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Hybrid Outerwear Pieces?

If you’ve read through some of the Comments Sections of our reviews, you may have noticed that we get quite a few good questions and interesting comments from our readers.

And we often find that a reader has brought to light an interesting point about the piece we’ve tested, or has raised a broader question that’s worth considering and discussing.

But some of these comments and questions can get buried deep down in a particular thread, so we’ve created this new section to feature some of the particularly interesting conversations that are taking place around Blister.

This week, we’ll highlight a comment made by Blister reader, Slim, in response to Sam Shaheen’s article, Outerwear 201.

 

Q: Why don’t we see more outerwear designs combining both hardshell and softshell fabrics?

 

Slim writes:

“Sam, I’d ride the lifts with you! I love to talk about outerwear just as much as skis! Gear is gear, it all contributes to the things you can or can’t do, and the fun you have while doing it.

One thing that was kind of brought up in the above comments, is that it’s not as simple as membrane X or Y, specific face fabrics have a huge effect on performance, as does garment construction.

One way that you can illustrate the air-permeable but waterproof fabrics is with the Event-bottomed dry sacks.

I wish more manufacturers would design a garment with differential fabrics, using each fabric in a location where it plays to its strengths. I.e. More durable, high hydrostatic head fabrics on the knees and shoulders, more breathable fabrics in other areas. For skiing especially this could be very beneficial, as OWNerd points out, kneeling, sitting and packstraps all exert high pressures. At the same time, hard, prolonged rain is rare in skiing.

I think the problem is in marketing, it makes for a mixed message when you’re trying to sell it. That’s probably why companies like Patagonia keep trying and keep dropping the items.”

 

Sam’s reply:

“I definitely agree with the fact that the industry is lacking good hybrid jacket at the moment. We are really interested to check out some of the new pieces from Arc’teryx that look to address this gap.

However, like you said, it is certainly a marketing issue. Unfortunately, many people who buy high-end performance jackets aren’t actually getting out and pushing the jackets to their limits. A large percentage of the market for 3L shells is upper/upper-middle class casual users, and marketing a hybrid piece to that market is hard!”

 

What Do You think?

Do you agree that marketing realities are the primary thing that’s keeping companies from implementing more creative and intelligent uses of different fabrics?

 

Post Script: the Arc’teryx Lithic Comp Jacket

We are now putting time in the Arc’teryx Lithic Comp Jacket, which features a hybrid design that utilizes different face fabrics in its construction, including waterproof GORE hardshell and a more breathable Tursaro softshell fabric.

And after several days of skinning and bootpacking between 9,000 – 12,000 ft. (under a very warm sun on one day, through a driving snow storm on another, and in moderate temps on a third), our early impressions are quite positive.

review of the Arc'teryx Lithic Comp Jacket, Blister Gear Review

Arc’teryx Lithic Comp

Arc’teryx’s own description of the Lithic Comp is actually very informative (we will always raise a glass to non-stupid, genuinely useful product descriptions) so we’re reproducing most of it here:

DESCRIPTION

Using Arc’teryx Composite Mapping technology to merge windproof, breathable GORE® Fabric Technology with Arc’teryx Trusaro™ softshell, Arc’teryx created the Lithic Comp to manage the shifting physical output levels of backcountry skiing and snowboarding while delivering protection from varying alpine weather conditions.

RIGHT FABRIC, RIGHT PLACE

Windproof, breathable GORE® Fabric Technology provides zonal waterproof protection on the front, shoulders, top of the arms and hood, areas most exposed to the effects of precipitation and descent driven snow. Arc’teryx Trusaro™ softshell material is utilized on the back and under the arms where air permeability and stretch are required. The result is a fabric composite providing essential protection from moisture while delivering high levels of breathability and stretch.

PERFORMANCE AND FREEDOM

The Lithic Comp Jacket is designed for a specific use: backcountry touring. Purpose driven features and freedom of movement, two Arc’teryx hallmarks, receive careful attention. In addition to the softshell’s stretch performance, Arc’teryx e3D (ergonomic 3-Ddmensional) patterning utilizes extra space in key joint areas to bring an added level of use specific articulation.

SNOW SPECIFIC

The Lithic is specifically tuned to elevate backcountry performance. Easily accessible hand pockets utilize a mesh backing to increase airflow across the chest, providing additional ventilation on ascents. The protective Storm Hood™ is helmet compatible and easily adjusts for a secure fit with maximized visibility. Two internal mesh dump pockets hold gloves, skins, toque or water bottle. A drawcord at the hem seals out drafts.

