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