Wearing a helmet is now the norm on the ski slopes, but rarely does impact protection extend down below the neck. G-Form, best known for its protection products for mountain bikers, wants to see its gear be used during the winter months by skiers and snowboarders.
The base technology that makes G-Form’s body armor different from traditional foam padding is the use of non-Newtonian material that the company calls rate-dependent technology, or RPT. Under normal conditions, the molecules in the foam slightly repel each other, allowing the material to be soft and flexible. When a sudden force is applied, however, the molecules bind together, absorbing and redistributing the shock throughout the entire material. This means that the armor will flex with your body while you’re wearing it, but becomes both hard and shock-absorbing in a fall or collision.
This type of technology has been around for years and has seen application across contact sports gear to motorcycle armor to even phone cases – not just from G-Form but other companies like D3O. G-Form even makes a limited selection of iPhone and tablet cases, did a drop test with an iPad from 100,000 feet. G-Form’s leading market, though, is in sports protection and has customized Poron XRD non-Newtonian material with a unique molding process.
“Our proprietary molding process allows us to design pads that conform to the athlete’s body, whether it is a relatively flat surface like a hip, or an acute angle like a knee or elbow,” Michael Taylor, VP G-Form product development, tells Digital Trends. “The unique molding process allows deep channels between pad sections, that we call zero-flood, which means a more flexible pad.”
G-Form brought us out to the ski resorts of Utah to try on its armored base layers first hand. With 10 resorts with a 1-hour drive from Salt Lake City airport, we were sure to get a sample of all conditions from hard pack to powder. The benefits of armor are obvious on hard pack and ice – the surface is solid with little give, and falling hurts.
The Pro-X compression shirt ($130) (womens) has pads at the ribs, sternum, shoulders and clavicle; the Pro-G board and ski shorts ($110) protect the hips, thighs, tailbone and sit-bones (the $100 womens-specific shorts do not include sit-bone armor); and the Pro-X knee ($70) and elbow ($70) options are essentially sleeves that cover the joint. There are also pads that either separately cover the shins or integrate shin armor in with the knee armor that come from the biking line.
Armor coverage on the knee and elbow sleeves are excellent, but some might wish for more armor on the shirts and shorts. Snowboarders in particular may want a larger armor patch in the seat not just for protection, but for comfort while sitting in the snow.
How well do they work?
There’s little question about the effectiveness of the non-Newtonian armor material. There’s been plenty of demonstrations at how well it absorbs and dissipates shock across various applications; G-Form has its video showing how effective its product is at protecting the delicious candy shells on M&Ms.
As for an on-mountain test, a completely miscalculated path originally intended to go between two trees ended up being a demonstration in human Pachinko. The ground was soft thanks to the foot of new snow at Powder Mountain, but the trees weren’t as kind, providing for a nice test case for the shoulder armor. There was some soreness after the impact, but it would have been much worse without the armor.
The armor will flex with your body while you’re wearing it, but becomes both hard and shock-absorbing in a fall or collision.
There are many options for armor, but the real differentiating factor between G-Form’s offerings and foam or hard pads is how well does it perform the vast majority of the time when it’s not taking hits on your behalf. In our mind, the real test is how well the armor stays in place and whether or not it hinders your movements or is uncomfortable to wear.
“Our pads are specifically molded for each joint,” adds Taylor. “While some might use one pad size for everyone, we scale our pads based the joint geometry of each size. In addition, our pads are directly sewn to our sleeves, shirts and shorts, which provide comfort and fit that removable pads can’t match.”
Proper fit is essential for armor to stay in place, especially in sports where the wearer is constantly in motion. If armor is too bulky to fit over your mid and outer layers, or is uncomfortable, no one is going to want to wear them. Thankfully, the G-Form pieces are low-profile and comfortable. Compared to the impact gear of yesteryear, properly fitting G-Form armor base layers are almost unnoticeable. The fabric that plays host to the armor pieces are made from a moisture-wicking material and don’t feel all that different from other polyester-based base layers. It’s worth noting that the G-Form pieces are designed to be worn as close to the body as possible. We found that the armor best stayed in place when worn only over undergarments.
“We use a combination of a moisture-wicking spandex and technical mesh for most of our products,” says Taylor. “This keeps the athlete cool and dry (whether worn on its own or as a base layer), as well as keeping the pads in place.”
Of course, like any piece of activewear, it’ll need regular washing after use – something G-Form has taken under consideration with its molding process that creates a seal on the pad surface, allowing them to be fully machine washable.
“Traditional pads can get pretty stinky,” says Taylor. “We test our pads through 125 wash cycles. Assuming two washes per week, that’s over two years.”
Getting a full set of G-Form is an investment much like your helmet or anything else that goes in your ski or board bag. A full set of the armor will cost around $380, which in our opinion is completely reasonable given that it could potentially save one from injury. Beginners in particular, who are more prone to falling, will get extra use out of the armor. Parents who want the next best thing to bubble wrapping their children can opt for the same type of protection but in youth sizes.
“Our goal is to make pads so comfortable that kids chose to wear them, even when their parents aren’t watching,” Taylor says.
This year will also see G-Form expand into baseball and grow its downhill mountain biking lineup that is its bread-and-butter. Taylor details, “In 2017 we will be introducing Elite Knee and Elbow pads which meet the demanding CE 1621 Downhill Bike Standards. Also, we are very excited to bring our knowledge of impact protection to baseball. As anyone who has stood in the batter’s box knows, confidence makes all of the difference when you are facing an inside fastball.”
- Low profile and mostly unnoticeable
- CE-rated protection
- Stretchy material molds well to most body types
- Can be used for other sports
- No spine protection option available yet