When is a flannel more than a comfy shirt? When it's Carhartt's Force Reydell, a lightweight, sophisticated play on the plaid standard. It's part of a budding trend: insanely technical clothes that breathe, wick, regulate heat, prevent body odor, reflect light, or repel insects but look, well, pretty normal. Several are on display this week at Outdoor Retailer.

Another shining example: Sugoi's Zap, a reflective biking jacket that looks like a windbreaker. You could cycle to work in it or wear it to lunch and hardly notice the rows of tiny crushed-glass beads woven into the fabric. But when you need to get noticed – riding at night or in dark, stormy weather – the beads make the jacket glow like the moon under artificial light, such as that of headlights or streetlamps.

Still, the technical arms race makes decisions tough. Go green with ExOfficio, which imbues its stain- and odor-resistant JavaTech clothes with micro-grinded coffee. Or get sciencey with 37.5, a new brand that supplies Adidas, Pearl Izumi, and Big Agnes, and contributed to Carhartt's flannel. Founded by a chemist with a PhD, 37.5 regulates temperature, odor, and humidity with a secret molecule bonded to polyester yarn or printed in ink. "Fluff," says a product designer from a fabric supplier, who asked me not to use her name. "It's all fluff. People do a little bit of wordsmithing. We all do."

Nearby, a rep laughs when I ask what Fjällräven jackets are treated with. "Wax," she says. "It's wind- and water-resistant, and it makes the clothes last longer." She's more excited about the new midlayer, built with a rugged, environmentally sustainable fabric that wicks, breathes, and smells great. What's this technological marvel? "Wool," she says, smiling. It looks genuine.