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The T-shirt from Space

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OK, so I saved the best for last.

One of the most impressive products I ran across at the Modern Day Marine expo was this material called Outlast. It's almost too good to be true, and for the last week I've been testing a few products made with Outlast and I'm pretty impressed.

So here's the deal. Under Armour made a big splash in the military community a few years ago with their moisture wicking fabrics -- particularly their t-shirts that in the extreme heat of an Afghan or Iraqi summer, kept troops relatively cool compared to straight cotton. My experience (I wore the same material from Patagonia back in the summer of 2003) was that the shirts didn't do much better than cotton for keeping you cool until you took off your body armor, when the moisture was able to evaporate and cooled your body much quicker. I had boxer shorts made out of the same material and hated them. It's commando all the way for me from now on, baby.

Sure, the Under Armour-like material (Patagonia calls it Capilene, UA calls it HeatGear) worked great if you weren't wearing anything over it -- walking to the chow hall or working in the hooch -- but its strength came when you doffed your gear and let the sweat melt away.

Then an IED hit...literally.

Because of the risk burns from the melted synthetic material in the flame flash of an IED blast, the Army and Marines Corps banned Under Armour base layers on patrol. The troops still love them and that hasn't stopped the services from using them. Problem is, the Nomex or Nomex-like materials in the combat shirts now are still a little on the hot side.

That's where Outlast comes in. The material is impregnated with "micro-encapsulated Thermocules" that actually absorb body heat and feel cool to the touch. It's what's called a "phase change" substance that goes from a solid to a liquid as it's warmed. Thing is, it's so small in the fabric that you don't even notice it. And it really works.

If you grab a piece of the fabric in your hand and ball it up, you feel the cool against your skin. There's a limit to how cool the substance gets...eventually it warms up to the temperature of your skin, but if you stop exerting and take a short break, the material cools back down. I've tried a sample of the material in one of the harshest environments in the world: my shoes. Trust me, you NEVER want to go there when my hot feet are aboard, but the Outlast impregnated footbeds have been able to regulate the steam bath of my inner shoes to a degree that it doesn't insult the olfactory.

The potential for the material is limitless (it was originally designed for the temperature extremes of space suits)...think about it as a liner for your body armor, a replacement for your base layer shirt on patrol, lining a cold weather parka so you don't over heat, flight suits...It's not often that I run across something that seems like a game changer in a lot of ways, but so far as I can tell with my own "field test," Outlast seems to work pretty darn well.

-- Christian

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