From Issue Six of Gear Patrol Magazine.
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Companies like Polartec and Gore spend millions of dollars developing new materials for waterproofing, insulation and moisture-wicking, but none of them would see the light of day if consumer-facing brands didn’t apply the materials to garments you can buy at your local REI.

No one understands this better than South Korea-based apparel company BlackYak. Their design team, led by David Randall, studies, researches and prototypes how the newest materials can be integrated into garments in a way that works better than what is currently available from other brands on the market.

“We are a brand that wants to bring innovation back into the industry,” says Randall. “Not just in pretty design lines, not just in pretty little features, but true innovation and real innovation in the materials.” This concept is perhaps best exemplified in the brand’s Hybrid Jacket, a Frankensteinian combination of materials from Cordura, Polartec and PrimaLoft, in addition to traceable goose down.

“What we realized when we were analyzing product groups and product categories,” says Randall, “was that there is actually something which we defined as ‘mid-shell’ — which was a completely new category. It’s kind of an answer to the soft shell — one of these materials that could be fantastic, but nobody knows what the bloody hell to do with it.”

The mid-shell he’s referring to is essentially a more versatile version of the traditional soft shell. It can be worn as a highly water-resistant outer shell or layered underneath a fully waterproof shell as an insulator. With the right lining material, it can even work as an insulated jacket. In theory, it can make two or three jackets from your wardrobe obsolete in a way that a 3-in-1 jacket never could.

The material that’s making this new mid-shell category more feasible was developed by Gore, the company famous for Gore-Tex waterproof membranes. It’s called Gore-Tex Infinium, and it’s focused not on keeping you dry, but on keeping you warm. Randall sees it as integral to the mid-shell. “With Infinium,” he says, “I think what you’re doing is you’re allowing the user to perfectly fill this gap in technical product.” By filling that gap, users can actually consolidate their closet and simplify their outdoor gear. It’s innovation that leads to us owning less, rather than more, and so it feels like BlackYak is thinking more about their consumer than about bullet points on a marketing plan. Which might be the most innovative thing of all.