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Thermal control that’s just right

My Take | May 27, 2024 | By: Janet Preus

There’s a reason that the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” has stood the test of time. Anybody, at any age, can appreciate having something just right, from a comfortable bed to a bowl of porridge.

Or outdoor clothing, in which case comfort is not the only consideration. Getting thermal control in garments “just right” in some circumstances is critical. Warfighters in extreme cold, astronauts in space, firefighters in a burning building and athletes in training are some obvious examples. 

I would add outdoors enthusiasts, including hunters, climbers, hikers, sailors and others. I think I still have a pair of “heated socks” stashed away somewhere, and while we’ve moved way beyond the rather substantial wires running from my toes to the giant D-cell batteries in a holder on my belt, industry researchers’ search for a thermal control solution that’s just right continues. 

I still grab a pair of handwarmers when I head out for my daily ski in the winter. I don’t always need them, but it sure is nice to slip my mittens back on when I’ve taken them off to take a photo or pull a tissue out of my pocket. This technology is pretty basic and has been around for decades, but there’s no real control over the amount of heat you get—and the product is, of course, disposable, which makes it less sustainable than one that can be used repeatedly. 

But there is progress in this market segment, and it’s worth reminding ourselves how far we’ve come from large batteries, wires and disposables. Our feature, Evolving Heat,” by Edin Insanic, principal system architect with AFFOA, explains the current focus on temperature control—getting the right amount of heating or cooling when and where it’s needed. This will be a leap forward and a truly meaningful development in thermal control.  

The article also includes a use-case description for new extreme cold protection in development for U.S. military warfighters, and for hands, in particular. It’s not hard to figure out why this is so important. Preventing injuries and maintaining hand dexterity is a huge challenge in cold environments.

Marie O’Mahony’s article, “Keeping cool,” is a reminder that all of us have benefited from new materials and technologies, such as Outlast’s Phase Change Material (PCM), developed initially by NASA, to protect astronauts from the extreme temperatures in Space. Newer, cellulose-based aerogel textiles that she also describes have offered an even more sustainable approach to thermal control garments. 

Meaningful advances take time, and since they could be life-saving, extensive testing is critical, so I wouldn’t hesitate to enjoy the benefits of current commercially available products. But change will come, and at that point I might as well turn my heated socks over to a museum.

Janet Preus is senior editor of Textile Technology Source. She can be reached at

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