SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE GEAR REVIEW:

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market: Part III

My last day at Outdoor Retailer was spent considering all the clothing and footwear options. While innovation in trends wasn’t revolutionary – there is an obvious continuance of the push to bring low-profile apparel and minimalist footwear to consumers, development efforts are certainly getting better on the whole non-bulky construction approach to the clothes and shoes we choose to wear whether we are in the outdoors or not.

Icebreaker

Icebreaker's new running wear.

New Zealand-based Icebreaker introduced their new running and outdoor fleece options. All acknowledged that, as adventurers, we don’t want to leave the house feeling any less mobile than our athletic prowess already dictates.

For running they unveiled the GT Quantum line, a 260 weight running jacket (includes hoody and vest options) that is made with their proprietary synthetic material and 3% lycra to keep the form intact during and after activity.

Fleece-style selections include the RealFleece mid-weight jacket made with merino wool (100%) that has a terry-looped interior to trap heat. But their biggest thing, according to the Icebreaker representative, is their Nano, a 320-weight fleece jacket with four-way stretch, water-proofing (that’s right, the rep doused the Nano repeatedly with a squirt gun), stain proofing, and wind-resistant material.

If you are into mountaineering or backcountry skiing and snowboarding, Icebreaker has answered the call of high-endurance enthusiasts in the form of the Carve Zip, a GT-fabric based mid-layer (260 weight) with internal cuffs and an off-center zip that reduces the bulk several layers can make at the neckline. Like Icebreaker’s other apparel products it comes in unique color schemes such as navy with an epic green accent: http://us.icebreaker.com/.

Columbia Sportswear
I had a chance to catch up with Columbia’s Andy Nordhoff and talk about what’s new for spring and fall 2012. In short, Columbia is moving forward with a zonal strategy when it comes cold-weather gear. This means Columbia is taking cues from the body and designing apparel that is warm where it’s critical and breathable when you need it. This falls in line with Columbia’s desire to be the most innovative company in the industry, and why not, this is their eleventh consecutive season bringing new apparel technology to market.

Their new Omni-Wick EVAP is part of this zonal plan (and objective to rule the outdoor world). It uses advanced technology to channel moisture away from the body by broadening the surface area for faster evaporation. (Columbia had a complete lab at the show where I was able to test the Omni-Wick EVAP against ‘another popular wicking technology’ on the market – Omni-Wick EVAP won hands down.) Nordhoff says the characteristic silver dots, indicative of their Omni-Heat technology, will continue to be a key factor in their gear but will be “zoned towards human heat regions.” By combining the technologies, Columbia will use the Omni-Wick EVAP material over areas that cover the body’s high-activity heat zones such as the arm pits and apply the Omni-Heat tell-tale dots at places that need extra warmth, like your core and your knees.

Light-weight and versatile PowerFly Down

Their new product line will include a high-end shell that weighs in at 24 ounces and comes with an interior insulated jacket called the Ultra Change. The exterior of this combo will feature an Omni-Dry shell and the interior will make use of the dots (Omni-Heat) and the Omni-Wick EVAP channeling technology.

Also, Columbia is adding a highly-warm, extremely low-profile down sweater-style parka to its line. The PowerFly Down features their Omni-Heat technology (dots at the core and extremities), a wind cuff at the wrist to keep warmth in, and rip-stop exterior for durability. This will come in a super packable package with two options – a traditional jacket style and a hoody version.

Columbia is also applying its technology – Omni-Heat and TechLite – to expand its endurance footwear offerings and has aspirations to become a four-season shoe manufacturer. They’re using strategically-placed dots in the toe-box and mid-line in the shoe to increase insulation while cutting back on the overall weight. The Ravenous Lite, a minimalist trail runner, is super light and, with TechLite foam, doesn’t sacrifice foot protection. And good news for the ladies, Columbia will be offering a large line of women’s performance footwear, including the Yama. Nordhoff says, “There’s nothing male about this shoe.” He’s right, sort of; the Yama does feature attractive styling in a nicely colored package but it also comes with the Out-Dry coating (keeps you warm and dry), a laminated outer edge (maintains the shoe’s good looks), and low or high-top options. Okay, maybe the last one is more girly than not; we do like choices when it comes to footwear: http://www.columbia.com/.

KEEN
KEEN continues with its “Recess is Back” program that dares us to get outside more. Last year they had 12,000 people pledge to make recess a daily part of their life and this year they are aiming to make the program a part of corporate policy. (My first cheer during my meeting with the Keen rep.)

A few things are new this year for KEEN: they are improving their light hiking shoe offerings by adding insulation and making them waterproof. (Bravo!) Perfect for snowshoeing and winter endurance applications. This includes their award-winning Alamosa, the Snowden and the men’s Incline slip-on.

