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Darkroom: Evolution of The New 90% Series

BIG GAME / 5.2.2014

More than 10 years ago, SITKA was just an idea… a concept to change an industry. As that concept started to take shape, all focus was centered on the products we wanted to build. Gear is the core of what we do and the very first piece we developed was the 90% Jacket. The notion of the softshell was revolutionary when it was born. Hardshells had long been the standard for protection from rain, wind, and snow. But, there was a blank spot covering calmer conditions that were a little less extreme. The majority of time, we’re dealing with that spectrum of conditions, so the ability to deliver broad comfort and protection in one piece was a big deal. The softshell platform was adopted by every climbing brand, and their iterations became staples in everyone’s backcountry kit. When we talked about our extended forays into the mountains, we dreamed about a jacket that would cover 90% of our needs.

Two things are constant in our style of mountain hunting: an extreme work-rest cycle and ever-changing weather conditions. Adventures in the mountains necessitate the absolute protection of a hard shell, but we knew that softshell technology would be the platform to cover the remainder of the spectrum, and together they would be the ultimate solution for hunting. We wanted high air permeability that delivered convective cooling to control our perspiration, but with strong wind and water resistance.

The 90% was born.

Over the years, we’ve tweaked this pillar product to better fit in the matrix of the SITKA system. The original 90% delivered more insulation for comfort in cooler conditions. Our insulation program was significantly smaller then, so this broader application was necessary. In 2008 we redeveloped the face to deliver more abrasion and puncture resistance. We felt like we’d hit the magic balance of warmth, weight, durability and breathability, and with SITKA Athletes like Wes
Atkinson, who spends over 170 days in the field a year, always referencing his “90” as the core of their system, what was there to change? Why cover old ground, agonizing over every detail of an already solid piece?

Because it’s who we are. It’s in our DNA.

With continuous testing and prototyping, we realized getting the 90% precisely how we wanted it would take more innovation and effort than any non-waterproof piece had ever required of us. So Sitka Founder Jonathan Hart worked with designer Richard Siberell and developer Eric Gilmore to re-engineer this classic product. The result is a NEW 90% that nails every mark we set out for it. Here Eric and Jonathan explain what it took to pull it off.

Why redesign the 90% Series in the first place?

JH: The original 90% provided that ‘aha‘ moment of bringing softshell to the hunting world and in my opinion was the one piece that began the technical apparel revolution in the hunting space. It’s stood the test of time, but evolution doesn’t stop. There are always new developments in textiles and construction techniques that we want to take advantage of.

Where did you even start?

JH: All of our pieces start out with a question. This time, it was, “What would be the ultimate textile that gives us exactly what we want?" We wanted a specific low CFM rating (wind permeability measurement) to increase wind resistance, more stretch, quietness, durability and effective warmth and body temperature regulation.

EG: The whole thing is a Sitka-engineered product. Every fabric, stitch and feature was conceived from the ground up. Rather than getting stuck on existing textiles, we forced ourselves to meet the demands of the end use, and develop the right blend to construct the perfect fabric for the piece. 

Tell us about the final fabric(s) that could meet those demands.

EG: The face textile is a 55-denier tightly woven polyester stretch. By adjusting the weave, we actually made it significantly more wind resistant as its immediate predecessor. Bonded to the face is a 100% polyester microfleece backer, split up into two different types, which was really the breakthrough. Varying the loft and open space of the backers gives the ability to vary temperature regulation. On the front of the torso, a denser, heavier fleece grid is used to maintain warmth in your core. Where a backpack will contact the back, and in the sleeves where less warmth is needed, we use a smaller gridded fleece. Both backers trap air to insulate, but equally as important, the grid patterns help effectively moderate your body temperature by channeling warm air away from the heat source. Essentially, this piece is fine-tuned for an active hunt, letting your body breathe and stay warm.

JH: Once we set the textile parameters, we nitpicked over two dozen face fabrics and four iterations of the backer fleeces before arriving at our final combination. As we started to get samples back, we were really excited about what we were seeing.

Let’s talk about features.

EG: Mesh hand pockets maintain a low profile, while two vertical chest pockets stash the essentials.  With the microgrid backer channeling and dissipating moist, hot air, pit zips are no longer necessary. This specific construction style also saves us a lot of weight over the previous version by eliminating a lot of backer textile weight. Combined with smaller trim features, like the low profile drawcord and elimination of hardware where we don’t need it, overall weight is significantly reduced. A robust DurableWater Repellent (DWR) finish rounds out the package.

How about the pants? Beyond the new fabric, what’s new? Where does the pant rank within the rest of the pants in the Big Game line?

EG: We gave the 90% pants a lower rise cut and mapped different textiles, which means more overall comfort and less riding up. We opened up the hips, improving the fit in the waist and seat, which really comes into play when sitting and especially when wearing a backpack waist belt. Similar to the jacket, the gridded fleece will trap air for warmth and channel warm air away when you’re working harder. Beyond that, the increased breathability will push out more heat when needed than the Mountain Pant, while keeping you warmer than the Timberline when you stop. You will get more comfort range out of these pants in the mid to late season than any other pant.

What other details will the untrained eye miss?

EG: We taped the seems strictly to prevent thick seams rubbing against your base layers or skin. This improves act of layering significantly. Standard hardware through out was been reduced, minimized, or removed to keep weight down. Smaller features like stretch panels for cuffs reduces bulk. Specifying and deliberating over the ultimate mesh size for pocketing and scouring sources for the right chin guard micro fleece. Every detail has been analyzed and agonized over.

How would you sum up the NEW 90% Series? 

JH: This is a piece for our core user. It’s not loaded with bells and whistles. It’s what you need, where you need it. I think it really celebrates a lot of the tenets of what we hold to in regards to function ruling form and simplicity winning out.

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