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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market '05 Trends: Technical outerwear and apparel

With technical outerwear and apparel, construction techniques are generating the most buzz, as opposed to new materials. Most of the major brands have created clothing using "body mapping," and the trend toward welded construction continues to pick up steam.

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The SNEWS® team of editors powered by caffeine, chocolate and beer (not necessarily in that order, ducked and weaved around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We’re only covering product that stood out to us, so if you’re not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on caffeine to see you, we didn’t think your product stood out sufficiently, or we started drinking beer too early in the afternoon — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on trends and new products for technical outerwear and apparel:

Much of the buzz these days centers on construction techniques instead of new materials. We started to see this last winter as “body mapping” — selective knitting for better warmth or ventilation in specific regions — began to takeoff. Now, most of the major brands are showing some form of body-mapped thermal or cooling clothing.

Likewise, the trend toward welded seams, which started as a whisper, has grown to a gentle roar as more clothing and pack companies explore all the new construction possibilities. Seamless outer shells were everywhere. There is little doubt that welding is the next big change in outdoor manufacturing techniques. We’re also seeing quite clearly that the lines of separation between lifestyle apparel, which used to mean cotton and fashionable fabric blends, and tech, which used to mean functional but certainly not fashionable, have blurred almost beyond distinction.

On the women’s side, we have begun to notice that even the technical apparel is getting sexier, and designers seem to be having more fun. Also interesting is that what was once termed a “women’s” category is no longer an accurate categorization as manufacturers are increasingly breaking technical lines into segments that serve a broader range of body types and personal preferences, from twenty something climber babes to more mature women who prefer to reveal less of their stomach and legs. Despite all the positive moves though, can we ask the industry for a little creativity on product names? Frankly, if we see one more product called the Luna or the Venus, we’ll find someway to boot those in charge of product names to Mars!

Enough with the generalities and on with the companies and products that our editors noticed.

Arc’teryx –Arc’teryx did introduce a noteworthy windshell. The Squamish anorak (MSRP $139) is made of ripstop nylon fabric that has mechanical stretch for better freedom of movement. It’s a tad heavier — if you can call 4.6 ounces heavy — than a few other competing shells, but still stuffs into its own pocket. The hood is helmet-compatible and the cut is long enough to cover your butt.

Clima Wear — Tucked away in the corner of the pavilion, Clima Wear was offering base layers paired with breathable high-tech stretch fabrics and engineered fit and flat seams. A bit sci-fi-like with areas of the pieces highlighted in different coloring shades, they come in a soy blend and a polypro blend in men’s and women’s sizing. Clima Wear has tried to think of everything with smooth, longer cuffs to avoid pressure points and longer cut tops for better coverage in cold climates.

— While Cloudveil got its start as a technical clothing line for backcountry skiers, their summer collection largely consists of apparel better suited to coffee shops than mountain hikes — not that this is a bad thing. However, the new waterproof/breathable Zorro Jacket is a lighter version of the existing price-point Drizzle Jacket. The Drizzle Pant has been replaced by the Zorro Pant, which has a lighter fabric and shorter side zippers. The new Cache Creek Jacket is a polyester ripstop shell with a brushed tricot lining, a back vent, and a zippered back pocket — a decent aerobic piece.

GoLite — GoLite has focused on its core products for the adventure racing and fast packing market. The Nitro Wind Jacket (MSRP $100) is lightweight ripstop nylon with 14 percent Lycra for freedom of movement. Features include a rear vent and self stow pocket. Also introduced last fall is the Echo Jacket (MSRP $130) made with 2-layer Gore WindStopper for better protection on nasty days. The Gore-Tex Paclite Phantom Jacket (MSRP $200) remains in the line as the only ultralight rain shell; new colors but otherwise the same.

Ground — The bold styling is certainly what makes this technical clothing line stand out. And the continued reliance on eVENT fabrics in the face of the industry-wide Gore-Tex juggernaut place Ground in a distinct minority. Much of the fall line carries over to spring but some of the new pieces use the latest Schoeller fabrics with the self-cleaning nano finish. The Hard Place Jacket for men and women is mostly WB-400 with Power Stretch under the arms; a nice technical soft shell. The Pinnacle Pant and Short (men’s only) plus the Bolder Shorts (both sexes) all use 7-ounce Dryskin, while the Feather Stretch Pant and Short (men’s and women’s) both use 6.6-ounce Dryskin.

