Search

If you are perusing this site consider clicking on the facebook link below and liking it.

Monday
Jan192015

Beyond Clothing: Outdoor Technical Wear

 

Beyond Clothing sign at Seattle retail storeThe people at Beyond Clothing in Seattle have sat down with me on at least 3 occasions and spent their valuable time talking about the company, showing me around, and treating me like a VIP when I'm anything but.

Beyond rack of jacketsBeyond Clothing is a Seattle based company that imagines, constructs and sews all of its wares in the US. Beyond currently employs 10 different sew shops across the country. So why haven't you probably heard of it? Why haven't you seen its clothing in retail shops? Let me tell you a story.

In order to understand where Beyond is coming from, you have to know its roots, and those roots lie in military contracts. Not just hohum wear like tshirts, but mission gear, entire ensembles that outfit US special forces for real world use in climes ranging from arctic to desert to jungle environments. Clothing that needs to be imminently functional; if it doesn't work, then it needs to be changed to address shortcomings. If a SEAL team member shows them a garment that didn't hold up under normal (SEAL normal) wear and tear they can't wait 6 months for the design to change and be implemented....if that were the case they (the military) simply look for alternatives. This means the company, small in the grand scheme of things but huge in comparison to a typical cottage gear company, must be nimble. They need to examine the problem and fix it pronto, then realize this fix in a matter of weeks or days, then get the new design out to the sewing shops. Do you think this can happen with companies that outsource to Asia? I've stood in the Seattle shop where they can redesign, or design, a garment and pass this to an expert sewer sitting right there. The sewer can create 1 or even 2 garments in a day where the designers can try them on and make alterations on the spot. Jack be nimble. Another pertinent point is the company must comply with military materials protocol. Everything that goes into a garment must be made in the US.

Sneak Peek: ski pants on the horizonTwo years ago a change of leadership mandated that Beyond needed to branch out to the outdoor retail market. When I walked into their store last year I turned out to be their first retail (storefront) customer. The pickings were slim, I bought the Aether long underwear and that was it, despite pleading that I should walk out with their only display pair of Brokk pants, as I really needed a replacement of my aged Arcteryx trousers. Then, some 6 months later, I went back and was able to purchase (they offered me a discount) a Polartech Alpha Jacket and the long sleeve version of the Aether. Still no production version of the Brokk pants.

And finally, in August 2014, they assured me that the Brokk pants could be picked up on a certain day when I was headed to Rainier for a fastpack of the Wonderland Trail. While I was there I purchased a Helios RA fleece jacket but the UPS truck failed to arrive with my pants. Now, I had been pestering them for so long about these pants that one of the directors who had spent time with me said "just comp him the pants"....I think they just wanted to be rid of me. As I was about to leave pantless from the no show truck, the guys behind the counter came up with an alternate plan of me stopping by their shipping warehouse in Kent on my way to Rainier to receive the goods, and this is exactly what I did. I'll talk about the sizing later but these trousers need a belt, so I had to stop by my bud's house to pick up a belt and I was finally off to hit the trail, not starting until 3 PM but finally toting my black Brokks and other Beyond clothing. But how does the stuff perform?

Helios Aether pulloverHelios Aether Crew and Pullover: the gridded and channeled pattern of the Aether line achieve excellent warmth and breathability. I've used this ensemble for sleeping in and the tops and bottoms for hiking, sometimes alone and other times paired with a jacket. This functionality comes at a very low weight, these puppies are light. I've also used the bottoms under ski pants with the same excellent results.

