The emperor’s new jacket: Waterproof/breathable shells for 2014 lighten to feel barely there

See how consumers will stay dry on the trail in 2014.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. 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.

For years, brands Have been trying their best to design shells right out of existence — or at least, to make them feel as invisible as possible.

The latest crop of technical outerwear employs new membrane technologies, barely-there fabrics and stripped-down styles to push even closer to that elusive invisibility.

Marmot lightens things up with its new proprietary technology NanoPro, an air-permeable, microporous fabric available as both a 2.5-layer laminate membrane and a coating version. The membrane, used in the updated Essence Jacket (MSRP $200), “results in lighter shells,” said Brian LaPlante, category merchandising manager for outerwear. “It lets us build a 6-ounce garment. It’s a very big step forward in higher-end performance.” NanoPro coating (Marmot says it’s 40 percent more breathable than previous coatings) appears in the new Spectra Jacket (MSRP $175).

Millet brings new technology to the table as well with the Trident DryEdge 3L (MSRP $300), the brand’s first three-layer shell. It’s touted for its abrasion resistance, light weight and breathability.

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Mammut Ultimate Hoody

Also emphasizing increased breathability and abrasion resistance is Mammut, which introduces an updated line of Gore Windstopper softshells, including the Ultimate Hoody (MSRP $280). The latest iteration of Gore’s popular fabric features a two-tone backing fabric with better elasticity and is currently exclusive to Mammut. Eider lays claim as one of only two brands (Adidas Outdoor is the other) with Gore-Tex Active Shell Knit, a “heathered” version of the lightweight, waterproof/breathable fabric, with the Target Knit Jacket (MSRP $229/$249).

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Rab Xiom Jacket

New Pertex Shield + 3L fabric makes an appearance in Rab’s line at Summer Market in the Atmos Jacket (MSRP $215) and Xiom Jacket and Pants (MSRPs $250/$150); the three-layer membrane allows for the use of lighter fabrics while maintaining durability. And L.L.Beanadds Polartec’s NeoShell to the family for the first time with the Neoshell Jacket (MSRP $249), a minimal, three-layer shell that’s nearly half as light than L.L.Bean’s previous three-layer offerings.

Mountain Hardwear Super Light Plasmic Jacket

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Other brands are sticking with tried-and-true technologies while shaving ounces off their latest shells. The North Face introduces the 7-ounce Verto Storm Jacket (MSRP $199), which features its proprietary HyVent 2.5-layer fabric and saves weight with elastic cuffs and hem. Mountain Hardwear’s Super Light Plasmic Jacket (MSRP $200) weighs in at just 8 ounces, thanks in part to its 15-denier face fabric, and features the company’s waterproof/breathable Dry.Q. EVAP technology. Patagonia goes with Gore-Tex Active Shell in its Leashless Jacket (MSRP $399), a fully featured alpine shell. And Arc’Teryxuses Gore-Tex Paclite to keep the Alpha SL (MSRP $275) to 10.8 ounces (men’s large); part of the brand’s Super Light system, the shell skips extras like pockets.

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Bergans of Norway Air Jacket

Softshells and wind layers push the how-low-can-you-go envelope this season. The Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid(MSRP $125) pairs waterproof Pertex Shield+ fabric on the shoulders and hood with windproof, breathable nylon on the body for a 5.7-ounce piece. Montane introduces a 5.9-ounce, windproof Pertex Microlight Stretch shell with its Shark Jacket (MSRP $144). And Bergans of Norwaybrings its windproof Air Jacket (MSRP $159) down to 3.2 ounces with minimal features and Pertex Quantum GL fabric.

In addition to better breathability and lighter weight, athletes and consumers continue to covet enhanced freedom of movement in their shells. “That’s been a request for a number of years from climbers and mountaineers, and now we’re getting it more and more from casual users,” said Greg Thomsen, managing director for Adidas Outdoor USA. The brandanswers that call with the Terrex Swift Felsfreund Jacket (MSRP $200), a stretchy, waterproof/breathable hardshell featuring its Climaproof Storm fabric.

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Black Diamond BVD Hoody

Mobility also is the name of the game for Black Diamond, which expands its entrance into the world of apparel (the first items debuted at Winter Market 2013) with a line of stretchy softshells. The BVD Hoody (MSRP $199) and BVD Jacket (MSRP $179) sport Schoeller NanoSphere fabric and a streamlined, climbing-oriented fit.

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Columbia EVAP-Change Softshell

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Helly Hansen Loke Jacket

Budget and entry-level shoppers will appreciate another trend this season: a slew of performance shells at wallet-friendly price points. Columbia’s EvaPOURation Jacket rings up at $99 and features OmniTech waterproof/breathable fabric and Omni-Wick EVAP technology; Omni-Wick EVAP also makes an appearance in the EVAP-Change Softshell (MSRP $99), a simple, hoodless design. Merrell’s Resistor Jacket (MSRP $99) uses an “activity-mapping” design that places water-resistant, wicking panels on the shoulders and front. Helly Hansenhits that mark with the Loke Jacket (MSRP $100), which offers 2.5-layer Helly Tech Performance fabric. Outdoor Researchoffers the Horizon Jacket (MSRP $129), a fully featured, 2.5-layer nylon shell, and the Sierra Designs Pack Trench Jacket (MSRP $149) sports a unique feature that allows users to clip their backpack’s hip belt under the shell for better ventilation.

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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 ...read more