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Run hard, breathe easy: Heated balaclava helps athletes in cold weather

Balaclavas may carry connotations of crime and concealment, but they are practical for anyone braving a frigid climate. And they just got warmer thanks to researchers from Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and German knitting machine manufacturer Stoll who teamed up to develop a smart balaclava prototype that uses high-tech yarn to heat oxygen as the wearer breathes in.

“I’m personally a passionate runner and have had always bronchial issues when running in minus temperatures,” Stoll’s Head of Fashion and Technology Joerg Hartmann told Digital Trends. “This was the starting point for us to build into the mouth section a copper wire which heats up the inhaled air before entering the lungs.”

Stoll GmBH
Stoll GmBH

Looking something like a knitted ninja turtle’s mask your awesome grandma may make, the smart balaclava features a patch of electric-conductive yarn that rests over the nose and mouth. A cell battery pocket at the back of the headpiece provides steady power to the conductive wires, which heat the air as the wearer breathes. The headgear is accented by reflective threads and four-way stretch for a better fit. The balaclava earned the Gold Award at the 2016 Outdoor Industry Awards.

The Outdoor Industry Awards judges said, “This really is an innovation. The seamless construction is great — when we tried it on, the balaclava is really comfortable and the heating system around the mouth is a fine idea.”

As a prototype, the smart balaclava is intended to showcase the potential of the company’s sports garments while driving the technology forward. “I’m certain that the integration of conductive wires and other electronics like sensors will solve a lot of issues in an aging society,” Hartmann said.

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