New Gear for Crew Comfort

By Kathy A. Smith

It goes without saying that safety, warmth, staying dry and personal comfort are necessities that commercial fishermen must have on the job, no matter the task or the season. And the companies that manufacturer and sell critical outfitting equipment are indeed advancing the next generation of gear and listening to what customers want.

“I notice how technically-oriented commercial fishermen and women are and how knowledgeable they are about the product,” says Bill Combs, Founder and CEO of Bogs Footwear in Portland, Oregon, a company that’s been making warm, waterproof and comfortable footwear since 2002. “For example, you’d think an Alaskan fisherman would want a boot that is really warm and kind of bulky but it’s actually the opposite. They want to be warm but they don’t want bulk, and they want to feel more athletic.”

When working long hours, moisture management and odor control are very important. “We have a technology we developed called Max Wick. “It pulls the moisture off the sock of the user and then takes it into the lining of the boot and disperses it so you don’t get that wet, cold clammy feeling in your feet,” explains Combs. “It is quick-drying so it dries out overnight while the boots are resting. We know if we can keep someone dry, we don’t need nearly as much insulation to keep them warm. Moisture management is almost more important than insulation when it comes to staying warm.”

One of Bogs’ most popular boots is the Classic Ultra for men and women. Its standout feature is a four-way stretch inner bootie with 7mm waterproof Neo-Tech insulation. An internal midsole with rubber sponge provides extra cushioning and warmth, along with an Aegis antimicrobial odor protection insole. The boot is comfort-rated from temperatures to -40°F and has the Max Wick lining and a slip-resistant and chemical compound called bio-grip. “Our chemical compound is made to resist the deterioration from salt water,” says Combs. “In fact, we are outfitting some Navy Seals who are divers. They needed a warm boot for deep-water diving, so these boots are subject to being underwater all day.”

Combs says one of the biggest challenges for boot makers has been the ability to develop a boot that is slip-resistant in cold weather. “Up until now you could achieve the good reaction to cold but slip resistance would suffer. Or, you could get a good chemical resistance but slip resistance would suffer. Bogs new Highliner boot coming on the market in November has passed all tests for both. “We think we’ve solved all the issues commercial fishermen require,” he says. “As we learn more, we will continue to evolve and make them an even better boot.”

Last month XTRATUF Boots introduced the next generation of their fishing footwear, the XTRATUF II. It has all the hallmarks of the original and iconic XTRATUF boot, including its main feature, the Chevron outsole, only with improved comfort and wearability. “We updated the upper design of the boot where we’ve used a combination of rubber and neoprene,” says Harry Friedman, Senior Product Manager at XTRATUF Footwear based in Smithfield, Rhode Island. “It makes the product more comfortable because the material has a little bit more give and stretch to it. It’s also a bit more stylish than the original.”

Constructed of lightweight, flexible 5mm CR foam, the XTRATUF II has an insulated bootie that acts as a medium between inside and outside temperatures. An Airmesh lining wicks away humidity and perspiration from the foot as it circulates air. Additionally, the boot features supportive heel counters for added stability and form-fitted comfort with a molded removable insole for comfort and to fight fatigue and stress on a worker’s legs and back. “Customers can use the new boot instead of the insulated legacy one as the XTRATUF II is a little warmer. Also, the neoprene is a little bit more comfortable at the top when it’s up against your shin,” adds Friedman.

Friedman says the 16” XTRATUF legacy boot is still one of the most popular of the product line. A safety toe version is also available. Both the original XTRATUF and XTRATUF II boots come in unisex sizes; Friendman estimates approximately 20 percent of customers are women. “In the Spring of 2014, we will have more products for women that will be more feminine in design and color.”

Additionally, in the Spring of 2014, XTRATUF will be launching another boot especially for men and women with big calves. “A lot of these people are very muscular in that area because of their work activities, so we’re working on a new upper design that will incorporate a wider calf,” explains Friedman. “Another reason these are good is if you ever fall overboard, the first thing you want to do is be able to take your boots off quickly, so by making these an easy on/easy off style, it’s not just for comfort but for safety as well.”

Lighter Weight Outerwear
For outerwear, Patrick Jaquet, General Manager of Guy Cotten, Inc. in New Bedford, Massachusetts, says the trend is to go towards breathable waterproof fabrics which bring more comfort to fishermen but light weight breathable fabrics don’t stay waterproof very long in a salt water environment. “That is the reason why we only use our high end ‘Dremtech+’ breathable fabric for the jackets we developed for the fishing industry,” he says.

The company’s Drempro jacket is a combination of breathable waterproof fabric on top (the shoulder part) and ripstop fabric at the bottom and at the sleeves. Their RainPro Jacket also combines high end breathable fabric on the top part with PVC in the bottom which allows the wearer to stay dry for hours in the rain or salt water without getting wet. In fact, the product has been tested over a three-month period with sailors who race around the world. “I think we are the only commercial rain gear manufacturer in the industry able to do this transition between the PVC and the breathable,” adds Jaquet.

