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A Solar-Powered Jacket? Kind Of…

ThermalTech_LS_BigBear_0198Like most outdoor writers, I am bombarded with press releases. Every once in a while, a product jumps out of the slush pile and really grabs my attention — in this case, a “solar-powered smart jacket.” What?

Turns out this jacket isn’t going to sync with your smartphone or take phone calls for you — yet — but it does absorb and store thermal energy from the sun, artificial lighting, or of course your own body heat. The maker, ThermalTech, used stainless steel yarn to create jackets that are waterproof, breathable, and machine-washable. They claim that the resulting outerwear is so light, low-profile and efficient at storing heat that it allows you to get by with two to three pounds less of clothing.

I haven’t had a chance to check out one of these jackets in person yet, but ThermalTech’s IndieGoGo campaign sports some pretty impressive stats: 15 to 25 percent better insulation (the only catch is, they don’t say what their jackets were compared to) and the ability to increase the temperature inside the jacket by up to 18 degrees Fahrenheit after just a few minutes. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to roast in your own portable sauna: Once you reach your ideal body temperature, ThermalTech radiates the excess heat back into the environment.

Just how breathable and waterproof is ThermalTech fabric? It’s not immediately clear, but as I write this, just two days after the fabric was announced, the IndieGoGo campaign has already well exceeded its $25,000 goal.

This material is currently available in three jacket styles but, if we exclude the style-oriented Street style, that leaves a fairly narrow range of ideal temperatures: The Explorer jacket retails for around $300 and performs best in temperatures of 30 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The Extreme jacket, which will retail for around $340, is deemed at its best between -4 and 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is the idea fascinating? You bet it is. But I’m left with a few unanswered questions too. First off, what are the comparisons of insulation and temperature values based on? And second, what happens if you’re toting a jacket made of stainless steel yarn when a thunderstorm rolls in?

Either way, I can’t wait to see the first hands-on reviews. Let me know if you’ve tried one and, if you’re feeling intrigued, you can always click through to the IndieGoGo campaign (linked above), where they’re offering perks of up to 50 percent off each model.

Photo (c) ThermalTech