Tough guys like warm toes, too

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — So many outdoor enthusiasts seem fearless: They climb the biggest rocks, hike the highest points, ski the steepest trails and do unimaginable things with their snowboards. But they don't like doing it with cold fingers, a chilly wind at their back, or a chafed chin.

It's those little things that can stop you in your tracks, say outerwear insiders, so designers and manufacturers have worked to satisfy them. There are zipper "garages" at the top of parkas to keep metal from rubbing against the skin; fabric flaps cover the rear ends of snowboarders who spend quite a bit of time with their backsides in the snow; and curved elbows so that climbers' jackets don't ride up when they extend their arms.

A ponytail opening on hats and hoods is now a common option, and some gloves and mittens have miniature wiper blades for goggles.

Talk about cushy — there is ergonomic padding in expedition-worthy socks.

"Details are everything. ... Every little detail adds a little bit of an advantage to an experienced climber, skier," says Greg Thomsen, managing director of Adidas Outdoor USA. "Just because you're tough doesn't mean you don't want to keep warm. If they're comfortable, athletes can go to the next level."

Ed Schmults, CEO of Wild Things, a technical outerwear brand, adds: "If your fingers or toes are cold, you're not having a good time. In that way, gear should be neutral."

Athletes, whether they are serious mountaineers or weekend skiers, don't want their clothes to be a distraction, adds Neil Munro, product director of The North Face Summit Series. They want to put all their energy into their sport, he says.

Among the new North Face features are lightweight down — arguably the biggest trend in the outdoor market, Munro says — that's been combined with a synthetic fiber so that when you wear a backpack the feathers don't get pushed away from the core and subtle prints that add friction to slippery waterproof shells to keep the backpacks from moving around.

A little touch, such as fleece-lined pockets, takes less technical know-how but can have just as much impact, Munro says. "Who doesn't want fleece-lined pockets?"

Meanwhile, Adidas has shaved off fabric bulge — that, says Thomsen, can affect a climber's important view of below — and has employed "body mapping" to put ventilation and insulation where they're needed.

Fits-brand socks are sewn with a tapered circular design that mimics the curve of the muscles in the lower leg, and there's emphasis on removing rubbing and bulk. The knit is uniquely flat to allow maximum contact with the boot.

Schmults says he has seen the interest in customization skyrocket. In response, his company now lets consumers decide where they want their pockets, what kind of cuff they want and what color the zippers will be.

Discerning winterwear customers want to choose if they have pockets and where they want them to be. They make these choices in their broader closet, he says, and they want them for their athletic clothes.

And "athletic clothes" is a broad term, Schmults notes. It's everything from the "jaws-of-death skier" to the "dog walker" and everyone in between. All those people share many of the same concerns: They want to be as warm as possible, as comfortable as possible and as stylish as possible.

"When you live in a cold climate, you're wearing your ski jacket or parka 50 percent of the time or more," says Sarah Perel, sales manager for the Montreal-based brand Pajar. "You want it to work and you want it to look good."

Shoppers can be that demanding because advances in technical fabrics have matched innovative design, including backpack straps and internal belts to cinch the waist and keep out wind, and the increased awareness of fashion trends, she says. Hello, fur-lined hoods.

It seems innate to go for the do-it-all gear, says Munro.

"When mountaineers are going off to the Himalayas to climb a mountain that's never been climbed before, they know no one is going to see them, but they STILL gravitate to what looks best on them and is the most fashionable," he says.