Protective sportswear

Extreme sports require extraordinary materials to protect the wearer. Designers of sportswear have embraced developments in plastics based material which optimise performance and provide comfort and maximum protection whilst conforming to strict standards set by sporting governing bodies. The wearing of flame retardant suits was made compulsory for racing drivers in 1959.

The Alpinestars racing gloves (1) are made of Nomex®, a flame resistant material consisting of an aromatic nylon developed by DuPont. Although first marketed in 1967, it is still used by most leading racing drivers. Normally light and flexible, it carbonises and thickens on exposure to intense heat forming a protective barrier between the heat and the skin. It has low flammability and a high melting point.


Maintaining a near normal body temperature whilst cocooned in protective gear is key to optimising driver performance. A small rise in body temperature may lead to fatigue and contribute to driver error, so a material which cools offers a clear advantage. The Sparco Pro Tech RW-9 undershirt (2) is treated with x-Cool Silver which helps to reduce body temperature and gives a cooling sensation by drawing heat from the body surface. However, the undershirt’s major contribution to safety lies in the composition of the textile from which it is made. Comprising 69% Modal viscose, 28% aramid, 1% carbon fibre and 2% elastane it is designed to protect the wearer from heat and flames for a limited period of time and conforms to regulatory standards of safety.


Developed by British engineer, Richard Palmer in 1999, D3O is an innovative material with intelligent molecules that protect against injury. The putty like substance has free-flowing molecules which lock on impact, absorbing and dispersing energy before instantly returning to their flexible state. It is a material which can be tailored for specific applications. Here, D3O is used to provide impact protection at the hip in the Race Face liner shorts for cyclists (3). It has been moulded to shape and is held in place in strategically located pockets so that it can be removed prior to washing. The shorts also incorporate moulded foam panels on the outer thigh and seat. They are made from a breathable, elastic mesh fabric for maximum comfort.