Helios Alpha jacket: day 7 in the PasaytenHelios Alpha Jacket: already redesigned based on input from the military side, my earlier version Alpha was put to the test a number of ways. Polartech Alpha (also available from other retailers) is touted as a movement insulation: not only does it have excellent insulation properties but the breathability of the insulation and the construction of the fibers allows it to function under exertion. I can't think of many puffy jackets that can be worn while hiking uphill, generating a lot of body heat; most traditional insulation like down or even primaloft will become overwhelmed by the moisture and lose effectiveness. Also consider the way that puffy insulations actually insulate; they, well, puff. Put them in a garment under pack straps and a pack and they lose insulation properties due to compression.
     I've worn my Alpha jacket in varied ways; as an insulation piece when stopped in chilly weather, perhaps to cook, 2// while sleeping as a supplement to a more minimalist quilt, 3// under locomotion while exerting myself. In my experience there is validity to the claims of this material, especially its ability to breathe. I've also trotted and biked in it. At no point during these activities did the material appear to lose insulation properties and wet up. In fact, on a hike deep in the Pasayten, in darkness, I found myself suddenly head high in soaking fireweed and brush with no convenient place to stop and don rain gear. My daughter and I spent upwards of 30 minutes in these conditions trying to regain a faint trail and move to higher ground in search of a campsite. The arms of my Alpha were soaked, as were large patches of the jacket exposed and not covered by my pack. However, by the time we set up camp and bedded down, I was wearing a dry Alpha under my quilt. The downside? A brisk wind will cut through the jacket to some extent, the compromise of a material and face fabric that needs to breathe. If you'll be spending time belaying in gnarly weather, this would not be the best piece. However, the versatility of this garment was proven to me, in that for my usual uses I can leave a puffy at home as well as a light jacket; the Alpha replaces them both. Because of this I consider Polartech Alpha a breakthrough fabric technology. And Beyond that, this jacket is well constructed.

Helios Brokk Pants: was my pestering worth the wait? Yes. The pants are made from Tweave. This material is rugged, breathes well, and retains heat well. I've used them hiking in hot weather in Australia, on the Spit to Manly walk. I've worn them hiking in blowing exposed cold winds, in sub freezing temps, and crashing through wet brush. I've slept in them, rolling up the cuffs to keep dirt off my sleeping bag. There is just the right amount of stretch, so they don't bind when I place my leg over my head (maybe a slight exaggeration). I've worn them biking with the cuffs tucked into my socks, on 2000 foot climbs and a sub freezing 2000 foot chilly descent. However, I have two complaints: fit and belts.
     I am 6 feet tall with a slender build at 165 pounds. Every pant I've bought over the past 30 years for outdoor wear has fit me in size L. However, size L on this pant is just a bit roomy through the hips and waist. Plus, it has no internal cinching, so one needs to wear a belt, and I definitely need one with these; with a usual size 33 or 34 waist, if I tried to wear these with no belt they'd be around my knees after 10 steps. And I don't like belts under pack waist straps.
     When I talked to Rick (who also helped develop Polartech Alpha) at Beyond about this, he explained that the tie between their mission gear and their outdoor gear means the sizing is more for dudes that have muscles, not skinny old dudes like me. He also explained that in the military, troops wear belts. However, my plea to the company is this: take advantage of the nimbleness I described earlier as a strength and tailor these outdoor products to average outdoor uses and sizes (btw, I tried on a size M pant and they were just a smidge too tight). And ditch the belt loops to incorporate an internal cinching system. Thank you very much. Now after these gripes will I still wear the Brokk pants? You betcha, as the performance and functionality far outweigh the gripes.

Man in Black: Helios RA Fleece/ Aether base layers/Brokk PantsHelios RA Fleece Jacket: life would be simpler if I just hadn't purchased the fleece jacket. I actually stood whilst packing for a hike and contemplated which should I take, the fleece or the Alpha? I ended up packing them both, and using them both. There's always room in an ensemble for a good fleece piece, and this one delivers. The materials are top notch (Malden mills) and in the words of Rick, "there's a lot under the hood of this piece." Gridded fleece, stretchable fleece, appropriate pockets, gusseted underarms, and a perfect length in the body and the arms. And good looking enough where I've been wearing it around town.

Pricing: Beyond clothing isn't cheap. The consumer is going to pay more for the quality US made only materials, not some fleece knock off, and the fact that it's all stitched in the US. Without getting into actual numbers and percentages, Beyond is taking about half the profit that say, a TNF piece will deliver to the retailer, while paying about half again as much for materials and construction. However, these are the same reasons that led me to their establishment in the first place; I'll pay more for these very reasons. I've always been an advocate for US based cottage gear companies; in fact, just about all my outdoor gear is made in the US. With Beyond Clothing entering the fray, now I can say the same about my clothing, and I get very high quality gear to boot.

 

Beyond is going full bore in their development of new products (see sneak peek of ski pants above) which the consumer will see this year and next, with collections for different uses and environments and the ability to mix and match. In short, Beyond Clothing is positioning itself as a viable choice in the higher end retail outdoor clothing market. Viva le US!

