The T-shirt from Space


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

  • SMSgt Mac


  • Steve

    Ditto on the “kommanado” remark, started in 1987 on the flight deck of CVN-65.

  • ttr

    What does “working in the hooch” mean?

  • Kaltes

    Please explain how this works, basic physics says that the heat has to go somewhere.
    Just because something CONDUCTS heat well doesn’t mean much. Metal is an excellent conductor of heat. line your shoes with room temperature metal and they will feel downright cold, but the metal will warm up soon enough and any effect will be lost.
    So what I’m asking you is, how does this material control heat AFTER it warms up. How does it dissipate the heat in order to absorb more?
    If it can’t do that, then the solution is temporary, and will not actually bring any improvement in capabilities.

  • fronten

    Kaltes: the solution is not temporary but more of a ‘time shift’ as the material seems only be able to store excess body heat for a while and give it back later. therefore it may only be appropriate for changing environments e.g. driving a hot tank and stepping out into colder surroundings.
    ofcourse nothing may help the people who have to stay 24/7 in real hot and humid environments except a powered thermal exchange gear.
    (sorry for bad english)

  • G-Dog

    I have to agree with Fronten, it sounds like these capsules will only store the heat for later, I wonder what happens when they become saturated (with heat), I assume they will lose their effectiveness. I am a firm believer in X-Static/silvermax, a silver fiber woven into fabric to help reflect and dissipate heat. As a side benefit it also denatures proteins, which basically means it kills all the bacteria which make a sweaty guy like me stink. I have personally worn some of the garments containing 5% X-Static for two weeks. . .
    Two companies captalizing on the X-Static/silvermax technology developed by NASA are:

  • Willie

    So when an IED explodes and shrapnel and outlast enter you body which is going to kill you first? Is the fabric safe or poisonous when it enters the body in shreds? I would think a material like x-static would prove useful for such injuries since it is anti-microbial and has silver embedded in it. The cooling relief may become too tempting for soldiers to continue wearing their protective gear. Are they more likely or less likely to take off their gear with outlast?

  • Fritz

    The outlast material absorbs heat ebnergy which causes a phase change from solid (wax) to liquid (wax). The phase change is the real heat sink. Once the phase change occurs the Outlast fabric is like any other. As you shift from a hot to a cool environment. The liquid wax dissipates some heat which prevents a chilling effect.
    Outlast is a gimmick….it kind of works in a very restricted temperature range.
    Wool is really where it’s at!