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Dispatches : Gear

Exclusive: Black Diamond Announces New Technical Apparel


You’re reading it here first.

In a few days, Black Diamond Equipment will unveil its new collection of clothing to media and retailers at the Outdoor Retailer Trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah. The clothing has been under development for two years, and you’ll be able to buy it at outdoor specialty shops this coming fall.

Outside pulled Tim Bantle, head of Black Diamond’s clothing team, from the ski slopes at Utah’s Canyons Resort for an exclusive interview on design, philosophy, and why the world needs another outdoor apparel line.

On Black Diamond’s Design process and ethic:
Design. Engineer. Build. Repeat. Black Diamond has been doing this for 55 years. Though really the process starts with use. Field use is the first point of entry into product here. Then we go through design, engineer, build and we’re manically addicted to starting it all over again. It’s iterative over time. You can look back over 50 years at carabineers to see how this has played out in history. In apparel we will see a similar evolutionary path. The “BD-ness” of the process is a guarantee of great apparel to come. Does that mean we’ll redefine silhouette of jacket? No. We didn’t do it with the carabiner.  

On why the world needs another high-end apparel brand:
The narrative of our industry is the movement of equipment brands into apparel over time. This usually takes place early in the lifecycle of the brand. The situation we find ourselves in here at Black Diamond is a bit unusual. We have a legacy reaching back five decades and have built a global business on hardgoods that’s as big or bigger than most existing apparel brands. As we build into apparel, we're simply trying to take everything we've learned in equipment and apply it. We want to build product that matters.   

Patagonia, Marmot, Norrona, Mammut, Arc'teryx, Mountain Hardwear—they all make equipment plus clothing. Nobody has hung onto $130 million of pure equipment sales. Apparel makes those kinds of numbers possible.

One of the brands we admire for balancing hardgoods and softgoods is Burton. What Burton was to snowboarding, Black Diamond has been to alpine climbing, climbing, and backcountry skiing. Burton has developed into a world-class hardgoods and softgoods brand.

I am pretty sure when I bought my first Black Diamond headlamp, Princeton Tec and Petzl were on the shelf too. It was the same with gloves. Black Diamond has done a superb job of grinding out really successful business initiatives, of competing in a space that sometimes seems saturated. I think it’s because we’re engineering-minded outdoor lovers who live at the base of a mountain range.

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Mammut Introduces New Protective Airbag Packs at Outdoor Retailer


Airbags are a hot topic in the snowsports industry, and Mammut is introducing an evolution of its Snowpulse system at next week’s Outdoor Retailer Show that it’s calling a new category in the airbag market—protective airbags.

The new Snowpulse PAS (protective airbag system) airbags offer trauma protection not currently available from other airbags. In forested and rocky terrain, which means most places in North America, many skiers die from trauma during a slide, not suffocation from being buried. Mechanical trauma causes approximately 15 to 32 percent of avalanche deaths depending on location and which study you’re referencing. Because of its extended neck wrapping bag, an avy victim wearing one of Mammut’s Snowpulse PAS packs has additional chest, neck, and head protection from impacts, better neck stabilization in a slide, and a greater chance of coming to rest with his head on top of the snow when a slide has finally settled.

In the PAS bags, the main airbag volume is in front of and above your head. That means when you come to rest in an avalanche wearing this pack, your head and face will typically be on top of the avalanche with your body in a sitting position, back downslope.

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A Snowboard Made of Flax, Cashew, and Coke Bottles

Craig_SUSCAMRC development engineer Craig Atkins with the SPUC. Photo: AMRC Center

Some day, the researchers at the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC) will help design lighter, smarter vehicles, from electric cars to airplanes, that will employ bio-based materials with low-environmental-impact and high-performance characteristics that will make travel significantly more energy efficient. For now, however, they're starting with a snowboard.

"We wanted to develop our knowledge with biocomposites," explains AMRC researcher Alistair Murray. "We wanted to be ahead of the game in terms of our knowledge" of working with biocomposite materials, and what we could offer lab members, he says. (These members include Boeing, Rolls Royce, and a range of other blue chip firms in aviation, transportaion, and defense.) "So we made up some projects where we could get hands-on experience."

