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Outerwear Update

Outfitter
posted: 11/04/2002

Before you shell out for a new ski shell, get smart about the newest fabric technologies.

Oh, don't get grouchy thinking you're about to read an unsexy article about boring textiles. Clothing technology is the hot topic in the outdoor-sports world these days. The ado is about major developments in fabrics used in conventional layering systems (think "hard-shell" outerwear) and the emergence of a whole new way to dress for the cold: "soft shell."

A hard-shell system (base layer, insulator, and weatherproof shell) still makes sense for skiers -- it's weatherproof, and the individual components can be worn year-round. And with recent innovations in shell-fabric technology, this outerwear option is better than ever. But more and more winter athletes are discovering lightweight, highly breathable garments made from cutting-edge fabrics (they can be anything from laminated fleece to stretch-woven nylon) that work as base layer, light insulator, and weather protection, all in one. These soft-shell pieces work in a surprisingly wide temperature range and repel all but the wettest snow.

Hard shell and soft shell are the basic concepts, but they overlap, and the variations within them are limitless: A windproof fleece can serve as outerwear on dry days or as an insulator under a lightweight wind shirt, for instance. The only rule is choose what works best for you, the way you ski, and the conditions you ski in. The following overview of new fabric technologies should help you sort through the exciting options.

1. TECHNICAL SHELL FABRICS
The crux of a hard-shell system is the outer layer, which protects the rest of the system (and you) from weather while managing your inner climate as well. Tall order? Shell fabrics have taken a high-tech step forward, and the result is materials that range from superbreathable to ultralight to brainier than your average 10th grader.

News from Gore-Tex
Nutshell: New Gore-Tex XCR (for "extended comfort range") is said to be 25 percent more breathable than classic Gore-Tex, while retaining the venerable original's noted durable waterproofness.
Get it if you: Sweat a lot; ski from first to last chair no matter what the weather; want a durable shell for everything from skiing to trekking.
Drawbacks: You'll pay top dollar.
Find it in: Patagonia Ice Nine jacket, Arc'teryx Theta AR jacket and SK pant, Schoffel Kinetic jacket, Sierra Designs Annapurna parka, The North Face Mountain Light jacket.

Doubly Waterproof
Nutshell: Triplepoint Ceramic with Dry Yarn technology uses yarn that is waterproofed before being woven into fabric, then the whole fabric is waterproofed again. Because no laminate is used, garments are lighter. The near-permanent level of water phobia allows the fabric to maintain its breathability since "wet out," or water saturation, is unlikely to occur.
Get it if you: Want bombproof protection at a great price.
Drawbacks: Not as superbreathable as some of the other new fabrics.
Find it in: Lowe Alpine Flash jacket.

Lighter and Faster
Nutshell: Introduced last season but improved for this year, Gore-Tex PacLite epitomizes lightweight packability. A slightly raised dot pattern protects the waterproof-breathable membrane in place of the traditional -- and heavier -- tricot lining, making PacLite 15 percent lighter than traditional Gore-Tex.
Get it if you: Want a lightweight shell that compresses easily for stowing in a pack without sacrificing any waterproofness or breathability.
Drawbacks: Slightly less durable than other Gore-Tex.
Find it in: L.L. Bean Ultralight Interchange parka,Moonstone Particle jacketnd pant.

New Millennium Wind Shirts
Nutshell: Unlike the groovy but saunalike wind shirts of old, today's use fabrics saturated with a windproof, water-repellent, and highly breathable polymer. This internal fabric treatment, as opposed to a laminate or coating, is permanent and does not affect the feel of the fabric. Includes Epic, used by L.L. Bean, and proprietary encap-sulated fabrics.
Get it if you: Like a featherweight shell; don't need full waterproofness.
Drawbacks: Might seem a bit skimpy on wet, frigid days.
Find it in: L.L. Bean Ridge Runner jacket, Marmot Vindi windshirt.

