One of the issues with hiking jackets – indeed, outdoor gear in general – is that in the face of massive sustainability challenges, it’s hard to imagine how they evolve. How much can they change, really?
Over the decades we’ve seen a couple of bursts of innovation, such as the invention of Gore-Tex, but not much besides. American brand Artilect is on a mission to prove that evolving outdoor clothing to achieve a higher order of sustainability and performance is possible. Not by reinventing the wheel necessarily, but by employing clever technologies to make subtle but substantial changes.
Now, what exactly does that mean? Let’s take Artilect’s Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket as a case study. It’s a down-insulated jacket, and it looks reasonably conventional. However, in the details, there are many things this jacket does differently to its competitors. We’ve been finding out exactly what they are, and crucially, if they work.
- Innovative approach to water-repellency
- Highly functional yet stylish
- Not worth it for casual hikers
Design and features
There are two key and unique aspects about the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket to look at here. But first, let’s get an overview. Using 700-fill power down insulation inside a stretchy outer fabric consisting of synthetic and wool, the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket is a lightweight insulated jacket that is part of Artilect’s mid layer garment range.
Artilect categorises its garments into one of its six-tier layering system called A/SYS. These tiers range A/SYS-1 (base layer) through to A/SYS-5 (hardshell outer layer), plus an accessories tier (A/SYS-A). The Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket falls into A/SYS-3: ‘integrated insulayer’. The idea behind A/SYS is an easy, mix and match layering range that are all designed to work and perform harmoniously with one another. It’s a very scientific way of approaching outdoor garments.
EMPEL water repellent coating
The mention of science brings us to one of the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket’s key innovations – its water repellent finish on the outer fabric. Lots of outdoor gear brands apply a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment to their jackets for obvious reasons. The established means of doing this is by dissolving the water-repellent chemicals in water and washing this solution into the garments.
There are three issues with this: it’s not that durable because the DWR also washes out with water (which is why we have to reproof our gear); it uses a lot of water; and if the DWR solution contains PFC chemicals, these can leach into the environment where they pollute and pose health risks.
Artilect doesn’t use this type of DWR. Instead, it uses a treatment called EMPEL. EMPEL uses no water, but a hydrocarbon solution instead. The solution is applied to a of fabric via rollers, then the fabric is placed in a pressurised pod and heated. This process cures the treatment and ensures the application is total and even.
The result is a DWR molecularly bonded to the fabric that lasts as long as the fabric does. I.e., it’s permanent. The company behind this, Green Theme Technologies, says EMPEL ‘outperforms all other water repellent finishes’. We were keen to put this to the test.
ExpeDRY FUZE down treatment
The second key innovation applied to the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket is its hydrophobic down treatment. Many down-insulated jackets and sleeping bags use a chemical treatment to make the down water repellent.
In pursuit of a chemical-free hydrophobic treatment, responsible down company Allied + Down recently launched ExpeDRY. Rather than a chemical treatment, ExpeDRY uses gold particles bonded to down. The logic being that gold turbocharges the moisture evaporation process because it’s a very good heat reflector. Allied says ‘the rate of increased evaporation is greater than the absorption rate of down in almost every real world situation’. That sounds like something for us to fact check.
Armed with these impressive technologies we’ve been hitting the hills and the mountains with the Artilect Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket.
Before any of the innovations were put through their paces, we were impressed by the fit and comfort of the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket. It’s a slim-ish, athletic cut but the fabric is stretchy so freedom of movement is great. The outer fabric is mostly synthetic but uses wool panels on the sides and lower back to help with temperature regulation.
We also really like the style. We’ll defend hiking clothing to the hilt but in some environments, it can make you look a bit dorky. The Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket looks great absolutely anywhere.
But onto the key stuff, we got caught out in some heavy rain with this jacket and no waterproof jacket to throw on top. The fabric withstood heavy rain for about 10-15 minutes before we got some saturation on the shoulders. For a non-waterproof jacket, that’s quite impressive.
Likewise with the ExpeDRY down treatment. The down kept its loft and didn’t get clumpy and heavy in that time. The fill power of the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket is 700, so it has a good warmth-to-weight ratio. Though, a niche alpine jacket like Rab’s Mythic G outclasses it there.
Breathability is decent, though it’s not some magical jacket and you will of course get sweaty in it when hiking if the conditions grow mild.
This is an area Artilect talks a lot about, saying that performance and sustainability must be intertwined, not one causing a compromise of the other.
Artilect’s sustainability focuses are on longevity and materials. It says it pursues longevity by choosing materials that last the distance and are proven to do so through a lot of testing.
On the matter of materials, we’ve already seen evidence of Artilect's slightly obsessive appetite for innovation. In addition to EMPEL and ExpeDRY, Artilect employs other high performing sustainable materials including PrimaLoft Bio (a mostly biodegradable fleece) and Trizar (a chemical-free, heat-reflective and thermoregulation material).
The Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket is PFC/PFAS-free; the Allied down is responsibly sourced; it has chemical and water-free water-repellent treatments; and while the main fabrics aren’t recycled, they are bluesign-approved.
Price and competition
At a cost of £320 (at the time of writing), we will say categorically that the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket is only worth considering if you’re an ardent outdoorsperson. Down jackets – quality down jackets, at least – are never cheap. But when you have something like Alpkit’s lightweight Halogen jacket on offer for more than £100 less than the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket, this might still be a hard sell.
Artilect founder Trent Bush told us that one of the challenges with products like this is convincing people that it's worth paying extra for the subtle but crucial upgrades that you feel rather than see. It’s not so hard to inform and impress people, but what they do with their words and what they do with their wallets can be quite different.
It depends what kind of person you are as to whether you’ll be impressed by the Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket or not. Some people are stubbornly price-driven and therefore won’t give a hoot; some will be interested in the technology but remain largely price-driven (whether by choice or not); and some recognise the importance of the efforts behind this jacket and are willing to pay for it.
The Divide Fusion Stretch Jacket is probably the best lightweight down jacket of the moment. Its innovative features live up to expectations, and help make this a hugely versatile jacket that can last for a very long time.
But also, there has been a lot of energy and thought put into the ingredients, which present a sustainable way forward for high performance outdoor gear and are worthy of recognition and acclaim.
How we test
Our testing process involves not just thorough real-world trialling, but also a deeper dive into how it's made.
So yes, we find out how our test jackets perform, fit, and how comfortable they are. But we are also interested in whether it is durable and produced in a responsible, sustainable manner.
Get half-price digital OS Maps! Trail and Country Walking magazine members get 50% off an annual subscription to OS Maps for 12 months! Find out more here.
Don't forget to subscribe to the Live For The Outdoors newsletter to get expert advice and outdoor inspiration delivered to you inbox!
Chris Williams is a Digital Content Writer for Live For The Outdoors. He trained as a journalist in New Zealand and has been working on Live For The Outdoors since 2021.