A number of new and light clothing pieces debuted at Outdoor Retailer this year. As Backpackinglight covered rainwear separately in Lightweight Rainwear 2008: Current Favorites, New Introductions, and New Technologies by Will Reitveld, this article will instead focus on other clothing categories. As the clothing landscape at the show is vast, we’ll take a look at a few of the standout new pieces and technologies. Read on for details on a two-ounce windshirt, a nine-ounce hooded down jacket, lightweight softshell pieces, and exciting new clothing technology.
The Rab Vapor-Rise series of clothing, with a microfleece wicking liner and Pertex Equilibrium shell fabric have been solid-performing winter layers for several years. For spring 2009, they are introducing a new piece called the Vapor-Rise Lite Jacket constructed of a lighter version of the denier-gradient Equilibrium shell and a Powerdry liner. The hoodless jacket features a full zip for ventilation, long sleeves with thumb loops, two chest pockets, and a drop tail. While likely too heavy and warm for summer use, this looks like a fine piece for ski and snowshoe tours. MSRP $125. Weight: 14 ounces.
The Rab Vapor-Rise Lite Jacket.
First shown at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2008, the five down jackets in the Rab Microlight range are made with Pertex Microlight fabric. The warmest of the group is the Microlight Alpine Jacket, which has 140 grams of European 700+ goose down, weighs thirteen ounces, and costs $200. The down is stabilized by horizontal sewn through stitching. The jacket has an attached hood and two side pockets. The Microlight (11 ounces) contains 125 grams of down and costs $180. There is also a Microlight Vest (8 ounces) with 80 grams of down for $175. The Microlights will be available in fall 2008.
The Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket.
Patagonia has released a new series of lightweight, stretch, soft shells - the Traverse series. These are light, tough garments aimed at high speed mountain pursuits. The fabric is 93% polyester (100% recycled) and 7% spandex. The men's line has pants, a jacket, and a pullover. The women's has pants and a jacket. The pants and pullover are particularly attractive as UL garments. The pants are claimed to weigh 8.6 ounces in size men's medium. The pullover is claimed at 9.2 ounces and the jacket is 9.9 ounces, also in men’s medium. MSRP: $100 (jacket) and $75 (pullover). Available in January 2009.
The Patagonia Traverse Jacket.
Yes, you read that right. Backpacking Light is expanding our own line of hiking clothing. This year, the Thorofare Trekking Shirt and Pants join our lightweight Merino Wool baselayer and Cocoon insulated shell garments. The Thorofare pieces are constructed from a durable but very light nylon fabric that balances moisture transportation, wind resistance, and drizzle protection. Intended to be worn as a sole layer in warm weather, the Thorofare Trekking Shirt and Pants can also be layered over wool or synthetic base layers for colder conditions. Weight: 4.6 ounces (130 grams) size medium shirt, 4.0 ounces (113 grams) size medium pants. MSRP: $76.99, shirt or pants. Available August 2008.
Ryan Jordan models the Backpacking Light Thorofare Trekking Shirt and Pants.
Etowah Gear is launching what may be the lightest commercially available windshirt in spring 2009. The Ultra Light Wind Shirt is made from .8 ounces untreated sailcloth that is highly breathable. Intended for summer use, it features an eight-inch neck zip for ventilation, elastic cuffs, and drawstring bottom. The claimed weight is a scant 1.8 ounces (51 grams) in a men’s size large. MSRP: $50.
The 1.8 ounce Etowah Gear Ultra Light Wind Shirt.
Western Mountaineering adds a hooded jacket to complement their Flash Vest. The Flash Jacket saves weight by using stitched-through construction and simple elastic trim on the cuffs, hem, and hood. Still, unlike its extremely spartan sister vest, the new Flash Jacket features an insulated hood and handwarmer pockets. In my opinion, Western Mountaineering makes some of the best handwarmer pockets in the industry - generously down filled on both the inner and outer layers, with no zippers to snag. Garments like their classic Flight Vest are almost worth their weight as handwarmers alone. Stuffed with 3.25 ounces of down, the Flash Jacket still weighs a Backpacking Light verified 8.8 ounces (252 grams) in men’s size medium. MSRP: $260. Available January 2009.
The sub-nine ounce Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket.
Sun hat design is a tricky business. For the, shall we say, follicly challenged, a light colored, breathable crown is a crucial design feature to protect the scalp from sunburn. But, for those who have never considered asking their doctor about Rogaine, a visor-style hat can be much cooler. Yet visors typically don’t provide much side or back coverage.
Enter the Outdoor Research Chameleon Sombrero. Featuring a full 360° stiffened brim, vented UPF 50+ Supplex nylon crown, and removable chin cord, the Chameleon Sombrero appears at first glance to be a pretty competent but typical sun hat. However, one feature sets it apart from its competitors: the crown unsnaps and stows in a pocket located in the rear of the brim, turning the hat into a full-brimmed visor. This lets the user adjust the warmth, ventilation, and sun protection as conditions dictate. It’s on my “must have” list for next summer. Claimed Weight: 2.4 ounces. MSRP $36. Available February 2009.
The versatile Outdoor Research Chameleon Sombrero.
