As agile and lithe as the ancient half-bird, half-reptile Archeopteryx, Canadian based Arc’Teryx is an imposing force of change in the outdoor industryby Josh Rhea
Arcteryx HistoryIn the late ‘80’s, Dave Lane was making a meager living by sewing climbing harnesses out of his basement under the company name Rock Solid. His obsessive attention to detail and the outright quality of his products soon earned him a loyal following among climbers across British Columbia. He quickly joined with a creative and equally obsessed partner, Jeremy Guard, to form the foundation of Arc’Teryx.
Today's head office.
In the early years, they pioneered the use of thermoformable foam in harness leg loops and their new backpack hip belts—resulting in seamless shapes that mimicked the body’s natural curvature. The world-class Vapor harnesses and Bora packs were born, providing an unprecedented level of comfort and fit.
The Bora Suspension
Arc’Teryx has always defied conventional wisdom by keeping their production facilities in-house. But why sacrifice profit margins when outsourcing would save the company huge amounts of money? Because a mere thought could be transformed into a physical sample in no time flat—it was only a matter of walking from the drawing board to the machines next door. No other design project better revealed this unique ability than Jeremy Guard’s conquest of technical outerwear.
Around 1995, Guard purchased a top-of-the-line parka while climbing in the Teton Range in Wyoming. Unimpressed with the jacket’s design and performance, he set out to build something far better. It was the biggest gamble in Arc’Teryx history—they had never even sewn a single jacket. Despite the challenge, and with the help of a dedicated outerwear team led by new employee Mike Blenkarn, they trumped the leaders of the outerwear industry in a mere two years.
On the eve of the drastic changes Arc’Teryx was about to premiere, the outwear industry stood steeped in complacence. Overseas manufacturing facilities had been recycling old technology and production techniques for years, and only slight improvements on old standards were eked out year to year. The industry was ripe for a shake-up.
One of the most recognizable changes the team brought to jacket design was the WaterTight zipper. Blenkarn was squarely focused on eliminating the unnecessary bulk and weight of traditional double-flap zips. Following months of exhaustive experimenting, a urethane-coated, smooth-sliding zipper emerged that was completely waterproof. WaterTight zippers remain a telltale mark of Arc’Teryx outerwear today.
The WaterTight Zipper.
They shed further weight by trimming the excess material required in seam taping to an absolute minimum (a process now called tiny seam taping), and at one point in time were the only company allowed to officially designate outerwear as waterproof with 1/16” seam tapes. Jackets became less stiff and performed better. Arc’Teryx worked closely with Gore to produce the vaunted Gore-Tex XCR (extended comfort range) fabric—a waterproof breathable fabric that greatly improved upon the breathability of original Gore-Tex.
Inspecting fabric (L), Mike Blenkarn (R)
Even stitched seams—then a cornerstone of outerwear design—went in the garbage can. The innovative company painstakingly researched new methods of bonding fabric together to avoid the tiny holes that resulted from stitching, thus compromising waterproofing. Pockets were glued in, soft shell and hard shell fabrics were bonded together to create incredibly versatile hybrids, and dedicated ‘descent’-specific clothing saw one-pull hood cords and fused powder skirts. Everything they did reduced weight and bulk, resulting in sleek, athletic, high-performance pieces. Every garment, pack, and harness produced possessed a certain ‘je ne sais quois’—an un-quantifiable beauty and quality.
Form or Function
Toss aside the technical details, production innovations, and outdoor industry ‘bro-speak’, and go pick up any Arc’Teryx garment. The quality is there for you to see, to touch, and to feel. A jacket like the Sidewinder Comp (available for men and women) fits effortlessly over your frame, but without the bulk of excess fabric. It just feels right. Soft, stretch woven Schoeller fabric is comfortable against your skin, and breathes like a lightweight fleece. The front zipper curves elegantly away from your chin, leaving only a soft microfleece to cushion your face—not a cold, scratchy zipper. Complementing the body perfectly, hard shell fabric across the shoulders and down the arms prevents moisture from falling snowflakes seeping in. It is artwork born of perfect function.
Arc'Teryx sewers hard at work.
Whether their gear is used to battle the frigid winters of New York City or log thousands of vert skiing the Coast Range backcountry, one thing is certain: Arc’Teryx is responsible for more innovations and improvements in technical outerwear over the last ten years than any other manufacturer in existence. Maybe it’s something in the air up there.