In this fourth Friedrichshafen OutDoor Show report Sarah Stirling looks at technical jackets. Previous articles in this series include: Best In Gear: Friedrichshafen OutDoor Show 2010 by Sarah Stirling, OutDoor Show 2010 - ROPES by Mick Ryan, and OutDoor Show 2010 - CLIMBING HARDWARE by Mick Ryan. Stay tuned for more next week.
A shell that packs smaller than an energy bar, another without zips, a down jacket lighter than a cup of sugar (142g). Pertex introduce their first 3-layer waterproof laminate fabric, Polartec up the stakes in soft shell technology, Mountain Equipment have an exclusive on some new Gore-tex, and all the jackets are certainly eye-squintingly brighter.
Technical jackets have come a long way. But a long way from where? I take a look backwards and forwards: introducing the faces, ethics and interesting histories behind some well-known and some up-coming brands, and showcasing one of their innovative products as seen at the OutDoor Show in Friedrichshafen.
This is a sneak peek though. Many of these products aren't available until next year, and aren't priced yet (in some cases we don't have all the details on them yet either), so you can't put them on your Christmas wishlist.
Introducing Yeti: lightweight Purity in an award-winning down jacket
It was our last appointment at Friedrichshafen, and we were a bit knackered to be honest. But when Kay Steinbach started telling us the story of Yeti we were quickly absorbed. I only wish we'd thought to video him telling the tale with such energy and German-style arm waving. Instead I put this 'Desire' down jacket on (so cosy!) and listened.
Yeti is a German brand with roots that pre-date the Berlin wall and began with down sleeping bags, but the company was taken over in 2005 and essentially relaunched, Kay told us. Since then, Yeti have been seeking out the finest quality fabrics. A small team of perfectionist seamstresses make the gear in their own factory.
An employee was sent off to seek out the most lightweight down possible, and he came back with Polish White Koluda Goose down. Apparently their 'Crystal Down' achieves the highest possible bulking power of 900 cubic inches, and it's all responsibly farmed. The animals are raised for meat production and plucked only after their death. The feathers and down are then sorted by a family business who specialise in this sort of thing; they wash the fluff in well water and heat it to kill germs.
Next, Yeti sought a superlight and durable face fabric. The brand now has 3-year ownership rights to an amazingly lightweight and durable face fabric, which they call LightyGram. This ripstop nylon is ten times thinner than a human hair, water resistant, breathable and also tear-proof. The fabric is certainly durable - Kay demonstrated by rubbing a sample with a wire brush - it left no damage.
Their Yeti Purity down jacket (230g) won a Gold award. The women's version is the Desire (200g). It's filled with this 800+ European goose down and the face fabric is LightyGram. Here's what the judges said about it:
"This jacket really wins you over through its unbelievable lightness, achieved through its unique choice of materials: it weighs no more than a couple of bread rolls! For both adults and children who move about a lot, Purity offers comfort as well as warmth and unrestricted movement, meaning you can really enjoy the time you spend outdoors."
Patagonia Ultralight Downshirt: the lightest down jacket in the world
The Ultralight Downshirt isn't quite as warm and cosy as the Yeti, but it is considerably lighter. In fact it's the lightest down jacket in the world, and also won an award. Last season was the strongest to date for Patagonia's sales: $333 million (end of April 2010). Not only is the company doing amazingly well, it's also changing the way other gear companies think. Patagonia is renowned internationally for their commitment to environmental issues. Many of their fabrics are organic and/or recycled.
Launching Patagonia isn't, of course, the only amazing achievement Yvon Chouinard has under his belt; he made pitons and sold them out the back of his car to support himeslf in the late 50s and 60s, when he was one of the leading climbers of the Golden Age of Yosemite climbing. From the success of these pitons grew 'Chouinard Equipment Ltd', and Yvon went on to make significant innovations in climbing hardware. The company was taken over and reborn as Black Diamond Equipment in 1989, and Chouinard concentrated on Patagonia.