 

7 Comments

  1. Blister Member
    Andy November 24, 2014 Reply

    I really don’t think that marketing is the thing preventing companies from designing hybrid-fabric outerwear. The only products that are hard to market are the bad ones. If a product is good, then the product is good and it will essentially sell itself based on quality alone. Look at the Patagonia nano-air series, pretty much a new technology that’s very different from anything else on the market, and it seems to be selling alright (I know I want one, at least, and others I have spoken too have also said they would like to try it). Part of that is because of Blister and other positive customer reviews of the product, but those reviews would never exist if the product was bad, would they?

    I can see it difficult for a small, indie company to come out with a new technology and market it, but for bigger companies like Arc’teryx and Patagonia who are established and known from producing high quality gear, it doesn’t seem like it should be much of a problem. After all, everyone wants to try the latest and greatest thing to come out, right?

    • Author

      Hey, Andy – I think we may have seen too many really good, high quality products get discontinued or needlessly modified to share your optimism that it’s only the bad products that are hard to market.

      And I’m pretty confident that, if asked, many manufacturers would site at least one example of a product of theirs that they believed was truly great, but it still never caught on.

      Especially perhaps in this particular case where, if Sam and Slim are right, many customers only want to know if the jacket is 100% waterproof or not, and they’ll walk away if the answer is “Not exactly.”

      So while we certainly hope that our reviews and articles will help great products get the traction they deserve, I don’t think we are yet living in a world where quality products always rise to the top.

      • Blister Member
        Andy November 25, 2014 Reply

        True, now that you say it, that does make sense. I guess part of the question is who is the targeted audience for a specific piece of gear? Because you’re right, the majority of people buying ski gear aren’t as interested in how it really works as you or I. Maybe Arc’teryx is thinking that the primary market for a jacket like the Lithic Comp are people like Blister readers and writers, who really take a vested interest in their gear and understand the upside the Lithic Comp would provide. Problem is (and I’m sure you know this) that this small percentage of people who the jacket is marketed for may end up not being big enough to make the jacket worth producing, even if customers in that niche are buying and liking the product, especially if it turns out that nobody outside this niche customer is buying the jacket for whatever reason. It is unfortunate that, occasionally, businesses have to make choices that please the majority of customers, but disappoint those who care the most about the product they buy (e.g. the old Bibby Pro and a number of other skis out there).

        Now that I think about it more, I’m stuck between thinking that everyone wants the latest and greatest thing to come out, and that often times innovation takes a while to catch on. Maybe what I should have said was that (and maybe this is wrong as well) if the best products don’t always sell the way companies think they will and the way customers like us think they should, it’s rare for a truly bad product to do well. Even if the very best products don’t always do well, the things that do sell are still generally pretty good, right?

        It’s also interesting that sometimes a company will redesign a product and those niche market customers who most enjoyed it will be disappointed, like the Bibby Pro, and sometimes the niche market will like the change, even if they are wary of it at first, like the new Volkl Katana. And yes, Jonathan, I am using you as my example of a niche market customer :). It interests me how a company decides to take a product that pleases a few customers a lot and tweak it so it will please a larger number of customers while still keeping those original companies relatively happy, because both the Bibby Pro and old Katana were in existence for a number of years before the changes were made.

        One thing I do feel confident about is the positive impact you all are making at Blister in helping customers become more informed about the product they are buying, and even about gear in general. The more you hold companies accountable for their product, and the more you advertise and explain the benefits of new technologies, the better the quality of products that sell well will become. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    • Sam Shaheen November 25, 2014 Reply

      I think JE is spot on with this one. I can say from personal experience that it isn’t always your best products that sell the most (do you think TNF thinks the Denali is the best jacket they’ve ever made? Unlikely…).

      And because the general public doesn’t fully understand modern outerwear technology, companies are forced to sell outerwear on marketing alone quite often. There is a lot that goes into making a piece truly great, but for a piece to stick around, people have to buy it.

      I am really excited about the Lithic Comp though, I think it is breaking the mold a bit. Mainly because it doesn’t look like a hybrid jacket. Most hybrids have been in the insulation department and have seriously questionable aesthetics (I’m looking at you, Patagonia Nano Puff Hybrid…). I am optimistic that hybrid hard-shells will start to catch on!

  2. TheOtherAndy November 26, 2014 Reply

    There absolutely have been hybrid construction pieces out there: I’ve got a pair of Patagonia Super Guide (or was it Winter Guide?) pants that have wp/b panels on the knees and seat. They’re my fave touring pants of all time, and still going strong after 5 years of heavy use and beer stains. They were replaced with the Mixed Guide pant, and there’s a matching jacket. Black Diamond has a Dawn Patrol hybrid jacket and bib, both of which I’m severely tempted by at the moment. OR’s Trailbreaker pant and jacket are hybrids. Marmot’s former Super Hero jacket was a crazy quilt of different materials, most of them soft-shell. Arc Teryx’s Lithic pieces are beautiful and fit me extremely well, but look like a little too much shell and too little soft-shell for my PNW taste (it’s not too cold here), especially in the pants. Salomon makes an amazing (though expensive as hell) hybrid running jacket: S-Lab Hybrid. There’s stuff out there.

