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Gear-maker, Army Labs collaborate on Olympic jacket

Researcher Phil Gibson demonstrates a humidity-testing device that he used on material for Burton’s outerwear.

David Kamm/US Army

Researcher Phil Gibson demonstrates a humidity-testing device that he used on material for Burton’s outerwear.

The Sochi Winter Olympics just got a bit more local.

The Burton jackets that the US snowboarding team will don for the competition starting this week were tested at the US Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center .

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Phil Gibson, a physical scientist at the Natick Army Labs, tested various swatches for Burton last year that helped the Vermont-based company develop a laminate material that it has dubbed DRYRIDE Vaporshell.

The snowboarding equipment and apparel company is a sponsor of this year’s US Olympic snowboarding team, and is providing the squad with outerwear that was designed specifically with the Russian venue’s climate in mind.

“Sochi is actually a pretty warm area, so we had a great waterproof exterior, but we also wanted the coats to be breathable,” said Colin Alger, category manager for technical outerwear at Burton. “This is a technology where they can layer if they need to.”

The Army’s Natick facility specializes in researching and developing products for the military, including fire-resistant uniforms, tasty yet compact meals for eating on the go, and solar-powered tents. Its researchers have also helped create products now in widespread use, such as bulletproof vests, GPS systems, and Tang.

A spokesman said the facility’s scientists often team up with private companies on research and development projects, which allows the Army to keep an eye on evolving technologies it may not otherwise encounter.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Bob Reinert, a spokesman for the Army Labs. “This way the Natick researchers are able to stay state-of-the-art with what’s going on in the commercial world, and then the companies generally pay for the testing on the other side of things. It benefits both sides.”

Alger said Burton wanted to work with Gibson because he is known for conducting a specific experiment that tests humidity levels on both sides of a fabric, which was key to the company’s need to test fluctuating humidity on both the inside and outside of the jackets, Alger said.

“They were the credible source to give us a stamp of approval, to legitimize our technology against other public companies,” Alger said. “We’re really happy with the results, which said we’re right up there if not better.”

Alger said the new jackets help keep athletes warm and dry — not just from the elements outside, but also from their own sweat — through what he described as a breakthrough technology.

“Our new technology is unlike others, when you feel yourself sweating and that’s when the jacket starts to perform,” he said. “But with our technology, you don’t get damp and cold inside your jacket, you stay dry and comfortable the whole time. That’s what we were going for and that’s what we were able to achieve by testing with the Natick center.”

The new technology will be made available to the mass market in the fall, he said.

The snowboarding competition at Sochi starts Thursday with qualifications for both men’s and women’s squads.

For more information about snowboarding and other events at the Winter Olympics, visit www.sochi2014.com .

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.
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