One of these was to create a snowboard using a core made by the Swiss firm Bcomp that is derived from recycled PET (like Coke bottles) and flax fiber. Instead of fiberglass or carbon fiber skins, Murray and his cohorts used flax fibers embedded in a resin containing 30 percent cashew nut husks epoxy. Because Murray was also planning a (ahem) sabbatical in Whistler this winter, he's been strapped with additional work: testing the board. Poor guy.

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Behind the Scenes: How 'Outside' Reviews Bikes

Survey the road bike spreadSurveying the road bike spread at Gates Pass.

Reviewed. I’m always amazed how different magazines and blogs interpret that word. Some publications call in a product, use it a time or two, and then print their opinions—which yields a pretty cursory and fleeting impression. Others scan the Web for ideas and reviews and dress up some background knowledge and trips to media launches as critical advice. And then there are the “buyer’s guides,” which pose as gear critiques even though they are often nothing more than product listings and prices.

At Outside, we're demanding about our reviews, especially when it comes to bikes. Our bike reviews are the result of a months-long undertaking that involves some 100 bikes, dozens of testers, and thousands of miles of riding.

Consideration on the bikes that you see in our reviews in the Summer Buyer’s Guide and May print edition actually begins eight months before the magazines hit the stands at Interbike, the industry trade show where we scour the floor for the most interesting- and innovative-looking rides. In the weeks following the show, we begin contacting manufacturers for their products, and the bikes begin pouring in to our local bike shop, The Broken Spoke Santa Fe, which unboxes and builds them up. Meanwhile, I—along with a host of editors and testers—do my best to log a couple of hours on each test bike by New Year's.

A truck full of bikes26 feet of Penske, loaded with 2013 bikes.

Testing begins in earnest in early January—this week. After humping all the bikes to Tucson (56 of them in a Penske this year, and a handful are still on the way), we assemble a dozen testers a day and spend a week riding in circles. Each day is devoted to a different genre (XC Race, for instance, or aero road), and from 8 a.m. 'til 3 p.m. we ride hour-long test loops, stopping between each lap to record our thoughts and trade bikes. At night there’s bourbon-fueled discussion of the bikes we rode that day and lots of tubes to patch.

By the end of week, we amass around 300 review forms, which become the basis for choosing the bikes that make the magazine. The top mountain and road picks become our Gear of the Year winners. And then comes the least enviable part of the process: boxing up all the beat-up bikes and shipping them back.

Over the next week we’ll be zinging around the cactus-lined trails and rough back roads around Tucson to pick our favorite bikes of 2013. Check back here for pictures, initial impressions, and tales of the desert shenanigans. And if you have questions about the tests, send them along.

—Aaron Gulley

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Dynafit Beast 16: The Ultimate Alpine Touring Binding

Dynafit Beest

The perfect alpine touring (AT) binding for riders who want a high DIN doesn’t exist ... yet.

This fall, Salomon and Atomic released their Guardian and Tracker, respectively. They’re DIN 16 bindings, as is the Marker Duke EPF.

But unlike alpine bindings, which have independent toe and heel pieces, high DIN AT bindings have always required a frame that holds the toe and heel. For touring, the binding plate unlocks at the heel, and pivots on the toe, with the frame attached to the skier's boot.

The problem with a frame binding is that it creates a dead spot in the middle of the ski. When you’re arcing a turn, you flex your ski ... until you hit the section where the frame is screwed into the ski, at which point you are pressuring the binding, which doesn't allow the ski to flex underneath it. Furthermore, when you’re skinning uphill, the weight of a high DIN touring binding is strapped to your foot and you’re lifting it with every step, which is incredibly tiring.

When Dynafit releases its Beast 16 AT binding in January at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, Utah, the perfect AT binding will finally exist.

Designed by Dynafit’s Frederick Anderson with skier Eric “Hoji” Hjorfeifson, the Beast 16 is the world’s first DIN 16 binding with torsional rigidity equal to any full alpine binding. It skis like an alpine binding, and it’s significantly lighter than any other DIN 16 AT binding currently out there.

The Beast 16 solves the problem of other burly AT bindings. It has independent toe and heel pieces, which won't cause a dead spot in your ski. The ski can flex through its entire length. It also eliminates the issue of extra binding weight on your foot that you’re moving with every step because it uses tech fittings—arms that hold pins into divets in the toe of a boot. In the case of the Beast 16, the side arms are beefed up and look more like an alpine toepiece than a typical Dynafit binding.

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