Saturday, August 11, 2007

Patagonia, Moisture Management, & Outdoor Pursuits

The Men's Capilene 1 Crew
(photo from the Patagonia website)

I came across this article by Sam Anson who is apparently an expert in textiles. He writes about the process and evolution of moisture management fabrics, many of which are used by Patagonia. These fabrics are of course vital for the comfort of those who enjoy outdoor pursuits like hiking, camping, rock climbling, surfing, trail running, and the like.

Moisture Management Fabrics Market Set to Grow to Meet Demand for Performance
by Sam Anson
AKTRIN Textile Information Center

Apparel manufacturers shift their attention to the high-performance end of the Moisture Management Fabrics Market and consumers place increasing importance on the performance of garments, according to the latest issue of Performance Apparel Markets.

Moisture management is one of the key performance criteria in today's apparel industry. It is defined as the ability of a garment to transport moisture away from the skin to the garment's outer surface. This action prevents perspiration from remaining next to the skin. In hot conditions, trapped moisture may heat up and lead to fatigue or diminished performance. In cold conditions, trapped moisture will drop in temperature and cause chilling and hypothermia. Excess moisture may also cause the garment to become heavy, as well as cause damage to the skin from chafing.

Any garment which is worn next to the skin or worn during exercise benefits from moisture management properties. The range of applications for such fabrics continues to expand as new fabric technology is released on to the market. In addition to sportswear and active wear, there is also growing interest in moisture management fabrics from the flame retardant apparel market.

Moisture is transported in textiles through capillary action or wicking. In textiles, the spaces between the fibres effectively form tubes, which act as capillaries, and transport the liquid away from the surface. As a rule, the narrower the spaces between the fibres in a fabric, the more effectively they will draw up moisture. For this reason, fabrics with many narrow capillaries, such as microfibres, are ideal for moisture transport.

Another factor which affects moisture management is absorbency. However, while greater absorbency increases the ability for moisture to be drawn into the fabric, the tendency of absorbent fibres to retain such moisture affects comfort levels, as the garment becomes saturated. It has been shown that fabrics which wick moisture rapidly through the fabric while absorbing little water help to regulate body temperature, improve muscle performance and delay exhaustion.

Generally, the most effective moisture management fabrics are high-tech synthetic fabrics which are made from polyamide or polyester microfibres. These are lightweight, are capable of transporting moisture efficiently, and dry relatively quickly. Moisture management capabilities can also be enhanced by using certain finishing processes, by varying the fabric or fibre construction, or by using a blend of fibre types.

"Push-pull" fabrics -- bicomponent materials composed of a non-absorbent material on the inside and an absorbent material on the outside -- have proved to be an effective construction for moisture management fabrics. This is because the absorbent material on the outside draws the moisture away from the skin while the non-absorbent material keeps the skin dry.

In terms of key producers, one of the world's leading manufacturers of polyester-based moisture management materials is Invista. This company's CoolMax and Thermolite brands are found in a wide range of garments for sports and outdoor activities. However, the pace of development has accelerated over the past ten years, and a growing number of companies are now competing with these brands. Well known names in this field include American Fibers and Yarn, Comfort Technologies, Hind, Honeywell, Intera, Intex, Lenzing, Marmot, Milliken, Mitsui, Nano-Tex, Nike, Patagonia, Pearl Izumi, Polartec, Reebok, Rhovyl, Schoeller, Tomen, USA-Pro, and Wellman. The number of polyester-based moisture management fabrics on the market has also increased dramatically in recent years, and includes Capilene from Patagonia and Polartec's Power Dry.

As manufacturers of sports and active outdoor wear strive to improve the functionality of their collections, the future will see further developments in the field of moisture management fabrics. For example, the area of nano-fibres looks set to revolutionise the moisture management market. In addition, the next generation of "smart" textiles could see the development of fabrics which are able to respond to changes in the environment by adjusting their pore size or thickness to allow moisture through.



Friday, August 10, 2007

Gear up for your hike at the Patagonia Summer Sale

The Patagonia Summer Sale has just been announced and it begins on August 14th and runs through the 21st. The sale is online and in Patagonia stores. Prices will be 30-60% off retail prices. An example is the Women's Duality Jacket (similar to the Shelled Synchilla Jacket but reversible): retail was $125 and the sale price will be $59. Great for hikes around camp or bundling up by the campfire.



Thursday, August 9, 2007

Marupializing on Vacation

Back from a brief vacation among the Sequoias. Had a wonderful time with my family of 6 in a 600 square foot cabin. Reminded me that all of the accoutrements that I have are really not necessary in the day-to-day of life. My kids just played in the dirt (and couldn't have been happier) and my wife and I did a lot of reading (she sped through some 600 pages over the course of 3 days). We did a bit of hiking around the lake, my oldest daughter and I did some rock climbing (okay, maybe that's a stretch, but we did get to the top of a pretty big boulder), went rowing and swimming in the lake, and roasted marshmallows.

It was mainly shorts and t-shirt weather (and I had a Patagonia organic cotton t-shirt with me that I bought at Marshall's for $5), but the nights got a bit chilly and my trusty Patagonia Marsupial (circa 2001) came in very handy. Hiking in the Marsupial causes a bit of a heat-up but the Marsupial's deep zipper allows nice venting. The handwarmer pockets are great and the mesh inside increases the air flow. The Marsupial's Y-Joint sleeves offer excellent mobility too. The only thing that had me concerned was how close I could get to the campfire wearing that Synchilla Fleece. The tag says something about staying away from flames. I had this vision of going up in smoke while my children watched and just the stick and the marshmallow remaining behind. Luckily all was well and the S'Mores came out sans fried-daddy.

In the newest edition of the Patagonia catalog, it appears that Patagonia has updated the Marsupial some (updating the price in the process--up a few bucks) adding a wind flap by the zipper, lining the collar, and off-setting the shoulder seams so there's no friction when wearing it with a pack. It's a solid piece of cool weather gear and I would recommend it if you're in the market. My old lovable Marsup in its post-Sequoias glory: