So many outdoor enthusiasts seem fearless: They climb the biggest rocks, hike the highest points, ski the steepest trails and do unimaginable things with their snowboards. But they don't like doing it with cold fingers, a chilly wind at their back, or a chafed chin.
It's those little things that can stop you in your tracks, say outerwear insiders, so designers and manufacturers have worked to satisfy them. There are zipper "garages" at the top of parkas to keep metal from rubbing against the skin; fabric flaps cover the rear ends of snowboarders who spend quite a bit of time with their backsides in the snow; and curved elbows so that climbers' jackets don't ride up when they extend their arms.
A ponytail opening on hats and hoods is now a common option, and some gloves and mittens have miniature wiper blades for goggles.
Talk about cushy — there is ergonomic padding in expedition-worthy socks.
"Details are everything. ... Every little detail adds a little bit of an advantage to an experienced climber, skier," says Greg Thomsen, managing director of Adidas Outdoor USA. "Just because you're tough doesn't mean you don't want to keep warm. If they're comfortable, athletes can go to the next level."
Ed Schmults, CEO of Wild Things, a technical outerwear brand, adds: "If your fingers or toes are cold, you're not having a good time. In that way, gear should be neutral."
Athletes, whether they are serious mountaineers or weekend skiers, don't want their clothes to be a distraction, adds Neil Munro, product director of The North Face Summit Series. They want to put all their energy into their sport, he says.
Among the new North Face features are lightweight down — arguably the biggest trend in the outdoor market, Munro says — that's been combined with a synthetic fiber so that when you wear a backpack the feathers don't get pushed away from the core and subtle prints that add friction to slippery waterproof shells to keep the backpacks from moving around.
A little touch, such as fleece-lined pockets, takes less technical know-how but can have just as much impact, Munro says. "Who doesn't want fleece-lined pockets?"