One of a long line of groundbreaking Patagonia products, the Ultralight Downshirt uses new quilting and fabric technology to provide the lightest weight insulation on the market: 159g (mens) and 142g (womens). It's incredibly warm for its weight and very breathable.
Patagonia told me: "A few years ago we changed the way people think about insulation with the Patagonia Down Sweater. We followed that up with the Nano Puff last year. The new Patagonia Ultralight Down Shirt is our next step in the process of evolving insulation."
The shell fabric is an incredibly light and strong 10-denier nylon, treated with a Deluge DWR finish. Years of development have gone into the nylon ripstop fabric, which is the lightest and strongest face fabric in the Patagonia line. The special quilting pattern (the men's version has a square brick pattern) controls any shifting of the 800 fill-power European goose down and optimises loft, making the Ultralight very warm for its weight.
Available in Spring 2011 www.patagonia.com
Alpkit has a different appeal to Patagonia. It isn't a multi-million pound enterprise, but a small British brand, started in 2004 by four friends with a very fresh and simple approach to making and selling outdoor kit. The friendly and sociable team weren't exhibiting at Friedrichshafen, but were there in force meeting contacts and discussing new developments. In fact they camped next door to us, so we know what they've been up to recently and here's the Alpkit story:
Alpkit didn't want to accept the costs of getting quality gear into their sacks, so set out to combine the best attributes of both a retailer and specialist outdoor brand. They design their gear themselves, work in partnership with a factory to make it, then sell it direct to their customers through their own website.
The benefit for their customers is that they are effectively buying their kit at the trade prices of other established brands. The benefit for Alpkit is that they have direct two-way contact with their customers, which means that unlike many of the brands exhibiting at Freidrichshafen, they don't have to waste time convincing buyers or distributors to stock their products and can instead devote their time to listening and supporting their customers.
Their Filo down jacket is a good example of this approach. First introduced in 2005 with an emphasis on high quality fill and durable face fabrics, it has evolved as a result of the customer feedback submitted on their website. Functional changes have included the introduction of a detachable hood, an upgrade in fill power and a women's cut. Cosmetically the most obvious feature is the wide choice of colours. Some colours remain consistent such as black, red and blue but their independence has allowed them to introduce more challenging colours such as jaffa and lemon zest, an approach that would have been unlikely through the traditional b2b supply chain route.
This winter season's Filo will be available in a choice of five colours in both a mens and womens fit, plus an individual one for each. The men's medium jacket is filled with 320g of 90/10 700+ EU fill power white goose down, a choice arrived at through testing combinations of fill powers and fill weights to get the right balance of comfort, weight, performance and ultimately price. The detachable hood is wired and can be worn over a climbing helmet. The outer fabric is an unbranded micro ripstop nylon with a DWR coating and is cut with a long back length to keep your butt warm on chilly belays or exposed bar stools.
From Alpkit to Arc'teryx! Arc'teryx gear is expensive, but you can't call it overpriced. The brand's central purpose is to build the finest products possible. They've built a reputation as a top innovator in the outdoor industry, creating products with pioneering designs, original construction techniques and made from the highest quality materials available. The brand works closely with textile manufacturers to choose and help in the development of the highest performing and most durable materials available. Plus, Arc'teryx is the only major outdoor clothing manufacturer to have its own manufacturing facilities, enabling them to efficiently create superior features that other manufacturers can't.
Perhaps you don't NEED to buy gear that is designed (and priced) to perform perfectly for the world's most demanding athletes but Arc'teryx argue that their gear withstands more years of wear than other brands, so there's your excuse to max out the credit card. What does Arc'teryx mean anyway? Well, the North Vancouver-based brand is named for Archaeopteryx Lithographica, the first reptile to develop the feather for flight, freeing itself from the constraints of the horizontal world.
