I want to start this review with a confession. I bought the Bight Gear Solstice Hoody because of the color. I reasoned that they’re all wicking polyesters tested to a reasonable UPF, so it really didn’t matter. I’d wait to find one under $40 in a color that wouldn’t clash heinously with my multi-colored quiver of bottoms. When the Solstice dropped to $41.50 in April, I had to “Bight”. (The piece has recently been repriced to $49.99 everyday and is available only on Bight Gear’s web page or at Whittaker Mountaineering).
The Solstice isn’t what I expected – it doesn’t totally “Bight,” but it’s pretty different from other sun hoodies on the market. This is due to its construction using spun polyester. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, you’re not alone – even working in the apparel industry, I didn’t expect it to be that different than the polyester used in the OR Echo, BD Alpenglow, Patagonia Sunshade (etc. etc.).
Spun polyester feels like a cotton t-shirt. This is because, like the standard process for cotton, it’s made up of “staple” fibers, compared to “filament” fibers that give most polyester base layers a smooth & silky feel. The image below (courtesy of TextileSchool.com) shows the difference between the two, where filament fibers are thin, long fibers and staple ones are cut short and spun together to make a yarn:
Spun polyester is cheaper and allows for better airflow, but the extra surface area in the yarn generally means it holds more water and is more prone to abrasion, which I found to be true for the Solstice. I never overheated, even in tank-top-worthy weather, but once I stopped moving, I was reaching for my puffy, since my shirt was wetter than usual. And the pilling along the back and all of my backpack straps after a single use was rather disappointing.
And because it doesn’t have that silky feel of most polyester base layers, it clings to the fibers on a backpack and has a tendency to ride up and need adjusting as you move. My torso’s quite short compared to the rest of my measurements, but I still found myself flashing a lot of lower back and having to tug the hoody back in place:
In addition, like a cotton t-shirt, there’s not a ton of stretch in the Solstice. This creates a bit of a fit conundrum for the customer. For a wicking garment to work, it needs to sit close to the body and have contact with the skin. But this leads to the garment feeling a little constrictive, especially for rock climbing & scrambles where you need overhead mobility.
Bottom line, it’s a solid choice for days where you start hot & stay hot, and plan on hiking or running and keeping your upper body relatively stationary. But realistically, most customers want a quiver-of-one, all-day-any-day sunshirt where they don’t need to spend a lot of money or worry about whether they wore the right base layer on any given day. And that’s a completely reasonable expectation.
So I reached out to the Bight Gear to see why they went with a spun poly and got in touch with their designer. They said they went with the fabric because it had a more cotton-like feel to it. Odd feature to go after, since I’ve literally never heard of that being on anyone’s base layer wish list. They acknowledged some of the shortcomings of the spun polyester fabric and suggested I check out (and spend more money on) their new Solstice Graphene hoody. Their favorite sound “Bight” is that it’s their best base layer yet, which, while true, was not a high bar to pass (their original iteration under MtnLogic used Polartec PowerWool and was criticized for running quite hot). But it does improve on many of the sins of their previous iterations with a filament & spandex fabrication and the addition of graphene, a cool – quite literally – new trend in the outdoor apparel space that’s known to conduct heat and regulate your temperature better than your standard yarns. With the addition of the Solstice Graphene, they’ve also dropped the price of the regular Solstice down to $49.99 (but, that’s still overpriced in my book).
One of the things the Solstice does have going for it, though, is that the UPF rating is inherent to the fabric, or in other words, it’s not due to a topical treatment that washes out after 30-40 washes.
A few other considerations to keep in mind if you’re considering purchasing from Bight:
- Despite using Rainier guides as their primary wear testers, they still test a variety of outdoor sports in their wear test process. This was one of my major concerns after finding that the Solstice felt a little too constrictive up on the summit block of Silver Star. If most of their wear testers are marching up and down the DC, will they be able to serve the average outdoor customer who dabbles in a lot of sports and needs a garment that can hike, climb, skin, ski, paddle, and bike? The Bight team confirmed that while the bulk of their wear tests are on Rainier, they also send their guides out with wear test pieces for other trips around the world on rock and ice, as well as for their personal trips and get feedback from their experiences kayaking, fly-fishing, and backcountry skiing.
- They don’t share their reviews. Bight’s team noted that they’re doing some site upgrades and customer reviews will show up on-site at some point, but this is a really frustrating omission in the meantime. Customers are more likely to read reviews than marketing info like a product description or bullets – because other customers can tell them things that a marketing team can’t, ranging from the critical (“This fell apart after 2 uses) to the helpful (“My measurements are X and the size Y fit comfortably”). Bight collects these comments after purchase, but doesn’t return the favor by displaying them for other customers. I’m inclined to believe that other customers had a similar experience to mine – the decision to add a new version with the Solstice Graphene and all of the changes between it and the standard Solstice had to be prompted by something – and that I would’ve had a better shopping experience if they had been disclosed.
- They push for parity across genders. This seems like a must to most customers (and many likely note the lack of size diversity), but it really is a bold move for them to offer the same selection the men’s assortment (save for the glacier shorts), item for item in an equal number of color choices. Style minimums in the apparel industry are between 500-1000 units per colorway, which is totally workable for major brands that are filling hundreds of REIs and available on established, high traffic websites, but it can mean tying up a substantial amount of money for a new start up or paying higher wholesale costs by going with a small batch manufacturer. Even though women are driving growth in the outdoor apparel world, we’re not spending as much money or buying as much gear (thanks wage gap!). Women’s gear also means fitting more curves, which means more fit challenges, and more expensive seamwork (sewing straight lines is surprisingly cheaper). I wouldn’t fault them for going the way of other startups, like 7Mesh, Boulder Denim, and like, ever indie ski company out there – using a test & learn approach and expanding men’s bestsellers into the women’s category. Or if they’re feeling generous, docking color options between men’s and women’s. But the fact that Bight Gear offers the same selection out of the gate should be lauded and shows how much they value the women at Bight Gear and their RMI guide testers and how much they believe in the long term outlook of the women’s segment of the market.
The folks at Bight were kind enough to extend a 30% coupon for the Solstice Graphene during our exchange, and I’m intrigued, but a little shy to Bight the bullet. Anyone have the chance to give it a try?