Beating the Heat with Aramid Clothing
Today we examine one of the toughest, most useful clothing materials modern science has provided for our troops. There are many trademarked terms for it (DuPont®'s Nomex™ for instance) but they all refer to a single group of very similar polymer compounds called aramid.
Aramid is a shortening of aromatic polyamide. Does aromatic mean it smells funny? Turns out the answer is no. To a chemist, aromatic means the molecules of a compound are organized into a super-stable, damage-resistant and nonreactive configuration. Which aramid definitely is!
Aramid is used in most of today's battle garments because of its incredible resistance to heat. Many fabrics are flame-resistant in that they will not burn if exposed to flame, sparks or floating cinders. Aramid material, along with having a very high flame resistance, is extremely useful because it never actually melts. The fabric can endure temperatures up to 932ºF, after which the material starts to break down without melting. Unfortunately, this is not the case with more primitive synthetic clothing. Military history is littered with cases of super-heated steam or the flash of an explosion causing regular polyester to melt to the skin of the victim, causing far more damage than the actual blast. Aramid fabrics have no such weakness.