It’s always fun and exciting to attend OR, where new outdoor gear and technologies are showcased two seasons (or more) before they show up in retail stores. The Gossamer Gear gang was there to see what’s new and report back to our tribe.
Each OR show has some distinctive trends and breakthrough gear highlights. Otherwise, most changes in gear are evolutionary rather then revolutionary; new fabrics and new technologies are incorporated to update familiar gear designs. For the winter 2013 show, I would not say there was anything shockingly revolutionary, but (as usual) there are a number of notable trends and some standout gear, as I present below, in no particular order. All items will be available in fall 2013 unless stated otherwise. Click on the photos for a full size view. Leave a comment at the bottom.
For lightweight enthusiasts, the jaw dropper of the show was the new Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket (left), which features 1000 fill-power down and 7-denier shell fabric. It has a full height front zipper but that’s it for features. The weight is a shockingly light 5.2 ounces. I was afraid to ask about the price, but was again shocked to find out its only $269. There are a lot of other puffy down jackets around with lesser credentials that cost a lot more. The same sentiment goes for the Montbell Mirage Parka (right), which features 900 fill-power down, baffled construction, attached hood, weight of just 12.8 ounces, and MSRP of $309 in fall 2013. Montbell will actually be dropping prices on some their the down clothing this fall, for example the Alpine Light Down Jacket will get a lighter shell to reduce the weight to 11.7 ounces and the price will fall to $175. These Montbell down jackets are a great value! Although most down garment manufactures have incorporated water-resistant down into their product lines, Montbell (and Western Mountaineering) have not embraced it yet.
One of the noticeable highlights at this show was the emergence of more and more ultralight puffy down jackets. Standouts are the entry of Crux products (a UK company) into the US market, which will be sold by Luddite Technology; their website will launch in spring 2013 for online sales. Their lightest jacket is the Crux Pico Top which features 900 EU fill-power down (970 US), weight of 6 ounces, and cost of $299. A range of their jackets is shown in the photo. Not to be outdone, the Western Mountaineering QuickFlash Jacket (less than 8 ounces, $295), will be a hoodless version of the Flash jacket; the new full featured Big Agnes Hole in the Wall (hoodless) and Shovelhead (hooded) Jackets will feature 700 fill-power DryDown in Insotect Flow vertical baffles and MSRPs of $220 and $250 respectively; The North Face SuperNatural Jacket features 950 fill-power water-resistant down, Pertex Quantum shell, and baffled construction; and the new full featured Sierra Designs Stratus Jacket (12 ounces, $249) is insulated with 800 fill DriDown.
Another highlight of the show is the emergence of more and better synthetic insulations. Perhaps the most noticeable is Polartec Alpha (left photo), a new insulation which is promoted as the “first ever breathable puffy… allowing a free exchange of air and moving moisture away from the body”. Garments that utilize this insulation, such as the new Rab Strata Hoodie (right photo, $225), feature a very breathable shell fabric; others feature body-mapped shell components. Other notable new or updated proprietary synthetic insulations include Mountain Hardwear’s new Thermo.Q Elite, which is claimed to be 20% warmer than the competition; Montbell’s improved ExceloLoft , which is a three fiber mix that rebounds its loft better and increases clo (insulation value) by 40% and reduces weight by 10%; and North Face’s new ThermoBall which simulates down clusters and is claimed to provide the equivalent insulation of 600 fill-power down.
Envirofit is a new company that makes rainwear similar to Frogg Toggs and DriDucks. What’s different, they emphasize, is their garments have a better fit, which also makes them a bit lighter. I noticed that the women’s models in particular are anatomically contoured and as attractive as you can get for spunbound polypropylene rainwear. The lightweight standout for me was the anorak shown in the photo, which will have a storage pocket on the front. Weights were not available, but are expected to be a bit lighter than DriDucks; the prices will be about the same. The anorak in the photo for example will cost around $20.
