Behind every great product is a great designer, and the Flashpoint 2 waterproof jacket is a prime example. Rab Product Designer Ben Manwaring talks us through the evolution of one of our most innovative products.
I’m part of the team responsible for all of the clothing at Rab. My degree was in Industrial Design – another name for product design. Before joining Rab, I used to design furniture, and at that time I did a lot of hillwalking, trad and winter climbing. This led to me looking for a job in the outdoor industry, and the role of Equipment Designer came up. I successfully applied for that, and later transitioned to my current role of Senior Clothing Designer. Although I specialise in insulation and down, I also work on waterproof clothing, such as the Kinetic Plus and the Flashpoint jackets.
The Flashpoint 2 is an evolution of the Flashpoint, which was designed as an emergency or retreat piece – a packable waterproof jacket for mountaineers or climbers with a minimalist setup. The Flashpoint was so light that you wouldn’t mind carrying it at any time: a windproof, breathable and fully waterproof jacket, with a helmet compatible hood but with no unnecessary weight. If the weather suddenly turned, it would keep you safe and dry while getting off the mountain quickly. We found that while it was being used for this purpose, our customers and athletes were also utilising it for a wider range of activities too.
Innovations in fabric technology allowed the development of a highly technical but ultimately ultra-lightweight product…
The Flashpoint 2 is a superlight waterproof, among the lightest in the Rab range. We were approached with a special variant of the Pertex Shield fabric and thought, wow, we need to make something out of this. We were pushing the envelope with what’s possible to do with such lightweight fabrics. The hardest element was finding the balance between adding features and saving weight. There was a lot of discussion during the design process about what we’d put on and what we’d take off. We went through three iterations before we got to the right combination.
When you make a lightweight waterproof jacket like this it’s possible to go for headline figures at the expense of function. However, by stripping off all the features you make it unusable for a lot of people. We designed this jacket with mountaineers and climbers in mind, and were determined not to compromise on their requirements. The original Flashpoint had a single chest pocket and no map-sized pockets, so we added two A-line pockets to the new version. We still have adjustable cuffs which will fit over or under a glove, and we’ve added an internal storm flap behind the existing waterproof zips. We have a helmet-compatible hood which is fully adjustable, and a stiffened peak that can be cinched down to protect you properly in a storm. With a new, more tailored fit, we were able to add all of these extra features without increasing the weight of the jacket.
While a lot of lightweight jackets use a two-layer construction, the Flashpoint 2 uses a three-layer construction that is much more comfortable to wear against the skin. At 47 grams per square metre the Pertex Shield fabric is one of the lightest three-layer fabrics on the market. The outer woven layer is high density 7 denier nylon, which is generally more hard-wearing than polyester. The middle is a 7 micron hydrophilic PU membrane which is super breathable. On the inside we have a 7 denier high gauge circular knitted polyester that picks up moisture and carries it through to the membrane to further increase breathability. The entire package is surprisingly abrasion resistant for such a lightweight cloth – the entire jacket weighs just 185g.
Testing runs throughout the design process, from the development of specialist fabrics, to joining professional athletes at the sharp end…
Before a product hits the market everything is thoroughly tested in the lab and by our athletes in the field to make sure it’s going to hold up to everyday use. We test waterproofing in-house, and work with universities and specialised test houses to test breathability. In addition, our suppliers independently test fabrics to help us engineer the best performance from them. To get all that testing done up front is pretty rigorous, and takes a lot of time and effort.
New products are tested rigorously in the field. Our athletes feedback to us directly on all of our products. They are professionals and they know how to use the kit, although they might not always know why it’s working. We’re able to support them in improving their clothing systems and by suggesting the best products to use together. We also work closely with the AMI test team, who test our products day in, day out. I have presented at AMI AGMs in the past, and we run regular training courses and feedback with the team to ensure they fully understand the products and gather their feedback. As a designer I’m most proud of the feedback we get from our users: to hear that they love a product and are making the most of it is really satisfying. We always expected the Flashpoint to be a fairly niche piece because it’s so light and thin, but people really understood what it was designed for and that has enabled us to develop this next generation of the jacket.
The Rab team combine their love of the outdoors with an enthusiasm for product design…
I can comfortably say that everybody in the design team is enthusiastic to be outdoors and to be in the mountains. Functionality of the product is always our number one priority, and is something we never compromise on. It’s very important that our clothing works as a system, and we don’t make products that we don’t believe in. Everything we do is about keeping people comfortable, dry and warm, and that’s applicable to everyone from hillwalkers to mountaineers, to elite athletes.