Have there been significant advances in warm clothing in modern times?

It certainly seems like that if you take advertising for winter clothing at face value. This or that insulating technology and so on. I’m wondering how legit that all is.

You take a typical guy living in a climate where they were exposed to winter temperatures below freezing, a thousand years ago, or earlier. Did their warm outdoor clothing do a noticeably worse job than the outdoor clothing worn by people in similar climates today? Did it need to be much bulkier to do the same job? And so on.

Yes. Synthetic gear is a major improvement over natural fibers in many ways, especially in waterproofing and breathability. Gore-Tex and the like aren’t just for rain, they block the wind and wet, while letting your sweat escape so you don’t end up soaked. Down is still a great insulator but it still is useless when it gets wet. Synthetic down can function in conditions that makes natural down useless.

Synthetic fleece, down, and soft shells provide insulation with less bulk and more movement. It’s especially noticeable when you are working/exercising in miserable cold/wet conditions.

Delete the “less bulk” part. No insulating synthetic has been developed that comes close to down for low bulk, nor for durability to maintain volume under repeated cycles of compression and expansion. The great advantage of synthetics is what you say in your second sentence, that down is completely useless if it gets wet.

All Hail Synthetic (wicking) Base Layers (and socks) !

ETA: not that wool is really a bad thing.

Paging @Muffin , the king of wicking!

Soaking wet down is pretty much useless. You need wool to keep warm in very wet environments and these synthetics are (for the most part) better than wool. I still have wool and down garments, but I supplement them with appropriate modern fabrics.

I’m always bemused when someone quotes only the first part of what I said, then replies to me with exactly the second part of my post that they snipped.

I read what you wrote, but wanted to emphasis that the most important part of the new materials are their ability to insulate when wet and how that directly relates to bulk. The natural insulators that work when wet are bulkier than synthetics. I think we’re mostly in violent agreement.

Yes, that is certainly true. If you’re restricted to natural fibers, in wet environments you must use wool, which does insulate when wet but is very difficult to dry out, and thus very heavy. The pioneers who climbed high mountains clad in wool were tough.

In some of the “Little House” books, they used buffalo robes, especially when traveling by open sleigh. I’ve wondered sometimes if there has ever been any sort of controlled comparison between buffalo hides and modern materials.

Yeah, and then you can bet they’ll respond with just what you said in the second half of the post.

The old Australian Antarctic and high altitude explorers used string vests. (I can’t find a picture, except to tell you that the fashion items are different). There seems to be a consensus that modern synthetic base layers are better.

I think this is what you’re referring to.

I recently ran across an ad for a winter jacket that had AeroGel as an insulating layer. AeroGel is supposedly one of the lightest substances available.

Where does the Mylar “space blanket” fit in this discussion?

There has been significant advancements to winter clothing with battery powered active heating systems.

Yes, I’ve worn winter boots to Grey Cup games that have battery powered warming units.

It comes down to maximizing air space between walls and minimizing moisture within that air space, including not absorbing moisture.

Exterior walls are best if waterproof and windproof but still permitting moisture to pass out through a breathable exterior shell, and all the while not weighing too much.

Polyester has won on of these except for loft, for skins are heavy animal fibres get saturated even if they breathe well at first.

To keep the walls apart with the insulating air, structure is required. Down is extremely good at this, but it holds water and loses its structure. Polyester initially was too fragile to do this without getting crushed during use, so down was the way to go. That has been changing, such that now there is polyester faux down that has memory, meaning that after being compressed it bounces back similar to how down bounces back.

Up until very recently, down won on this, but only by a beak, for polyester has
on just now caught up on maintaining loft structure and has always been far ahead on being hydrophobic.

Soon the only advantage down will have is that is renewable and is not made from coal and crude oil. Check out what one of the first polyester producers, Goldek Textiles, is up to with their G-Loft.

We had a power outage last week. -40c where it happened, leaving one of my friends unable to get any of his vehicles going until today, but only -35c here closer to the Great Moderator Gitchigumi – a bit of a chilly embuggerance, but nothing get all hot about.

My old down sleeping bag is rated for -35c, but my motto in life is “Comfort first in all things,” so I used an auxiliary warming unit inside the bag: Buddy the World’s Friendliest Cat.

I recall reading something that the Scott Antarctic expedition, among its many flaws, used wool clothing for insulation. With the level of exertion they needed pulling sleds, this left the clothes soaking wet with sweat that never properly dried out, contributing to their problems. Wicking is important.

An old late friend of mine recounted his winter journey across the Canadian arctic with a military expedition. He said they had sealskin boots and coats made by the locals, and the boots were so good that they actually steamed the calluses off his feet. Of course, contrary to Hollywood and Paris fashion, furs are worn with fluffy side in for best effect.

Also recall an article about the Winnipeg police force dropping Buffalo fur coats for synthetics sometime in the 1950’s or 60’s. As immortalized by Neil Young and Randy Bachman in the song …
♫ Portage and Main fifty below…♪