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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 designed—it'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 tested—from cool-weather running pants to wet-weather shells—will 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 stretch—and 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 soft—and 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 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 membrane—not 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.
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