Berghaus Relaunches Extrem For 2016
Berghaus has completely redesigned its top-end technical Extrem clothing range for autumn 2016 and we're up at the brand's newly refurbished HQ in sunny Washington, Tyne and Wear for a sneak early look at two items in particular: the innovation-packed 8000 Pro waterproof Gore-Tex shell and the improbably warm, but still light, Ramche 2.0 down expedition jacket.
But before Extrem product ninja Paul Cosgrove - a recent arrival from fellow NE brand Montane - gets into the grand unveiling, we get a guided tour of the newly revamped Berghaus HQ and, more importantly, a look at some of the in-house research and development facilities.
Importantly because, along with close collaboration with and feedback from elite climbers like Leo Houlding and Mick Fowler, it's the key to the crack MtnHaus team which is behind many of the key technical developments at Berghaus. In a nutshell, Berghaus can prototype and test garments in house.
No Backwards And Forwards
No sending prototypes backwards and forwards between the designer and a far eastern factory, a new proto can be made up in the morning, tested in the afternoon, tweaked again next morning and then the process repeated for as long as it takes to get the design bang on.
One nice example is a down test area that's being used to optimise the amount of down added to each channel of a jacket - too little and it won't be warm enough, too much and you're both wasting down and actually reducing warmth.
Tested To Destruction
Next door there's a comprehensive test lab where Berghaus technicians can measure everything from the tear-strength and abrasion resistance of a fabric through to wind and water resistance. It means the brand can optimise its choice of materials and even, if it chooses, develop its own fabrics to suit its needs.
The facilities fuel the MtnHaus team and that, in turn, is the driving force behind innovations like water-resistant Hydrodown which was an industry first and body-mapping based on real scientific research using heat-sensing cameras and temperature and humidity sensors.
8000 Pro: 'The Most Technical Mountaineering Jacket In The World'
And it's all culminated in the new 8000 Pro Gore-Tex jacket, which Cosgrove describes as 'the most technical mountaineering jacket in the world' and sponsored athlete Leo Holding, who has worked with the brand for 20 years now, says is 'the best waterproof jacket Berghaus has ever made - it feels like you've got on armour on'.
Cosgrove beckons us over to a large table an unveils the Pro 8000. Visually it's splendidly restrained. No bright, colour-contrast zips or mad acid panels, just a classic Berghaus blue with just the subtlest of yellow details to catch the eye. Look closely though and you can see it's beautifully made.
The seams are stitched at rate of 13-14 stitches per inch rather than the bog standard 7-8, which makes for neater and stronger joins, the seams and taping are immaculate and there's a give-away MtnHaus print on the main-zip's storm-flap.
Everything on the jacket has seemingly been thought through. The fabric is light, but tough and very breathable Gore-Tex Pro, but not just any Gore-Tex Pro, the lighter 40D fabric in the body is exclusive to Berghaus and picks up less moisture than 'any other Gore-Tex fabric' which in turn means better breathability when wet and less moisture retention.
My Hood Has Magnets In It
That's just the start though. Get this, to tackle the problem of creating a hood which is capable to comfortably accommodating a helmet and also being effective with a bare head, Berghaus has inserted a series of high-tech French magnets which click together to reduce hood volume when you wear it without a helmet.
Yes, it sounds gimmicky, but the Xpanse Hood - get it? - been tested in anger by Houlding and first impressions - we have a jacket here right now - are that it does what it says on the box.
Then there are the cord-locks, almost indestructible South African Cohaesive ones - see www.cohaesive.com - the mrcofleece neck liner for comfort and an unusual vented Xpanse, again, zip-out chin-guard that keeps spindrift out, lets you breathe at the same time.
The twin hand-pockets double as V-Line core body vents which automatically stay open to funnel cooling air to the areas of your body Berghaus calculates are best for cooling you off. They give, say the boffins in the lab, 18-20% better humidity reduction than conventional pit-zips.
And then there's the final touch, in the centre of the back is a distinctive Xpanse central pleat - Houlding likens it to 'Saville Row tailoring' that took a lot of development, but is there to allow the jacket to move freely when you reach out a or up in climbing mode.
