The 'must-do' winter gear event is ispo. It's a massive gig that offers a brilliant overview of all the latest innovations in outdoor gear bundled under one roof. Alan James and I were there, and you can find out which six products won prestigious ispo Outdoor Awards in this news item. We didn't manage to talk to all the exhibitors - after all over 2,000 companies had travelled to Munich from 49 countries - but here follows an update on a few new things available this year.
When we stepped off the train at ispo, it was immediately clear Polartec mean business this year with their new NeoShell fabric. A plethora of massive, weird, very eye-catching posters (like the one below) lined the avenue to the tradeshow entrance, suggesting an expensive advertising campaign.
Originally renowned as the pioneers of fleece fabric (and still the no 1 fleece brand in the world), Polartec have never been a company that likes standing still. Having exhausted every possibility with the fluffy stuff in terms of various styles (knitted look, 'hard face' technology etc) and tightness of weave to adjust the wind resistant/breathable balance, last year they introduced Polartec Power Shield Pro, a soft shell fabric that went on to win awards and acclaim.
This year, they've upped the stakes again, claiming to have created a waterproof-breathable fabric that gives a much drier, less steamy experience than 'the leading waterproof-breathable'. There has been much hype about this fabric; and there was even more in the lecture I listened to about it, such as "We gave this fabric to our athletes and they responded with achievements", but also plenty of interesting data between the soundbites.
Put simply, the main difference between NeoShell and Gore-tex, is that Gore-tex is 'Guaranteed to Keep You Dry' (in terms of rain getting through) but this promise comes with a trade off in terms of breathability - as many of you will have experienced you can get sweaty in Gore-tex. Polartec has given more priority to breathability; reasoning that if a garment has a Hydrostatic Head of 10,000, then it's waterproof enough for most situations (a Hydrostatic Head is a fabric's resistance to water pressure equivalent to a column height of water. The European standard for a garment to be classed as waterproof is 10,000H/H - Gore-tex fabrics way exceed this). There's more about NeoShell in this news item and Alan took a video which demonstrates the breathability of NeoShell compared to the 'leading waterproof-breathable':
Perhaps in response to mounting competiton in the waterproof-breathable fabric market, but also to fill a gap in their range, Gore have introduced new 'Active Shell'. Like their competitors, Polartec, Gore had clearly spent a fair bit on marketing their new fabric, as there was a stand full of Active Shell jackets visibly pulsing with noisy, simulated hearts.
I assume this was designed to (a) showcase which top brands have bought into the fabric (amongst them Arc'teryx, Berghaus, Mountain Equipment, The North Face and Mammut), (b) showcase what nifty garments they've made from it and (c) provide a 'visual' for the fabric's function. Clever.
What is its function? Gore's designers were briefed to make a lightweight fabric that remained condensation free on the inside even when the wearer's heart was beating at more than 150 beats a minute, yet kept the Gore-tex promise: 'Guaranteed to keep you dry' to a very high hydrostatic head. Active Shell is designed for fast and light activities that are typically 'done in a day'.
How did they do it? They reduced the thickness of the fabric to increase the breathability and lighten the weight. Rather than gluing an outer shell to a membrane, gluing a thin PU layer to that and finally bonding a liner inside, they've simplified things. The membrane is bonded directly to the fabric that sits next to your skin. The membrane is thinner and the backer is more stretched out, too, so sweat can get out faster.
To make sure the fabric works to the best of its ability, Gore have laid down strict guidelines as to the amount of seam-sealing tape that can be used on garments made from it, and stipulated that any features and pockets must amount to no more than an A4 sheet-size piece of fabric. There's a news item on the fabric here.
Patagonia's answer, at a media talk on their stand, is that they have worked with Gore to make their production process more environmentally friendly. Gore then successfully passed a bluesign screening of all its global manufacturing sites - more on bluesign standards here.
