Episode Notes: For this ep I was excited to head out to the desert with my friend McKinley to test gear and do some extreme yoga. For the desert yoga shoot I used a 3D Robotics Solo drone, which I was piloting while doing extreme yoga! I really like the Solo, but have to admit that I now fly a DJI Mavic Pro, simply for the portability. A huge thanks to Alan at Westcomb. I love his gear and he’s a rad human!
Episode Reflections: Throughout my physics and engineering studies I was always fascinated by water. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the mountains of Wyoming, where my father worked for the Atmospheric Sciences Department as a photographic engineer. He had these huge enlargers and would make giant prints of snowflakes. His real job seemed to be leading teams of scientists up crazy mountains in storms to do science on extreme weather and test equipment in it, and then keep those scientists alive on the mountain. That was his job. For fun family time, we had a cabin in the snowy mountain range with no services (no water, propane, phone, anything). We literally had to hike to a spring to get water, or, in the winter, boil snow. The only way in and out was snowmobiles, or as my mother preferred, cross country skies. Long story shorter, I saw a lot of snow.
As an engineer myself, I always marveled at all the different structures water could take, from liquid to gas to ice to the fantastic dendritic structure of snow. Not many things get larger when they become a solid.
But the coolest thing was the incredible heat capacity of water. How is it that water absorbs 100 cal/gm of energy to go from 0 to 100 degree C, but then takes an added 539 cal/gm to turn from liquid to vapor at the same temperature?This really struck me as the miracle of water, that this phase change could absorb so much energy. No wonder it’s such a good coolant, what we use in our cars to cool them down. And it’s what we use in our bodies to cool ourselves. And if you’ve ever been to Burning Man, you’ll notice that it never feels like you’re sweating, but you are, it’s just evaporating immediately, and cooling you in the process. This is why swamp coolers work so well, they’re absorbing heat and creating localized cooling.
During this episode, a light bulb went off. These high tech wicking shirts I’d been using to backpack were wicking the water away from my skin and then evaporating it, effectively short circuiting our natural cooling system. This is great when I’m in cold weather, but more often than not, I’m in hot conditions and need all the cooling I can get!
So when I learned about Delta by Polartec, where the fibers don’t wick moisture, but hold it by your skin to create airflow by it and enhance the effect of evaporative cooling, it made all too much sense. In fact, I thought, how did I miss this?
Wanting to learn more, I met with the project lead for Delta at Polartec, Karen Beattie. You can see her explanation in the video, which really brought the concept home for me.
While I was at the Polartec booth at the Outdoor Retail Show meeting with Karen, I met Alan Yiu the founder and designer at Westcomb. The Outdoor Retail Show is massive, and I felt like a fish out of water, but then Alan took me around telling me about this and that, introducing me to people, and giving me the veteran tour. He knew where to get the best down, the best breathable materials (Polartec Neoshell), and where to get the best margarita! We clicked, and he invited me up to visit his operation in Vancouver.
Westcomb is a small operation, but produces some of the best cold weather jackets in the world. Alan’s design studio is right next to their factory, which itself was surprisingly small, but productive. We had to cover up a lot of labels during the shoot, because as it turns out, the quality they produce is so high that the other top brands use his facility to manufacture some of their super high-end garments.
But what really made this visit personal was its connection to my childhood. I realized that in order for my dad to lead these expeditions and be working in -60 F conditions, he had to create his own garments, literally sewing vests and jackets with elaborate baffling systems to hold the down. And that’s what Alan is doing: designing and making clothing that helps people survive. Except Alan is also making those clothes accessible, so that people like my dad don’t have to do it themselves.