It has the odd side effect of making what's a pretty trim-cut jacket - though not as uncompromising as the TNF Summit L5 - feel roomier than it actually is and potentially adds a little lee-way for layering over an insulated mid-layer jacket.
At 590g measured for a medium, it's not the lightest shell out there, but as Houlding says, it feels reassuringly sturdy, in much the same way in fact as the similarly robust L5. It has a sturdy price-tag too, when it's available in August 2016, it will cost £450. Arguably, given the amount of detail and work that's gone into it along with top-notch materials, that's a bit of a bargain. Yes, really.
Of course it's also going to be overkill for most of us, but for £350 there's going to be a stripped-down 7000 Pro Jacket with some of the main features of the 8000 - the Cohaesive cord-locks for example, snow-friendly VISLON zip and V-line vents, but without the three Xpanse features. It's also a little lighter.
Ramche 2.0: Warmer Than It Oughta Be
Also revamped for next year is the lightweight Ramche down jacket. It still uses body-mapped down baffled construction with overlapping chambers in the main body to cut out cold spots and give optimum warmth, but it has two main updates for the next year.
First, those body areas now also contain a carefully developed aluminised mesh which is designed to reflect heat back to the body, but without adding either extra weight or reducing breathability. How much warmer? A full 2˚C worth according to Berghaus, which is impressive stuff and they call it, erm, Reflect Mesh.
And second, the Ramche 2.0 gets a new face fabric that despite being impressively light is, thanks to the use of a combination of a 7D main fabric and 30D rip-stop strands 'twice as strong' as last year's version, something Mick Fowler tested by jamming his jacket in a belay device then abseiling down with it in situ. The fabric looked a little tired, but remarkably was still in one piece.
Hydrodown On Steroids
Finally, the Ramche benefits from a new Nikwax hydrophobic down treatment, that despite being fluoro-chemical free, is capable of withstanding water for over 1,000 minutes - that's more than 17 hours, which is a long time to be caught out in the rain in a jacket this warm.
The end result is a jacket which thanks to the new reflective mesh is approximately 10% warmer than before and has a 20% better warmth to weight ratio. Houlding, who used the a Ramche 2.0 prototype on his recent Mirror Wall expedition in Greenland says simply, 'It doesn't feel like a -20 to -25˚C jacket, but it is...'
Given that it weighs just 452g for next season, that's a little bit incredible. It will have a 2016 price-tag of £360 and has been designed with a helmet hood and other technical features to work well for climbing use in 'wet,snowy and icy conditions'.
What Does It All Mean?
Apart from the obvious, that Berghaus has two new super-technical and very impressive class-leading jackets due out next autumn 2016, there's an awful lot more to the range as well, much of it using the same technologies. For example, the new Nikwax-powered Hydrodown is in other, mid-warmth jackets as is the Reflect mesh technology and body-mapped construction.
Another interesting development we saw was the Reversa Jacket, a reversible insulated top which is windproof on one side and less so on the other - wear it windy side out when you want to be warm, reverse it when you want to dump heat. Based on the Hypertherm, but warmer and a little weightier - the less warm side also has windproof shoulders.
Embrace The Process
What was equally impressive was the insight we got into the process behind the development of new Extrem products at Berghaus. The ability to make multiple prototypes in house and hone and develop cuts and features is really unusual, maybe unique in the UK and allows extraordinary attention to detail.
Throw in testing and feedback from world-class climbers like Leo Houlding and Mick Fowler and you have a highly effective product development process. And while most of us are never likely to find ourselves in positions as extreme as Messrs Houlding and Fowler, it's reassuring to know that the kit has been there, done that and, like Mick Fowler's abseil-ravaged Ranche 2.0, come back in one piece.
You'll have to wait until August 2016 for the new Extrem kit to hit the shops, but we have an 8000 Pro jacket here right now and we'll let you know how we get on with it.
Current Berghaus range info at www.berghaus.com