Gear Reviews

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014: Shells

eVent membrane technology goes stretchy—and that's great news for the evolution of softshells.

Exciting news for do-it-all hikers: eVent, the membrane technology known for its superior breathability, is moving into the softshell market in 2015 and plans to roll out (via apparel brands such as Rab and Montrane) an innovation that could finally solve the devilish dilemma of whether you should buy a waterproof shell or a windproof one.

“It’s tough to have it both ways,” says Chad Kelly, eVent’s global product manager. Breathable shells have made big strides in terms of water resistance over the years, but true 100% weatherproofing has remained elusive. The reason? “Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coated [read : waterproof] fabrics traditionally don’t stretch,” Kelly says, requiring a shell to make sacrifices in one direction or another. This tradeoff has kept eVent, which built its corporate reputation on superior air permeability, firmly planted the hardshell market—until now.

While some fabric techs (notably Gore-Tex) have endeavored to solve the wind/water problem by applying a heavy polyurethane (PU) coating to shells, Kelly says that the new dvStretch technology has found an alternative, PU-free workaround. Exactly how remains a closely guarded secret, but one clue may be eVent’s partnership with Italian laminate specialist Trapuntatura Bel Punto S.r.l., which also supplies raw materials for the competitive European cycling apparel market. The majority of dvStretch shell prototypes are still in development, but I did get to feel it in action on one cycling jacket (pictured above). Stay tuned for this technology to make the leap into hiker- and skier-centric product lines.

One potential challenge to bringing these new stretchy windblockers stateside? Price. The oversaturated softshell market has driven price points down to $100 and below, and recreational consumers will have no shortage of cheaper options. Will enough outdoor enthusiasts be willing to pay a premium for superior hybrid performance in a shell? That remains to be seen.

Still, the move feels big, and eVent could be poised to challenge Gore-Tex’s historic superiority in this arena. “We stayed out of softshells until we could do it right,” Kelly says. “We think we’ve found our sweet spot.”