I like wool socks. They provide just the right coefficient of friction against my skin to avoid blisters, a natural anti-funk property to improve my social interaction with fellow hikers, and an absorbency that buffers moisture dissipation from my sweaty feet. But wool has its drawbacks: it’s not as durable as the best synthetic materials, such as nylon; it can be itchy; and it is not well tolerated by persons with a sensitivity to lanolin. Conventional synthetic socks can improve all three of these drawbacks, but typically trade off on durability versus wicking performance and offer little absorbency.
The new “Tri Layer” sock line from Lorpen knits three different types of yarns together to offer wicking, absorbency, and durability. The next-to-skin layer is made from highly surface-wicking Coolmax. The inner layer is made from a natural absorbent fiber called Tencel that is derived from Eucalyptus wood pulp. The exterior layer is made from abrasion-resistant nylon and is concentrated in high-wear areas such as the toe, heel, and shin. The combination of materials potentially promises to be a viable alternative to wool for hiker’s feet. MSRP: $14.99 to $16.99 depending on style. Available spring 2009.
One of the new Lorpen socks featuring Tri Layer Technology.
Anyone who has spent time hiking in bright sunlight on a hot day knows the benefit of light-colored clothing. Surfaces with a high albedo reflect a greater percentage of incoming solar radiation and, as such, absorb less heat energy. For a hiker in the sun, this means that a white hat or shirt is going to be cooler than a black one.
Swiss textile manufacturer Shoeller is introducing a new fabric finish called ColdBlack that while absorbent (dark) in the visible light portion of the spectrum, is reflective in the non-visible infrared portion. Shoeller claims that their new ColdBlack finish on a dark fabric reflects up to 80% of all incoming electromagnetic energy. The ColdBlack finish is planned to be available on their Dryskin and Dynamic fabrics.
Mammut is the first adopter of the new fabric in their Dryskin line of clothing for spring 2009. The Mammut pieces are not particularly lightweight, but the ColdBlack technology has the potential to trickle down to lighter fabrics. In a year or two, you may be able to hike comfortably in the sun while wearing dark clothing instead of white.
I met with Utah-based startup company Klymit at Outdoor Retailer to get a glimpse of their vision of the future of insulation. Klymit has developed a technology based on filling a flexible bladder with noble gases such as Argon. Their system is claimed to be more compressible and provide a higher warmth per thickness ratio than conventional fiber insulations, while allowing the user to adjust the volume of insulation and therefore warmth on the fly.
The adjustable Klymit gas-filled insulation system. Image Courtesy of Klymit.
It varies somewhat with thickness due to the boundary layers and convection cell size, but Argon gas has approximately two-thirds the thermal conductivity of air for a given thickness. Krypton and Xenon have even less. This has been exploited for years in the building market where premium multi-pane windows have been filled with Argon to improve their R-values over air-filled ones. The Klymit gas bladder system is adjustable over a typical thickness range of 0.5 to 10 mm and is claimed to provide two to three times the thermal resistance as an equivalent thickness of conventional high-loft insulation.
Their system uses small gas canisters similar to the carbon dioxide ones used to inflate bicycle tires. This type of canister is already commercially available filled with Argon in the $4 to $5 range for use in the wine market, where partially filled wine bottles can be injected with Argon to reduce oxidation. One of these canisters only provides enough gas to inflate a jacket once or twice, so Klymit is working to produce higher pressure cartridges that will be sufficient for eight to ten inflations. I measured the weight of a prototype valve assembly and Argon cartridge at 3.4 ounces (96 grams). Note that depending on the final application, this weight does not necessarily have to be carried by the user - for example a detachable inflator could be used to pump up a jacket prior to a trip. Once inflated, a jacket is claimed to retain the gas for up to two months.
A prototype Klymit valve and canister assembly.
Klymit plans to license their technology to apparel partners and supply canisters, connectors, and valves to them. They hope to see ultimate end products of footwear, gloves, and jackets. They say that the bladders can be made from a wide array of materials including waterproof/breathable fabrics. Their bladders in the prototype jacket they showed me were RF welded from a material with a PU/ePTFE membrane to provide breathability.
Going into the meeting with Klymit, I had a number of reservations about their technology:
- How could it be breathable and still retain the gas filling?
- Is it going to be heavy with the bladder, valve, and canister components?
- What about punctures?
- How long would a canister last in typical use?
- Why not just use air or inexpensive CO2?
I came away from the meeting much more impressed with the viability of their system. I’m still concerned about the breathability of garments, as even if WPB membranes were used in the bladder fabrics, moisture would still need to pass through two membranes, presumably reducing breathability. Still, I see great potential when used in a variable-insulation vapor barrier garment.
The system was not nearly as heavy as I thought. The inflator assembly weighs only 3.4 ounces, and as mentioned, can be removed in some applications. Even the prototype jacket I saw weighed only 17 ounces (490 grams) despite its bomber, non-lightweight construction. Conceivably, this technology could be used to build a variable insulation lightweight jacket in the twelve-ounce range.
Punctures remain an issue. However, products could be built with well-protected internal bladders and/or have patch kits similar to inflatable sleeping pads. Time will tell if Klymit can develop their technology, establish partnerships, and gain market acceptance. Their core ideas look promising, and I wish them success. I’d be very pleased to be winter hiking in 2010 with a fourteen-ounce Klymit parka that I could hike in all day, then pump up to keep me warm in camp.
A seventeen-ounce variable insulation Klymit Jacket prototype.