Last week I was invited to a boot camp class. This sounds normal enough , but it was a special bootcamp. We wouldn’t just be putting ourselves through the paces; we’d be putting some high performance gear to the test, too.
If you don’t know them, Polartec is a leader in fabric technology. A lot of your favorite outdoors brands use their textile inventions to make their gear more durable, warm, lightweight, and just plain comfortable. Basically, they’re the behind-the-scenes heroes of your winter backpacking trip, your ski trip, your neighborhood run.
The three fabrics they wanted to test are Polartec Power Stretch, which is used to make the wildly popular Athleta PS pant, among other things, the Polartec Alpha, which is the magic within the ultrathin, ultralight Strafe Alpha Mid Jacket, and Polartec Power Wool, which is a stylish teeny-tiny waffle weave of soft, breathable merino wool used to make the best base I’ve ever had: the QOR base layer.The challenge: put on these thin layers, then do an outdoor, winter workout at Fenway Park at the base of the Big Air Ramp, while it’s snowing, during the coldest week on record for the Boston area. Did I mention it was snowing? What was at stake: only my health.
When we first started the workout I was feeling pretty cold. Ok, I was feeling very cold. I felt my legs tensing up and I wondered if I’d even be able to make the motions necessary for jumping rope like they wanted me to. After a few minutes, though, I started warming up. The Strafe Jacket has an amazing ability to capture heat and keep it in, so even without a bulky down layer, it has the feeling of creating a barrier between you and the cold air. Ten minutes in, I already had plans to ditch my usual ski jacket for this light zip up. Fashion and function, people. I was converted.The real surprise was near the end of the workout when I was, admittedly, very winded and very hot. I unzipped the jacket a little, but to my surprise I didn’t need to do much. I can’t explain it, but it seemed to be somehow self-regulating. When I was cold, it trapped the heat, when I was hot, it let it out. Same with the base layer. The wool was warm and cozy when I was cold, but as I warmed up, it wicked that away so I could keep jump roping without passing out and embarrassing myself (which wouldn’t exactly be a novel experience, but, still: to be avoided). These two tops could truly replace a whole lot of layering for coldweather adventurers. Needless to say at this point, I was surprised. And very impressed.The Athleta pants were extremely comfortable, which is the hallmark of the brand. I can’t say enough about the fabric: it’s flattering, tight without being clingy, warm without being sweltering, fuzzy-on-the-inside without being chafing. My only complaint is about the cut of the pants, and it’s a small qualm. I’m a short person, and even the smallest were a bit long, and flared. Perhaps it’s my ’90s upbringing, but I still can’t bring myself to wear a flared pant, even when exercising. It’s still too traumatic. If these were tapered and cropped, I’d be all over it. I imagine Athleta’s got something like that in the works, or, more likely, it already exists. As for the fabric, though: couldn’t be better for winter sports. Running, hiking, extreme shell-collecting. These pants go the distance, plus, flared bottoms are making a big comeback, so I say go for it. Another win for Polartec.All in all, this was one of the better Bootcamp experiences I’ve ever had. Plus, the setting was pretty amazing. How many people can say they’ve been in the Fenway locker rooms? Or worked out under a huge ski jump? Or run around an empty stadium? Ok, probably some people. But now I’m one of them.