Helly Hansen — Helly Hansen’s Venus jacket marries perforated venting with lightweight performance. It’s a full-zip 1.9-ounce wind jacket with laser-cut air vents under the arms on both sides of pit seams instead of pit zips. Since many companies touted compactness by showing garments that stuffed into beer glasses, Nalgene bottles and more, we can attest that this one definitely fits into a shot glass. In the miscellaneous category, Helly Hansen’s Women’s Rigging Coat (MSRP $600) caught our eye. First, Helly Hansen had it prominently displayed at the front of their booth. Second, well, it’s very, very unique in a world of waterproof breathable shell sameness. Heavily insulated and furry on the inside, this calf-length jacket reminds us of the long nylon shelled pile jackets we used to wear when we were on the swim team, or maybe something worn by football coaches in cold weather. It’s got a built-in wind meter that displays wind speed and air temperature. It’s for the kite boarders out there so they can stay warm while untangling their lines, or soccer moms who want to look official and have data to back up their claims of cold weather.

Icebreaker — Another new look noted by the SNEWS® staff was perforated patterns punched into fabric for increased breathability. Icebreaker introduced their athletic cut GT line of superfine merino with perforation in the back panel for breathability and stretch. For women, Icebreaker offers the Track Singlet tank (MSRP $85), and the Elite T (MSRP $89).

Isis — A growing trend in the women’s market is putting the “fun” back in functional. Isis’ Calamity Jane waterproof chaps topped this category. These ripstop nylon waterproof rain chaps (MSRP MSRP $59) come in a rainbow of colors from honeydew to sangria. They have articulated knees, adjustable gusset cuffs and an adjustable belt that will keep women comfortable and help them avoid foul weather calamities on the trail. “Where we’re going is technical fashion,” said Carolyn Cooke, Isis co-founder. “What we’re hearing from our retailers is that the price value equation is getting sharper, and we need to have one product that fit more categories.”

Lowe Alpine — Over the past couple of decades, there have been many types of bicomponent underwear fabrics on the market. The newest underwear from Lowe features hydrophobic polypro on the inner surface and hydrophilic polyester (with silver for odor prevention) on the outer surface. Combined with the mechanical wicking action of two fiber thicknesses (thick next to the skin, and thin away from the skin) the Dual Fiber Dryflo just may outperform all the other performance underwear. However, it will only be available in tops next summer (MSRP $50 – $80).

While the cycling world has offered jackets with zip-off sleeves for ages, a windshell that converts to a vest is still rare in the outdoor market. The Airspeed Jacket (MSRP $100, men’s and women’s) offers this feature along with three pockets (one is a stuff sack) and reflective trim. It will be a versatile multi-sport piece for cool weather.

Just about everybody now offers softshell pants for mountain pursuits. What sets the Alpine Ascent Pant (MSRP $140) apart are three different inseams (short, regular and long) and removable kneepads that are great for ice climbing or just kneeling in the snow. Other niceties include reinforcements in high abrasion areas, ankle zips and the critical reverse fly (a necessity for any real climbing pant that is worn with a harness). Unfortunately, Lowe decided that women don’t need technical pants.

Macpac — From down-under comes wool underwear that addresses the concerns some folks have with merino’s low abrasion resistance and laundering care requirements. The Macpac Interwool collection solves these issues by using about 25-percent merino on the inner surface with about 70-percent polyester on the outer surface. The rest is Lycra, and the actual content depends on the application. There are three different fabric weights used for eight styles for men and six for women. The medium-weight Mountain Warmth Zip will retail for $95, while a more sophisticated Combo version will sell for $115, so these products should compete well with other high-end underwear on the market. The Macpac line of hard and soft shells is certainly worth considering for stores who want to offer well-detailed products that have a good technical story in mid- to high-end price-points.

Mammut — Mammut told us that its new lightweight Blaze waterproof shell packs into a pint glass. Since our pint was already full of beer at the time, we didn’t seek to dunk and demo, so we’ll take the company at its word. Dunking issues aside, we liked the Blaze (13.7 ounces, MSRP $329) as it is a fully-featured hybrid jacket made from Gore-Tex XCR and Paclite, with pit zips, a brushed chin protector, guerilla tape around the cordlocks and Gore Raptor stretch panels for ease of movement.

Marmot — The final hole in the Precip collection of inexpensive waterproof/breathable shells has been filled by the Essence Anorak. This is a no-frills lightweight pullover version of the existing jacket made with the updated version of the original Precip coating. At just 7 ounces, the Essence indeed distills a shell down to the basics; the only luxury is a chest pocket which, at first glance, we wish also functioned as a stuff sack.

Considering the company’s massive shift to proprietary fabrics for soft shells this winter, the new Dolomite Pants (men’s and women’s) are a bit of a surprise since they remain traditional and are made with Schoeller Dynamic.

For the athletically inclined, the new Phaser Jacket is essentially Marmot’s lightest soft shell, though the company doesn’t group it with the others. With a sleek fit, reflective trim and zippered rear pockets, this is geared towards cycling, but will be useful for other sports as well.

