Don't sweat it: 2015 outdoor performance apparel keeps moisture moving

A look at what's ahead in performance apparel for summer 2015 at outdoor retail.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 6 – 9. 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.

Outdoor enthusiasts are building up more of a sweat as retailers and brands note the rising popularity of hard and fast aerobic pushes versus multi-day suffer-fests.

Hikers are hitting the Teton Crest Trail in a single day. Trail runners push themselves through 100-mile races. More and more climbers have turned to endurance-style alpine mountaineering to up their ante.

“We’re seeing is this trend toward more done-in-a-day efforts that require different gear,” said Jordan Wand, vice president of market at Outdoor Research.

That gear, specifically performance apparel, needs to be light and quickly deployed. It also needs to regulate body temperature effectively, especially in the variable conditions that come with spring or summer at the alpine level — no one likes the sticky, clammy feeling of wet fabric.

It used to be outdoor athletes found a solution for managing both the elements and sweat through layering. Tomorrow’s pieces for spring/summer 2015 are looking to create all-in-one solutions.

“It’s finding that balance of keeping you warm while keeping you protected, and dealing with different things going on with your body as the efforts change,” Wand said. “Things like venting come into play, things like active insulation come into play, and, as always, there’s protection from weather in general.”

Because these pieces solve problems inherent in a range of outdoor activities — from a jog through the neighborhood to extreme alpinism — the new products also are helping outdoor performance brands become more multi-use and multi-sport.

“There seems to be more and more overlap between the sports and outdoor industries,” said Mark Koppes vice president of products at Icebreaker. “We’re now all fighting for a similar group of customers.” That fight isn’t a bad thing. It continues to open doors to a whole new customer base for outdoor retailers. “We’re all trying to figure out how a product is a bit of an invitation to the industry, and to try new things,” he said.

Merino wool has proven itself as one of the most successful fabrics in the industry thanks to its natural anti-odor and temperature regulating characteristics, but it’s faced an uphill battle in winning over consumers during the warm-weather months. Enter a push this Summer Market for “cool wool,” including several brands turning to merino mixes and blends with other natural-derived elements such as the tree cellulose/pulp found in Tencel, which offers lightweight and cool-to-the-touch properties.

Icebreaker debuts its Cool-lite technology, a merino/Tencel blend with the claim of 40 percent less heat retention than an all-merino piece. Find it in the women’s Spark and men’s Strike short-sleeve shirts, singlets and shorts (MSRPs $90-$100). Meanwhile, Duckworth mixes its American-sourced Helle Rambouillet wool with cellulose and polyester to cool things down in its Vapor Wool 130 T-shirt (MSRP $50).

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As the merino story is proving, sometime the solutions for spring/summer lie in fall/winter. Outdoor Research takes what it’s learned from winter product temperature control for its spring-oriented Allout Jacket (MSRP $209) and pant (MSRP $169). The pieces have hardshell weather protection, but in “soft shell packages” that offer freedom of movement. It employs three-layer, waterproof/breathable Ventia Dry technology and fully sealed seams. And as any backcountry skier or split boarder knows, one of the quickest way to dump heat is through zippered vents. The Allout sports twin-zip vents, located along the side of the jacket and thighs of the pants. The twin zips are also functional — the lower half works as hand pockets while the upper portion vents.

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Montane uses two angled body vents on the Minimus Grand Tour Jacket (MSRP $259) for its own version of adaptable breathability. It places Pertex Shield and Pertex Shield Lite in zoned areas to add durability, and thoughtfully uses micro-taped seams away from pack control zones to help with moving comfort. It weighs in at only 7.6 ounces.

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Brooks-Range Mountaineering aims to amp up breathability and sweat control from the exterior, a key consumer gripe — how many times does donning a jacket feel like putting on a garbage bag? Welcome the Lt. Breeze Jacket (MSRP $149). It has a nylon fabric exterior, typical in lightweight wind protection wear, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts — lined with small, spongy fleece-like diamond dots. Those dots create a barrier with the nylon, keeping the shell from clinging to sweaty skin and help move moisture.

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Mammut’s MTR 201 Tech Shirt (MSRP $89) uses zippers to quickly regulate body temperature, too. But instead of venting, the zippers help transform the piece from long sleeve to short in a cinch. Runners, cyclists, enduro-trekkers and other speed demons don’t have to squander any time stopping to convert the shirt. A zipper runs from the wrist to elbow, with a loop that hooks near the collar, allowing an easy change on the go.

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Columbia builds off its Omni-Freeze Zero technology introduced two years ago, with the updated Freeze Degree II ½ Zip (MSRP $70). The tiny cooling rings — swelling up to provide moisture transfer and cooling when the wearer sweats — and Omni-Wick EVAP — to accelerate wicking — are the same. Added is a new, more aerated fabric to promote breathability. Plus, while the piece is made to hold up in backcountry situations, it now also has reflective details to keep urban runners visible at night.

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--Leia Larsen

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