The Theta SV and the Beta AR Jackets have both been revised for Autumn 10. The Beta AR jacket is their best seller to UK retailers for the Autumn 2010 season, followed by the Theta SV, which means you should easily find them in the shops.
Arc'teryx say: "Lightweight and packable, the new streamlined Beta AR Jacket provides the backcountry minimalist with durable storm protection in a hip length cut. Featuring a new lower volume fit, this Gore-tex Pro Shell jacket reduces layering overlap and bulk, while the helmet compatible Drop Hood offers quick storm protection, and reinforced shoulder and elbows survive alpine abuse. Thoughtfully designed pockets and vent zippers allow for easy access, adding to the versatility of this jacket."
"The Theta SV is our toughest and longest length Gore-tex Pro Shell jacket. Built for the harshest conditions this thigh-length backcountry fortress has a drop back hem with full-seat coverge and a helmet-compatible Storm Hood. A slightly relaxed athletic fit accommodates activity-specific layering needs, and articulated shaping provides complete mobility."
Available in Autumn 2010 www.arcteryx.com
Also made from Gore-tex ... but British brand Mountain Equipment have exclusive use of NEW Gore-tex Pro Shell fabrics
During its history, Mountain Equipment gear has been worn on every British first ascent of an 8000m peak. It has also been worn on more than 175 successful Everest expeditions by International Mountain Guides and Sherpas, and on unsupported trips to the North and South Poles.
The popular, state-of-the-art Changabang (£330) classic mountaineering/ski jacket has been updated. It's now made from 3-layer Gore-tex Pro Shell Ascendor II fabric, which gives great durability and breathability, with Gore's Pro Shell Tenacity fabric reinforcements. These are NEW types of Gore-tex Pro Shell and are exclusive to Mountain Equipment at this time. Other updates include redesigned pockets. They're now more spacious without compromising any seams - the chest pockets fit a small folded out map easily.
There's also a new Kalanka Jacket, which is a step up from the Changabang (£360). It's made from a stretchy 3-layer Gore-tex Pro Shell fabric and has a spacious 'Super Alpine Hood', which amply accommodates newer helmet designs with plenty of volume round your chin, good face protection when cinched up with or without a helmet, a new adjustment cord and grippy urethane strips inside to prevent your hood slipping. The jacket has 2-way RIRI Aquazips - water resistant, strong and durable, these are a new gold standard in weatherproof zips. It's an alpine jacket, meant for moving in fast, and the cut is articulated with pre-shaped sleeves.
Available in August 2010 www.mountainequipment.co.uk
Ron Gregg, a physicist and keen mountaineer, began making gaiters after his climbing partner suffered extreme frostbite when wearing poorly designed gaiters. Focussing his scientific mind in a new direction Ron built the innovative X-Gaiter, which held snug and was versatile enough to fit a variety of boots. And so Outdoor Research was born.
Ron focused on developing outdoor accessories that revolutionised standards. Amongst the classic groundbreaking OR products were Modular Mitts, the Seattle Sombrero which became the best selling Gore-Tex hat of all time, waterproof stuff sacks and the first soft shell products designed in North America. At the turn of the year 2000, apparel was added to the range and the company took a step beyond its position as an accessory brand.
Ten years later, the range includes everything from spring-weight hard shells for extreme environments to breathable soft shells for energetic alpine and big-wall climbing adventures, and it's tested by IFMGA Mountain Guide Ambassadors.
So what's new for Spring 2011? Outdoor Research said: "Modern climbers are challenging themselves by attempting alpine ascents in one long push, rather than taking multiple days to complete the climbs. Commitment to alpine style climbing requires lighter, multi-functional technical gear to maximize efficiency, so our Spring 2011 collection delivers interchangeable high-performance pieces which function in various environments and weather conditions."
The Paladin Jacket is constructed from a new material from Pertex, called 3L Pertex Shield. This is the first time Pertex have made a waterproof 3-layer laminate fabric. It features all the usual Pertex properties, so is made from one of the lightest most durable nylons available with a huge resistance against abrasion, while at the same time it's very breathable. The Paladin has one of the most durable face fabrics on the market with breathability similar to Gore-Tex, in a fully featured £185 package.
