouds to mimic down clusters. It does what synthetics do best—trap heat within small air pockets to retain warmth. It’s truly hard to tell, on touch whether you’re dealing with down or a synthetic.

DELTA 2000: Polyester
This new polyester garment fabric has a distinctive structure comprised of a warp of densely and finely crimped bulky yarn, and a weft weave of ultra-thin yarn, interwoven three-dimensionally with airspaces and an aerated fine-waffle structure to make it water resistance, while also offering excellent water-shedding performance (without the added weight of a coating). It also offers excellent breathability and wicking, is extremely lightweight, and has a soft, luxurious feel and appearance.

This next generation flat knit fabric is designed to give clothing and outerwear softness, stretch, durability, ultraviolet protection, anti-transparency as well as snag resistance property due to its dense, flat surface.

DUALFINE: Polyester
Another technological innovation from the far east, this interesting water-repelling polyester layer fabric effectively absorbs sweat, and makes sweat-induced watermarks invisible from the outside. Its base fabric composition is recycled polyester fiber with a thin laminate of polyester film. The manufacture says it will also hold up well to repeated washings. Like the Delta fabrics, it’s not widely available yet. But get ready to see more of them in your favorite sports and outdoor gear.

HyVent®: Polyurethane
Most outwear is stitched together from various fabric pieces in a pattern. The North Face found an innovative way around this, constructing jackets made from a single sheet of waterproof, moisture permeable and exceptionally durable fabric (two types of yarn coated with a tri-component polyurethane (PU) in a multi-layer formula) and FuseForm (think fused rather than sewn seam) construction. The result is an incredibly sleek, light, almost seamless shell reinforced in the shoulders and arms, and with greater breathablity in the torso.

Neoshell®: Water-Repellent
An innovation from industry leader PolarTec, is widely touted as the first truly breathable, fully waterproof, temperature regulating fabric. It’s increasingly being used across the brand spectrum, and has received numerous awards and accolades.

DVStretch™: Water Repellent
This material integrates eVent’s ePTFE membrane, the patented fabric Gore-Tex® is made from, to produce a high degree of stretch. This is a pretty remarkable innovation for a water-repelling fabric, especially one made with eVent® membrane technology. The proprietary fabric is made with a three-layer lamination that provides up to 85% give with full recovery back to its original shape and fit. It also wicks sweat to the outside of the garment, keeping base layers and the body dry.

Although use of this natural fabric—especially Merino wool—in outdoors garments has become increasingly common and much more affordable, innovations are on the horizon. The one to watch for is “cool” wool from Icebreaker. It’s a blend of Merino wool and naturally sourced, cellulose-based Tencel, which promises to be 40% cooler than regular Merino.

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Jo Ostgarden

Jo Ostgarden is a freelance journalist who has traveled around the world by plane, train, thumb, bicycle and automobile. She bicycled across Canada, the Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon to British Columbia and throughout 14 countries abroad. Additionally, she's an enthusiastic longtime backpacker who calls the Grand Canyon her own personal energy spot. She's also expert on travel in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii and Ireland. She edited and re-wrote the final edition of Best Places Northwest Travel Guide, and has written about travel, health, nutrition and endurance sports gear for dozens of magazines and newspapers, including Bicycling Magazine.

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