Wearing the Future

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Outside magazine, September 1999

Wearing the Future
Welcome to the next paradigm of outdoor technology: clothing as gear

By Sarah Friedman


Silicone polymers. Modified cellulosic fibers. Plaited bicomponent wicking layers. Hydrophobic microfilaments. These are the kinds of technical ingredients we count on when we head into the wild, the lab-cultivated innovations that drive the climate-control mechanics of athletic clothing. Certainly, we've come to expect more and more functionality from outdoor wear since the arrival of Gore-Tex (polytetrafluoroethylene) 23 years ago, and not coincidentally we've made peace with the paradox of relying on processed petroleum as we wend our way through the fickle elements of nature. Not long ago, the ways in which companies manipulate their ever-burgeoning menus of synthetic fibers would have seemed like the stuff of science fiction. These days, we all understand that outdoor wear isn't merely designedùit's engineered.

Interestingly, you might not know such garb is high-tech by looking at it. The colors aren't blinding, the details aren't overbearing, and the silhouettes aren't embarrassingly radical. Avant-garde as the science behind these clothes is, manufacturers have come around to the idea that it's unwise to flaunt their achievements in Ma Nature's face. Looks aside, you can rest assured that every piece of gearwear we testedùfrom cool-weather running pants to wet-weather shellsùwill do the work you need it to do with automatic, calculated efficiency.


The Moonstone Tech T ($39; 800-390-3312) is so good a facsimile of your beloved cotton T that you'll be tempted to reach for the hem to wipe clean your mud-spattered sunglasses. Don't do it: This number is 100 percent unnatural. Polyester and acrylic microfibers make the long-sleeved crewneck wick, rayon renders it almost-cottony soft, a smidge of Lycra gives it a little stretchùand the precise combination of these fibers is patented. Since the yarn is of atypically long fibers, there are few loose ends to come to the surface and pill.

Slightly thicker than the Tech T, the Sueded Tactel Long Sleeve Mock from RLX Polo Sport ($98; 800-775-7656) might just be the perfect single layer for an early-morning run on the beach or an early-evening game of pickup football. The Lycra-nylon blend has the stretch to accommodate a diving end-zone catch, and you can comfortably sit around in it for hours after a long, sweaty excursion. The zippered chest pocket is sized for a dog leash or your wallet.



The Ibex Riff Vest ($115; 800-773-9647) looks like something stashed in the duffel of a Tenth Mountain Division soldier. (We mean that in a good way.) Ibex uses good old-fashioned wool but processes it in a way that preserves its natural lubricant, lanolin, so the vest repels water and stays softùand doesn't irritate your neck. Though it's not as light as fleece, it's at least as warm.

A good waiter refills your water glass when you're unaware; a warm top should be similarly unobtrusive. Moonstone's Aero Jacket ($149; pictured on previous page) provides just such service: It's a warm, light layer that you barely notice. The Air Core 200 fleece is made of hollow polyester fibers, meaning it's lighter but warmer than lower-tech fleece because the trapped air is warmed by your body. The pockets, sewn into the seam where the front meets the Power Stretch side panels, are practically invisible.

The Arc'Teryx Gamma SV ($230; 800-985-6681) has the mean look of a biker jacket but even broader functionality. A rough outer layer of abrasion-proof woven nylon is laminated to a light fleece inner layer, giving you just enough stretch to nail a tough bouldering move but not so much as to dominate the shape. It's amazingly wind- and water-resistant for something with no weatherproof membraneùnot for a torrent, but fine for a hailstorm.

Stuff the Zoic Capsule ($15; 800-241-9327) in your coat pocket, forget about it, and then one evening when a sharp chill slips into the air you'll be Johnny-on-the-spot. The thin fleece cap fits snugly over your melon like a good rind should.



The Mountain Hardwear Aurora possesses the weight and simplicity of a ballpark giveaway windbreaker, but instead of being useless and free, it's waterproof and comes with a shocking price tag ($370; 800-953-8375). It's made of W. L. Gore's newest brainchild, Pac-Lite, which is a different formulation of Gore-Tex that obviates the need to protect the delicate membrane with a heavy fabric lining, opting instead to fuse sesame-seedûsize rubbery dots directly to the barrier. Mountain Hardwear kept the 17-ounce Aurora's design simple so as not to defeat Pac-Lite's purpose: Zipper flaps are thin, the two pockets are backed by mesh, and the cuffs are elastic with only a small adjustment tab. Jackets that smush into a jersey pocket are nothing new, but when you can fit one into the little tennis-ball pocket on the back of your shorts, now that's high-tech.

With the Velocity Shell ($89; 800-638-6464), Patagonia has reduced bulk and increased breathability by encapsulating the polyester fibers in a silicone polymer, which, in addition to keeping them from loading up with water, fills in the little holes between the threads. The result? A weatherproof fabric as slippery smooth and thin as rice paper, minus the crinkle (though it can feel a little clingy against bare forearms).

Pearl Izumi's Vagabond Jacket ($110; 800-328-8488) hails from cycling couture, but thanks to a boxy cut it's still your friend far from the bike. The Zephrr fabricùextremely fine-fiber polyesterùbreathes incredibly well, but because it's so tightly woven it's also highly wind-resistant and water-repellent. Zip off the sleeves and you've got an equally useful vest. Bravo, Pearl, for finally installing zippers that don't jam: You can actually slip on this jacket while you're pedaling.



Don't let the off-putting name of The North Face ATV Pants ($110; 800-719-6678) color your view of these appealing trousers. Made of an incredibly tough combination of nylon and spandex from the innovative Swiss company Schoeller, they're virtually weather- and abrasion-proof. Take a digger on a scree-paved hike and they'll save your skin.

Every dedicated runner's dilemma: The best of rain jackets don't shield your legs, but rain pants and performance tend to be mutually exclusive. The solution: All-Weather Tights from Sierra Designs ($89; 800-635-0461), an innovative composite of stretch nylon and a waterproof-breathable membrane whipped into a trim design. They won't hang up your stride, but they will keep your gams dry in a deluge.

Marmot's DriClime Pants ($125; 707-544-4590) turn a dreary, damp day into the ideal occasion to hike. Outside, a nylon shell scotches wind; inside, a bicomponent polyester knit wicks like crazy. Side zippers allow easy egress when you've warmed up and want to thumb your nose at the fog. Think of them as a cozy kick in the pants to get you out the door.


Sarah Friedman, editor of Outside Online, hikes and bikes near San Francisco.

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