The jacket is designed for alpine mountaineering in extreme conditions, and has a fitted silhouette, which lays flat under a climbing harness without creating bulk, yet still allows the climber to bend at the waist and see his/her feet during tricky ascents and descents. Two long hand pockets with brushed mesh inside open from both top and bottom to allow extra ventilation.
Available Spring 2011 www.outdoorresearch.com
Another fabric innovation. Power Shield Pro, Polartec's latest softshell fabric, is soft, very stretchy, highly breathable, wind resistant, warm, lightweight and machine washable. The fabric has more water resistance than any other Polartec fabric due to a new microporous, water-resistant polyurethane membrane, and it's also more abrasion resistant.
Power Shield Pro fabric is exceptionally strong; designed to withstand continuous rubbing from rucksacks or harnesses. It's also very pliable; it stretches in four directions. The 5000mm waterproof material has a breathing rating of 81/m2/sec. Power Shield Pro is being launched in Autumn 2010, initially used by a few brands including 66 North, Eider, Lowe Alpine and The North Face.
Along with 15 other outdoor journalists from around the world (in the photo are American journalists Bob Howells, Roy Wallack and Stephen Regenold from Outside magazine, the LA Times Fitness section and the website Gear Junkie respectively), Mick Ryan and I got to test the new super fabric earlier this year. We flew to Iceland to try out 66 North's new Vatnajokull soft shell jacket, which is constructed from Polartec Power Shield Pro. All 17 of us wore the jackets on an 11 hour hike across Europe's biggest glacier and up a volcano to Iceland's highest peak (see picture on the summit).
If you've not heard of 66 North before, that's because, although it was established back in 1926 and has been sold in America and many European countries for years, the Icelandic brand has only just set its sights on expanding to the UK market.
Built to handle the tough Icelandic weather conditions, we found that 66 North's Vatnajokull jacket had plenty of well thought out features. The hood follows your head movement, fits easily over a helmet and features a peak stiffened with adjustable wire. The sleeves have shaped elbows, and there is no stitching on the shoulders, to reduce rain getting in and chafing under a rucksack. The pockets are above waist height so you can get in them with a harness on. Waterproof zips are used throughout, and the main zip is 2-way. The jacket, which weighs 600g, breathes well and is almost windproof.
Available Autumn 2010 www.66north.com
Great British brand Montane was established in the north east of England in 1993 by Chris Roff and Jake Doxat, who met on an expedition to southern Chile. Frustrated by how poor outdoor clothing still was at the time, they set out to make clothing that was lightweight, low bulk, well-specified for prolonged, hard outdoor use but at the same time warm and comfortable.
The answer lay in combining, warm, lightweight and very high wicking lining fabrics with water-resistant, hard wearing and windproof outer fabrics. Essentially, the answer was what is now commonly refered to as soft shell. Montane originally began making pile Pertex garments (with a furry pile on the inside and a Pertex shell on the outside). The Extreme Smock is still in their range and was their first style. Pile Pertex garments are generally considered to be the original soft shell garment.
Montane now offer a range of clothing developed for specialised mountain use, be it climbing, trail running, mountain biking or adventure racing. The brand is at the forefront of innovative, lightweight design; known for their minimalism and keen to build products from the most technologically advanced fabrics.
Speaking of minimalism and innovation, Montane's Spektr Smock (available next Spring) has no zips or adjusters! "We love dry bag closure systems so essentially this is a jacket with that type of sealable closure in the place of a zip," Montane told me.
Apparently zips don't pack well and contribute to bulk. Through the use of some cunning tailoring, the edges of the Spektr's neck opening closure naturally hold themselves together when held up straight. You then roll the edges over twice and they are held in place with three locking hooks, creating a watertight closure.
