We never talk about our senior COG reporter’s outdoor-sports modeling career. But that’s when we saw our first Gore-Tex jacket: he sported a bright yellow number in an early Early Winters catalog. So we’ve caught him out: style over substance. But what about this early, smart outdoor fabric, Gore-Tex?
At summer (2012) OR COG found Columbia Sportswear techs touting their new Omni Freeze ZERO fabric and sounding like Gore decades ago.
Then (1976), all Gore would say is: micro-pores allow water vapor (perspiration) to pass out of the garment while keeping (liquid) rain outside: a waterproof, breathe-able fabric. Or, WPB: Dry, inside jacket; wet, outside jacket.
Now, apparently, everybody smoking ganja at Coachella knows Gore’s “secret.”
According to InsideOutdoor Magazine, Fall 2012, “ePTFE 2.0, WPB laminates article by Ernest Shiwanov,
Thirty-six years ago (1976), the outdoor recreation market was introduced to what would be the greatest improvement in textile technology since the invention of nylon. Early adapters such as Early Winters, Marmot Mountain Works and Banana Equipment saw the answers to their performance textile dreams and just like that, this technology spread faster than free chronic at the Coachella Music Festival…
…First introduced by W.L Gore and Associates, PTFE-based textile laminates have gone through various changes, improvements…General Electric’s eVent is one…textile laminate technology is based on Dupont’s Teflon or polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE or PTFE)…
(Besides Gore-Tex and eVent, Ultrex, Entrant and Permatex supply smart, WPB fabrics for today’s outdoor market. If you own a WPB jacket, you’re probably wearing one of these fabrics.)
But in 1976, no one would explain the “smart fabric” technology. The closely guarded secret was Teflon. You know, like no-stick frying pans. But no one was saying so, then.
And now, last August at Outdoor Retailer, we got the same message from Columbia Sportswear. About their new smart fabric: Omni Freeze ZERO. COG thought this fabric innovation worth a look because Columbia’s a major, mid-price-point brand available world-wide at specialty outdoor, department and big-box stores.
(Columbia’s Mountain Hardware specialty-brand offers premium product through more exclusive channels. This year your COG reporters have eyeballed Columbia/Mountain Hardware label in outdoor shops: Sydney, Melbourne, Paris, Chamonix, Zermatt and Grindelwald…the world beyond REI and EMS.)
So this time your COG reporters determined to question closely Columbia’s Dr. Science guys doing the fabric demos. No more secrets.
Here’s what we saw. Columbia reps met retailers, vendors and media at the entrance to SLC’s Salt Palace Convention Center. August in Salt Lake City, the mid-morning air temperature ranges 90++ degrees. A Columbia-branded, white, 9-inch lycra sleeve was offered each attendee. In direct sunlight, forearms heated up immediately under the lycra sleeve. Then the Columbia reps (err, the “reps” are actually professional fitness-models…but who’s looking?) spray-bottled the armbands with warm water. The fabric immediately cooled…and cooled far faster and far colder than the ordinary evaporative-cooling we’d all expect.
Here’s what we heard: “once the fabric gets wet, it cools and stays cool regardless of evaporation, so long as it stays wet.”
Now we can’t emphasize this enough. As you know, evaporative cooling depends on moisture evaporating, giving up energy (heat), as the water turns to vapor. (Remember our high school physics: the pan of water takes heat from the stovetop before it can boil away into vapor?) Well, Columbia’s Omni Freeze ZERO works similarly, but way faster. We felt refrigerated under the wet Omni Freeze ZERO sleeve. Really, really cool under high-summer Salt Lake City sun.
Fitness-model spritzing finished, COG beelines over to the Columbia booth and find the white-coated lab guys. We ask about the little blue circles printed over the fabric surface? We mistook these tiny blue circles for fabric decoration. The scientists corrected us: the blue circles are Columbia’s proprietary polymers. When wet, the polymers microscopically swell and release heat. This makes the fabric feel very cool, almost cold against our skin.
“How does the heat get into the polymer reaction to start with?” we ask, like we had a clue.
“An endothermic catalyst absorbs the heat,” observed the Columbia lab guys; “Evaporation plays a small part, but that’s not the main driver.”
Nice scientific answer, but we didn’t want answers. Your GOG reporters wanted the truth.
Evidently, we couldn’t handle the truth.
Columbia refused to name the (proprietary) polymer or explain further the physics/chemistry of their polymer that absorbs heat until it’s wet (like when you’re sweating) and then cools even faster than normal evaporation would allow. So as long as the fabric’s dry, it’ll help keep you warm. But when you sweat-it-up or otherwise wet the fabric, it’ll get cold fast. Our COG Omni Freeze lycra sleeves stayed very cool throughout the afternoon, so long as we sloshed them every so often with our water bottles.
We’d hope we don’t have to wait 30 years (like we waited on Gore-Tex for the tech low-down) for Columbia’s secret fabric physics to be revealed. But we do like the idea of free chronic at Coachella.