Aerogel is made almost entirely of air encapsulated in an ultra-light silica matrix and is the lowest-density solid material that exists. This man-made substance also has superb insulating abilities and has been used extensively by NASA in spacesuits, space shuttles, satellites, and other applications.
Aerogel’s ultralight, ultra-warm qualities would seem to make it an ideal insulation for outdoor gear applications, yet manufacturers have struggled for years to turn it into commercially viable products. Six years ago, for example, I wrote about an “aerogel supersuit” that was tested on Everest and seemed poised to offer a long-awaited gear breakthrough. In the end, though, the company that made it (Hanesbrands) never even brought it to market, citing high costs.
I remain fascinated, however, by this amazing and potentially transformative substance, and keep tabs on ongoing efforts to use it. Here are the latest uses that have caught my eye.
This small start-up has developed a proprietary version of aerogel known as Solarcore. More flexible and durable than other forms of aerogel, Solarcore is being used in the company’s limited line of products known as the Orion Series. These include a reasonably priced waterproof jacket ($299), snow pants ($215), and gloves ($120).
You can watch one of the more amusing demonstrations of the jacket’s insulating power below as they blast liquid nitrogen on an Oros-clad individual to showcase the garment’s insulating properties.
Aerogel has been showing up in winter footwear for several years now, including the highly rated Salomon Toundra WP ($200).
This ultra-warm, waterproof boot gets a rave review from Philip Werner at SectionHiker, though it earned it a more mixed review at OutdoorGearLab due not to its warmth but rather to its lack of great traction underfoot.
The all-things-hydration company is now using aerogel insulation in its Podium Ice line of water bottles, which keeps water cold on hot summer rides and prevents it from freezing on chilly winter rides. Available in both a 21-ounce version ($25, 6 ounces) and a larger 25-ounce “Big Chill” version.