Following the resounding success of breathable functional textiles for sport and leisure wear, the development of fabrics for these purposes is said to be entering a new phase. Experts at the internationally renowned textile research centre, the Hohenstein Institute in Bönnigheim, Germany, have analysed the heat and moisture management specifications for fabrics worn on different parts of the human body and in a process called 'body mapping with comfort zones' or simply 'comfort mapping', the scientists say their findings should make it possible in future to use different textile materials for different parts of a garment, so making sportswear significantly more comfortable to wear.
"Until now, sports clothing were usually made entirely of a single type of textile material. In many cases, this proved unsatisfactory in terms of comfort. In order to meet the various different requirements for moisture wicking, insulation and weatherproofing, sportsmen and women often had to wear several layers of clothing on top of each other, on the 'onionskin' principle, " the Hohenstein experts say. "Now, innovative textile structures should make this unnecessary in future. As well as providing the best possible temperature and moisture regulation, in relation to the ambient climate and the activity, now textiles should also take skin sensory aspects into account in the interests of comfort."
Principles of comfort mapping
Comfort mapping is said to take account of the spatial distribution of heat and moisture production in different parts of the body by using different textile materials. For example, a windproof textile material on the chest and back would keep the cold wind out, while a particularly breathable and moisture-wicking textile material under the armpits would keep it dry under there. The institute says the principle of body mapping is based on findings about human thermoregulation.
"The term thermoregulation refers to a complex, interconnected system of the body's own reactors, which trigger certain physical reactions when they receive messages from the brain. These control mechanisms are set in motion in conditions of either heat stress or cold stress. Under extreme heat stress, for example when cycling in summer, the sweat glands are activated, but these are not evenly distributed over the whole body. So different quantities of sweat are released in different parts of the body," says lead Hohenstein researcher Dr. Jan Beringer.
"With cold stress, for example when skiing, the control mechanism automatically triggers a protective function. This prevents the body core, i.e. the essential organs in the torso and the brain, from losing too much heat. Consequently, the skin and the extremities, especially the hands and feet, cool down. There are specific cold receptors in human skin that are responsible for detecting cold stress, " Dr. Beringer says, adding:
"However, these cold receptors are not evenly distributed over the surface of the skin, with relatively more on the torso and head, and fewer at the extremities. This is why we are generally more sensitive to low temperatures around our trunk than at our extremities. Based on these findings about thermoregulation, it makes sense to develop clothing, especially for sportswear, that is adapted to meet the needs of different parts of the body, to make it comfortable to wear. "