Founded in the Pacific Northwest, Outdoor Research (www.outdoorresearch.com) has primarily focused on what it knows best – making outdoor accessories and apparel suited staying comfortable in the region's typically cold and wet conditions.
But as the 30-year-old brand continues to expand (read the June 2011 SNEWS story on Outdoor Research's growth goals), it’s looking beyond its damp and chilly comfort zone with the introduction of additional products geared to perform in cold and dry environments, such as in much of the Mountain West and Alaska.
The push came from Outdoor Research’s test team and brand ambassadors, said Jordan Wand, who heads up the company’s product development. “We were talking about a membrane product, and someone said ‘I’d love to have that, but put it on a diet – it has to be lightened up, still warm, but as breathable as possible.’”
Wand said the brand’s solutions in the past have been layering and mechanical venting when it comes to warmth and breathability. “We heard loud and clear that those products work great here in the Pacific Northwest, but there was a whole other opportunity out there."
SNEWS recently got a tour of the Seattle-based operation with a first-look of some its gear for fall 2012, including those new items intended for cold and dry climates.
Highlighting the list is the company’s new men’s Lodestar Jacket (MSRP $450; photo, right) and Pants (MSRP $399), for which Outdoor Research is one of two brands (the North Face being the other) partnering with Polartec to debut a new version of Polartec Power Shield for fall 2012. The fabric and insulation is made of a high-loft grid fleece back with a tightly woven soft shell front said to boost breathability, while maintaining resistance to wind (allegedly blocking 98 percent) and weather, and claiming to be 25 percent warmer and lighter than previous Power Shield versions. That’s coupled with Polartec Power Shield Pro, another soft shell fabric, on the hood and shoulders.
For fall 2012, Outdoor Research also will debut its men’s Powerhouse Hoody (MSRP $225), a Polartec Wind Pro windproof and weather-resistant jacket, and its men’s and women’s Incandescent Hoody (MSRP $325; photo left) an 800-fill-power down jacket with a Pertex Quantum 10-denier shell.
And it’s not just outerwear where company officials said they see opportunity to serve consumers in cold and dry environments – Outdoor Research will introduce new accessories along the same theory. One example for fall 2012 is the men’s and women’s Luminary Glove (MSRP $99; photo, right), a Gore-Tex Windstopper product with a removable fleece liner. The latter was a key demand from athletes, Wand said, as they wanted a more breathable glove (even at the sacrifice of a little less weather protection), with a removable liner for rapid drying if it did get wet.
While the move into products for more arid environments is a notable step for Outdoor Research, the company isn’t entering an empty field – it’s a competitive market, Wand admitted. Fellow brands The North Face, Patagonia, Marmot and many others have their own take on the category.
“It’s more challenging than just making a waterproof jacket,” Wand said. “It’s about finding that sweet spot of warmth and protection, but not so much that it impedes breathability. If the fabrics are too densely woven, the breathability decreases. Should we throw some pit zips in there? No, that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The foray into the product category is just one area of expansion for Outdoor Research. Wand told SNEWS the company’s apparel line will grow 64 percent in fall 2012, and its accessory line will grow 34 percent.
-- David Clucas