    To your question: Yes, I think hybrids are a bit tougher to market, because they’re not one thing or another. The message board scuttle on most hybrids is that they’re no breathable enough for high output, or protective enough for full-on weather. Not my experience, but I’ve seen that line of thought enough to believe that it’s what a lot heavy users think. The industry has pushed layering so hard for so long, that it’s going to take awhile to move the market – particularly on the retail floor. The system approach – Softshell for the up, puff on at the top, hardshell for the down/wind/rain – is tough to break in the touring arena. I rarely wear a hardshell touring, even in the PNW, and evangelize my approach to anyone who will listen, but almost all my friends will break out a hardshell for the down while I wear the same thing for the up and down.

    For lift skiing, where aerobic output is so much lower, a hardshell is preferable for me unless it’s north of 35 degrees as it cuts the wind while sitting on the lift.

    Hybrid pieces are trying to weasel their way in to some pretty hardened habits and market segmentation. The Lithic and Dawn Patrol pieces would probably be mostly fine at almost any resort, though there’s enough sitting on wet lifts in the Cascades/Coast Range that a full hardshell is likely a better bet. The average consumer will likely be pretty easily convinced to go full hardshell for that use, making it an easy sell from a marketing standpoint. It’s way easier than “Well, the butt is waterproof, so it should be fine on the lift.”

    For touring, which is a way smaller market (I’m not talking about the side country/bootpack/Guardian/Duke crowd, they’re fine in hardshells), these hybrids make way more sense, as you’re generally not exposed to long-term wet. But, they’re a niche player here as well, in my opinion. For continental mountains, where its much colder and often more alpine, these jackets make a ton of sense: The wp/b sections will be windproof and therefore a bit warmer, and the soft-shell sections will let you dump some heat. But even here, you could see using a softshell or just a base layer/R1 for the climb to treeline, then shell for the alpine/ridge and down.

    For coastal mountains, the jackets would be great on storm days and the alpine, but probably too warm for other stuff, except on the down. The jackets are also fighting for wallet share with the puffies with burlier, often waterproof, shells: OR Floodlight, Chaos and Havoc, Dynafit Denali, Flylow BA Puffy, etc etc. With these, you wear a soft-shell for the up, or all day if it’s warm, then throw on these shelled puffies for the transition/down.

    Basically, the hybrid jackets, to me, don’t fill a glaring need for everyone. I can picture myself using a hybrid jacket for touring, but the full softshell I already have gets the job done well enough that I have a hard time seeing what I’d get for the added cost from a new hybrid. If it’s super windy, I’ve got a light shell. If it’s too cold, I’ve got a synthetic puffy.

    Hybrid pants strike me as fitting for all climates, except when things REALLY warm up. They’re great and everyone should wear them :).

  3. Stewart November 28, 2014 Reply

    The hybrid concept is as prone to marketing b.s. as anything else. Having a waterproof patch on my ass, and reinforced scuff guards on my ankles makes sense, but a lot of what I’ve seen, and the reason they don’t sell, is that they don’t work well for anything. I tried the Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody for ski-touring, and found that the waterproof areas didn’t breathe well enough for working hard, and that the soft-shell areas didn’t keep me dry in really damp conditions. Better (as the other Andy said) to carry both a lightweight wind-shell for high output activities, and a minimalist waterproof-breathable jacket to actually keep you dry when you need it. Even simpler (for ski-touring) is a highly breathable membrane such as Powershield Pro that almost (other than durability) does it all.

  4. Ben March 23, 2015 Reply

    Just saw this now and couldn’t agree more that hybrids make a lot of sense. I tend to sweat when skiing so Gortex just gets clammy and wet even in cold resort conditions. I have been using an old beaten Patagonia White Smoke jacket for both resort and short touring in all temperatures from 5 deg F to spring days. It has the H2NO waterproof fabric on the shoulders upper back and upper chest, the rest is their older soft-shell material. Granted, this is not the world’s most breathable soft shell material, but for primarily resort use with short hikes or tours this has been the perfect combo for me. On really cold days, I can definitely feel a stiff breeze push through the body of the fabric, but that’s nothing more layering can’t fix. I have been trying to replace this jacket but can’t really find anything comparable out now

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