40 Years of Firsts | Polartec’s Breakthrough Innovations Over The Years - Outdoors Magic

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40 Years of Firsts | Polartec’s Breakthrough Innovations Over The Years

To help Polartec mark 40 years since the game-changer that was Polarfleece was created, we're taking a look back at the brand through the decades...

2021 marks forty years since the creation of fleece came about through a partnership between outdoor clothing company Patagonia and textile manufacturer Malden Mills, (later known as Polartec). Through collaboration they came up with a soft, double-faced polyester fabric that didn’t pill and was softer than what was currently in the market. It ticked the box aesthetically too. Patagonia named it Synchilla and brought its first garments to market in 1981. Malden Mills called it PolarFleece and by the end of the 1980s, it had become the cornerstone for insulating materials. Today Polartec fleece remains a premier insulating fabric that most of us will have our own memories of wearing on outdoor adventures. 

It’s hard to imagine what a game changer fleece was at the time. It totally transformed the outdoor clothing market. So much so that Time magazine listed Polartec fleece in its top 100 as “One of the 20th Century’s Greatest Inventions”.

But Polartec’s innovation didn’t stop there by any means…

On the left, the first Synchilla fleece from Patagonia. On the right, Mountain Hardwear’s MonkeyMan, made with Polartec High Loft.


1981 – The first ever synthetic fleece

With the invention of Polarfleece forty years ago, Malden Mills changed the way the world dresses for cold weather. Never before had anyone managed to knit, nap and shear synthetic yarns into a fabric for outdoor apparel. The results were transformative.


1991 The Polartec brand is born


1993 – The first fabric made from recycled plastic ever

In the mid-90s, Polartec turned its attention to environmental sustainability, pioneering the process of creating a knitted polyester out of recycled plastic bottles. Since then, 1.8 billion bottles have been diverted from landfills by Polartec. 


1998 – The first extra-lofted fiber fabric

High Loft was the result of a reinvention of Polartec’s original fleece. A fabric was created that, thanks to thousands of tiny air-trapping pockets, could offer a supreme warmth-to-weight ratio, a luxuriously comfy feel and surprising compressibility. 

1998 – The first bi-component knit structure

Recognising that wool and synthetics both have plus points and negatives, Polartec set about creating a bi-component fabric that maximised each of their own performance benefits. The result, which Polartec called Power Wool, brought next-to-skin comfort, maximum breathability and an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, and it continues to be used by major outdoor brands to this day.


1998 – The first real soft shell

This was the year that saw the beginnings of what we now know as Polartec NeoShell, a waterproof fabric that’s soft to the touch, stretchy and truly air-permeable. Starting out as the first soft shell fabric, NeoShell is now regarded as the world’s most breathable waterproof technology and has been used by brands such as Rab, Montane, Filson and 66 Degrees North. 


2012 – The first active insulation fabric

In case you’re not familiar with Alpha Active Insulation, the main thing you need to know is that it’s designed to regulate comfort in changing conditions. It has this incredible ability to trap heat to keep you warm while letting hot and moisture-laden air escape.

Alpha was actually originally developed for the military. Polartec had been asked to design something that could provide U.S special forces with an insulation system for huge temperature variations and the start-stop conditions of combat. What they created worked and it subsequently moved into performance garments in the outdoor world.

On the left, a Marmot jacket with Polartec Alpha. On the right an Arc’teryx jacket with Polartec’s Power Shield softshell tech.


2015 – The first evaporative cooling fabric

A fabric for high tempo activities in hot weather, Polartec’s Delta is designed to hold moisture next to the skin to keep you cool but, crucially, without making you feel wet and downright gross. The secret is in its two separate fibres which are woven into a 3D grid construction. One fibre helps to hold onto moisture and the other lifts it up and moves it away from the body. This tech’s certainly been a big hit in the cycling and running worlds. 


2017 – The first anti-shedding fabric

With Power Air, the latest of Polartec’s developments, the traditional fleece manufacturing process has been flipped on its head in an effort to significantly reduce plastic pollution. Instead of having lofted, high-pile knit structures exposed on the outer (the traditional method), the insulating lofted fibres are encased within the knit construction. That means they are protected by a shielding, supportive barrier – and consequently, microfibre shedding is prevented. 

And that’s not all. Polartec Power Air is made from a minimum of 50% recycled PET plastic, so its actual construction has green credentials too.

From the first synthetic fleece, to the first recycled performance fabric in the 90s and rounding off to Polartec’s non-shedding technology being rolled out today. It’s no surprise that over the years some of the world’s biggest outdoor brands have called upon Polartec for its innovative and progressive fabrics.

The next move? Polartec recently announced the undertaking of a new Eco-Engineering initiative with the aim of using recycled and biodegradable materials right across its entire product line. Watch this space. 

Enter Polartec’s New Competition

Polartec are making a family album to celebrate and they’re asking for your favourite photos and videos showing you creating memories in the outdoors. If those memories are of you wearing Polartec – even better! Submit your entry to their competition page and you’ll win a Polartec fleece if it gets chosen for the album. Head on over to polartec.com for more details.


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