Berghaus has dipped its toes in the lightweight kit market before, but for next spring 2014 the north-eastern brand has taken a deep breath and dived right in with the announcement not only of what it claims is the world's lightest and smallest-packing waterproof jacket, but also a super-lightweight synthetic insulated top and a pair of lightweight race packs.
We're just back from a two-day jaunt in the Lake District where the Berghaus team introduced the new kit along with a whole bunch of other stuff - watch this space - but the new lightweight kit arguably stole the limelight.
Driven By Gatta
Like we said, Berghaus already has some 'fast and light' kit aimed at runners, bikes and fast-packers, but they've moved it up a notch for next spring partly thanks to the involvement of French sponsored athlete Phillipe Gatta. Gatta, who rather sweetly thinks of himself as 'just a normal guy' and 'not talented or gifted in any way' has an extraordinary outdoors CV regardless.
Not only does he regularly complete and podium in 20-hour plus ultra races, he's also climbed Everest, has impressive technical rock pedigree and, despite having a full-time job as an IT team leader, still trains nine times a week for 18-19 hours.
But his next project is the big one, something is calling The Ultimate Trail, and is a planned running traverse of the entire Great Himalayan Trail through Nepal a mission which involves running 1700km in 40 days with 1000,000m of ascent and taking in three glaciated passes over 6200m, which is where Gatta's alpine skills will come in handy.
To make that feasible, Gatta and his wife, Anna who will be supporting him on the run, have set a limit, including clothing which is in use, of just 10kg, which sounds a lot until you start realising it also includes shelter, food and other basics.
The challenge for the crack Mtn.Haus design team was 'to create the word's lightest layering system for the world's ultimate trail'.
We were kind of privileged to meet the Berghaus design team and get an insight into how they developed the new kit with the Gattas. We won't go into exhaustive detail, but when we say they 'worked closely' with the athletes, we're talking stuff like a designer running part of the tough Spine Challenge race from Edale to Hawes along the Pennine Way alongside Philippe Gatta and getting real-time, instand feedback on how the prototype clothing was performing. That's proper dedication.
The development also included repeated running circuits with the athletes fitted with i-button temperature and humidity sensors to monitor breathability with different fabrics and designs along with more conventional question and answer stuff.
World's Lightest Waterproof Jacket - The Hyper Smock
Let's get the weight out of the way first, it's a claimed 110g for a size large, which is incredible and lighter than most windproofs for a fully-taped waterproof shell with a hood and stiffened peak. In fact the design started as a windproof.
Berghaus developed an ultra-fine 7D fabric - the lightest down-proof fabrics are usually 10D then added a very thin PU coating to increase strength and water resistance. It was when early tests suggested that the jacket was effectively near waterproof already, that the Mtn.Haus guys switched emphasis into making it into a full-on waterproof top.
Originally the team tried to reduce weight further by using bonded rather than taped seams - tape accounts for around 20g in weight, so a bonded jacket might even have come in below 100g - but found it wasn't strong enough.
There are inevitable compromises: just one small chest pocket, a hydostratic head of 'just' 7000mm, which is still waterproof and breathability of a similar level to the Berghaus AQ range of waterproofs and the lightness of the fabric means that while the Berghaus team is confident it'll survive running use, it won't rub along happily with rock abrasion making it a non-starter for most fast and light climbing use.
All this and a stuff sac too with a price-tag of £120.
Double-Sided Lightweight Insulation - Hyper Therm
Starting with the stats again, the claimed weight of the Hyper Therm top - it's a jacket rather than a smock - is just 167g making it, says Berghaus, the world's lightest synthetic insulation. But it's rather more than that, it's also reversible with different fabrics on either side giving your the option of more wind protection but lesser breathability or less windprotection, but much improved cooling and vapour transfer.
How does it work? One face fabric is more open and allows a much better flow of vapour through it than the other. On the CFM scale where a completely windproof fabric rates 'zero', and Pertex would be '1', the more open fabric used on the Hyper Therm would score around 50.
If you wear that side on the outside of the jacket, heat generated is washed away by the wind almost instantly making it far cooler. Reverese things though, and the other fabric with CFM of around 15 on the outside and you're more protected and will stay warmer.
You might choose to wear the more wind resistant side outerwards first thing in the morning, then reverse things as you and the day warm up. It's genius and the Mtn.Haus tests show that it makes a huge difference, particularly when you're runing and generating lots of heat.
In tests there was a 20% reduction in humidity when walking with the open side outwards, but a 75% reduction in humidity when running with the cool side outwards compared to a fully windproof garment. That should also mean it's wearable under a waterproof shell if needed.
It makes lots of sense on paper and we actually have a test Hyper Therm top to have a play with. Price will be £120, same as the waterproof Hyper Smock.
Incidentally, our medium Hyper Therm weighs a genuine 168g complete with stuff-sac, the stuff-sac is 8g making the garment just 160g in weight - most racers will simply stow the top in a stuff pocket.
Two Hyper Packs
Last but not least, there are two minimal, stripped-down Hyper Packs, a 22L one for short adventure race-type events and adventures and a larger 37L version which will be what Gatta uses on the Great Himalayan Trail and is a development of the Octans race pack.
They're arguably less 'stand-out' than the clothing being stripped-down lightweight packs with lots of stretch storage pockets, minimal foam back sheets and so on, but they have been thought through with features like over-sized shoulder straps to reduce pressure in the area by a calculated 23%
The main opening on the 22 is zip-can style by the way, but a lid-pocket and under-pocket are retained, while the larger pack has a conventional lid lay-out.
At the moment there is a women's specific version of the Hyper Therm, but not of the Hyper Smock, though it is going to be available in XS and is said to use a slim, athletic fit, or of the packs, though obviously that may change in time.
It's tempting to say that 'every little counts' and of course it does, but in the world of ultra-light kit, these are actually big savings. To underline that, when the Gattas competed at the Utra Trail of Mount Fuji, the scrutineers intially refused to believe that the Hyper Smock was a bona fide waterproof top and had to be shown the taped seams to convince them, so light was it.
And overall, Philippe Gatta's pack was a whopping 1500g lighter than the next lightest load - and that's a lot. Of course it helps when your waterproof jacket and insulation piece combined weigh just 277g and pack tiny as well.
The Hyper range of kit is due out in early 2014 - sorry if you're slavering over it already - but we have a Hyper 22 pack and a Hyper Therm top sat here right now and we'll be letting you know how we get on with them.
More Berghaus stuff at www.berghaus.com.