Polartec recently went public with their new “Power Shield Pro” fabric. The idea with this stuff is it’s porous enough to allow some significant airflow, yet still significantly water resistant — combined with stretchy fabrics that have a softshell feel. I’ve been testing a North Face Kishtwar softshell jacket made with the stuff, and so far the verdict is favorable.
My main concern these days, since I’m focused on vetting gear for high altitude Alaska, is having shell garments that breath well when it’s cold. Combine that with reasonable water resistance for snowcave digging or busting through a wet snowstorm lower on Denali, and that’s my fabric. Luckily, I was able to test the Kishtwar jacket during a number of single digit touring days over Christmas.
One test session was particularly telling. With the frigid temps and my being a bit tuckered from several days workouts, I was able to wear my lightweight down sweater under the Kishtwar during a trail breaking session. Rather than stripping when I warmed up, I left the down layer under the Kishtwar. If I’d been in my usual hardshell, I guarantee that after a few hours the down jacket shell would have shown significant moisture, and the down would have started collapsing due to moisture saturation. I’m delighted to report that instead, the Powershield Pro appeared to have breathed nearly as well as the ultra-breathable Cloudveil Serendipity that’s my trademark outer layer.
Now that’s not saying I wouldn’t rather have had my ultra-porus softshell for such cold temps. But I usually carry a lightweight “backup” waterproof hardshell when I use a true softshell. Thus, since the days the softshell gained favor, I’ve ended up carrying one more layer than I used to. Sure, they’re lightweight, comfortable and efficient layers, but why am I carrying more junk rather than less? The idea with Powershield is you can eliminate the hardshell in most situations, by having a “softshell” that breaths quite well, but has enough water resistance for most missions.
We’ll, it’s winter, so I haven’t tested the Powershield Pro in 10 hours of freezing sleet (should I head for Montana?) And such conditions might still require something with a full-on rainwear rating. Nonetheless, for anything less than that I’m certain this stuff will work fine, so perhaps it’s the way to eliminate that extra hardshell you keep packed away. Thus, be sure to give fabrics with this membrane a careful look if you’re shopping for softshell clothing.
Official press release:
January 1, 2010 (Lawrence, Mass.) – Polartec, LLC, the manufacturer of Polartec® performance fabrics, is launching a revolutionary new softshell fabric. Hitting consumer markets in Fall 2010, Polartec® Power Shield Pro® delivers the best combination of weather protection and breathability ever offered in a single fabric.
“Polartec helped launch the ‘softshell revolution’ over ten years ago with Polartec® Power Shield®, a fabric that offered superior breathability, durability and stretch with enough weather protection for everything but the wettest conditions,” states Karen Beattie, product marketing manager for Polartec. ”Polartec Power Shield Pro dramatically ratchets up the fabric’s water resistance, while retaining critical breathability.”
Thanks to a new proprietary membrane technology and lamination techniques, Polartec Power Shield Pro allows true air permeability (8 l/m2/sec = 2CFM) for a controlled two-way air exchange that significantly improves moisture transport over softshells that do not allow airflow. At the same time, Polartec Power Shield Pro holds a water column of 5000mm, offering superior water resistance.
Polartec Power Shield Pro is a laminate that can offer a combination of poly or nylon woven face fabrics with excellent DWR and durability characteristics, paired with lightweight to high loft backs. Sandwiched in between is a proprietary new hydrophobic, microporous polyurethane membrane that allows actual airflow through the entire fabric package but stops water from penetrating. The combination of the new membrane and lamination techniques delivers groundbreaking performance through air channels that flow through the fabric from the inside to the outer surface.
“The backcountry just got a lot drier and packs will be a little lighter next fall,” states Nate Simmons, global director of marketing for Polartec. “Polartec Power Shield Pro spans a wider range of weather and activity levels than any softshell on the market — it’ll get you home dry even in a heavy wet snow, light rain or high output activity.”
Polartec Power Shield Pro will be launched at the January 2010 Outdoor Retailer and ISPO trade shows by multiple brands including 66 North, Eider, Lowe Alpine, Millet, Montura, The North Face, Norrona, and Trangoworld.