Socks are becoming more and more high-tech. Nowadays they are loaded with drying, durability, compression, and cushioning technologies much like the trail running shoes we love to use for backpacking. Typical features nowadays provide foot-mapped cushioning, ventilation, and durability, not to overlook the attractive designs. An example is one of our favorites: Darn Tough, who will introduce a new Ultralight Cushion Sock and F5 Ski Sock for fall 2013. Other companies are on the cutting edge too, like Point6, Dahlgren, and Fox River.
The new Nemo Canon -40F rated sleeping bag features 850 fill-power down, top zipper, waterproof-breathable shell, Stove Pipe breathing tunnel, zippered arm openings, Thermo Gill torso vents, and extra synthetic insulation in the footbox and hood. Guess how much it costs – if you guessed around $1000, you’re right. They should name this one the Grand!
Lightweight rainwear is a very popular subject, so here is a reminder on new lightweight rainwear that will be available in spring 2013: the Sierra Designs Cloud Airshell (left, 4 ounces, $125)) is a see-through rain jacket. SD’s new Illusion fabric in the Airshell is a waterproof/breathable two-layer polyurethane laminate that is seam taped. Specs are 4000 mm waterproofness and 15,000 MVTR breathability; by the numbers, that’s adequately waterproof but not real breathable. SD clearly states that it should be “only worn when it’s raining”. The new Montane Minimus Smock (right, 5 ounces, $200) is made of Pertex Shield Plus. It will also be available as the Minimus Jacket (7.6 ounces, $239). The Minimus Pant will weigh 4.4 ounces and cost $165. Many hikers prefer a full height front zipper, but I personally like the smock design. Pertex Shield Plus is a polyurethane laminate claimed to be more breathable (20,000 mm waterproofness, 25,000 MVTR breathability) than comparable products, approaching the breathability of eVent.
These two jackets represent two contrasting philosophies regarding rainwear. Behind the SD AirShell is the philosophy “By their very nature, W/B shells offer limited breathability… you’ll slowly get wet from the inside out. That’s why the Cloud Airshell is designed to be worn only when it rains”. Behind the Montane Minimus, made of Pertex’s most breathable fabric Shield Plus, is the philosophy: a W/B jacket extends your comfort range, wear it as an outer shell to retain warmth and deflect wind, and wear it in the rain for greater comfort in damp conditions. Bottom line, the rainwear you choose depends on which philosophy you believe in.
Thermal Regulation. Another noticeable trend is the expanding use of thermal enhancement technologies to all sorts of outdoor garments – socks, baselayers, midlayers, and shells. These materials, incorporated into the fibers or fabrics, or printed on the lining of a jacket, generate heat, store heat, reflect body heat, regulate temperature, cool you down, etc. Sometimes heat is simply called “energy” and the spin takes on metaphysical overtones. An example is Celliant technology: “Celliant is a technology that modifies visible and infrared light, recycling them into energy that the body can use more effectively. When Celliant is worn as clothing, or placed near the body (like in a bed liner or a blanket), it redirects this recycled energy back to the body increasing blood flow and tissue oxygen levels.” An example application is the new Point6 Pulse sock collection for fall 2013; I was told that Celliant consists of 13 different minerals that are applied to polyester yarn, which is in turn spun with merino wool yarn into the socks. It traps heat and releases it later. Other manufacturers, notably Columbia, ThermoLite, Under Armour, 180s, and Terramar are using proprietary technologies of their own. I’m not saying that these technologies don’t work, but in some cases their claims are protecting us from understanding the basic physics and chemistry, so it’s difficult to evaluate them.