MontBell — The company that was mastering the ultralight concept before most had even heard of it continues to offer innovative streamlined products. Since nearly all of its clothing is cool-weather oriented and is introduced at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, the summer line remained essentially the same — traditionally excellent in all areas with only minor tweaks.

Mountain Hardwear — In outerwear, there is a new Cohesion Jacket (MSRP $140, men’s and women’s) that replaces the enRoute Jacket; the Cohesion is 6 ounces lighter, 40-percent more breathable, and $20 less expensive. Also new is the Cohesion Pant (MSRP $110), which has three-quarter -length side zips and stretch panels at the knees. The Epic Parka is gone, but the Epic Jacket dropped form MSRP $125 to MSRP $100. The men’s Offwidth Jacket (MSRP $95) will now have a women’s version; these are rugged stretch-woven soft shells. The new Trekking Pants (MSRP $135, men’s and women’s) are stretch-woven pants with all the bells and whistles: zip-off gaiters, side vents, scuff guards and numerous pockets. The men’s Alpinist Pant (MSRP $100) is the same fabric without most of the luxuries, but they at least have two zipper pulls on the fly.

Outdoor Research — An alternative to 100-percent merino wool underwear, the new Sequence/Essence Tee and LS Tee (MSRP $35 and MSRP $42, men’s and women’s) are made by blending 88-percent polyester with 12-percent merino into the yarn and then knitting the fabric. (An anti-odor treatment is added.) This reportedly gives a faster drying material with a better feel and wicking than most all-polyester underwear, according to the company. Joining the myriad of other companies making ultralight ripstop wind jackets that stuff into a tiny ball, the Razor Jacket (MSRP $90) adds stretch taffeta panels on the sleeves, shoulders and sides, yet still keeps the weight to 4 ounces. Also catching our editors’ eyes was the Avid, a 5.6-ounce, breathable stretch nylon jacket with mesh panels under the arms and behind the shoulders (MSRP $89).

Patagonia — Beyond the underwear story (see our SNEWS® story, Patagonia wants your used undies —, there’s some other stuff going on in Ventura.

Body mapping comes to the Airus-T (MSRP $46) for men and women. The new Ultra version (MSRP $75, men’s and women’s) has a bit more ventilation but mostly just looks cool. A similar technology is also found in the Variable Knit Capilene and R1.5 Jacket and Pullover.

Patagonia caught our eye with the Grade VI Jacket ($299). It’s a three-layer jacket designed for mountaineering and other burly pursuits, and it barely moves the scales at 9.5 ounces. Patagonia’s Spraymaster Jacket and Pants also grabbed our attention. While they aren’t the absolute lightest offerings in the category, they are garments that make you want to fondle the merchandise. We fondled and found that the Spraymaster Jacket (10 ounces) is a light, short-cut, extremely stretchy knit hardshell that looks and feels like a softshell (MSRP $249). The pants have a drawcord waist and a full side zip, and weigh in at 7.5 ounces (MSRP $190). For those who need something even more burley, yet still light, the all-weather Jetstream jacket (MSRP $200) weighs 13.5 ounces and uses ripstop nylon with stretch panels and welded seams.

— Salomon’s TwinSkin Tank, a women’s-specific running top with an adjustable inner bra and mesh side panels, was another take on perforation technology with perforations in the mesh panels for even more venting (MSRP $45).

Sierra Designs — Sierra Designs’ Isotope waterproof breathable jacket is practically anorexic at 3.2 ounces. This one might pack into a shot glass, or at least a short tumbler. It’s got a drawcord hood and two zip pockets (MSRP $90). To shave even more weight, SD scrapped the hood and called it the Neutron (three ounces, MSRP $75).

Somebody at the company clearly got xtremely carried away with naming the new line of shells for fast sports, giving us the Xtreme Jacket, Xplore Pullover, Xceed Vest, and Xtreme Pant (MSRP $120 – $80). Memo to naming committee: the X-thing is so yesterday. They all feature mechanical-stretch polyester ripstop with a DWR coating (but unsealed seams). The company told us that the garments had passed a rain test.

The North Face — Much of the emphasis at TNF next spring will be on growing its fast-and-light “Flight Series.” The standout technical piece is the DIAD Jacket, a proprietary 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable shell weighing 7 ounces that is made with welded seams and 10mm seam. It has a hood, a single chest pocket (no stuff option), and short pit zippers.

The Amp Hybrid Jacket is a no-flap windshell (3-ounce polyester fabric with stretch panels) for high speed and high output sports like cycling and trail running. The Mosaic Jacket takes away the stretch panels but adds a wicking DriClime lining. The new Prolix Delta Jacket is a stretch-woven shell with mesh under the arms, reflective trim and unique “thumb holes for insulated pulse points.”

As with several other brands, body mapping is now found on several tops for men and women such as the Optimus and Primus T’s — mapping may or may not make much difference in performance, but we have to admit that it looks very cool.