Keeping safe and comfortable in arctic conditions is a precarious balancing act between protecting one’s self against the cold without overheating. This is particularly true of a soldier’s hands and feet while working in the cold, so scientists from Stanford University and the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center are working on energized fabrics that heat up when powered, yet wick away sweat and dry easily.
If there’s one constant in military life, it’s that the issued kit isn’t all that should be – especially when it comes to gloves and boots. It’s for this reason that many armed services allow their members to buy items of kit commercially that are better suited, yet still meet military specifications.
According to Paola D’Angelo at Natick, the US Army has a particular problem because the cold weather gloves used by its soldiers were designed 30 years ago and often leave personnel with cold, numbed hands. The same is true of the footwear, and the cold-weather gear in general suffers from the problem of how to keep soldiers warm in bitterly cold conditions, yet not overheat and cause them to sweat while exerting themselves. The latter is of particular importance because damp, sweaty arctic gear can be fatal in subzero temperatures.
To help alleviate this, the US Army-funded basic research project is looking into developing new fabric with a focus on cold-weather gloves. The idea is to incorporate very fine silver nanowires set in military-grade fabrics, like polyester and a cotton/nylon blend. By applying three volts to a 1 x 1 in (2.5 x 2.5 cm) test swatch, the temperature of the swatch can be raised by 100° F (56° C) in one minute.