Looking back, there’s no doubt that top athletes raised the bar in 2018: climbers put up record-breaking ascents, runners ran faster marathons, bike land speed records were shattered. Such monumental athletic achievements will always garner front-page media coverage, but behind the scenes, tinkering in the shadows, are the unsung, coffee-stained heroes of the outdoor world: product designers.

The best outdoor product designers are perfectionists. Year after year, they tirelessly refine best-selling gear and forge fresh releases from scratch. With dogged determination, they search for stronger fabrics and more efficient insulators. They alter thread patterns to shave weight, experiment with rubber to increase grip. They live and breathe R&D. And in doing so, these product designers enable both elite athletes to make headlines and Average Joes like you and me to make the most of time spent outside.

We’d like to take a moment and raise a Nalgene to celebrate the product designers, because without them, we’d all still be skiing in jeans (that said, read on, and you’ll realize that we might start skiing in jeans again soon enough). Below are the fruits of their labor and laboratories — new materials that will change the way you experience the outdoors this year. Keep an eye on these threads and fibers, compounds and creations, and remember: you don’t need to be breaking records to appreciate groundbreaking gear.

FutureLight by The North Face

Earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, The North Face put all of its chips on FutureLight, gambling on its own proprietary waterproof tech rather than extensively relying on industry-standard Gore-Tex membranes as they have in the past. They declared the new material “The World’s Most Advanced Breathable-Waterproof Outerwear Technology” in the launch’s press release. Under the microscope, FutureLight looks like a loosely wound ball of yarn, as there are irregular spaces between fibers. FutureLight’s manufacturing process is called “nanospinning,” and it purposefully creates these permeable “nano-sized holes,” through which air escapes at startling levels. The impact of this nanotech is ironically enormous, as The North Face claims they will be able to “adjust weight, stretch, breathability, durability, construction (knit or woven) and texture to match athletes’ and consumers’ activity or environment.”

Where to find it:
FutureLight products will be available Fall 2019. Exactly what products will drop remains to be seen. In the press release, Scott Mellin, Global General Manager of Mountain Sports says, “Imagine a waterproof t-shirt, sweater or even denim that you actually want to wear. Today we start with jackets, tents and gloves, but the possibilities could be endless.” Stay tuned to The North Face for further announcements — and keep your fingers crossed for those waterproof jeans.

N315r LCP by Arc’teryx

When rumbles emerge from Arc’teryx R&D labs, the outdoor industry ducks, covers and prepares for an earthquake. N315r LCP, a fabric that, on paper, looks as if it’s a computer-generated password, has the potential to be one such seismic event. Gord Rose, Senior Industrial Designer for the brand, notes that he’s “been trying to find ways and means to create this fabric for over a decade.” Through a complicated engineering process — one that took Gord & co. two-plus years to nail — LCPs (Liquid Crystal Polymers) are interwoven with high-tenacity nylon (N315r). Arc’teryx claims the outcome is a lightweight, durable and weather-resistant fabric alpinists will adore.

Where to find it:
The fabric will be available on Arc’teryx’s Alpha AR 35 backpack, which is set to launch in spring 2019. Alpinists and ice-climbers are already counting down the days, thanks to the innovative fabric as well as the attractive weight (1170 grams/41.3 ounces), custom androgynous hooks and cavernous main compartment. The pack will also be available in a 20L size.

Gore-Tex Fabric with Stretch Technology

In 2018, Gore-Tex, the titan of technical outwear, dropped Gore-Tex Fabric with Stretch Technology, a mouthful of a material that elasticizes the brand’s world-famous waterproof membrane. Usually, Gore-Tex lines a jacket in two-dimensional sheets, but with Stretch Technology, it’s molded into a three-dimensional dimpled pattern, and when you move, the three-dimensional fabric has the slack to move with you.

Where to find it:
Stretch Tech can be found paneling Outdoor Research’s Infiltrator Jacket, a keystone of its tactical collection. Cyclists should consider the Gore Shakedry Stretch Jacket, which pairs a Shakedry face fabric-free membrane (a material that could easily stand alone in this round-up) with stretch in the shoulders and under the arms for (more) comfortable aero positioning.


Neoprene and wetsuits have always been synonymous, but when Patagonia introduced its line of Yulex wetsuits two years ago, it represented a paradigm shift long overdue. Yulex natural rubber is a renewable, neoprene-free material sustainably derived from Rainforest Alliance-certified hevea trees — it’s a welcome replacement when you take into account the environmentally detrimental, petrochemical-dependent manufacturing processes of traditional neoprene. Having surfed from Canada to Mexico in Patagonia’s new Yulex suits over the past several months, we’re confident in claiming that you won’t miss your neoprene if you make the switch. Plus, what’s more important than protecting the waves we ride?