The jacket itself is slim-fitting, with an elasticised hem and cuffs (no bulky toggles or Velcro here) and constructed from three-layer eVent waterproof fabric. The hood has no peak (too bulky!) but is sized and designed to be worn with or without a peaked eVent Pace Cap. A lock inside the hood holds the cap in place when the hood is down.
The Spektr weighs in at just 200g and is designed for fast moving Ultras, mountain marathons and big terrain adventure races.
Available Spring 2011 www.montane.co.uk
Another great British brand. Probably the lightest, top quality synthetic insulated jacket around: the Rab Xenon
I was pleased to find several American outdoor journalists raving about Rab in general and the Xenon in particular on a press trip earlier this year. It's good to know Rab has a solid international reputation! (British brand Inov-8 were also raved about). Three of us had chosen to bring our test Xenons on the trip over other synthetic insulated jackets we had at home. The Xenon is available in September.
I had to correct someone who thought Rab was American though - as if! This Great British brand was founded by British mountaineer, Rab Carrington (now president of the BMC). He learnt how to make sleeping bags when in Patagonia over 30 years ago to make a few quid, then later set up shop at home in Sheffield.
Rab made kit for climbers by climbers; thinking foremost about function. He sold the company a few years ago to Equip UK (based in Derbyshire), and the brand remains renowned for producing outstanding quality clothing and sleeping bags, suitable for extreme cold environments and high altitude mountaineering.
Rab certainly know a thing or two about insulated jackets. In the mid 1980s Rab was the first manufacturer in the world to use Pertex as a face fabric for sleeping bags and down jackets. The new Xenon features Pertex's lightest ever Quantum 10-dernier face fabric, which has an amazing strength to weight ratio.
Because of the weight saving fabric, the Xenon is a technical piece with good, comfort factor features such as an awesome lycra-bound, insulated hood, but it's still superlight. In comparison, the Arc'teryx Women's Atom Hoody weighs in at around 365g, the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody is 360g, and the Xenon is in the Rab workbook at a superskinny 290g, although according to Nikki at Equip: "I just weighed one in the office and it was 270g! Even better!"
So far I've found the Xenon ideal for wearing on windy summits when walking, or for wearing as a belay jacket. Inside, there's 60g of Primaloft One insulation (the advantage of Primaloft over down, of course, being that Primaloft insulates well even when wet).
Available September 2010 www.rab.uk.com
The North Face have also been thinking up new ways to put Pertex's skill at crafting lightweight, abrasion and weather resistant fabrics to good use. Their award-winning emergency shell packs smaller than an energy bar
'The North Face' conjures images of the coldest, most unforgiving side of a mountain, but the brand actually began on a beach. San Francisco's North Beach to be precise. It's hard to comprehend now that back in 1966 this global brand was just two hiking enthusiasts in their new shop, with big ambitions.
More than 40 years later, The North Face offers a vast array of performance apparel, equipment and footwear, from the lifestyle stuff and down gilets that you see in the pub, to their top of the range Summit Series gear.
Summit Series products are built for hardcore outdoor athletes, mountaineers, alpinists, and climbers to withstand extremes of weather and terrain while delivering the highest level of performance from base camp to summit. Products feature the industry's best, most technical performance fabrics and constructions.
It's not available till Spring 2011, but here's a peep at their award-winning Verto Jacket. The North Face worked with their climbing and mountaineering athletes to figure out where they could could cut unnecessary weight and space. The result was a minimalist jacket designed for emercency situations - when you get caught out by bad weather.
The Verto is made from abrasion and weather resistant seven-denier Pertex Quantum nylon micro-ripstop. This is the lightest fabric ever used in The North Face Summit Series and the jacket packs down to the size of an energy bar.
Remarkably lightweight and compressible, the Verto stuffs into its own zipped pocket (on the chest for men and the bicep for women) and features a handy webbing loop, making it easy to clip the packed jacket to a climbing harness. Unpacked, the performance fit jacket offers a full front zip with reverse-coil zips, an ergonomic hood with elastic binding, plus elastic-bound cuffs.
