If it were crafted in metal, you’d swear Nike’s unnamed new helmet was straight out of Sparta. Instead, it’s sewn from some of the most complicated fabrics ever devised to offer a different sort of competitive advantage: keeping an athlete’s face feeling cool.
That’s right, Nike has developed one of their chill vests into a conceptual product that you wear on your head.
The garment was inspired by a request from a U.S. Olympian and decathlon world record holder, Ashton Eaton, who complained that in hot conditions, he really wanted a way to cool the stifling mugginess around his head. As it turns out, the face is extremely sensitive to heat–Nike claims 2-5x than the rest of your body, which sounds in line with external research–and so the Nike Apparel Innovation Team created this hood for him to wear.
The hood itself is sewn from SAF, a highly absorbent material that uses chemical bonding to soak up 200x its weight in water. (That netting you see around the face is actually a 3-D scan of Eaton’s head, not part of the helmet, sadly.) The garment isn’t meant to wick moisture like most performance gear. In fact, it’s designed to do the opposite: The hood is presoaked and chilled in an icebox, then donned for temporary comfort, like a custom tailored wet towel.
“This is meant to be used between events of the decathlon, not while actually competing/running,” writes Sandy Bodecker, VP of Special Projects, Nike Innovation, over email “The insight from Ashton was that his face/head got hot between events, so this mask is designed to solve for an athlete problem.”
Nike hasn’t shared plans for future mainstream release, but given that their cool vests have been in use since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and still aren’t available for public purchase, it’s reasonable to assume that their helmet will remain exclusive to Nike sponsored athletes for the foreseeable future.