Moving at the speed of sweat: New fabrics enhance jacket breathability for warm-weather activities

Check out the top new outerwear products and trends for 2013 that we encountered at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. 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.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

As the least permeable layer of apparel, technical jackets tend to fail first when active bodies and warm weather overwhelm their breathability. Improving venting without sacrificing weather protection or adding ounces is the crux move for hard and soft shell makers, and new fabrics and designs for 2013 claim to do just that.

When Polartec LLC unveiled waterproof/breathable NeoShell at Winter Market 2010, the air-permeable, polyurethane membrane found an initial niche in winter-weight, technical hard and soft shells. At this year’s Summer Market, several manufacturers are unveiling jackets made with a lighter second-generation NeoShell designed to move and breathe better in hot, humid and aerobic conditions.

Marmot’s Nabu jacket (MSRP $325, photo, right) — for both men and women — is a fully waterproof/breathable, hooded soft shell. It uses a lightweight version of NeoShell that pairs a stretchy nylon face with a grid-based wicking back, a new combination for Polartec. The result is a seam-taped, full-featured, waterproof/breathable soft-shell designed for summer usage. “Our first NeoShell jacket, the Zion back in 2011, was a heavy jacket designed for shoulder season work,” said Jordan Campbell, Marmot’s director of public relations. For three ounces less, Nabu matches the protection of as the Zion and adds better breathability.

Rab applies the same new NeoShell fabric to its Myriad jacket (MSRP $375), a lightweight rain shell designed for warm-weather alpine scrambling. It features 20-denier NeoShell fabric and comes with technical features like a helmet-compatible hood, wired brim, harness and pack-friendly pockets, a high chin-burrowing collar and reflective trim.

Waterproof-breathable protection also gets lighter with new eVent DVL (direct venting lite) technology, a 2.5-layer, air-permeable membrane that employs a protective weave to boost breathability and eliminate the need for a polyurethane coating or backer layer. You’ll see it at Summer Market in Rab’s new Viper jacket (MSRP $260, photo, left), featuring a durable 40D face fabric, a helmet-compatible hood, chest pockets and pit zips.

Outdoor Research sticks with Gore’s Active Shell waterproof/breathable technology in the new Transonic (MRSP $300, photo, right), an 11.9-ounce, minimalist hard shell that offers weather protection for alpine scrambling days. The stream-lined Transonic owes its heritage to Outdoor Research’s first piece made with Active Shell, 2012’s burlier Axiom jacket. The new Alpine GTX hard shell (MSRP $380, photo, left) from Millet uses Gore’s Active Shell Pampero 3L to create a 13-ounce scrambling-ready shell. Large underarm vents enhance breathability, while taped seams and zippers keep it dry.

Mountain Hardwear spans the waterproof breathable spectrum from its three-layer Dry.Q Elite technology in the new Sitzmark Jacket (MSRP $450) with a 40-denier stretchy fabric for rugged adventures, to its 2.5-layer Dry.Q Evap in the new Stretch Capacitor Jacket (MSRP $280) for springtime jaunts. Another proprietary waterproof/breathable technology debut for 2013 is Helly Hansen’s Odin Guiding Light Jacket (MSRP $460), claiming the same waterproofness but increased breathability over previous models in the Odin line.

Sierra Designs, Patagonia and The North Face add shells to their integrated clothing systems for 2013. Sierra Designs’ three-deep jacket lineup includes the highly-breathable but non-waterproof Cloud Windshell (MSRP $119), the minimalist Cloud Airshell (MSRP $125), which incorporates a 2-layer Illusion waterproof/breathable fabric, weighs 4 ounces, and packs down small, and the insulating Cloud Puffy (MSRP $249). (Photos, right: Cloud Windshell, gray; Cloud Airshell, orange; Cloud Puffy, blue)

Patagonia adds more options to its Torrentshell rain shell line, like a pullover (MSRP N/A) and stretch (MSRP N/A) version, and upgrades of helmet-compatible hood, watertight zippers and a slimmer, alpine fit — all which can be paired with waterproof/breathable pants. The Verto Climb kit from The North Face’s Summit Series is designed for big wall climbs and includes the Verto Pro jacket (MSRP $199, photo, left). This windproof/water-resistant hooded shell is made from wispy Pertex Quantum micro-ripstop nylon and includes 10- to 15-denier overlays for friction zones. It weighs 3 ounces and stuffs into its own chest pocket.

When a jacket that earns a B+ in waterproof protection (90 percent impermeability) is good enough, breathability is often better. The Enchainment (MSRP $199, photo, right) by Outdoor Research is one of several new shells at Summer Market that emphasize breathability at the expense of all-weather protection. Designed for climbing and mountaineering with stretchy Schoeller panels in the shoulders and arms, the Enchainment’s tight nylon weave sheds water mechanically instead of with a membrane or DWR finish. Millet designed the Alpine XCelerator (MSRP $200) hard shell with Cocona, a highly breathable and stretchy fabric made with recycled coconut shells. It’s got three pockets, an adjustable hem and weighs 13 ounces.

--Jason Stevenson

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