Of the three big pushes coming from The North Face in the fall of 2013, we’re perhaps most excited about the brand’s new insulation innovations.  ThermoBall ain’t the sequel to Skyfall; It’s a synthetic insulation made in concert with Primaloft, providing spherical patches of insulation designed to mimic the structure of down, trapping heat within small air pockets. This also makes it highly packable, and will insulate even when wet.  The insulation on the ThermoBall Full-Zip Jacket ($199, pictured) is equivalent to that of a 600-fill down jacket of similar weight. ProDown—TNF’s proprietary water-resistant down—will also be introduced this fall, boasting products that will stay dry and full of loft for up to 100 minutes, and will be found in such products as the 950-fill Supernatural Jacket ($449). They’ll also introduce the new ZLoft tech, which uses Primaloft One synthetic insulation with a Z-baffle shape that maximizes warmth without adding much weight or bulk in hybrid, high-performance pieces like the Zephyrus Pro Hoodie ($299).

Another big initiative in 2013? Apparel and footwear for cold-weather running, including products that’ll make use of Gore Windstopper and proprietary tech like FlashDry and Thermo3D designs to create high-performance, gender-specific temp regulation for long-distance cold-weather runners. Products like the Feather Lite Storm Blocker Jacket ($200)—the lightest fully-waterproof, seam-sealed jacket they’ve made at just 10.5 ounces—were tested by TNF athletes on the trails of Mont Blanc, so they’ll work for you just fine.

They’ll also fill out a new line for the niche outdoor scene that prides themselves on braving the harshest cold-weather environments. The new Steep Series was tested by TNF athletes in the harsh world of Antarctica, and the 19 pieces in this new line will bring forth hardcore products with tech like the new Gore-Tex Pro waterproof/breathable fabric, water-resistant down, and other features that’ll keep you sheltered from the extremes.
We’ve been testing Gore Running apparel for the past six months. While the brand is a top-seller in the category in Europe, it has only recently been distributed in the United States. For Fall ’13, we are excited about their new Magnitude Outfit Systems for men (the Comp Shirt and Tights are pictured above). The performance line is designed for the long-distance runner. The tights have enough compression to shape and support the quads and calves, without restricting movement. We like the new vest and jacket with Windstopper laminate for cold-weather training, as well as the reflective and neon detailing for heightened visibility after dark, great ventilation, and smartly-positioned pockets.
As we mentioned after the Summer Outdoor Retailer, New Zealand’s Icebreaker continues to expand their line of high-quality merino wool into designs that marry their magical wool with soft shell exteriors to provide weather-proof pieces with all the all-natural qualities already associated with the brand.  The Viento Jacket (hooded: $325;  non: $300) and the Stealth Jacket ($300; pictured left) and Hood ($325) will boast a water-repellent, breathable, wind-proof exterior, with a comforting merino wool lining.  We particularly like the fashion- and fit-forward silhouette of the women’s Viento Hood ($325; pictured center), with its slim hourglass cut.

Their GT line—technical apparel dialed for high-aerobic activity like winter running, Nordic skiing, and skiing and riding—will expand with new garments like the Drive Long-Sleeve Half-Zip top ($140; pictured right), with wool has been treated with nanotechnology to add water and stain resistance.  This bluesign-accredited technology integrates tiny nano particles on a rigid surface to reduce the contact area to let mud, water, and oil simply run off the fabric.

