Aerogel is a wild substance. Also known as “solid smoke” or “solid air,” aerogel is a synthetic material that is 98.2% air, and thus the lightest solid yet discovered. It also has the lowest thermal conductivity of any known substance, meaning it’s an incredible insulator.
Now, a startup called Lukla has raised more than $200,000 to make an aerogel-insulated jacket. The company claims it will be the “thinnest, warmest, and most breathable jacket” of its kind — some big claims for any company, much less a small startup.
The Lukla Endeavour jacket’s “proprietary patterning of aerogel allows for maximal breathability and flexibility of the substance,” states the company.
However, it does not mention the type of fabrics used in the shell or what gives the jacket its waterproof/breathable characteristics. Other than the aerogel insulation, the design appears similar to many shells on the market.
The Lukla Endeavour jacket has standard features like pit zips, waterproof zippers, an adjustable and removable hood, sealed seams, and a powder skirt. The company is selling it for $350 on Kickstarter.
Aerogel jackets aren’t entirely new to the market. Indie ski manufacturer Faction uses aerogel panels in both jackets and pants such as the Darwin Aero jacket ($539) in a waterproof/breathable shell. Burton made an aerogel-insulated jacket, the Ronin Katana, a few years back, but it was dropped from the line.
Lukla’s offering is admirable, but can it be done effectively at the lower price? The science behind aerogel is sound. The material has been around since 1931. But it’s rarely been used in apparel.
GearJunkie was involved in a project in 2010 with the prototype Champion aerogel “Super Suit” jacket. The futuristic piece was used on Mount Everest by several climbers, but it never came to market.
One GearJunkie editor wore the jacket at Everest Base Camp while trekking in Nepal. “It was thin compared to a puffy jacket with about the same insulation value, but thicker than a hardshell and very warm,” said GearJunkie founder Stephen Regenold.
Standard aerogel is a friable solid, meaning it shatters like glass with enough pressure — not a good trait for an insulator that will surround your body while cascading down mountains at 40 miles per hour.
But manufacturing processes allow Aerogel to be formed into flexible blankets used as industrial insulators and for other applications like jackets.
We have yet to test the aerogel Endeavour jacket, but with 700 backers flocking to the startup, plenty of people are ready to give this space-age material a try.