We admit we’re a sucker for wool insulation. If it can keep little baby sheep warm and cozy on frigid, blustery cold days in the outback, we know that in our semi-civilized situations, it will be the next-best-thing to central heating. But at first we were mystified with the PhD SmartLoft Full Zip. On the inside is a lining of merino wool. The jersey knit is ultra-fine and soft—so thin it could qualify as lingerie weight. And over it is an ultra-light nylon shell.  The merino is truly cotton-soft. And the shell is supple, quiet, and  as soft and light as a whisper. The shell has a DWR treatment, means water beads before it permeates the material. That doesn’t mean it is waterproof—but that you can wear it longer than you could a cotton hoody without getting soaked. Plus, there’s no doubt that you’ll stay warm.  The layer is deceptively simple—there’s a front zipper with a draft flap and chin guard. Stash your cell, wallet or gloves in the twin zip handwarmer pockets; inside are convenient stash pockets for sunglasses, plane ticket, or even flask. This jacket will keep your core warm on spring days, and keep your entire upper torso toasty if you layer it with an outer jacket—and we just love having options.
$220, TK oz., smartwool.com
Tested In:
Good for: 3-season activities, hiking, biking, backpacking, urban adventure, PTA meetings

We’re unabashedly big fans of merino wool. And while we love Australia for its great wine, beautiful beaches, and glorious red center, we always wondered why the country has the monopoly on the wool-for-clothing market.  And New Zealand, its antipodal neighbor, is also big player in the game thanks to Icebreaker.  Part of the reason comes down to population—New Zealand has a lot of sheep (enough to inspire a sheep zombie move), while Australia has enough real estate to take on 80 percent of merino wool used in apparel.* But the clever folks at Ibex realized that, with all the transportation costs of sourcing wool half way across the world, it might make sense to talk to some U.S. sheep ranchers about state-side production.

The result? The White River, VT-based company has started working with Montana sheep ranches to source wool entirely form the United States in an effort to both reduce the company’s carbon footprint and to help create and retain jobs in the country. The sheep are raised in the tiny town of Lavina on a ranch run by the Lehfeldt family. For more than a century, the family has raised Rambouillet sheep (think big, fluffy, and curved horns). The breed, known for super-soft, ultra-fine wool, originated from Spain’s famed merino flock.  After shearing, the wool travels to South Carolina, where it is combed and scoured, then it heads North Carolina where it’s spun into yarn and knitted into fabric. Finally, the fabric is sent to Ibex’s factories near San Francisco, where it is cut and sewn into finished garments.

This Fall, Ibex’s best-selling Shak Lite line of upper layers are made from the 100 percent U.S.-raised wool. The tops are so versatile that you’ll wear them as a skiing mid-layer, a top layer for hiking, and pretty much every day you want to look good and feel comfortable—and they’re so well built that you’ll probably pass them down to your kids. We hope other products, like the Gearzilla All-Star Long Trail Sweater, will follow suit.

*Updated from previous post. Thanks to Eric H

Introducing Gearzilla’s The Future of Gear, a new column that will highlight some of the coolest trends in the outdoor and travel gear industry, profile industry leaders and their ground-breaking ideas, and preview some of the best new product slated to hit the market in the coming months.

Apparel and gear manufacturer Patagonia recently introduced the sale of used product on their web store.  Part of the company’s Community Threads Initiative—which encourages consumers to buy only what they need, repair what breaks, share what they no longer need, and recycle everything else—this move continues to promote the company’s robust pro-environment identity.

The new feature displays product that’s on sale on eBay within patagonia.com’s Used Clothing and Gear section, filtered by gender and product type, as well as kid’s gear.  Interacting with the specific products takes you to eBay itself, which handles product fulfillment in its typical fashion (Patagonia also includes instructions on how to sell your used product, aping the step-by-steps that lets you sell stuff on eBay.)

From a business perspective, they could potentially erode the sale of some of their latest and greatest (regularly priced) product by promoting the same stuff at half the cost. But there’s no real overhead for Patagonia, either; eBay’s auctioneers handle all the specifics of each sale while Patagonia product stays in the hands (and on the backs) of happy travelers and lovers of the outdoors, boosting brand loyalty. The play also reinforces the durability story of the brand and serves as a solid platform to promote their pledge to reduce the environmental footprint implicit in gear and apparel manufacturing—a pledge we encourage you all to take.

Got something you want us to cover in The Future of Gear? Let us know by adding a comment!

Prices Vary; Expect Half-Off

www.eddiebauer.com, 12.5 ounces
Some of us aren’t too crazy about the industry impulse of calling light down jackets sweaters, but we certainly love these ultra-light, ultra-warm items. And of the many on the market, we’ve become particularly fond of the Downlight Sweater. First Ascent, the alpine-specific line from Eddie Bauer, was developed with input from professional mountaineers like Ed Viesturs, and it shows. The 800-fill premium Euro goose down provides some of the warmest, lightest, most compressible insulation on the market, while the 200-denier ripstop nylon exterior boasts durable water repellency, with twin zipper hand pockets and a mock turtleneck-length collar. And yes, we know they’re called sweaters because they’re best-served as mid-layers (the Downlight’s water repellency isn’t waterproof, and down is notorious for taking forever to dry if it gets wet), but we’ve found that in all climates, save the very cold or the wet, this jacket provides enough warmth for hiking, cycling, and climbing in below-freezing temps.

In this testers’ early days, the love of the sport preceded love of gear. After all, all the gear used was inherited from previous generations, from gloves covered in duct tape to an older cousin’s hole-filled wool sweater.  Unfortunately for the next generation of the gear-obsessed, the Long Trail Sweater will never become part of the hand-me-down collective. A long staple in Ibex’s line of merino wool products, the textured Long Trail offers an old-school sweater comfort straight out of the box—except this one includes the all-natural benefits of merino, like wicking and odor management, and it stays warm even when wet.  A three-quarter zip and a loose mock neck allow for a nice degree of temperature management, while the long, somewhat baggy cut affords the freedom of movement needed for skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, biking, hiking, snowshoeing, or whatever other cold-weather activity that is your latest obsession. Better still, the subtle vertical stripe of color down the back means it’s also at home at your local watering hole. This is designed to be a warm, sport-specific sweater; it’s a bit thicker than some of the other midweight layers on the market, and fits loose. so size accordingly.