Disclaimer: I purchased some products at a discount and was comped the Helios Brokk Pants. I was under no obligation to write anything or bias favorably because of this.

hiking in the Helios Alpha JacketAether pullover under Helios Alpha jacket

Thursday
Jan012015

DeLorme InReach: Invaluable

position reports sent from the Pasayten WildernessI had been putting off purchasing a satellite communicator for a few years as I just didn't see the need until my daughter and I planned a trip in 2014 to Washington's Pasayten Wilderness for 8 days. My wife would have no contact with us for over 9 days, and questions arise like, at what point do I get worried? At what point do I call someone? What if something happens to you on day 2....by the time I realize you are in trouble it would have been over a week? For various reasons I chose to purchase the DeLorme InReach over the SPOT, including the Iridium satellite system, subscription plans and customer reviews of both systems. Initially I chose the Safety Freedom plan for the InReach at $14.95/month, which gives the customer the option of suspending the plan at any time with no penalty and then reinstating it when needed. This would be good for people intending to use it say only in the summer months, but I have found that I've continued using the InReach through December. I recently changed the plan to an annual subscription (Safety) that costs $11.95/month based on the fact that I'll be skiing and hiking throughout the winter season. I find the very basic Safety plan adequate for my needs, in that I get unlimited preset messaging and 10 free text messages per month. Those wishing to take advantage of tracking and posting tracks for viewing would probably want one of the more expensive plans, so it all depends on your usage. Here's how I have used the InReach so far:

     • Preset Position Reports: before a trip I determine who I want position reports to go to (you can specify email or text messages) and use basically three:

     1. Start/Stop: I sent this report when I (we) set off for the day and when we reached camp.

     2. Regular Tracking Point: approximately every 3-4 hours I would turn the unit on and send a report. This way my wife would know that we were progressing into the hike and provide a general idea if we were on schedule or not.

     3. Off Trail Summit/High Point: I did some excellent off trail excursions this past year and this was a way to record summits and times and provide information as to my whereabouts had something happened and I was not able to use the emergency function.

     • Text Messaging: I found that the 10 free/month were more than adequate for our use. We took advantage of this when in the Pasayten by texting my wife and checking on specific trail closures due to fires and updating the weather. This was invaluable in our day to day trip planning, enabling us to alter our schedule accordingly. I also used it to arrange for a pickup at a trail head by a friend. I figure that if a situation arises where I need to communicate with multiple text messages and it takes me over my 10 free, then at $.50/ea it's not a big deal.

Other Advantages:

Goat Island/Banshee position reports     • Battery Life: my particular usage, where I turn the unit on and off, allowed me to send all reports and texts over 9 days and come home with 87% battery power still remaining. When I go on a day hike I just leave the unit on all day. To note, if the unit is not on but you are able to press the "SOS" button, it will automatically power up.

     • GPS: I had both the InReach and a GPS (Garmin 60CSx) on the Pasayten trip, and found that I much preferred the display I got by pairing the InReach with my iPhone 5S. Link up times were short and, assuming you have downloaded the appropriate maps to your phone using the free Earthmate app, the maps were superior. By also turning my phone on and off and using it only when needed, the 5S lasted the entire trip on one charge. However, the user must be aware that using extensive tracking modes and leaving your phone paired to the unit for long periods of time will significantly impact your battery life on both units.

position reports: Tokaloo Rock/MRNPSITUATIONS: On our first day of our 8 day trip, we soon ran into an individual who had been hiking all night. His wife had fallen and fractured her arm and he was hiking out to the nearest trailhead to get help. He had a DeLorme GPS in his hand. I offered the use of my InReach to contact authorities but after some discussion we determined that, with him being just 30 minutes to the trailhead which was right on the major road, that this wasn't necessary. In fact later we saw the helicopter that picked her up for a happy ending, but he did say he wished he had the InReach as this would have saved some time and he could have stayed with his wife in the campsite instead of leaving her alone when he left to get help.

     In the Olympics this past season an overdue hiker launched a SAR operation. The individual had become lost for a short time but soon regained his situational awareness, but decided to hike out via a wash to a different trailhead. As it turns out this wash was extremely rugged and it took him 3 days to gain a road and walk into a ranger station, calling off the search. Being able to text your family in a situation like this would preclude SAR operations and assuage worry at home.

