Outdoor Clothing for Walking and Hiking - how Smart can it be?

November 2007

The design of outdoor clothing and active leisure wear has benefited from a range of innovations in textiles and fibres over the last 30 years.

More recently, though, the design process has a new opportunity - the exploitation of new computing and communications technology. And this is having an impact not just in manufacturing and distribution - but on the very functionality of the clothing.

Use of microprocessor based sensors and wireless communications coupled with new approaches to manufacturing are now enabling product designers to combine aesthetic appeal with functionality that can actively respond to changes in our bodies and our environment.

Much of the early work in this area has focussed on medical applications - textiles with embedded microprocessors that can monitor the body's vital signs particularly when a patient is at home. Work is still ongoing in this area in order to ensure that the reliability of data collected in this way is good enough to support diagnosis.

It's in leisure wear and sporting goods that the first products incorporating this technology are appearing.

There are already prototypes of swim wear that can use sunlight to charge batteries in an ipod or sports training wear that can monitor performance.

It's easy to see where there are applications in outdoor clothing. You can already buy jackets that incorporate gps/mobile technology so that the location of the jacket - and hopefully the person wearing it - can be tracked and ski-wear incorporating an mp3 player. How soon will it be until there's an outdoor jacket combining sensors to detect physiological changes with mobile phone technology to alert the emergency services if the wearer is injured while hill-walking?

It appears, however, that these clothes may not yet go through the wash with our currently available washing machines and detergents. Perhaps my days of worrying about my husband on his Munro Bagging trips are not yet at an end!

For more information: see here


“Hi, I just been out looking for some new gear. Back in the days Karrimor was a reliable good quality brand and if you could afford it, that was what you/I wanted. Went to a few stores today browsing and I'm seeing all this seriously discounted Karrimor gear? Can't be the same kit, can it? I've still got Karrimor gear that I've had for 20+ years and it's well worn but still useable. Rucksack cost a weeks wages back then but still ok. I'm a bit wary of buying something 'cheap' that I might have to depend on. It still looks good but....if it looks too good to be true, it's probably not all it seems. Any experience of the Karrimor 'cheap' brand?”

George Forbes, Peterborough


“i'm happy in my army surplus gear. i may not be the neatest person on a hill but i'm happy in my practical, functional clothing - and i dont care if i dont look smart because i'm warm :D in answer to the above - i had to smile. my squadies go through the wash but all my outer gear gets a shake down :)”

Gemma W, Suffolk


“I agree that Paramo clothing is excellent. I used to be of the opinion that Goretex was the only truly reliable waterproof/breathable textile but then I got issued with a pair of Paramo waterproof trousers at work and I am a convert. They're exceptionally comfortable and totally waterproof. You can wear them on their own rather than as overtrousers so that you're not constantly having to take them off and put them back on on showery days. The only downside is they're too warm to wear from the end of spring until the end of autumn but if you do put them on and find that they're a little bit warm they've got full length ventilation zips to let in the breeze (as long as it's not raining at that point!). I'm now saving up for a jacket!”

Alex Ashton, Penrith


“Sorry I don't get this.... did you imply you wash your outdoor clothing???? That's about as pointless as washing your car isn't it? I thought only my mother-in-law did that kind of thing. Everything just drops off with a good shake once it's dried out.”

Carlo Gilmour, Owslebury


“My brother in law had slipped after his walking pole attached to his rucky had snagged and resulted in a dislocated shoulder. He was in quite a lot of pain and any movement just made it intolerable. We called out the mountain rescue people who arrived in a 12 strong team with a doctor who fixed him up and carried him off for the chopper to get him, alls well. It was this "hanging around" that made me realise that my Regatta coat and fleece wasn't up to the job and it wasn't really cold! I set about looking for a good form of outer covering. Cutting a long story short I discovered Paramo. I don't like heavy stuff and Paramo seems ridiculously light to be of any good, but the technology that's gone into it is more than a fleeting thought. Although the material is not waterproof it is treated by....wait for it...washing it in the washing machine with Nikwax which not only washes it but waterproofs it. But does it work???? The test came last September when on a cold wet very windy day I returned to Helvellyn. The weather turned from cold to freezing as we gained height so that we encoutered freezing rain and I remained toasty warm in my Paramo. Underneath I was wearing a Helly Hanson base layer and a RAB lightweight fleece. Summing up, A Paramo coat CAN be washed (using nikwax products) in the washing machine, is WINDPROOF and WATERPROOF and VERY lightweight and its garanteed for life. It also looks good as a normal coat!”

Andrew Woodger, Salisbury


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