Perhaps most compelling, however, is the slight revamp to their travel-inspired line, which expands its formerly slim/athletic fit to become a wee bit roomier. This should make products like the woman’s Vista Skirt ($100) and windproof soft shell three-quarter-length Highline Jacket ($380), the men’s Escape Hood Stripe ($140), and the Seeker Pants ($180) appeal to a broader swath of smart travelers.
You won’t find better fitting, more stylish base layers for kids than the Indie hoodie and long johns from Ibex.  Both pieces are made out of superfine, 18.5 New Zealand merino wool. This is the outfit you’ll dress your kids in for cold days at school (the pants come in bright colors as well as black, and look rad with boots). They are light enough to be worn under jeans, but really show their backcountry creds under snow pants, with a soft next-to-skin feel, just the right amount of warmth, and an unbelievably feather-like weight. Plus, in contrast to other wool base layers we’ve tested for kids, these don’t snag, run, or pill. Our test samples have 40-plus days in action. They’ve been washed a dozen times and still look new.  Colors are vibrant—we like the Cherry Bomb orange for girls, and a mellower “turf” for boys. The hoodie has flatlock seams and ragland sleeves, so there are no hot spots when worn under a jacket or with a pack. Plus there are thumb holes—the sleeves are a bit long, and can be pulled down over hands to thwart cold and keep out snow.   A seven-inch front zipper lets kids vent off excess heat, and makes the top easier to pull on and take off. You might think a hood is superfluous on a base layer, but it adds extra warmth under a ski or bike helmet in the winter and provides sun protection in the summer.
The Hoodie and Long Johns comes in sizes small to large (5/6 to 12) and the Indie Long Johns; we recommend going up a size—that way the child should be able to squeeze in at least two to three years of wear.


Tested In:

Good For: skiing, snowboarding, everyday, for when pajamas are too much trouble

SLC-based Black Diamond has been on the outdoor scene since 1957, and their products have won the loyalty of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts and a long slew of awards for gear innovation and design.  From hard goods like magnetic carabiners and backcountry skis to soft goods like cold-weather gloves and the Avalung backpack, which has saved countless lives during avalanches, BD has stepped up its game each season. And this continues as we look into fall 2013 with an all-new line of apparel.

The first in a three-year plan of…let’s call it “focused domination,” Black Diamond will deliver a line of men’s soft shells, base layers, and insulated fleece next fall, working with a variety of textiles including Schoeller, Primaloft, and Polartech.  We got a sneak peak…

The Dawn Patrol Hybrid Jacket ($349, pictured left) employs a Schoeller stretch-woven nylon shell with body-mapped, three-layer waterproof laminate and NanoSphere Technology, which encourages dirt and water to run off the fabric much like the self-cleaning effect of certain plants.  The jacket boasts backcountry- and climbing-friendly features like two massive chest pockets, zippered hand pockets, and an adjustable, helmet-compatible hood. The Access Hybrid Hoody ($249, pictured center), meanwhile, melds a nylon shell with Primaloft insulation and Schoeller stretch nylon side panels to insulate on ice and rock, and will be built for movement and warmth.  It’s got a chest pocket, stretch-gusset cuffs, a drawcord hem, and internal drop pockets, and is part of their Primaloft-centric Stance and Access line. Pieces like the Coefficient Hoody ($159, pictured right) fill the need for base- and mid-layers, described as the Crag, Solution, and Coefficient line. This zip-up layer uses Polartec Power Dry fleece (80% poly, 12% elastine) to provide athletic stretch, fast drying, warmth, and breathability. It has a single chest pocket, stretch cuffs, a smooth-to-the-touch feel, and an under-the-helmet, clean-fitting hood.

At first blush the color patterns and overall designs are impressive—it’s clear that Black Diamond spent a lot of time considering every detail, rather than rushing these 24 style to the market. (Creds for this go to former Patagonia clotheshorse, Tim Bantle and an A-list design team culled from other apparel powerhouses). Some decisions, like the tight elastic cuffs on the fleece, may relegate the product to solely to the field, as the feature doesn’t lend itself wearing it around around town as much as it does to hanging at the crag. This single focus may make the also A-list price points somewhat dear. But the designers’ inventive use of multiple fabrics could be a smart collaboration in creating truly high-performance pieces that could easily find a place in an already-crowded market.

In spring 2014, Black Diamond will introduce men’s alpine and climbing products, with the first women’s outwear coming in fall 2014. Ski wear will follow in fall 2015.

We have a few prototypes in our testers’ hands right now, and will report back as we approach the official release of the new product to the masses.