Essential for providing warmth and keeping you safe against the cold, insulating materials and fabrics have come a long way since their use in ancient times.
Alongside them, synthetic and entirely man-made insulations (for example, PrimaLoft, ThermoBall, Thinsulate, etc.) have also made great strides into closely mimicking the near-perfect insulation of down and wool, without the downsides that come with being natural materials.
We have looked at a number of different fabrics, materials and technologies that focus on providing great insulations in jackets.
Today, we will add another insulation to the collection. We will look at Polartec® Alpha® Insulation and its performance.
- 1. Insulation: Purpose and Use
- 2. Polartec®: The Brand
- 3. Polartec® Alpha®: The Insulation
- 4. Products that use the Polartec® Alpha® Insulation
- 5. Conclusion
1. Insulation: Purpose and Use
As we mentioned before, insulations such as wool and down have been used for many years and, while wool is used as a fabric due to being processed into the form of yarn, down is a padding type of insulation.
Just like any other type of insulation, fabrics that are meant for this purpose are used to maintain the heat generated by the body during movement in order to keep you warm when it is cold outside.
They do so in several ways, depending on the type of fabric. Typically, the weaving of the fabric creates tiny air pockets which allow the heat to get technically trapped in them, thus keeping you warm.
Another way to insulate is that of reflecting body heat, like we saw with the Columbia Thermal Coil Technology.
In short, insulation helps maintain body heat at comfortable levels, thus keeping you warm.
2. Polartec®: The Brand
Polartec® is an American company that was originally known as Malden Mills, founded in 1906. The company’s purpose was that of creating innovative textiles and their invention of the synthetic fleece in 1981 is a testament to that.
The Polartec fleece, which has found use in many products since it was first introduced to the market, is regarded as arguably the best type of fleece for outdoor clothing, especially those for athletic wear.
Their collaborations with many renowned brands, including The North Face and Arc’teryx, which we have extensively featured on our website, has revolutionized the sports clothing industry as the products made using Polartec fleece provide the best performance.
The insulation we have picked today, is their Polartec® Alpha® fabric and it is now time to turn our attention to it.
3. Polartec® Alpha®: The Insulation
Polartec® Alpha® is Polartec’s patented active insulation, which works in a very interesting way that we have not come across as of yet.
Originally, it was created for the U.S. Special Forces in order to meet their needs of advanced insulating materials for combative wear.
Because of that, the Polartec® Alpha® insulation is meant to not only perform very well, but to also be practical, which is essential when considering the conditions that the military operates in.
These special qualities are physical and include the fabric’s ability to compress into a very small size, thus not taking much space when packed into backpacks, and the easiness in layering with other materials and types of clothing.
This is another essential quality because Polartec® Alpha® is made for activity and its ability to layer easily under or over other garments, makes it not just versatile, but also much more safer as you can layer accordingly depending on the weather.
As a fabric, it is comprised of lofted knit fibers, which are connected to a solid mesh core that provides stability and also ensures that the fibers will remain in their original placement, without moving around.
This, in turn, makes the fabric appear and perform evenly, with no blind spots in insulation and with no risk of damage during wear and cleaning.
Does Polartec® Alpha® Insulation Work?
We will elaborate on how it works in a minute, but first to answer the question of whether this insulating fabric works as it claims, we would have to say that it does.
It works so well, in fact, that it can be found in a number of renowned brands’ jackets.
Polartec® Alpha® is an active insulation, which means that aside from insulating, it also works as a temperature regulator by allowing the excess body heat that is built up during physical activity to be released. In that way, there is no risk of overheating from an insulation that works too well at maintaining warmth.
Along the same lines, this is a highly breathable insulation, too, which allows moisture wicking and helps keep you dry.
Being a synthetic material, it is made to be hydrophobic, which in turn helps it in a number of ways.
For example, it is highly resistant to moisture, making the jackets highly water-resistant and suitable for a variety of different weathers. Aside from that, it also dries extremely fast, which is essential if you get caught into unpredictable weather.
It is a very lightweight insulation that compresses well, as we mentioned before and it is also highly durable.
Not only that, but it is designed to move as you move, making it very comfortable to wear and versatile when it comes to the multitude of activities it can be worn for.
4. Products that use the Polartec® Alpha® Insulation
It’s now time to look at two of the products we have chosen today, which in our opinion showcase the Polartec® Alpha® Insulation beautifully.
Outdoor Research Women’s Deviator Hooded Vest
Check it out on:
The first design is Outdoor Research’s Deviator Hooded Vest for women, a lightweight and minimalistic vest that works great as a breathable insulating layer in mild weather.
It is made of both the Polartec® Alpha® insulation, which is responsible for providing warmth and regulating the temperature, and Polartec® Power Grid (here is our review of Polartec® Power Grid fleece), which is placed in the hood and back panel, helping with moisture wicking and comfort.
This vest is designed for versatility and can be worn in a variety of outdoor activities, ranging from the easiest ones, such as walking, to those that are more demanding.
It comes with a short collar and an attached hood, as well as three outer pockets. It provides great breathability and at the same time it keeps you warm and cozy, as well as protected from the elements.
Outdoor Research Men’s Ascendant Jacket
Check it out on:
The men’s design we chose is also by Outdoor Research, the Ascendant jacket. A slim fit jacket made for movement, Ascendant is made of a nylon shell and comes with a medium height, stand-up collar.
This is a hoodless jacket, which is designed to be very lightweight and provides a good amount of stretch. To further help with comfort during movement, it comes with thumbholes in the cuffs.
It has a drop-tail hem, which adjusts with drawcords, and three outer pockets, with zipper closures, as well as an inner pocket.
Polartec® Alpha® Insulation is a high performance, active insulation that works to not just keep you warm, but to also regulate the amount of heat retention by releasing the excess.
It moves with you due to its patented design and provides considerable breathability, along with weather protection and comfort.
Polartec® Alpha® Insulation is also very durable and performs exceptionally well during activity, as opposed to the typical insulations, the majority of which are better suited for lighter (if any) activity.
It is not often that we come across an insulation that can perform this well on so many aspects and we must admit that we are quite impressed.
This insulation is worth a shot, in our opinion.
If you’re interested in finding out how it performs in challenging conditions, Gearjunkie’s experience is quite telling of the quality of this insulation.