Outdoor Retailer: Klymit NobleTek
I checked out the Klymit booth on Friday to get the facts behind the buzz this outdoor-tech start-up is trying to generate. Klymit's idea: using trapped gases instead of down or synthetic insulation.
Klymit founder Nate Alder reasoned that if scuba divers in extremely cold seas used "noble" gases (argon, xenon, krypton) for insulation, skiers and snowboarders could do the same. The trick was moving the idea from idea to marketplace.
What's on the market now: A collection of vests that sandwich an inflatable plastic layer between two soft-shell fabric layers. A pump and pressurized noble-gas cartridge inflate the insulating layer via a small hose in one of the pockets. In action, a skier or hiker inflates the vest before starting out, then releases gas via a valve above the left breast when they start to feel like they're heating up. Less gas means less insulation, creating an opportunity to regulate heat without removing layers.
This video shows how the Klymit system works.
The vest I tried on felt like a typical soft-shell -- light but perhaps a bit stiff. The main questions down the road will be about durability, flexibility, and people's willingness to fiddle with the technology.
The vests, available at the Klymit web store, come with a "klymitizer" to inject the gas, and three small gas cartridges. Shell jackets to accompany them are to be available in mid-2010 for $150 to $225.