Gear trends: 2015/16 Shells

Shells shift to address more active pursuits with greater stretch and breathability. Check out the top products and trends in the category for 2015-16
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 20 – 24. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Next year’s outerwear is getting lighter, slimmer, stretchier and more breathable as consumers demand pieces for more aerobic outdoor pursuits, all-the-while requiring real protection from the elements.

‘Air permeable,’ waterproof/breathable constructions — those that allow for a bit of air exchange without sacrificing any noticeable wind protection — continue to gain popularity, especially in conjunction with face fabrics that sport more stretch.

Check out Marmot’s re-worked Zion Jacket (MSRP $400), in which the brand partnered with Polartec to lighten the air-permeable, waterproof/breathable NeoShell layer by 30 percent. A similar lighter version of NeoShell can be found in Flylow’s Genius Jacket (MSRP $400) and IQ Pant (MSRP $370).

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Greater mobility is another top priority for hardshell designers, and ironically they’re accomplishing it with slimmer silhouettes. Thin is in, and thanks to less insulation bulk below (click here for our insulation category story), consumers don’t feel the need to size-up their shells anymore, said Marmot Outerwear Category Manager Brian La Plante. Brands still want to make sure their designs don’t feel like straight jackets, however, so they’re using a lot more stretch and articulation — replacing the baggy — to allow for a greater range of motion.

The baggy-look is even diminishing among younger consumers, as more of them venture into the backcountry, where carrying lower weights is key, said Dan Fiore, product line manager for Dynafit. The Yotei jacket (MSRP $600) aims to maintain a more youthful look, but cut out some of the baggy and weight with lighter fabrics. New Gore-Tex waterproof/breathable C-Knit is featured here, which is quieter and lighter than Gore-Tex Pro thanks to a circular knit pattern on the inner lining versus the traditional tricot. The Yotei pant/bib (MSRP $549) uses Gore-Tex C-Knit for protection down below, but goes with a detachable softshell bib up top, assuming most skiers will be wearing a jacket if conditions are really nasty. Also taking a hybrid approach to protection, mobility and thermal regulation, Arc’teryx debuts its ProCline collection (targeting “ski alpinists” — those who climb for their fresh-track descents), including the ProCline Comp Jacket, which employs waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex with a softshell fabric, mapped to provide zonal thermal management for the ascent and protection for the descent.

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Adidas Outdoor goes slim with its Terrex Techrock GTX Jacket (MSRP $494), featuring Gore-Tex Pro waterproof/breathable protection, durable no-seam elbows, and a comfy merino-lined face mask. Along with slimmer and stretchier fits, shells are getting noticeable longer cuts for more coverage below. See that in Helly Hansen’s men’s Ridge and women’s Aurora Shell jackets (MSRPs $500/$450), both sporting Helly’s proprietary, there-layer waterproof/breathable membrane.

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Black Diamond takes account of gear/apparel interaction in its Mission Pro Pants (MSRP $549), featuring Gore-Tex Pro and what it calls the “Pieps pocket,” named for its sister avy beacon brand. The pocket is built specifically for beacons with an internal harness and Poron impact-reactive foam for protection of the tech against falls. When not facing backcountry dangers, the pocket serves as a good one for a smartphone. The pants also have offset side venting and strategically placed zips for easy boot-buckle access to switch from ski/walk modes.

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All these better-breathing and stretchier hardshells are cannibalizing the softshell market. What’s left for the category is super lightweight, highly breathable pieces that runners and other outdoor high-aerobic athletes want to throw on and leave on for their cold-weather workouts. Case in point, Rab’s Paradox Pull-on (MSRP $150), which pairs Polartec’s highly-breathable Alpha insulation with a notable lightweight, high-gauge, stretch polyester-knit outer. “So many other softshells have a tough nylon face-fabric with DWR that kill your breathability and range of motion,” said Rab’s U.S. Marketing Manager Jon Frederick. “This piece protects, breathes and moves with you.” In a similar vein, check out Bergans of Norway’s Viul Jacket, an active-oriented softshell made with a Pertex Classic Eco windproof, water-repellent and quick-drying outer paired with a hung merino wool mesh liner that regulates temps on the inside. The piece also features side vents, high mesh front pockets, an extended back panel and reflective details for evening runs.

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The North Face took a cue from a top spring/summer trend — women wearing yoga pants for hiking — and brings the style to the ski slopes with the matchstick-fit, windproof and water-resistant Apex Snoga Pant (MSRP $299). And how bout a running skirt for those chilly days paired with those trendy yoga pants. Swedish brand Skhoop comes to the show with its insulated Gretchen Windstopper Mini Skirt (MSRP $169).

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Whether it’s a new softshell or hardshell, watch for brands to increasingly compare and contrast moisture vapor and air transfer rates to claim superiority for those more active endeavors. Warning: There isn’t a single answer. A highly breathable piece isn’t automatically the best at moving moisture, and vise-versa. All testing methods aren’t equal, either.

Perhaps the biggest change in shells for 2015-16 is one that brands are less excited to talk about. The industry’s top-performing water repellent, DWR is under flak for its man-made chemistry — similar to stuff found in non-stick cookware and anti-stain carpets (click to read our story). The so-called, long-chain (C8) chemistry is so durable, that it’s sticking around in the natural environment, including inside humans, with unknown consequences. In response to this and moves by governments and organizations to ban it, many outdoor brands are switching their water-repellent treatments to shorter chain (C6) chemistries. Still, questions remain whether those replacements are any better — for the environment or the gear’s performance.

The shift could fundamentally change the way shells are designed and constructed, said Westcomb President and Chief Designer Alan Yiu. For example, the brand is switching its shell face fabrics from nylon to tightly woven, high-tenacity polyester because the new C6 DWR sticks better the latter.

Under Armour, Lolë eye skiwear market
Two big names in the athletic and activewear field are at Winter Market to prove they can play out in the cold and snow, too.

Both Under Armour and Lolë debut their first ski apparel lines for 2015-16, with some strong showings.

Under Armour brings the UA Nimbus Shell Jacket (MSRP $600), featuring Gore-Tex Pro waterproof/breathable protection, front-chest zips for venting, and a dedicated goggle pocket with a removable chamois for wiping. There’s also a stretch powder skirt, in-pocket hem adjusters and a snap on/off face liner for those blizzard days.

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There’s Nimbus Bib (MSRP $599), as well, and of special note here, Margaret Mussman, a former competitor in Outdoor Retailer’s 48-hour design competition, Project OR, designed the women’s version. It comes complete with a drop back seat for the female rider — so she, too, can pee in the woods.

Lolë heads to the ski slopes with skiwear for women that boasts high performance and high style, including the Simone One-Piece (MSRP $650) with a form-fitting feminine fit, hand and snow gaiters, mesh vents at the underarms and inseam, and a fashionable belt to keep everything together. The brand also shows its snow-ready Fiona Softshell Pants, Sidonie Bib and Fallon Jacket.

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--David Clucas

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