Apparel Tech 2016
Staying warm and dry is the key to on-trail comfort
Because I measure my snowmobiling by the decade and not the year, I’ve gone from championing bulky, but lightweight goose down gear to today’s latest and thinnest apparel for my snow wear. I loved my goose down parka and found it totally appropriate for a long-ago snowmobile expedition down Alaska’s ocean coast that started at Point Barrow and ended in Unalakleet, north of the Yukon River.
But the advantages of warmth without weight were driven home when I got my first Thinsulate lined snowsuit. At first, I was suspicious but it was light yet warm as promised. The suit wasn’t bulky and I could move easily. My snowmobiling experience was enhanced immediately and I became a believer that, yes, you could be warm in a thin, lightweight snowmobile suit. My goose down parka, which had begun to bleed features at its seams, was retired. Thinsulate gear with Gore-Tex treated shells became my accepted wear.
Fast-forward through the decades and you’ll find that modern snowmobile gear, as well as most serious winter gear, has been transformed. Geese can keep their features as 3M, which invented Thinsulate, managed to harness synthetics in such a way as to virtually mimic the loft and better the insulation qualities of nature. You frequently will find that top of the line snow gear partners Gore-Tex with 3M insulations, creating warmer and drier gear that couldn’t have been imagined by the early snowmobile pioneers. But such snow wear played a part in expanding the sport as high-tech apparel promoted style with warmth.
Consider for a moment how far we’ve come. In the mid-1950s Polaris co-founder David Johnson drove 500-miles north from Roseau, MN to The Pas, Manitoba to race a new Polaris Sno-Cat. The prize was a warm but heavy fur coat, which as the first ever professional Polaris racer, Johnson won. That foray into Canada paid more dividends than a fur coat as Johnson and H.C.Paul met, with Paul becoming Canada’s first Polaris snowmobile distributor and innovator in establishing snowmobile-oriented apparel.
From those early days to now, snowmobile consumers are faced with an almost bewildering array of snow wear. The primary ingredients to top of the line apparel remains with some form of lightweight synthetic insulation combined with a water and wind resistant outer fabric. Because of its success, 3M Thinsulate materials led to creation of various competitors, the same with W. L. Gore & Associates’ materials.
If you’ve tried on any of the newest snowmobile garments you might have found it difficult to get your arm past all the product-descriptive hang tags and into the sleeves. If you read any of those sales pieces you could easily become disoriented with too much information.
Because 3M and Gore entered the apparel market early and helped transform gear from bulky to lightweight warmth, those two “names” resonate the most with us consumers. Based on personal experience, I have become a serious fan of Gore’s Windstopper technology, which truly blocks the effects of cold, blowing wind. Because I frequently stop on a trail to take photos of sleds and such, I need warm, wind blocking flexible gloves. My favorites have been a pair fitted with Windstopper that can slip unobtrusively into my regular riding gloves. So, for me, Windstopper yes!
But when it comes to Thinsulate, I’m a believer, but am quite accepting of quality competitors. What all of these types of linings must offer is exceptional warmth and resistance to moisture. You want adequate breathability as well as long-term durability in the garment. Virtually all of the top of the line snowmobile jackets will do that.
KLIM makes a point of its use of 3M Thinsulate materials and actually may use various blends and weight of the 3M material depending on which portion of the KLIM garment needs greater or lesser warmth or bulk. Divas Snow Gear features Polartec’s NeoShell materials, which are breathable and stretchable. And, of course, there are the old reliables such as the Dacron polyester blends Hollofil and Hollofil II, Quallofill with its down-like feel and Thermoloft.
Yamaha offers premium Yamaha-brand apparel using Outlast technology, a proactive heat and moisture management technology using phase change materials (PCM) to absorb excess heat from your skin when you are warm, and releasing that heat back to you when you need it most. It is the only “phase change” material that is a Certified Space Technology.
When it comes to exterior breathability and management of your body’s “micro climate,” there are alternatives to Gore-Tex, although W.L. Gore manages to mostly counter competitive materials by offering similar Gore-branded materials of its own. Gore is said to make it somewhat difficult for those other brands to gain a foothold with its Gore-brand retailers. Many retailers find it easier to sell the Gore-Tex “name” on apparel that costs US$400 and up than trying to expand with a new brand name.
One thing we have noted in the snowmobile business, sled wear makers offer a variety of price points and can do that by offering other materials. While Gore-Tex is the prevailing “name” to buy, there are other materials with similar wear characteristics used in today’s snow wear.
• eVent is a Gore-Tex alternative made using a membrane that’s similar to Gore-Tex and is licensed to clothing manufacturers to be sold under different names. • Sympatex, found in premium Ski-Doo apparel, is waterproof, windproof, and a breathable membrane that doesn’t have micro pores for breathability like eVent and Gore-Tex. It allows your body’s water vapor to pass via an absorption and evaporation process. • Polartec NeoShell featured in top of the line Divas Snow Gear is another competitor. Since it doesn’t require high heat or pressure for airflow, the brand stakes a claim as the most breathable waterproof fabric currently on the market.
This is hardly all of the cold weather “names.” You’ll find that some apparel makers or retailers have their own brands, such as Columbia’s proprietary “Omni-Dry” fabric.
When looking at winter snow wear, consider how you ride. Mountain riders tend to layer more than Midwestern trail riders and need base layers that can move body moisture adeptly so sweat from working a sled out of a hillside doesn’t turn to icy discomfort. Trail riders might prefer apparel with greater warmth.
Whatever your needs, we figure that premium apparel will offer top of the line insulation and weatherproofing qualities, these are some of your basic considerations for snowmobile wear:
• A jacket and bib that fits well and includes adequate warming insulation, plus affords good waterproofing for protection on those days when you might find yourself battling wet, heavy snow. • Zippers like an YKK taped seam design that seals out water, but opens and closes easily at the front or at any venting seams. • The exterior shell, regardless of basic material, should be constructed with a top of the line water-resistance coating that breathes. • While the snow wear should be light and offer ease of movement, you might want to consider gear with liners that can be added for the coldest mornings but removed and secured in a saddlebag as the day warms up.
Over the decades we’ve worn many different snowmobile suits, from one-piece snowsuits to heavy leathers to modern lightweight suits with removable liners for bibs and jackets. While we retain an absurd longing for that old down parka, we’ve made the permanent switch to lighter weight, high tech suits with modern space-age materials that deflect cold, retain body warmth and shed moisture. After decades of riding, we don’t miss what was. We embrace what is. And what is for us is staying warm in lightweight, supple snowmobile wear when we ride.