Fabric technology and technical apparel design have given the modern endurance athlete advantages no other generation of athlete has enjoyed. The fabric and garment technology we wear today eclipses what the first climbers to reach Mt. Everest used in 1953 and what the astronauts wore on the moon from 1969 to 1972.
The fabric and design “space race” was joined by Zoot with the first of their one piece triathlon “zoooots” or suits at their shop in Kona during 1983. Since their beginning Zoot has been a fabric and design innovator. Their latest offering for fall 2011, the Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket is not only a technology leader but also a value leader. This jacket is also an example of ultra-sophisticated technology that bears some explaining to truly appreciate it.
The Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket uses new XOtherm 300 fabric with “Megaheat Technology”. While a more elegant buzzword than “Megaheat” (aren’t they a death metal band?) may have been easy to conceive a better fabric than XOtherm 300 with Megaheat Technology would be tough to imagine.
“It keeps you warm when it’s cold, dry when you sweat and prevents overheating.”
XOtherm 300 is a lightweight, wicking fabric that achieves exceptional insulation far in excess of its weight and bulk. Perhaps more importantly to the athlete XOtherm 300 also provides excellent breathability for temperature regulation and superior moisture management. It keeps you warm when it’s cold, dry when you sweat and prevents overheating. The only thing XOtherm 300 with Megaheat Technology doesn’t do is your workout.
In addition to the advanced fabric on the Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket the design of the jacket itself makes best use of the unique properties of XOtherm 300 and makes the jacket more a piece of sophisticated equipment than training apparel.
“For most athletes this versatile jacket is a one piece wardrobe for fall and winter.”
The core technology of XOtherm 300 fabric is the weave or configuration of the fabric. Like Patagonia’s successful Regulator R1 fabric the Zoot XOtherm fabric is comprised of a slightly textured outer surface and a complex waffle-weave inner surface that provides square “cells” to trap warm air for insulation in the same way a down jacket provides insulation. The edges of the cells are a “brushed” or open weave fleecy fabric that helps sweep perspiration away from the skin. Warm skin, as during exertion, accelerates the wicking. The more you sweat the better it wicks. The smoother exterior of the jacket provides some level of wind resistance, but is not windproof like Polartec Power Shield, a softshell fabric. The Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket spans a missing middle ground between base layer and softshell. This is the athlete’s “sweet spot” in apparel design since a soft shell is usually not breathable enough for endurance sports except in extremely cold conditions and a standard base layer is not wind resistant enough in common fall/winter conditions. For most athletes this versatile jacket is a one piece wardrobe for fall and winter.
An additional benefit to XOtherm is the “Megaheat Technology” from Ventex Textiles. New Balance and Descente both use Megaheat Technology fabrics in technical apparel. Descriptions of how Megaheat actually works vary and no definitive explanation is offered on the fabric manufacturer’s website. Zoot explains that Megaheat works “by sweat, boosting thermal warmth at the skin by 7 degrees.” Other users suggest Megaheat is activated by exposure to the sun. Zoot manufacturer’s sales representative Kevin Hoard suggested that, “if you take a sample in your hand, get it wet you can feel it get warmer.” I tried it and, while I can’t buy into it getting warm in my hand like a hand warmer would, it at least did not get cold and clammy. I’ll argue that I wouldn’t want the thing to warm when I perspired on it- I’d rather have it wick the perspiration away- which this jacket does admirably.
“Megaheat works ‘by sweat, boosting thermal warmth at the skin by 7 degrees.'”
Good fabric is nothing without good design and that is where Zoot’s experience with endurance sports has given the Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket an advantage over the outdoor brands like Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear and The North Face. This garment is designed by athletes for athletes- it isn’t mountaineering equipment adapted to aerobic exercise. The sport specific features include reflective trim on the front and back of the jacket, aerobic pocket placement for items like electronics (MP3 player, cell phone), longer sleeves with sealed cuffs for full range of motion during aerobic sports and stretch panels for additional ease of movement and further ventilation in high temperature areas to prevent overheating.
Fit on the jacket is “relaxed athletic”. It is trim and there is stretch to the fabric but this jacket is not uber tight. You can pull it on over a T-shirt for chic “track jacket” look when not training. Size runs are spot on. Our size “small” T-shirt size tester took a small, I wore a medium like every other jacket I’ve tried. The larges and extra larges are just that. You’ll find the sleeves are long for casual wear but this is technical apparel.
Having tried the Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket I know this fabric and the design theme are a success- perhaps even a triumph. Zoot- an exercise specific brand- offers more versatility and specific function with this jacket than the big outdoor brands. This jacket does more things than an equivalent Patagonia R1 Regulator top, a The North Face TKA 100 jacket or Mountain Hardwear’s Super Power Jacket. The price is a category leader too, at the low end of the mid-layers that range from featureless versions at $140 to bell and whistle super-layers at $160+.
Nothing is completely perfect and I noticed a couple nit-picks about the Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket that could be enhanced. Firstly, the sleeves are excellent at sealing out drafts. An internal cuff seals the wrist but prevents venting and makes donning and doffing over a large watch, heart monitor or wrist GPS difficult. So many athletes use a big wrist appliance during training I would suggest an innovative “watch window” like Salomon and Pearl Izumi have included in previous sport specific designs. Also, I’d like a Velcro closure system or even longitudinal zippers at the wrist for venting, an unusual but useful feature in lightweight aerobic outerwear. There are no pockets in the back which effectively limits this top from use on long bike rides. I am a fan of at least a small back pocket on most outdoor mid-layers or all-in-one outer garments for use on the bike or while skiing. Those things mentioned it would be a lot to ask at the excellent $140 price point for the Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket so perhaps a great price is the trade off for these bells and whistles. Perhaps Zoot could introduce a “loaded” version with a watch window, zippered or Velcro cuffs and back pockets at $160 for 2011.
The Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket truly excels in fabric function and fit. The tailoring is simply perfect for the real world athlete. I like the sleeve length and the length of the jacket. It is a flat lower hem, not longer in the back or shorter in the front. Some outdoor specific designs are cut higher in the front for a climbing harness and the Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket doesn’t need that. The collar on this jacket is absolute perfection, with a complex patterned design that keeps it up, isn’t too high and looks and functions to perfection. I’m also pleased they left any pretext of a hood off this jacket. A zipper garage at the top prevents neck pinch. An underarm panel of stretch fabric provides additional venting with the benefit of allowing the jacket to slide against a shell jacket outer layer when it gets really nasty. This jacket is breathable enough to do double duty as an inner or mid layer under a hard shell jacket in really nasty conditions. Articulated patterning in the elbow provides perfect range of motion and great “action” fit.
The athletic mid layer has become a huge apparel category among the outdoor brands but the multisport athlete is left wanting for specific features with most of the designs. The Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket is more than a mid layer; it is a sport specific all-in-one garment that performs multiple functions through great design and innovative fabric. This could be one piece that replaces many in a winter/fall athletic wardrobe. This is outdoor clothing designed for the endurance athlete, not the wannabe mountaineer. With fabric technology and sport specific design the Zoot WRKS XOtherm Jacket is a core item for the athlete’s cool weather wardrobe that will likely make other layers and shells obsolete.