New Tech & Trends in Outerwear (Ep.49)

Technical outerwear and apparel continues to evolve, but what are the most interesting new technologies and trends you should know about? To answer that, we talk to Blister’s outerwear guru, Sam Shaheen.

Sam Shaheen reviews the North Face Dolomiti 1/4 Zip FuseForm Hoody for Blister Gear Review.Sam Shaheen reviews the North Face Dolomiti 1/4 Zip FuseForm Hoody for Blister Gear Review.
Sam Shaheen in TNF Dolomiti 1/4 Zip FuseForm Hoody.

To put it mildly, Sam is interesting. At the age of 15, he started his own outerwear company, and he recently completed his graduate studies in Bern, Switzerland. So in this episode, Sam and I talk about his background; starting and running an outerwear company; how and why Sam first got involved with Blister; and what Sam regards as the most important new technologies and trends in outerwear & apparel.


  • Sam’s background (2:00)
  • Starting an outerwear company at the age of 15 (5:55)
  • The significant challenges of building an outerwear company (11:00)
  • How — and why — Sam first got involved with Blister (18:58)
  • New Tech #1: “breathable” insulation (25:20)
  • New Tech #2: “the coolest technology ever”- new manufacturing processes (31:43)
  • New Tech #3: “the death of down” (35:26)

Related Articles on Blister by Sam Shaheen:

8 comments on “New Tech & Trends in Outerwear (Ep.49)”

  1. I really enjoyed listening to the podcast. The gear talk was right up my alley, thank you!

    I just wanted to comment on the hardshell topic, along with the “Death of Down” topic. I am by no means an expert and Sam has way, way more experience in garment production than I do, but I thought it was important to mention a couple things.

    As an ice climber who started to dabble in winter alpine climbing, I feel the breathable insulation introduction has been a game changer. My argument for a hardshell is weight. With the introduction of breathables, climbers can wear their breathable pieces ninety-percent of the time and have a Gore-Tex, NeoShell, eVent, etc. shell packed in their pack for emergencies or when the wind is just too much for the breathable insulating piece to handle. Softshells can easily way two or three times as much as a bear-bones, climbing-orientated waterproof/breathable.

    The sub twelve ounce hardshell is what I carry and two of them come to mind. The Arc’teryx Alpha FL Jacket and the Westcomb Shift LT Hoody. The Alpha FL is Gore-Tex Pro and the Shift LT is NeoShell. Both are +/- twelve ounces and are great pieces of kit!

    Secondly, I pray for the day synthetic insulation can match the warmth, as in clo values, that down has, along with its compressibility and rebound effects. As a winter climber, I’ve tried a vast amount of synthetic pieces and none of them, at least for me, come close to the warmth and compressibility of goose down. When it’s 10ºF and your’re at a belay at elevation, modern synthetic insulations just can’t even play in the same ball park as goose down in winter temperatures.

    I really do hope Sam is right and one day, synthetics can replace down. I hate the thought of plucking feathers from an animal and I hate the fact that you have to “baby” down so it doesn’t get wet.

    Just my two cents! I really appreciate this episode, thank you!

    • Hey Chris,

      Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it! I think it’s important to note that when I talk about softshells, I just mean shells that offer less protection than traditional hardshells. They typically feature thinner membranes or even just tight woven face fabrics and usually have no fleecy insulation. These jackets weigh 20-50% more than their hardshell counterparts but are more comfortable and pack down just as easily all while breathing extremely well. Softshells aren’t all hard faced fleeces!

      Also, I think you’ll be very impressed by some of the new synthetic insulation that’s coming out in the fall, I’ve been very impressed myself and I think some companies are getting close to matching the performance of down.

  2. Thanks Sam for following up your 101 & 202 articles with this audio update on new garment tech. New insulation prospects sound exciting long-term, but since my local climate (Tahoe) is warm enough that my down puffy spends 99% of its time in my pack as an emergency layer, I’d like to pick your brain about tech I use much more often: waterproof shells. As an endurance athlete, I agree 100% with your premise that the outdoor industry oversells the waterproof properties of GoreTex. I swore off the stuff for cycling decades ago, & for snow sports I’ve sought out the most breathable soft-shells, eVent & NeoShell garments I can get my hands on.
    This leads, however, to the major caveat I’ve discovered as a resort skier: *sitting*.
    A warm snowpack is a wet one, & after years of sitting on iced-over lift chairs in ski pants, experience has taught that neither eVent, NeoShell, or the average 10k PU face fabric stand up to the pressure of sitting in the wet like 3L Gore. Since half my family is in the market for new ski pants this year, I find myself leaning heavily towards Gore 3L models, but find Gore’s nomenclature & marketing copy a jumbled mess.
    My questions for you:
    1) what is the story w/ Gore “C-Knit” and how does it compare to Gore Pro? Far more manufacturers are using C-Knit, even in ultralight touring-oriented kits, but Gore’s site is vague on waterproof/breathability ratings.
    2) do you have any tips for non-Gore fabrics or pant models I may have missed that would offer maximum “sit in the wet” protection as an alternative to Gore 3L? If so, my pocketbook would undoubtedly thank you!

