Getting back to basics, only better, with fleece clothing

Out of The Woods

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Many years ago, children in Alaska without the sense to wear fur, wore mittens that were a rubbery stuff on the outside and an oatmeal type stuff on the inside. The inside was always wet and smelled funny because of the rubber barrier bonded to the oatmeal. Children's hands were always cold because wet oatmeal was and is not a good insulator. Parents fared slightly better. They wore army surplus wool gloves. The wool smelled worse than the children's mittens when wet, but retained some insulating ability. The wool also irritated the skin enough to stimulate circulation.

We all went through the many generations of experimental materials that tried to stop wind and rain, trap air for insulation and breathe. Most of us, except my brother, learned early on to stay away from cotton and go for things that don't consume and hold 47 times their weight in water. My brother lives in Palmer and still wears heavy cotton year round, moving slower in the winter when he ices up.

Shivering and struggling in loser outerwear, a chronic pained expression on my face, I used to envy animals with fur. Thick, winter fur keeps out the cold, never shrinks, moves every which way with the wearer, and when wet, can be shaken dry. The only downside is the smell while drying out. Then some clever person synthesized the good qualities of fur and gave it zippers and pockets.

I've been warm and dry for several years now in many colorful combinations of fleece jackets, pants, hats and gloves. When I get wet in it, I just shake really hard a couple times. Fleece packs well, weighs nothing and even stretches. More and more, I value clothing that is as dynamic as I am, staying with me no matter how many brownies I eat in the winter. In the spring, I put it away and replace it with lightweight, thinner versions of what is probably the same material. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure it isn't oatmeal.

We toss around the term "microfiber" now as easily as we do bovine spongiflora encephala - never mind, we use it a lot without really knowing what it means. It's a network of tiny threadlike things that conduct thousands of phone calls and moisture where you want it all to go. Like out of your socks and into the socks of someone else. We call that "wicking." Well, boy howdy, we certainly have a lot of moisture to wick in this climate, so we all value microfibers.

The thinner fabrics are not so much like fur, but skin. Amazingly insulating and stretchy stuff that adds no more drag than you were born with, it takes a little getting used to in public. Some people choose to run at night because of that quality. Somehow the micro part allows moisture to leave but not enter the garment. You could try turning it inside out, but I bet it would still do it. We are a freer people in our lightweight, stretchy, wicking, colorful "fur" with pockets.

Many years from now, anthropologists will note this time in the history of northern people as a benchmark, a time we stopped shivering, moved more freely and lost some of the facial musculature that resulted from constant grimacing. Except for Palmer Man.

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