KEEN has also included a few new choices for lifestyle boot options for women. (“Woot! Woot!” I cheer.) Their new stylish boots offer low (ankle) and high (13” and 16”) selections in flat or with a wedge heel. The Ferno, similar to the Bern boot, will have more expansion at the calf for us muscular gals. (I silently yell “Finally!” during the unveiling of the Ferno.) Their men’s lifestyle shoe line will continue to grow, led by their new Santa Cruz with suede-upper and built-in-the-USA promise.

KEEN’s development of socks will persist and include their left/right specificity and their Wonderseam design (seamless between ball and toe with extra reinforcement where you need it because who has time to darn socks when recess is back in our daily routine). KEEN is featuring sock and footwear pairing. Not sure that I need to know what sock goes with what shoe but it’s an interesting proposition I am slowly warming up to: http://www.keenfootwear.com/us/en/.

Terramar Sports
Baselayer expert Terramar has been in the business a long time with a specialty in manufacturing hard-wearing silk products. Their HotTotties women’s line, which features their Sports Silk – ventilated and thicker silk construction, is augmenting the brand with its Cloud 9 collection. The Cloud 9 is quick-drying, warm, ultra comfortable (fitted but not tight), and comes in a number of styles (ruched, or gathered, turtleneck, T-zip, and pull over). Terramar has also added feminine details, such as inspired designs, while keeping their price point reasonable (Cloud 9 baselayers retail around $33): http://www.terramarsports.com/.

Vasque
The Vasque brand has been around for 45 years but had stepped away from its heritage: insulated, purpose-driven footwear such as their flagship model the Viking. But that’s changing with the re-introduction of insulated boots that render trail conditions and weather inconsequential.

New boot offerings for fall: men’s Snow Junkie and SnowBurban and women’s SnowBlime and Pow Pow.

First the Snow Junkie: a terrifically-light (2.5 lbs per pair), mid-cut trail shoe that is aimed at snowshoeing and cold weather trail running. I really liked this shoe because it offers 200 grams of insulation and an UltraDry membrane to keep water out. What I didn’t like: it doesn’t come in women’s. Seriously, we run and snowshoe too, and we like to conserve the efforts our hip flexors put forth just like the men do. However, Vasque did answer that call with the Snow Bime. It comes with UltraDry technology, a sole that is snowshoe and gator compatible, and 200 grams of insulation. It’s a bit heavier at 3.0 lbs per pair but has full-grain leather and toe-guard construction to make up for the half pound difference.

The men’s Snow Burban and women’s Pow Pow are Vasque’s beefier lifestyle boots. Each feature eight inch cuffs and 400 grams of insulation. The men’s version is constructed with full grain leather while the women’s adds waterproof suede, faux fur, and a lady-specific last: http://www.vasque.com/.

Brooks-Range Mountaineering

Brooks-Ranger Mountaineering insulated offerings.

A small company founded by mountaineer Matt Brooks, Brooks-Range Mountaineering develops gear that is engineered for adventure, including their line of insulated apparel. All feature a low-profile, water-resistant insulation (including their down-tech which is pretty much a water-proof down), and breathability.

The Mojave is their 800-fill down jacket with the profile of a sweater. Insulated with down-tech, the rip-stop nylon outer finish serves you well high in the mountains. The Cirro Extreme features 80 grams of primaloft and packs down to nothing. (The Cirro Extreme comes in a jacket and hoody style that accommodates a helmet. The vest option has flexible armholes for mobility.)

The Black Mountain adds to the softshell line they started with the Isto. This is a heavy-weight version in a minimalist presentation. Four-way stretch provides mobility and a lightweight fleece lining supplies protection from the cold. Finally, with the popularity of their insulated wind shirt, the Brezza, Brooks-Range is offering the Brissa: a moisture-wicking wind shirt without the insulation.

Overall, Brooks-Range provides multi-function layering that works together for a non-bulky fit that is life-saving when it comes to staying warm and dry: http://brooks-range.com/.

K-Swiss

Snowshoeing and K-Swiss' Blade Max are a perfect pairing.

With Jillian Micheals, K-Swiss has launched the “Party is Over” campaign to persuade us to put down the sweets and cocktails of holidays past and get outside. While best known for tennis shoes, K-Swiss has revealed itself a key player in the light-weight trail shoe category. This includes a trail shoe that works well in winter conditions, the Blade-Max Trail Ion Mask. What this means is the seam-free shoe is highly water-resistant and breathable and has minimalist leanings when it comes to weight and construction. The shoe is treated with Ion Mask technology which keeps it cleaner and drier longer than anything else in your adventure closet: http://www.kswiss.com/.

To read more of Snowshoe Magazine’s coverage of Outdoor Retailer, click here.

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