  3. @Matt N “I agree 100% with your premise that the outdoor industry oversells the waterproof properties of GoreTex”

    Yes and No.
    -The average consumer is the one asking for gore-tex if they don’t have a deep tech knowledge. So if you want to sell product in the $ realm that 3L gtx sells at, it’s really hard to break from that, especially in shoes. It’s certainly not to say that big companies don’t want to make stuff in that $ range without the limitations imposed by gore (first generation of the new TNF summit series, ex L5 is non-gore). Which leads me into my next point…
    -This is partially because of the marketing juggernaut / bullying business practices from goretex. They’ve made it so that without the black and gold diamond hang tag means a crap load to the average consumer. Remember when REI had a shoe line? Then REI changed their jackets to eVent and Gore stopped selling them GTX for their shoes…no GTX for hiking shoes, no sales (this was pre eVent shoe membranes).
    -Also the fact that Gore were the first to the table for WPB fabrics means they do have that “kleenex” level of recognition for WPB.
    -Now the companies that are actually making the non-gore membranes that get rebranded into “private label” membranes (marmot precip, pata h2no, tnf dryvent) are actually starting to make membranes that are more advanced in one way or another to gore…but again see above points.
    -You are right about the sitting bit though. GTX is still seems to be the best “fortress” WPB.
    -C-Knit is a lighter and more breathable fabric package in general. Lighter circular knit lining but not knit on the outside (if I’m remembering right).

    @Jonathan and @Sam

    Super stoked to find out you guys do a podcast! The no punches pulled reviews that you guys do are so needed in this age of pay to play “reviews” and “buyer’s guides.” You guys and Outdoor Gear Lab are keeping the real reviews alive!

    • Hey C,

      Yep, I agree, Gore is a bit of a bully when it comes to these things. It certainly isn’t a simple thing either. And thanks for the kind words, we appreciate it!

  4. Hey Matt, thanks for the comment! To address your questions:

    1) C-Knit is a two fold product. Part one is the backer (ie, the part of the 3L fabric that touches your skin). The C-Knit backer is considerably softer and a bit lighter than the Pro backer. The Pro backer is woven and is designed for durability rather than comfort. C-Knit is designed for comfort. As a result, C-Knit garments tend to have a much softer hand feel and better stretch/general comfort than their Pro counterparts. The other part of C-Knit is the membrane. Gore is pretty tight lipped on the specifics of this membrane as far as I can gather but it seems to be a very similar membrane to Gore “Performance” of old — a highly refined version of their standard ePTFE-PU laminate. I also suspect that several variations of this fabric exist under the C-Knit label. In general, C-Knit will be lighter, softer, more comfortable, less durable and probably less breathable than Pro.

    2) As far as this goes, one thing I think that is super important to evaluate is your intended use. For instance, for an inbounds pant, I almost always prefer a 2L option. It greatly simplifies layering due to its increased warmth over 3L constructions and it saves a huge amount of money while also giving me twice as many options to chose from. On super warm spring days, I’ll break out my 3L pants on lifts but 2L is a solid choice, especially for kids or people who tend to run cold. For off brand 3L options, it is quite tough to nail these down well. As a rule of thumb, they are all getting better and some even purportedly out perform their Gore Tex equivalents. If you’re looking for pants, I would stay away from any marketed as air permeable but with the plethora of options and the generally hazy marketing in these WPB’s, it is a bit of a crap shoot. The good news is that they are all getting better, so it is increasingly difficult to find a bad fabric out there.

    Also, for general layering principle, I like to have my pants one step more waterproof (and therefore less breathable) than my jacket because, yes, you are often sitting and kneeling regardless of where you ski.

    I hope this helps!

  5. Thanks Sam, that confirms what I’ve been able to gather about the C-Knit / Gore Pro distinction thus far.
    Great thoughts about going 2L on pants & top vs. bottom layering & exactly in line with the philosophy I’ve honed over 30yrs on snow, especially now as the guy who needs to keep 3 women warm & dry at the resort without killing the budget. You sweat more upstairs, & need to stay drier downstairs.
    As for “intended use” location plays big role w/ 100% of family skiing slated for local days on the season pass: even my 11 & 14yr olds have been clamoring for lightweight shell pants & jackets because the standard, insulated “kids’ outerwear” I bought them when we did more destination travel is way too hot even on storm days here in Tahoe.
    Unfortunately, this eliminates like 80% of available women’s ski pant models right up front, but you’ve got to narrow your options somehow.
    The girls have also taken notice that mom & I love our bibs with removable, stretch-woven uppers for max versatility & comfort, which is going to add to the pricetag. Honestly, aside from added cost, I don’t understand why the majority of ski pants aren’t made this way. Are their honestly skiers out there that enjoy snow down their pants on pow days or during routine wipeouts?

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