Guy Cotten also makes a special jacket called the Isopro Jacket that has padding on the shoulders that prevents condensation inside the rain gear, using the Isolatech insulation control system. Additionally, its “Magic” hood is designed not to obstruct vision. “You can adjust it so you can really tighten it around your face, and when you turn, you don’t get blinded by the insides of the hood,” says Jaquet. The jacket has a heavy-duty ripstop Nylpeche fabric on the front of the garment and adjustable elasticated cuffs.

When it comes to pants, Jacquet says their X-Trapper Bib Trousers are the most popular. The product has a double layer on the whole front with the outside layer in an exclusive ripstop Nylpeche fabric, along with a triple layer on the chest to stop tears going right through the fabric. The bottom of the legs are reinforced and the side waist adjustment is managed with elastic instead of a snap, which many customers found popped out too much.

The Chinook Smock, released this year, is a comfortable medium duty Glentex fabric with a non-rust nylon zipper, and Guy Cotton has also released a new boot called the GC Ultralite, made out of light and flexible polyurethane material with a Santitized® insole.

The company’s popular fleece products include The Icelander Jacket and the Arctic Hoodie. “The outside of the Icelander Jacket is polyester but it has a special treatment to make it water-resistant,” says Jaquet of the product which is made from Black Hardface® Windpro® fleece from Polartec® (all of Guy Gotten’s fleece garments are exclusively Polartec® fleece and are made in their US location). It provides warmth, breathability, and lightweight comfort, while blocking 95 percent of the wind and offering an excellent water and abrasion resistance. “We put PVC in the front and the bottom front and on the sleeves which are also lined with fleece. We also offer it in a pullover or jacket version.”

The Arctic Hoodie is of similar fabric and also includes five percent spandex. “It has now become a must in the industry,” says Jaquet. “This kind of fleece dries very quickly, so in 15 or 20 minutes inside the boat, it will dry. It is a lighter weight so when you wear it underneath your Sou’wester, you still have freedom of movement, and having that flexibility is definitely a trend, especially for the guys crabbing in the Bering Sea. Jaquet expects to soon be releasing a fleece/spandex version of a balaclava hood and hat.

“Our hallmark products are the Brigg Jacket and the Herkules trouser,” says Mike Jackson, President of Grundéns USA in Poulsbo, Washington. “They’ve been around for a very long time and they’re still just as serviceable today as they were the day they were first built. Everyone in our design capacity have all got time on commercial boats and we understand that every crew member on every one of those boats is an athlete.”

Jackson reports that designers are noticing a tendency with the younger fishermen to seek out products that are lighter weight, which play to the athlete in all of them. “We’re responding to that,” he says. “With the Brigg and Herkules garments, I’ve often heard it said that this stuff doesn’t breathe. The fabric itself doesn’t breathe because it’s 100 percent waterproof and it won’t let any vapor pass through, but the construction of the garments are big and blousy, so that every time you move, it’s actually acting as a kind of bellows. When you bend over, it pushes air out and when you stand up, it pulls fresh air in, so the garments actually do breathe by virtue of the movements of the wearer.”

For people who may have to cinch themselves down tight inside their gear, Jackson says a waterproof breathable is more appropriate because it will allow vapor to pass through the protective layer of the fabric. The Gage Weather Watch series does just that. Designed to be both waterproof and breathable, Weather Watch garments, which include jackets, bibs and pants in a variety of sizes and colors, are constructed from heavy-duty 420 denier nylon material.

“Another thing that we’re finding with the Weather Watch series is guys who are headed to Alaska or the Grand Banks, the high-latitude wintertime fisheries, will typically carry a set of heavy duty rainwear because they know they’re going to encounter weather where that is the most appropriate but they’ll also carry a set of the lighter weight gear because they know they’ll encounter weather where that will be more comfortable and appropriate. However, the lighter weight gear is not a replacement for the heavier duty type but it’s a really nice set to have in your quiver.”

The company’s recently-released Gage Storm Runner rainwear is even lighter weight than the Weather Watch series. The product features a lightweight yet durable 2.0 layer nylon ripstop shell with a waterproof/breathable barrier and Durable Water Resistant finish to keep wearers dry and comfortable in anything from light mist to driving rain. Together, the jacket and pants weigh less than 26 ounces combined. “It’s so light, you can forget you have it on,” says Jackson.

