If you have been following the latest gear trends and new releases this year you have certainly noticed some sort of evolution. Each apparel company seem to have its own top of the line hybrid product.
I am not using hybrid in the sense of multipurpose gear here, although some of the new stuff is, but more to define the use of different fabrics and panels in the same piece of kit. Let’s look at the classic construction of a down jacket. You’ll have first a layer of face fabric, usually water repellent like Pertex Microlight. Then comes the insulation filling, goose down, and then an inner layer of fabric, often the same as the outer fabric, without the water repellent treatment. A few things can change from one manufacturer to another but generally there isn’t much more to it.
Now this simple design is all good but we could optimise it a bit more. For example, arms don’t need the same amount of insulation as the core, shoulders could use stronger fabric to minimise wear when using a backpack.
This winter, hybrid jackets are popping up everywhere. Some are using a mix of down insulation and synthetic insulation like the Berghaus Mount Asgard Hybrid II Jacket (above) and its hydrophobic down core and Primaloft One arms, shoulder and hood.
Patagonia’s Nano Puff Hybrid Jacket mixes Primaloft One on the top half and their own R2 fleece fabric on the rest of the jacket. Very similar, the Marmot Alpinist Hybrid (left) has a Primaloft One body front panel and Polartec Power Stretch Pro on the arms, hood and back. Another example would be Rab’s Generator Stretch which has the same Polartec Power Stretch Pro but only on the side and under the arms for added freedom of movement.
One hybrid shell we are reviewing at the moment, the Patagonia Mixed guide hoody (bottom) is half a hard-shell with its waterproof H2No membrane construction but also include soft-shell panels in areas less critical like the back and the bottom half of the front. The matching pants also use soft-shell material in the crotch area for added flexibility.
So is it really a revolution? Having special hybrid designs makes a lot of sense in some situation. Optimising the insulation distribution with a mix of down and synthetic for example should help minimise overheating while keeping the bulk and the weight down.
But who is going to make the most of it? The hybrid kit around this season have quite narrow use-cases. Hybrid does not mean versatile and the general public will not benefit a lot from having less insulted sleeves on their winter jacket. When they buy a down jacket it is for going outdoor but probably also for everyday use, where the different insulations will not add much to the comfort. Quite the opposite in fact.
Same goes for hybrid shells. While our Patagonia Mixed Guide Hoody is the state of the art jacket for alpine climbing it will not keep you dry in a prolonged downpour so you cannot buy this one and expect it to replace you ageing rain jacket. And let’s be honest, for the price of the Mixed Guide Hoody you could get yourself a lightweight waterproof breathable jacket and a decent soft-shell. Each on its own would do a better job in terms of waterproofness or breathability.
There is also the obvious marketing advantage. Why buy one “average” insulated jacket for all your adventures when you could get one highly tailored jacket for each of the sports you do?
This is not saying there is no interest in this new type of gear. For gear junkies like us, it would not be a problem to own ten different jackets, as long as they fit in the closet. More seriously though, for professionals and athletes, highly specialised products are necessary to achieve the highest level of performance. They can use gear to their full potential because they will only wear it in the conditions it was designed to shine. If you practice a particular activity regularly, chances are you already have apparels specifically designed for that type of activity as well as more generic gear.
If you have in your gear closet some hybrid piece of kit, we would be very interested to hear in the comments what motivated you to buy it and how and where you are using it.