Clothing manufacturers catering to outdoor sports such as hunting, fishing, bicycling and jogging often lead the way in new technology and also in reintroducing old ideas. Eventually, attire aimed at sports folks attracts the general buying public.

Clothing-industry innovators know that as a general rule, the sporting crowd adopts to new inventions more readily than non-sporting consumers do, so they cater to those of us who want clothing that makes time outdoors more enjoyable and productive.

Just one example, one of many, involves breathable raingear. Many of us call it “Gore-Tex” because this company successfully marketed the product worldwide after getting a patent for a porous form of polytetrafluoroethylene on April 27, 1976.

Gore-Tex coats and pants first showed up in outdoor catalogs 30-plus years ago, and now, even the public usually chooses raincoats that breathe to avoid old-fashioned choices that caused excessive sweating.

Other ideas have expanded from outdoors markets into everyday life, including clothing with insect repellent in the cloth or sunscreen capabilities in thin, breathable materials. On and on it goes.

One new idea for space-age material sounds like science fiction, and it comes from the field of bio-mimicry. Scientists want to develop clothing that changes its wind-blocking properties to breathable on command.

Bicyclists in the northern U.S. would particularly love this option in early spring and fall because this sport comes with a built-in, wind chill factor. Moving air from the bicycle’s speed equals the miles per hour the biker is traveling, which on average is 12 to 20 mph. So wind-chill plummets when adding a headwind and say — 38-degree temperature.

Anglers who walk into backwoods waters and then sit for long periods to fish on cold, windy days would also like this option in clothing.

And speaking of science fiction. … First Bicycle Component company from Taiwan will soon introduce a product called Wireless Indicator Apparel, a shirt with an amazing feature.

A wireless switch on the handlebar enables the wearer to activate one of two large arrows on the back pockets — one pointing right and the other left. This allows drivers in vehicles following a bicyclist to see which direction the biker plans to turn.

Wireless clothing lights would make life safer for children walking to and from school in the dark and for biking and jogging at night.

What’s old is new again, and wool clothing for bicyclists offers a perfect example. In the old days, professional bicyclists in La Tour de France wore woolen shorts and shirts that chaffed skin and itched like mad. Folks today talk about how ridiculous wool was in this sweaty sport, but surprise of surprises, wool is making a huge comeback in bicycle clothing.

And it’s not any old wool, either, but rather, merino wool (prized for its incredible softness) combined with synthetic material. Merino sheep originally came from Spain but now from New Zealand and Australia, too.

Merino wool offers two appeals beyond softness for hunters, anglers, bicyclists and joggers:

n Wool expels moisture so the skin stays relatively dry.

n Like with any wool, it keeps the body warm, even when wet.

In my early 30s, I guided elk hunters from a tent camp at 10,000- to 12,000-foot elevations in the Rockies and also taught winter survival skills to alternative education students on weeklong, backpacking treks into the White Mountains. When backpacking in particular, my charges and I trusted our lives to layers of wool.

Let’s move to an entirely different angle on synthetic materials vs. natural fibers such as wool and cotton. According to bicycle magazines, synthetic bicycling shirts and chamois pads can have a constant sweat smell after a while, even after washing.

So far, this has never been a problem for me, but I baby my biking clothes more than I do our yellow Lab. After washing poly-material pants and shirts, I leave them in the sun, wrong side out to air the cloth. This extra step has worked, but what a nuisance to deal with practically daily.

Sweat smell has caused such a problem for bicyclists (and hunters) that manufacturers have developed carbon-infused cloth to eliminate odor.

Fabric technology worldwide, according to British sporting magazines, has slowed down a little in this poor economy, but we have lots to look forward to in the next 10 years.

The sky is the proverbial limit, thanks to bio-mimicry inventions on the horizon, particularly for camouflage clothing.

 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]