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OR Snow Show

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '08: Technical outerwear trends and product report

The SNEWS® trade show reporting team roamed the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations. Here's our take on trends and new products for Technical Outerwear.

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The SNEWS® trade show reporting team, which was 15 editors strong thanks to the addition of our Backpacker magazine comrades, scampered around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out or you cry, “Uncle.” No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned — we do know you love your company’s product, really. However, we’re only covering product that stood out to us, so if you’re not mentioned we either didn’t think your product stood out sufficiently or we started drinking alcoholic beverages too early in the afternoon to see straight and missed you as a result — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on trends and new products for Technical Outerwear.

A year ago, the snowfall was dismal, and retailers and manufacturers were probably tempted to escape reality and simply curl up in back rooms dreaming of a “happy place.” With copious amounts of both snow and biting cold in late 2007 and early 2008, the apparel department at retail was indeed a happy place, and technical outerwear is reportedly selling briskly across the country. From what we observed at Winter Market, hot products, such as insulation pieces, will remain an emphasis for fall 2008. And you can expect to see the expansion of recent technologies, such as W.L. Gore’s Pro Shell material, plus the growing dominance of PrimaLoft, new takes on soft shells and a few new hybrids.

Though it won’t be sold at wholesale, one of the most significant apparel stories to come out of Winter Market was REI’s new partnership with Event to create REI-branded technical apparel. It’s a big deal because Event is working hard to expand its reach in the outdoor market, and it helps to have a ringing endorsement from REI, undoubtedly one of the more influential players in the U.S. outdoor market. At a press conference announcing the deal, we took a look at the new Shuksan and Kulshan jackets (MSRP $289) and pants (MSRP $229), which will be available for fall 2008. The stuff looked pretty good, and the jackets had well-thought-out details like oversized pockets to hold climbing skins. Also notable, there were no pit zips on the jackets because REI testers claimed that the breathability of Event eliminated the need for vents. It should be noted that by opting for Event with its own brand, REI is in a no-lose situation here, because the retailer is still offering Gore-Tex branded products to its consumers via its many manufacturers sold in its stores and online. Even though this is a low-risk gambit for REI, the announcement underscores the fact that Event is starting to win hearts and minds and score big points in the competition with W.L. Gore — thanks in large part, certainly, to parent GE’s backing.

It will be interesting to see if Event’s increased recognition will pay off for other apparel manufacturers such as Rab. A European company that is trying to get a foothold in the United States, Rab uses Event in its Latok Alpine jacket (MSRP $275), which was introduced to the U.S. market this year.

Pro Shell programs grow

While W.L. Gore potentially faces stiff competition from Event, it is definitely succeeding with its Pro Shell program, and manufacturers are expanding offerings of products that include the durable and breathable material.

Insulated pieces of all types are extremely popular now, and Cloudveil has combined the Pro Shell membrane with PrimaLoft One insulation in its new Hoback jacket (MSRP $495).

Marmot introduced the Troll Wall Pro Shell jacket (MSRP$425) for aggressive skiers and climbers. But the company is also dedicating itself to the ski market, incorporating the membrane into the LaGrave jacket (MSRP $450), which has a modern, on-piste appearance.

Look for more Pro Shell pieces from the usual suspects, such as Mountain Hardwear, which introduced the women’s Adaro parka (MSRP $450) for climbing and mountaineering. The company is also using it in the new Argon Ice pant for men (MSRP $350).

Another trend we’re seeing with shells is the emergence of Schoeller’s c_change material. Basically acting like a thermostat, the c-change membrane adjusts to various conditions to retain and release heat. You’ll find it in Cloudveil’s Koven Plus jacket (MSRP $440).

Another fabric that stood out to us was Sympatex Reflexion, which GoLite built into its new El Diablo R.B. jacket (MSRP $350). Between the inner and outer fabrics of the jacket there is a layer of aluminum that reflects 75 percent of body heat, and is also breathable. We’re definitely anxious to put this technology to the test.

Soft shells going strong

is focusing much of its energy on creating new soft shells. The Gamma SV Hoody (MSRP $350) is a beefed up version of the Gamma MX. Made for alpinists and skiers, it combines Polartec Power Shield High Loft (in the torso and shoulders to retain heat) with Power Shield Blurring (on the sides, arms and hood to reduce bulk).

The company has also combined three types of Windstopper fabric in the new Venta AR jacket (MSRP $299) designed for climbing and skiing on cold, dry days. The Windstopper is taped to make the jacket very water-resistant (well, practically waterproof). For a peek into the future, check out the Fission SL jacket (MSRP $699). Sort of the company’s “concept car,” this Pro Shell jacket has ThermaTek non-quilted insulation laminated to the inner walls to produce a waterproof, insulated garment that weighs 21.6 ounces.

GoLite has added to the growing number of waterproof soft shells with the Gauntlet (MSRP $225). It is constructed with Trinity fabric, which has a polyurethane membrane that is sandwiched between four-way stretch polyester. We were also stoked about GoLite’s new Full-Tilt wind shell (MSRP $100), which has a lining of waffled fleece so you could wear this piece with just a T-shirt for aerobic activities.