     Ultimately we are responsible for making good decisions and being able to take care of ourselves in the wilderness, not counting on or relying on cell phones and satellite communicators in case of serious situations. However, a satellite communicator like the InReach takes an enormous amount of pressure off the hiker when it comes to the home front in that the worry factor is reduced significantly. If one's spouse or family can hear from the hiker periodically, especially on multi day trips, then the benefits far outweigh the cost. For this particular unit, I have experienced absolutely zero problems in either operation, pairing with my iPhone 5S and now 6, or function...every message I sent was received. All firmware and software updates were glitch free. In sum, my wife is the happiest and most satisfied beneficiary of my InReach. Is there a better reason when considering this purchase?

position reports sent in 2014: MRNP

Wednesday
Dec312014

A Frozen Farewell to 2014

With my daughter back from school for the holidays we managed to get in a couple more hikes before we say farewell to 2014, once again taking advantage of excellent weather for the Pacific Northwest: clear and cold. Cold for here is 23 degrees F, and we spent the day at Mount Rainier National Park, hiking from the Carbon River entrance up the Ipsut Creek trail to Ipsut Creek with a side trip to Green Lake. This is a mellow hike, mostly on the closed road with gentle grade, and even the side trip to Green Lake was with good footing in light snow accumulations. All considered, a finger numbing but glorious hike in frozen rain forest for a total of 14 miles. Happy New Year to all readers!

Ranger Falls, on the trail to Green Lake

dripping moss on the trail to Green Lakereminder of rain forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

layers of lightrain forest tears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

frozen swirls

Sunday
Dec072014

Willis Wall Year in Review: 2014

Following last year's "Willis Wall Snippets: 2013" and "Happy Holidays from Gossamer Gear" I decided to start an annual review/Holiday message, incorporating video and photos I've had the pleasure to collect over this past year. Here's wishing all readers a Wonderland Holiday season and best wishes for 2015.

Thursday
Dec042014

ZPacks Arc Slim review

Arc Slim on the Wonderland TrailA natural tendency when one acquires a new piece of gear is to share one's excitement, perhaps via blog. I try to wait until I have enough experience with a piece of equipment before I do an actual review, and an appropriate amount of time has passed to render an opinion on the ZPacks Arc Slim pack. I've put a few hundred miles on the pack, including a full day of drenching rains. In a nutshell, not too shabby.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Dec022014

ZPacks Duplex Tent review

campsite above Ross Lake, WAWell, I've used the ZPacks Duplex for a year now with enough time to render some observations. To qualify, I am not talking many nights, as I use a number of different shelter systems depending on the trip. Probably the best test was this year's Pasayten Wilderness hike with my daughter where we spent 8 nights out. That said, my general impressions are this may be as close to the ideal backpacking tent as a manufacturer can come. The reasons?

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Nov232014

2 Rare Transition Hikes

DeLorme map with position report timesHIKE 1: (12 miles/3000')

When I write rare, I mean the opportunity to do a great hike in weather that seasonally is not so cooperative. For October, this turned out to be on the 19th. My daughter was home for a few days from school and was craving a taste of North West outdoors, it didn't matter if it was in rain, she just wanted to get out. Staying within a two hour drive, we traveled to Mt. Rainier National Park to try something new, a loop hike starting at Mowich Lake that would take us up above 7000 feet with a possible summit of Observation Rock if time allowed.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Oct112014

Mt Rainier: Pyramid Peak

route to Pyramid Peak (6937')Thursday, October 9th may turn out to be the last great weather day before typical Northwest conditions set in. With this forecast in mind, my buddy CB joined me for a "closeout" hike under clear skies and decidedly non-fall like temps.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep202014

40 Hours on the Wonderland Trail

 

time map for position reports on the WTThis trip had an interesting start, as I was back from London without much sleep and decided to take advantage of good weather on Monday and Tuesday (Sep 15-16) to head out. But first I was supposed to pick up some new pants from Beyond Clothing, and waited at the Seattle store for the UPS truck to arrive with said trousers. As I finally had to head out the door from the no show truck, they sent me to their warehouse in Kent to pick up a pair on the way to the mountain.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Sep182014

Mt Rainier: The 7Up Hikes-Tokaloo Rock Loop

Tokaloo Rock loop time map

This is the last in this year's "7Up Hikes" series. My goal of hikes around Rainier taking advantage of off trail segments and touching points above 7000 feet certainly delivered a unique and different experience of the park beyond the Wonderland. That said, this last hike (September 10th) I ended up scaling back quite a bit as the original included another high point on a cleaver and 41 miles of hiking and biking, probably too much for this old man. This one was juuust right, doable in 12 hours: Stats: 25 miles (8 miles biking)/5300' elevation gain and loss.

Click to read more ...