You tout the possibility of a “breathable puffy” with Alpha. How can an outerwear brand use a more-breathable face fabric with Alpha as compared to what’s on the market now?
It is more stable. Both down feathers and synthetic fibers can poke through the fabric [of a jacket] and therefore require a very dense, “down-proof” face fabric. Polartec Alpha is much more stable, more like a fabric itself, so it does not require such a dense-woven face fabric.
How is this different from Power Shield High Loft Fleece, which is a similar insulation to Alpha that was introduced earlier this year by Polartec in jackets from The North Face and others?
Polartec Power Shield High Loft, as seen in the TNF Polar Hoody jacket, is a high-loft fleece laminated to a woven face. It is very light and very warm. Polartec Alpha is the interior insulation only. Brands can then select the woven face and back. This provides a lot of flexibility to the clothing brands to design their garments — you will see versions with super light woven faces and even stretch woven softshell faces. We will also see a range of different interior surfaces [from partner brands].
How much does Alpha weigh compared to down or synthetics like PrimaLoft?
We can produce multiple weights of Alpha and a range of warmth levels. But we have styles in the same weight ranges as popular synthetic insulation at 80 grams per square meter to 100 grams per square meter.
Will Alpha cost about the same as comparable synthetic insulation?
Polartec Alpha garments will probably be similar in price to other synthetic insulation types at retail. But this will largely depend upon the brands’ choices of face and back fabrics. One advantage is that Polartec Alpha does not require quilting so it provides design flexibility to the brands.
Which brand will have the first jacket with Alpha, and when will it be to market?
The Unites States Special Forces has the product now. In fall 2013 many brands will introduce Alpha. [See company release list on first page of this article.]
Is Alpha “warmer” than down or synthetic insulation, ounce for ounce?
It is not warmer ounce for ounce than all synthetic insulation. It wasn’t designed to be warmer — it’s designed to be a more breathable, more active puffy insulation product. This is much like synthetic insulation isn’t as warm as down but has an important place in the market. This versatility enables Alpha to span a wider range of activities and weather conditions, and it also makes Alpha a functional mid-layer under a shell jacket, whereas other puffy-type jackets [used like this would be] vapor barriers.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.GearJunkie.com.