Ground introduced three new soft shell jackets made with a proprietary material called Layer Performance Softshell. This has a layer of polyester and Spandex bonded to a lightweight fleece to make it highly weather-resistant and breathable. New pieces with various levels of stretch include the Zenith (MSRP $200), Factor (MSRP $140) and Zuni (MSRP $120).

Helly Hansen is making another push into the outdoor market (yeah, yeah, here we go again) with 20 to 30 products for men and women, including a large collection of down garments and base layers. The company has also launched the Odin soft shell, which is made with Schoeller PCM material. The fabric is designed to regulate temperature, storing heat during high levels of activity, and then releasing heat during less activity or when the temperature falls. Helly is also producing more sustainable products by using recycled fabrics, constructing garments with a proprietary membrane to eliminate PTFE, and eliminating fluorocarbons from its DWR finish.

Marmot reported that its soft shells are selling better than ever, and the company has a dozen new or updated styles. Companies continue to expand their use of welding, and Marmot used it to construct the new Genesis jacket (MSRP $325), which is waterproof, breathable and has four-way stretch.

Other Marmot soft shells that stood out were the hooded Kingpin (MSRP $230), which has an athletic fit and is constructed with Windbloc, and the Andromeda (MSRP $260), another four-way stretch piece that is made with Powershield. Clearly, manufacturers are using a wide variety of fabrics and technologies to create soft shells, and Marmot has even added the Cocona natural antimicrobial technology to its new Janna soft shell for women (MSRP $180).

One product that’s sure to please the ladies is Mountain Hardwear‘s Arnina soft shell (MSRP $240), which is lined with an amazingly soft and plush fleece dubbed Wabbit. This is a fashionable piece with a clean look, yet it’s made with Windstopper and should be very functional.

Speaking of comfy linings, Mountain Hardwear welded fleece to the seat and knees of the new Ascent MCZ pant for men and women (MSRP $220). That should make those long rides on the lift a little less butt-numbing.

From what we heard at the show, the term “hybrid” didn’t pop up near as often as it did over the past couple of seasons. Not that hybrid apparel is going away. Mountain Hardwear introduced the women’s Revelation Jacket (MSRP $330), which blends hard shell and soft shell Conduit materials.

Westcomb has created three new hybrid products, including a jacket, pant and bib. The Flex HX jacket (MSRP $350) uses Event in the shoulders, hood, upper arms and back to protect from weather, while Powershield on the front, sides and bottom portion of the arms provides plenty of stretch for skiing, snowboarding or climbing.

Insulation Pieces

What would a SNEWS® trade show report be without an awful pun? Well, it seems that insulated garments are still hot stuff, and people are warming up to insulated soft shells. Within the insulation category, PrimaLoft has emerged as the dominant synthetic insulation, and The North Face‘s new On-Site jacket (MSRP $299) is just one of several new PrimaLoft pieces that caught our roving team’s eye.

Also, hoody jackets continue to be popular. Arc’Teryx has the new Kappa SV Hoody (MSRP $450), which is suited for extremely cold and windy conditions. It’s constructed with Windstopper and insulated with PrimaLoft Sport.

Marmot is using PrimaLoft Sport in the women’s Allure jacket (MSRP $175). It has an attached hood and side panels made with soft shell material.

Mountain Hardwear introduced at least six insulated pieces for men and six for women. It’s using PrimaLoft One insulation in the men’s Vinson and women’s Destiny soft shell jackets (MSRP $200).

MontBell may have the most insanely light insulated jacket on the market. The new Ex Light Down men’s and women’s jackets (MSRP $160) are made with 900-fill down, and weigh an eye-popping 5.4 ounces. We swear, when we slipped this thing on we couldn’t even tell we were wearing it. Crazy stuff.

An old standby, the 3-in-1 jacket is not only alive and well, but receiving technical upgrades, as evidenced by the new Outdoor Research Metaphor jacket (MSRP $350). It has a Gore-Tex Paclite body (with Pro Shell on the shoulders) and an insulated inner jacket of EnduraLoft, which zips in.

Patagonia built a trick design concept into its Primo Down Jacket for skiing and snowboarding. The jacket is comprised of a three-layer waterproof shell and a 700-fill down liner. The liner is suspended so that air can flow through mesh panels that lie between the liner and the shell. Basically, this aids the jacket’s ability to breathe and keep you from overheating.

Sierra Designs has adjusted its apparel line to be more in sync with its overall brand image, meaning the clothes are built to be high-tech and functional. A good example is the new waterproof/breathable Lava insulated jacket (MSRP $200). It has a host of technical features and sharp design details, such as laser-cut and welded hand pockets. At the same time, Sierra Designs is stressing its efforts to build products that are more sustainable, and the Lava has PrimaLoft Eco insulation and taped seams that are free of PVC.