Gear trends: Shell jackets for 2014/15

Flurry of waterproof/breathable technologies target more sport-specific designs for 2014/15; plus new designs to cut waste and waterproof softshells.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 21 – 25. 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.

Gore-Tex, Polartec NeoShell, , eVent, Dry.Q Elite, Pertex Shield, Dermizax … a laundry list of waterproof/breathable options for hardshells have debuted at Winter Market in the past few years.

This year, brands seem to be settling on their chosen technology tribes and marking differences with design tweaks that appeal to the sport-specific hiker, climber, skier or city dweller.

“We’re seeing air-permeable waterproof materials here to stay,” said Dan Abrams, president of Flylow Gear, which is building on its relationship with Polartec NeoShell in several new ski- and snowboard-oriented shells. The technology in NeoShell, similar that in Mountain Hardwear’s Dry.Q Elite, focuses on promoting air movement and wicking from the moment the layer is put on — rather than waiting for sweat vapor to build up first. Of course there’s the trade-off of just 99.9 percent windproofness — to allow for some of that air exchange — but customers haven’t reported a difference and gladly take the increased breathability, Abrams said.

Flylow worked with NeoShell to lighten its Lab Coat 2.0 (MSRP $480) by 15 percent. The greater breathability, articulated shoulders and more stretch coupled with slimmer style trends allow for a more athletic fit. It has a removable powder skirt, too. For climbers wanting more breathability and articulation, check out Mountain Hardwear’s Dry.Q Elite Torsun Jacket (MSRP $350).

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“As people have gotten more adventuresome, they’re pursuing higher-endurance activities and looking for more performance,” said Mountain Hardwear Global Director of Product Merchandising Robert Fry.

Of course, Gore-Tex still looms large in the waterproof/breathable category, and picks up adopters of its newer Pro and Active technologies at Winter Market. Dynafit employs Gore-Tex Active in its downhill-focused Beast GTX Jacket (MSRP $500), which has a removable powder skirt, vented zippers and several deep pockets.

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Salomon adopts Gore-Tex Pro in its Soulquest BC GTX 3L Jacket (MSRP $600) designed by and for women skiers. And Patagonia does the same in its Women’s PowSlayer Jacket (MSRP $699), which has better placed pockets for a woman and a softer feel to its face fabric. Outdoor Research sticks with the traditional Gore-Tex technology for women — it’s a little quieter than Pro, said Jordan Wand, vice president of marketing — in its Revelation Jacket (MSRP $425), sporting a more matte face to trend away from outgoing shiny styles.

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Black Diamond does what it does best by cleaning up the look of apparel and gear, such as in its Gore-Tex Pro Front Point Shell (MSRP $599), which sports a concealed cord-lock mechanism that is bonded directly to the jacket’s fabric for quick, non-obtrusive adjustments.

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Both Bergans of Norway and Trew Gear turn to Dermizax’s three-layer membrane for rain and snow protection. Trew Gear’s Beast Jacket (MSRP $499) has fun color blocking, articulated sleeves, pack-accessible side vents and plenty of pockets. Speaking of which, pocket positing in shells is shifting to accommodate winter safety gear, said Keith Patterson, vice president, sales and marketing, at Bergans of Norway USA. With backcountry users needing to keep their radios separate from their beacons — to reduce interference — expect more beacon pockets in the pants and cord-friendly pockets for those radios up top, such as in Bergans’ Storen Jacket (MRSP $499).

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There plenty of proprietary players in the waterproof/breathable game as well. Helly Hansen’s Mission Stoke Shell Jacket (MSRP $325) provides waterproof-breathability in its soft, two-way stretch fabric with PrimaLoft fleece on the inside and its H2 Flow circle vents for active days on the slopes. Canada Goose’s Canyon Shell (MSRP $595) sports a slimmer fit. Sierra Designs warms things up but keeps them light at 19 ounces with its 600-fill DriDown Rain Jacket (MSRP $299), which employs a stitch-free waterproof outershell welded directly to the liner with insulation in-between in the core.

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What you weave is what you get. Innovations aren’t always about new materials. Some impressive changes come in way things are made.

Be sure to check out The North Face’s Fuse Uno Jacket (MSRP $399), which is cut from a single piece of three-layer, waterproof/breathable fabric, then folded and stitched together like origami. The construction cuts the amount of seam taping by nearly half, improving protection and reducing weight. And although it’s only one piece of fabric, the material is pre-zone-mapped with varying high-tenacity yarns for durability at the appropriate areas in the finished product.

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There’s huge potential in the breakthrough, said TNF Summit Series Product Director Neil Munro. “We’ll soon get to a point where we can weave the exact shape for every piece of apparel with no cutting waste.”

Finally, It’s one of the holy grails of the oudoor industry: the waterproof softshell.

Sure, sure … you’ve seen attempts before with bulky items that just seem to soak in moisture. And give credit to Polartec for getting closer with increased softness and stretch in its NeoShell material.

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At Winter Market 2014, Outdoor Research takes a stab at the puzzle with a Pertex Shield+ waterproof/breathable sandwiched between a soft, quiet, nylon/spandex softshell face and a grid-fleece backer for warmth and wicking in its men’s and women’s, ski-focused Trickshot Jacket (MSRP $425) and pants (MSRP $350). There’s also a lighter version without the fleece — the Trailbreaker Jacket (MSRP $250) and pant (MSRP $225).

--David Clucas

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