2. STRETCH FABRICS
The lines between the categories (remember hard sell vs. soft shell?) begin to blur here. A few manufacturers are making waterproof-breathable shells that stretch -- straddling the fence between hard and soft -- and new applications for high-tech stretch-wovens create extremely versatile garments that function alone or as layering pieces.

Smart Stretch Laminates
Nutshell: These fabrics have a lot of different names, but all consist of a three-layer construction that adjusts to the microclimate between you and your jacket. The more you sweat, the more the fabric allows perspiration to evaporate, while still keeping outside moisture at bay. And when combined with a stretch-woven fabric, the result is a closer-fitting yet more comfortable waterproof-breathable garment.
Get it if you: Go through a lot of temperature changes in a day of skiing; place a premium on unrestricted movement.
Drawbacks: Performance can vary depending on what kind of outer fabric the laminate is bonded to.
Find it in: Jagged Edge Telluride Mountain jacket and bib, Marmot Armstrong Stretch jacket, Isis Valkyrie jacket and pant, Burton Tactic 4/2 jacket and pant, Cloudveil Snaz jacket.

Way Beyond Stretch Pants
Nutshell: Stretch-wovens are lightweight, breathable, comfortable, moisture-regulating, wind- and water-resistant, and quick-drying fabrics that work well on their own or under a shell when the precip picks up. Most are made by the Swiss textile mill Schoeller.
Get it if you: Backcountry or cross-country ski. Stretch-wovens really shine in the backcountry because they breathe so well and dry quickly.
Drawbacks: Expensive.
Find it in: Cloudveil Ice Floe jacket, Schoffel Anti-Gravity pant.

3. ENGINEERED FLEECEA herd of new high-performance fleece and pile fabrics are finding their way into technical garments, relegating ordinary fleece to the "stadium wear" racks of department stores. The distinguishing feature of all the new überfleece is an "engineered" quality -- constructions that incorporate wind- and water-resistant properties to deliver vastly superior protection against intermittent storms, dry snow, and, especially, cutting winds. These materials are the primary raw materials in "soft shells," and although they do not replace full-on waterproof-breathable shells for batten-down-the-hatches blizzards, they can one-up traditional sweaters and bulky shells on many of your ski days.

High-Tech Sheep
Nutshell: Windproof pile is the warmest form of engineered fleece. It also has one of the coolest looks, and functions well as mountain-town street wear. Pile fabrics are inherently highly breathable but drafty, which is offset here by the presence of a wind-resistant membrane.
Get it if you: Go for warmth over versatility; consider coziness a great virtue.
Drawbacks: These are the least shell-like of all of the fabrics; take a dive into a snow bank and you'll surface looking like a snowman.
Find it in: Patagonia Retro-X jacket, Mountain Hardwear Windshear jacket.

Wind-Resistant Fleece
Nutshell: These popular fabrics combine the insulating properties of fleece with wind protection. Warmer than regular fleece, they can be worn alone to cut the wind or under a shell when the powder gets deep. Most achieve windproof-ness via a laminate sandwiched between layers of fleece -- think Gore Windstopper and Polartec Windbloc and Windbloc ACT (enhanced breathability and moisture transport). A new, unlaminated fabric, Polartec WindPro, is very densely woven for increased wind blocking but retains more of the softness and breathability of regular fleece.
Get it if you: Want a versatile workaday garment to form the backbone of your ski wardrobe.
Drawbacks: Some laminated versions can feel a bit boardy or stiff and are not as breathable as pure fleece.
Find it in: Windstopper: Mountain Hardwear Windstopper Tech sweater. Windbloc: Jagged Edge Cold Mountain jacket. Windbloc ACT: Wild Roses Gokyo Rose jacket, Lowe Alpine Ascent jacket. WindPro: Obermeyer WindPro jacket.

Insulated Stretch-Wovens
Nutshell: By combining a fleecy interior fabric, a wind-blocking barrier, and a smooth, superdurable stretch-woven "shell," this category epitomizes the highest-performance fabrics available and the future of engineered soft shells. Ideal for wetter, windier conditions and dynamic sports like skiing, you'll be seeing a lot more garments made from fabrics such as Malden Mills' Polartec with Powershield.
Get it if you: Like to be on the cutting edge; want a sleek, all-in-one garment.
Drawbacks: Garments built of these fabrics tend to come with slender cuts and daunting price tags.
Find it in: Arc'teryx Gamma SV jacket and bib.



