Chances are high that you own a jacket or hoodie utilizing Polartec’s Power Grid technology and you don’t even know it. Dozens of major outdoor brands use the technical fabric for its unique ability to keep you warm and dry.
Polartec’s Power Grid has aged better than most things born out of the 1990s. For many outdoor brands, Power Grid fabrics have remained synonymous with lightweight, breathable warmth for 2 decades.
You can recognize the iconic pattern by its looks — think of an inverted waffle pattern. Airflow channels form the trademark grid square shapes of fluffy fleece. Today, the iconic pattern is found in rectangles, oblong shapes, and other variations.
The Power Grid designs evolved over the years with new variants using deeper grooves and lighter fabrics whereas others aren’t even fleece. We’ll take a look at how the grid-backed fabric came to be and how it’s grown to become a staple ingredient in gear that keeps your temperature regulated and your body dry.
Polartec Power Grid History
The inception of Polartec’s Power Grid is a reflection of the brand’s collaborative nature.
Patagonia was already a major partner when it approached Polartec with its Project X. The goal was to find a more technical fleece than the existing fabrics on the market.
In other words, Patagonia wanted to improve efficiency on all fronts — weight, space, packability, and faster dry times — all while preserving loft with less material.
Polartec’s research and development team quickly found the start of a solution in its own library: a microfleece with a grid pattern on both sides. The team found that channels in the fabric allowed greater breathability and warmth without adding more material.
This grid-backed fabric led the team to tinker with the size of the grid and the channels that framed it. After various permutations, the Polartec team found that it could keep the grid to just one side of the fabric. It settled on wider grid areas between squares of fleece.
This set Polartec apart with a unique ability to place two different yarns on each side of the fabric (one flat, one fuzzy).
In 1998, the resulting grid-backed fleece debuted in Patagonia’s R1 Regulator Fleece. It was such a success that Patagonia built a sub-brand around the fabric. And the R1, with updates since, remains a top seller among active-sports midlayers.
Evolving the Grid
Polartec continued to experiment with its grid-backed fabric, including the size and shape between the fleece material and its channels. Designers created new shapes like rectangles, ovals, and even a custom version for Black Diamond, shaped like its logo.
By 2003, Polartec’s search for more uses of its grid-backed fleece uncovered lighter fabrics that could create a higher warmth-to-weight ratio. After a few name variations, Polartec landed on the name Power Grid.
This Power Grid found its way into Patagonia’s Capilene Thermal Weight base layers, Burton’s [ak] Helium Power Grid base layers, and the 7Mesh Gryphon jersey. It even graces beanies and snow helmet liners.
Polartec, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t have its own store. Rather, it sells through its online marketplace and is used as an ingredient by top brands like Patagonia, Fox, Specialized, NW Alpine, Black Diamond, Burton, and Orvis. Polartec fabrics can be found in nearly every apparel category, including hiking, backpacking, snow, cycling, and even the US Military.
Patagonia helped build Power Grid as we know it and continues to use it in the R1 Fleece collection.
In short, the gridded fabric’s versatility is all about keeping you comfortable and dry while active. The number of brands that use it in a variety of apparel is evidence of its success.
A Broader Family
Today, the same innovative ideas and technology behind the Power Grid family extend to more fabrics. For instance, the grid-backed Power Wool fleece builds on the natural thermal range and regulation of wool for comfort in a broader range of temperatures. Rather than blending them, it keeps the wool and synthetic fleece apart to get the most performance from each material.
Not every partner insists on the new. Colorado cottage brand Melanzana has been a partner since 1994. And it continues to build a cult following around its apparel that still uses a precursor to Power Grid.
Like the Power Grid fabrics, newer Polartec fabrics continue to evolve and improve the performance of apparel for a variety of brands. Chances are you have a jacket or base layer using the latest innovations under the Polartec label.
While you’re at it, take out those old adventure photos and see if you’re posing in Polartec’s Power Grid. If so, you can share that photo with them and possibly win a more modern version — or even VIP tickets to a music festival.