Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
It always happens and it’s never ideal. You’re just about to drop into a world of pow, the first beats slip out of your playlist and your freshly charged smartphone dies. Or you go to take a selfie on the lift and — wah, wah, wah — nada. The worst? That’s when the boss calls between laps and everything goes to zilch faster than you can mutter newly unemployed. It does happen.
It’s no secret that cold sucks the life out of gadgets in record time. The skier solution has always been to keep our babies next to skin and to bring more juice to get us through the day. But you know where else electronics get really cold and dead batteries mean more than just a blown IG story? In space. So how does NASA keep its gadgets warm?
The answer, it turns out, is so elegant it can fit right in the pocket of a ski jacket — or rather, it can be the pocket, so to speak. We’re talking about PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Aerogel, which is basically a space-inspired gel that has all the liquid removed. What’s left is a material that heat can hardly pass through and that weighs about the same as air. In fact, the mass of all but about 2 percent of Aerogel actually is air.
The insulation itself isn’t new but its newfound durability is thanks to some fancy chemical work and ultra-thin membranes that help make it more pliable while protecting it from moisture damage. Aerogel is still not very breathable but that doesn’t matter much in places like your chest pocket. And that’s where things get interesting. Designers at Helly Hansen have found a way to use Aerogel to create a pocket-size furnace that draws heat from your body and then blocks its escape, a perfect scenario for gadgets. Upshot: the company’s Life Pocket + keeps phone and other cold-fearing electronics happy all-day long.
How happy? The science says free-season-pass happy. Ideally, you’d never use your phone when the battery temperature dips below freezing. You can use your phone in colder temperatures, of course, but it’ll drain the battery more quickly and you’ll need to warm it up again to regain some life. To figure out just how warm the Life Pocket + could keep gadgets, scientists first put thermal sensors inside a standard ski jacket pocket — think three-layers with a sealed zipper — and then put the jacket on a device that generates heat and moisture like a real body might. Everything went into a giant freezer where the temperature steadily dropped. Testers then used the exact same setup and methods using a Helly Hansen jacket featuring the Life Pocket +.
When the freezer’s ambient temperature hit 5ºF, the temperature inside the standard pocket had dropped to about 40ºF. That would make warming up a phone pretty tough once you take it out into cold like that. At -4ºF, the standard pocket temperature dipped below freezing. At -13ºF, your phone is basically DOA in a 16ºF pocket.
The Life Pocket + offered a completely different story. Even when the temperature sank all the way down to -22ºF, a day to stay in the hot tub, the temperature inside the Life Pocket + remained a toasty 51ºF. The results were equally remarkable during testing in the field.
So why isn’t this material everywhere? Most of Helly Hansen’s ski jackets do have some sort of battery-saving tech built into a pocket but only about a third of those jackets use Aerogel and the Life Pocket +. Other jackets come with a Life Pocket, and not a Life Pocket +, which uses Prima Loft Gold insulation and membranes to retain heat about twice as well as what standard pockets can do. Even at -4ºF, gadgets tucked into a Life Pocket without Aerogel maintained a solid operating temperature of 47ºF. We can only imagine what this means for the life of a breakfast burrito, too.