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Putting Athleta’s ultimate hike tight to the test

Design, PeopleTracy Byrnes, Gap Inc. bloggerComment

Tracy Byrnes, Athleta's Senior Manager of Innovation and Product Information, knows what it takes for performance wear to truly perform. And the only way to find out is by putting product prototypes to the test. Follow the journey of Athleta's Excursion Tight, as told by Tracy, from a nugget of an idea to your newest companion on the trails.

Product innovation is one of our biggest areas of focus. For us, good enough isn't good enough if we know we can make it better — that's the whole basis of our Fit Lab program. Each Fit Lab is a research project aimed at developing the ultimate product to meet a certain goal. In our industry, research means getting out there and doing the exact workouts and activities the product would undergo with our customers.

This season, our Fit Lab included, among others, designers and members of our product innovation team. They set out in our own backyard, The Bear Valley Trail in Point Reyes, Calif., to find the perfect bottoms for a day hike. Turns out that what we want out of a multi-day hike pant and a day-hike pant are very different.

The problem: We found that, when it comes to day hiking, most of us really want comfort (great fit and stretch) and a pant that doesn't get in the way or catch branches on a trail. In fact, several of us tend to wear our favorite yoga or running tights on day hikes because they fit perfectly, have stretch for mobility, and they look cute — the best vistas make the best photo ops, and no one needs a frumpy hiking photo on a beautiful day. So the problem became about taking this general style (a perfect-fitting tight) and dialing it in for day hike perfection.

First things first: Fabric. We want wicking, breathable fabric that we know has great stretch and retention. UPF 50+ protection is a bonus. And we wanted a fabric that's tried-and-true from our collection. Pilayo® was the perfect fabric — you'll find ribbed Pilayo® in super-mobility areas, like the knees.

Next: Where, if at all, do we want pockets? Everyone's biggest wish was having our phones easily accessible to take pictures on the fly. That means we need pockets big enough to hold them so we don't rely on the pockets on our daypacks. But that brought up another problem to solve. Since, realistically, we'd be carrying a small pack on a day hike, that means the pockets need to be lowered off the waistband to allow accessibility with a pack. We therefore chose to put two flush pockets at the hips so they'd stay flat when not in use and remain easy to access.

Finally: The waistband. Flat and flush all the way. That's what we all wanted: easy for layering over and wearing a pack, but also high enough for coverage. We put in a comfortable, wide waistband, and then added an internal NeverEnd drawstring to secure it in place.

The final productThe Excursion Tight. Our perfect-fitting, perfectly stretchy, sun-protecting, camera-phone-toting, full-length day-hike tight. Go ahead and take it to the trails.