COMPANY INFO:
Arc'teryx: 800-985-6681; www.arcteryx.com
Burton: 800-881-3138; www.burton.com
Cloudveil: 888-763-5969; www.cloudveil.com
Isis: 802-862-3351; www.isisforwomen.com
Jagged Edge: 800-926-0159; www.jaggededge.com
L.L. Bean: 800-441-5713; www.llbean.com
Lowe Alpine: 800-366-0223; www.lowealpine.com
Marmot: 707-544-4590; www.marmot.com
Moonstone: 800-390-3312; www.moonstone.com
Mountain Hardwear: 800-559-6700; www.mountainhardwear.com
Obermeyer: 800-525-4203; www.obermeyer.com
Patagonia: 800-638-6464; www.patagonia.com
Schöffel: 800-754-8735; www.schoffel.com
Sierra Designs: 800-635-0461; www.sierradesigns.com
The North Face: 800-535-3331; www.thenorthface.com
Wild Roses: 206-467-8197; www.orgear.com

an.
Find it in: Patagonia Retro-X jacket, Mountain Hardwear Windshear jacket.

Wind-Resistant Fleece
Nutshell: These popular fabrics combine the insulating properties of fleece with wind protection. Warmer than regular fleece, they can be worn alone to cut the wind or under a shell when the powder gets deep. Most achieve windproof-ness via a laminate sandwiched between layers of fleece -- think Gore Windstopper and Polartec Windbloc and Windbloc ACT (enhanced breathability and moisture transport). A new, unlaminated fabric, Polartec WindPro, is very densely woven for increased wind blocking but retains more of the softness and breathability of regular fleece.
Get it if you: Want a versatile workaday garment to form the backbone of your ski wardrobe.
Drawbacks: Some laminated versions can feel a bit boardy or stiff and are not as breathable as pure fleece.
Find it in: Windstopper: Mountain Hardwear Windstopper Tech sweater. Windbloc: Jagged Edge Cold Mountain jacket. Windbloc ACT: Wild Roses Gokyo Rose jacket, Lowe Alpine Ascent jacket. WindPro: Obermeyer WindPro jacket.

Insulated Stretch-Wovens
Nutshell: By combining a fleecy interior fabric, a wind-blocking barrier, and a smooth, superdurable stretch-woven "shell," this category epitomizes the highest-performance fabrics available and the future of engineered soft shells. Ideal for wetter, windier conditions and dynamic sports like skiing, you'll be seeing a lot more garments made from fabrics such as Malden Mills' Polartec with Powershield.
Get it if you: Like to be on the cutting edge; want a sleek, all-in-one garment.
Drawbacks: Garments built of these fabrics tend to come with slender cuts and daunting price tags.
Find it in: Arc'teryx Gamma SV jacket and bib.



COMPANY INFO:
Arc'teryx: 800-985-6681; www.arcteryx.com
Burton: 800-881-3138; www.burton.com
Cloudveil: 888-763-5969; www.cloudveil.com
Isis: 802-862-3351; www.isisforwomen.com
Jagged Edge: 800-926-0159; www.jaggededge.com
L.L. Bean: 800-441-5713; www.llbean.com
Lowe Alpine: 800-366-0223; www.lowealpine.com
Marmot: 707-544-4590; www.marmot.com
Moonstone: 800-390-3312; www.moonstone.com
Mountain Hardwear: 800-559-6700; www.mountainhardwear.com
Obermeyer: 800-525-4203; www.obermeyer.com
Patagonia: 800-638-6464; www.patagonia.com
Schöffel: 800-754-8735; www.schoffel.com
Sierra Designs: 800-635-0461; www.sierradesigns.com
The North Face: 800-535-3331; www.thenorthface.com
Wild Roses: 206-467-8197; www.orgear.com

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