The same story applies to moisture transfer enhancers. An example is Cocona, which is “natural active particles that have micro porous structures, that are incorporated into fibers, fabrics, polymers, and films. Cocona Active Particles have billions of micropores that create an enormous surface area. These Active Particles attract humidity vapor and absorb your body heat. This accelerates evaporation and breathability for maximum human performance and comfort.” Cocona functions like the desiccant pack included with many products; it sucks up moisture inside the package and releases it when it’s heated, which rejuvenates the pack to absorb more moisture. At the winter 2013 OR show, Cocona was promoting their Cocona Active Drying System based on their recent discovery that incorporating Cocona technology into apparel layers (photo) will increase the overall ability of the system to evaporate moisture, enhance clo by 50%, and extend the comfort range. The upshot is that we may see Cocona in more garments besides baselayers. Another example is Columbia’s Omni-Wick-Evap, which is a substance printed on the lining of a waterproof-breathable jacket. The claim is “Omni-Wick EVAP’s special compound disperses moisture across a broad surface area for accelerated evaporation. The result is that you’re dry before you even know you’re sweating.” These performance enhancers (and others not mentioned here) are actually better explained and easier to understand than many of the temperature regulation technologies, but it will take lots of time-in-use to determine if they make a detectable difference.
Baselayers are getting packed with more and more technology, not to mention attractive styling. Since they are next-to-skin they are a very important garment in any aerobic endeavor and the foundation component of any layering system. Their primary purpose is wicking and warmth, and there are many ways to attain and enhance those objectives. First, they are constructed of many different fibers, combinations of fibers, and different thicknesses and weaves. They range from simple and inexpensive such as the Polarmax baselayers in the photo to ones that are body-mapped using different fibers and weaves in different body zones. Baselayers are also a perfect candidate for the technologies described under the previous two photos. Examples for fall 2013 are Terramar’s ClimaSense line, which will consist of four levels of baselayers for different applications; and The North Face’s Thermo 3D line, which incorporates their FlashDry moisture transfer enhancer plus body mapping. Overall, baselayers are not just polyester or merino wool anymore; rather they’re hybrids and laminates of different fibers combined with the wonders of chemistry to make them perform better.
A breakthrough announced by OutDry is a waterproof backpack, scheduled to hit the market in 2014. Presently a “waterproof backpack” is simply a drybag with shoulder straps added; and it typically does not carry very well and is cumbersome to access items on the inside. OutDry has developed a method to laminate its proprietary membrane to the inside of a backpack, making it waterproof the same as current OutDry footwear and handwear. The first products will be OutDry Mountain Hardwear backpacks with volumes of 105 and 70 liters in spring 2014. OutDry (owned by Columbia, as is Mountain Hardwear) says it will make the liner weight neutral and it will add about $20 to the cost of the backpack. There is a real need for a waterproof backpack, especially in the Pacific Northwest, and it will eliminate the need for a pack cover which really restricts pack access while hiking in the rain. Note that only the main pack compartment will be waterproof, they do not plan to add the membrane to the top cap and exterior pockets.
Finally a heat-exchanger cooking system for Esbit or alcohol fuels. At the Industrial Revolution booth I found the Esbit/Alcohol Stove and Cookset with Heat Exchanger (10.9 ounces, $70), which is an integrated cooking system consisting of a 950 ml anodized heat-exchanger aluminum pot with lid and grip, pot stand, and alcohol burner. It’s claimed to reduce boil time and fuel consumption by 30 percent. Everything fits inside the pot for packing, and a mesh carry bag is included. The weight can be reduced a bit if you substitute an aluminum alcohol burner for the included brass burner, however the included Trangia-type burner does have a nice simmer control feature and you can store excess alcohol in the burner rather than having to burn it out.
The Steripen Ultra (5 ounces, $99) for fall 2013 is the latest technology from Steripen. The new UV water purifier has a built-in Lithium battery that recharges via USP cable or A/C wall adapter. The tapered end allows treatment in any bottle. The Ultra treats one liter of water in 90 seconds.
The Headsweats Super Duty Headband is made of Eventure Stretch fabric which stretches to fit almost any head. With a triple layer of their proprietary terry fabric sandwiched within, the Super Duty will handle the heaviest perspiration days. MSRP is $18.