Fresh Goods: Polartec Alpha Synthetic Insulation



Polartec has been on a tear, first with NeoShell, the highly breathable and waterproof fabric, and now with Alpha insulation, which it says is ultralight, compressible, and will breathe better than any synthetic insulation ever. Actually, Alpha sounds a lot like down. Even like new breeds of water-resistent down, except that Polartec is touting Alpha as both wind resistant and washable.

The product itself won’t hit retail for another year, and our test sample, a vest, arrived just yesterday, so we can’t tell you yet whether it lives up to its promise. But Alpha certainly is intriguing: To this point there’s no synthetic insulation that’s as lightweight, compressible, and warm as down. But it’s also true that even water-resistent down isn’t going to get washed very often (ideally) nor is it wind blocking. And while down is somewhat breathable, sweating in it is going to whack its insulating properties.

So if Alpha can deliver and really breathe better it’d be a huge deal. But don’t expect it to feel like down β€” the sample we received is low-loft, doesn’t puff like down, and doesn’t compress like down. Those are minor issues relative to whether it insulates and breathes, but if you’re looking for pure down mimic, Alpha probably isn’t it. And thin is the point β€” Alpha is supposed to do more with less. For all the comfort of down, it could do with less bulk.

Alpha will be used in products made by 66ΒΊ North, Eddie Bauer, Eider, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Mountain Equipment, Rab, Ternua, Terry Cycle, The North Face, Trangoworld, Vaude and Westcomb, among others. Keep an eye out.

{ 4 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Nate Simmons

    Puffy jackets are awesome – they are warm and compressible and slide on easily. What current puffy jackets do not do is breathe. The second you ramp up your activity level, they become vapor barriers trapping moisture inside. Both down and traditional synthetic insulation require very tightly woven materials to keep the feathers or loose fibers from poking through. Because these wovens are so “shut down” moisture cannot escape.

    Polartec Alpha was created to provide an active-warmth, highly breathable puffy alternative. Because the core insulation is highly stable, clothing companies can use more open fabrics on the face and back of the garment. This in turn allows moisture to move away from your body through the garment. Polartec Alpha garments will be wind resistant enough to function as outerwear yet breathable enough to be a natural mid layer under a shell like Polartec NeoShell.

    The concept was originally developed for the United States Military Special Operations Forces and after highly successful field trials they have adopted Polartec Alpha technology. These garments span a wide range of exertion levels and weather conditions, layer easily and they also dry more than 50% faster than other synthetic insulation.

    Polartec Alpha provides a more active alternative to traditional vapor-barrier style puffies.

  • Casey Greene

    Nate,
    Good stuff. It certainly will be an interesting period for consumers in the next year with DownTek, DriDown, Powersheild High Loft, and now Alpha. Since I’m a synthetic kind-of-guy, I’ve got high hopes for Alpha.

    Couple Questions:
    Will the insulation be constructed in a “sheet”, like P1 and most other synths? Or, will it be loose like down?
    Do you guys have any clo values yet?

  • Nate Simmons

    Casey – it’s not loose like down, nor is it like a non-woven sheet of batting. It’s a knit construction – more like a very open fabric optimized to perform between two outer layers. The fibers in Polartec Alpha stand straight up and down (perpendicular to the face fabric) to create loft and accelerate moisture transport (vs fibers laying flat in sheets of synthetic insulation).

    Regarding CLO / warmth – Polartec Alpha is eventually going to be available in a range of weights and CLO values – and we provide a lot of flexibility to the apparel companies to select face and back fabrics. But this is an active insulation – we believe that in many instances overheating is underperforming.

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