Regarding trends in rainwear design, Jackson says layering is what’s important. “There have also been tweaks in hood and cuff design – we have a built-in neoprene cuff that can either slow down or stop the intrusion of water if your arms are raised over your head. So there are those types of small innovations that take place but a lot of that comes from the fact that we talk to fishermen but we’re also fishermen ourselves, so we have a real appreciation for what these guys go through. If there is anything that gives us a leg up, it’s that.”

David Stevens, clothing buyer for Englund Marine and Industrial Supply in Astoria, Oregon, a company that carries a wide range of commercial fishermen clothing and processing supplies, reports that one of their most popular selling brands is Grundéns Gage Weather Watch rain gear which is lighter than traditional rain gear. “The only downfall to the heavier garments are that they are hard to work in. Gage is lightweight and breathable, and in many cases, the prices are lower than the PVC heavy stuff, so guys are buying a couple of sets where they would only buy one before.”

He says the Gage series and Guy Cotten’s Arctic Hoodie have been the two products that have sold well, especially for people in Alaska. XTRATUF boots and Bogs’ Ultra Classic High boots are also among favorites. “The 720 Atlas Gloves are also very popular,” he says. “They are a Nitrile dipped glove with a rough textured finish and excellent grip. They are a little thinner than others on the market but they are durable and a lot of time the guys will use a cotton Thermax liner underneath for warmth. The 620 gloves, which are orange doubled dipped Vinyl, and the 660s which are blue triple dipped Vinyl, are the same style, but the blue is thicker and more durable. Most guys will use the blue ones during crab season when they need a little extra warmth. The orange ones are used more for the summer months for gillnet fishing.”

Helly Hansen’s Nusfjord series of .050-mm heavy-duty rainwear is great for the user that likes the really heavy duty open cotton-back material. The Nusfjord jackets have the inset cuff, which stops the water from running up the sleeve, and the heavy-duty bibs are also very popular for their chemical-resistance and durability. “This series is very tear-resistant, abrasion-resistant and very soft and flexible,” says Paul Aiken, Director of Sales and Marketing, Work Wear, Helly Hansen (US), Inc in Auburn, Washington.

The company’s .045-mm Highliner jacket and bib, also abrasion- and chemical-resistant, was specially made in the 1950s after fishermen requested a garment that had the capacity to tear if, for instance, a hook got caught in the material. The product is offered in both yellow and green. “We sell thousands of pieces a year, mostly to commercial fishermen and commercial crabbers.”

Moving to lighter weight materials, which Aiken says are the new trend, Helly Hansen has a range of jackets, pants and bibs in a wide variety of colors, like the Mandal Jacket, Flekkefjord pant and Tvedestrand bib, all at .035 mm, all of which are cold-, chemical- and mildew-resistant. “These options are a lot easier to wear for a longer period of time,” notes Aiken. “Yet they are still tough and wear-resistant.”

The Roan Anorak hooded pullover in Ochre/Charcoal, has become a standard in the business says Aiken, in response to requests from commercial fishermen “to make a jacket of lighter material, preferably our .020mm Stretch PU coated knitted polyester. It’s guaranteed waterproof, lighter and more comfortable, is very stretchy, has the neoprene cuffs, and it matches our ImpertechTM waist pant or bib pant. That way, they have the same fabric in the jacket and pants,” he explains. “They get the lighter color for the jacket on the top in case they go overboard so they can be seen in the water, yet the darker color at the bottom minimizes the dirty look. What’s nice with this fabric also, is it’s so light and stretchy, it launders much more easily than the heavy duty PVCs.”

The art of properly layering clothing is very critical for the work commercial fishermen do. In Helly Hansen’s Three Layer System of dress, the first layer “LIFA Dry” is made from 100 percent polypropylene filament yarn, so that the garments will not absorb perspiration, keeping the wearer much warmer, much longer. The second layer consists of polyester fleece and soft shell fabrics to help retain heat while allowing the perspiration to evaporate. The third layer provides the protection with the jackets, pants and bibs designed to stop wind, rain and snow. Aiken points out: “No matter what you do, and no matter how good the outer garment is, if you’re not wearing the correct base layer, as soon as you perspire, you can get cold very quickly.”

Seattle-based Global Marine Safety, known for carrying top-quality Regatta rain gear, float jackets and suits, is seeing a big interest in the Regatta Fisherman’s Oilskins with Flotation – a typical bib and jacket set up, with a unique difference; the bibs have flotation built into the chest and back, which essentially means the wearer has safety built right into his work wear.

Global Marine Safety’s owner Mike Brockmann says fishermen understand the need for safety but don’t want to be encumbered by wearing a life jacket, and the Regatta Fisherman’s Oilskins, which have been on the market since 2009, allow the wearer to work freely and forget that they’re wearing a PFD. “The Regatta work wear is comfortable, functional and hard-wearing. Should you enter the water, the Regatta Fisherman’s Oilskins will keep you floating, where traditional rain wear will not.”