Where to find it:
Patagonia recently updated its already popular Yulex wetsuits — its second execution is now 5% lighter, 20% stretchier and Fair Trade Certified to boot. From spring suits and big wave impact protection to hooded full suits and accessories, the Yulex line is well worth the premium price tag.

MSL PACT by Red Paddle Co.

With the advent of the inflatable standup paddleboard, traveling with the oversized watercraft became plausible, though it was still far from painless. Red Paddle Co., on a quest to offer a smaller, high-quality SUP solution to traveling paddlers and those with limited garage space, developed its MSL PACT technology to make the 9’ 6” Compact — the most packable SUP on the market today. MSL PACT is centered around a pliant yet durable top secret outer material and a novel, dense internal weaving structure — what Phil Hawthorne, Red Paddle Co.’s Head of Design, calls “an extra-high-tensile thread matrix at the core of the board” — as well as a foldable deck pad, offset valve and quad stringer setup.

Where to find it:
The 9’6” Compact, an inflatable paddleboard a decade in the making, weighs in at 12.7 kg, packs down to half the size of a traditional inflatable paddleboard and fits into an ergonomically designed backpack. The package comes with a pioneering five-piece carbon fiber and nylon paddle, custom fins and Red Paddle Co.’s lauded Titan Pump. Pre-order it here.


If you’re like me and you’ve worn holes in countless merino wool t-shirts, NuYarn is a fiber to look out for. By encasing a nylon core in merino wool, this super fiber weighs only 95g per meter, dries five times quicker than regular merino wool and has 35% more stretch. It’s more durable, too — meaning less holes in your tees.

Where to find it:
While companies like Trew Gear and Ortovox already use NuYarn, we’re also looking forward to the release of the low-micron Rhythm tech tee, dropping this spring from Black Diamond. The Rhythm tee is a collaboration between the climbing maestros and the sheep-shearing Aussies at The Woolmark Company, and BD claims it’s the brand’s lightest tech tee to date.

Xtreme Shield by MSR

Leaking tents are no fun, and MSR’s new Xtreme Shield coating aims to solve this prevalent precipitation problem. The Xtreme Shield coating is a polyurethane compound that’s resistant to heat and humidity — the usual suspects when it comes to weatherproofing failures. Most impressively, MSR claims the Xtreme Shield coating lasts three times longer than conventional waterproof coatings.

Where to find it:
MSR’s premium Freelite tents from 2018, as well as an extended lineup of shelters for 2019, including its award-winning Hubba tents.

Lifaloft by Helly Hansen

Spurred by the demands of the Swedish national ski team and developed over four years of collaboration between base layer heavyweight Helly Hansen and the insulation experts at PrimaLoft, LifaLoft is a cocktail of moisture-managing LIFA fibers (75%) and PrimaLoft insulation (25%). The versatile and water-repellant blend offers warmth without the bulk, and comes in a distinctive diagonally quilted pattern.

Where to find it:
Lifaloft is exclusive to Helly Hansen, and its line of lightweight Lifaloft insulators ranges from vests to hooded midlayers.

Arctic Grip by Vibram

Vibram’s Arctic Grip outsoles — the exact composition of which the brand has kept close to the chest since it was released in 2016 — minimize your chances of performing a graceless pirouette to face plant on icy sidewalks. Aside from having metal spikes or full-on crampons (which are perhaps too conspicuous for the average city slicker), Vibram’s “unique polymer blend” is one of the best options out there for trustworthy traction on both wet and dry ice. Unfortunately, because grip is derived in part from the rubber’s gritty texture, the lifetime of the sole is painfully short.

Where to find it:
Vibram’s teamed up with a slew of notable footwear brands, including Merrell, Saucony, Wolverine and more. We’re most amped on the Danner Arctic 600 Side-Zip, though, set to drop in fall 2019. Beneath an attractive suede upper, the Arctic 600 is lined with 200G PrimaLoft Gold Insulation and a Danner Dry waterproof membrane for a boot that’s as toasty as it is sharp-looking.

Insect Shield

Insect Shield is by no means a new material — the company’s been crafting insect-repellant for outdoor lovers and international travelers since 2004 — however, with Lyme disease on the rise and more apparel manufacturers hopping on the Insect Shield bandwagon, it’s worth highlighting in 2019. Essentially, Insect Shield fuses fabric fibers with permethrin, a chemical compound often used in lice shampoos and flea treatments for pets. The result is an odorless, imperceptible armor which keeps ticks and other pests at bay for up to 70 wash cycles.

Where to find it:
Royal Robbins’ Bug Barrier line, which is getting an expansive upgrade come spring 2019. Lightweight travel apparel that minimizes your exposure to insect-borne illnesses without cramping your style? We can get behind that.

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