The most exciting jacket in the new, cutting edge Patagonia Gore-tex range is the Super Alpine Jacket, one of many Autumn 11 jackets that meet or exceed the £500 price point. Eek! It's a resurrected and updated style, now with a new patented hood drawcord (easy to use even with mitts on), pressed-pleat front pockets that allow you to fit plenty in without losing sight of your feet, and cuffs reminiscent of a dry suit seal.
There are less expensive waterproof jackets made from Gore-tex Performance Shell as opposed to Pro Shell, and H2No is still in the range, too. What else is new at Patagonia? There are more siblings for the popular down sweater, including a hooded version, and their merino base layer range has been revamped with new colours and styles.
The Gridlock is hot forged in Salt Lake City, weighs 76g and has an RRP of £16.99.
What else is new this season at BD? Amongst other things the hoodwire (designed so it doesn't snag on clips), revamped ATC guide (it's got holes in it), and there'll be a new Half Dome available Winter 11. This popular helmet has been completely redesigned with a new suspension system and wheel adjustor, which cleverly tuck away inside the helmet when not in use to prevent damage. The fit and venting have also been improved.
Grivel's new 'Avatar' was shrouded under material in a glass bowl, with dry ice and a carefully constructed air of mystery surrounding it at last year's Friedrichshafen. We were only allowed a sneak peek. It was blue and we wondered if they had had any issues with calling it the 'Avatar'. Apparently not, but they did get in trouble when they wanted to call another axe the 'Jedi' so called it the 'Master' instead!
This new tool has obvious nods towards the sci-fi / action genre, and not just in terms of its name. The Avatar has a very eye-catching design, and looks like it should belong in the hands of a super hero, even now they've decided to stick to classic Audi colours rather than sci fi blue. The photo here doesn't really do it justice so look out for 'the most advanced ice tool in the galaxy' in the shops ... although you may have to wait till next year as Grivel are still tweaking it, by which time it may have changed colour again. The RRP will be £220.
Not just a pretty face, and please look beyond more action movie jargon, the Avatar is a technical axe with a chromolly steel hot forged blade and an innovative magnesium head "like Formula 1!". Magnesium is apparently easier to work than, say, aluminium or stainless steel, and making the head out of this stuff also saved weight and improved the balance. The shaft has multiple grips for traction, hand swap-overs, reverse traction, so "lets the climber's imagination run wild"!
Also new from Grivel: new belay devices, a range of super gucci 'Reparto Corse' ice axes fully finished from one piece of hand-machined aluminium and the G1, a light axe for classic alpinism.
Montane's distinctive Spektr Smock (£180), with its drybag style neck closure (as demonstrated by Paul Cosgrove, right), hits the shelves next month. We first saw a sample at Friedrichshafen last year (you can read more about it here). Designed to push the boundaries of weight and packability without reducing the waterproofness, its made from 3-layer eVent fabric (a fabric that has won many awards for its breathability so I'll be interested to see how it compares to NeoShell) and its most noticeable characteristic is a significant lack of the usual fasteners and adjusters such as zips, drawcords and Velcro. 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.
What else is new from Montane? The Slipstream: 'The lightest weather resistant jacket in the world'. Next autumn, there'll be a women's version of the Prism insulated jacket (all women's jackets have extra roomy 'pony tail' hoods), the successful North Star down jacket will be available in more colours and there'll be a new down jacket available called the Black Ice. This one will be superwarm: featuring box wall construction.
The most outstanding piece in the collection is the Eiger Extreme Felsturm Jacket, which won an ispo Outdoor Award. Another lightweight and packable jacket, this one is made from the new, fast and light orientated Gore-tex Active Shell.
The ispo judges said: "The extraordinary feature of the Mammut Felsturm Jacket is the impeccable tailoring of Gore Active Shell combined with innovative zippers and a well thought-out design. Thanks to a minimum of packing volume and low weight the Felsturm jacket becomes the indispensable companion for active outdoor athletes."
The range will be available in selected retailers such as Ellis Brigham and Tisos from Autumn.