Available Spring 2011 uk.thenorthface.com
In the early 70s, University of California Santa Cruz students Eric Reynolds and Dave Huntley made prototypes of down products in their dorm room: a down vest, a sweater, a parka and some sleeping bags. They rented an old building and opened a rental and retail shop, initially teaching cross-country skiing in the winter to make extra cash.
Early breaks included meeting a filmmaker who got 108 of their puffy jackets featured in The Eiger Sanction (a film starring Clint Eastwood), and meeting Joe Tanner of WL Gore & Assoc, recognising the importance of their fabrics, and becoming the first Gore-tex customers in the world outdoor market. Marmot now has 650 dealers in the USA and offices in California, Colorado, Canada, Hong Kong, Britain, Sweden and Germany.
Marmot also has global test centres based in Aviemore Scotland, La Grave France and Jackson Hole USA. Prototypes are field tested here in the most extreme environments possible. Feedback from these test centres, combined with feedback from their sponsored athletes, allows the company to fine tune their products to achieve the best performance possible. Constant testing, trashing and refining of prototypes, according to Marmot, is the way to ensure cutting edge performance and design in technical outdoor gear.
Marmot's legendary series of Driclime jackets now has a new addition to the range aimed at fast and light activities, where comfort and performance count for everything - the Ether Jacket. If Marmot's 'Driclime' has passed you by so far, it's a unique, plaited knit fabric designed to mechanically draw moisture away from your skin by '3-Dimensional Wicking'. As moisture moves from the inner fabric touching your skin to the outer fabric, it spreads out across the outer fabric to speed drying. This isn't a finish that washes or wears out. It works forever.
The Ether jacket differs from other Driclimes due to the use of a new face fabric, updated fit and the addition of a fixed hood. The new face fabric offers a fresh new look and feel without compromising the need for wind resistance and breathability, and has a water repellent finish. The addition of an attached roll up hood allows the Driclime Ether jacket to be used as a functional outer layer suitable for a wide variety of outdoor activities. It weighs 244g.
And finally, one more fast and light shell. A lightweight hard shell: the new Mountain Hardwear Stretch Cohesion Jacket
Mountain Hardwear began in California in 1993, when a group of friends who had weathered years in the outdoor industry (variously with the North Face, Sierra Designs and Adventure 16) decided to launch their own company. Between them, Jack Gilbert, Paul Kramer, Mike Wallenfels and Paige Boucher had plenty of experience in outdoor sales, marketing, pioneering design and development; as well as plenty of experience in climbing, skiing, snowboarding and mountaineering.
They certainly had plenty of ideas between them too, as they put together the first product line in 90 days. Two products are still in the line today: the Exposure Parka and the Sub Zero Jacket. Attention to detail, superior quality and innovation are top of the list at Mountain Hardwear. Innovations include patented zWeld construction and Windstopper next-to-skin fabric development in partnership with WL Gore. Mountain Hardwear now has over 90 people in their California office and reps in many countries worldwide. The company was bought by Columbia Sportswear in 2003, and the solid financial backing allows them to invest in developing even more cutting edge designs.
The Stretch Cohesion Jacket (available in mens and womens cuts) will be new to the Alpine Outerwear Collection in Spring 2011. The jacket combines the full features of a typical 3-layer winter jacket with a typical spring/summer weight fabric, and is designed specifically for fast and light alpine use.
Features include all-over stretch for comfort and freedom of movement, an attached roll-away ergo hood which fits over a helmet, single-handed drawcord for quick adjustments, pit zips for ventilation and a Micro-Chamois lined chin guard. The fabric is Mountain Hardwear's own Ark 30D Stretch and Conduit DT. The Stretch Cohesion weighs 337g (womens) and 370g (mens).
Available Spring 2011 www.mountainhardwear.com