Never-Before-Seen Zipper Created For Olympic Outerwear

When Columbia Sportswear unveiled Olympic ski uniforms for three countries (check out the photos on our exclusive post from last week) the brand was also uncovering a small but vitally important detail that will soon find its way into many more of the company’s products — new zippers.

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A pocket closed by the Columbia LightRail Zipper, right, next to another waterproof zipper used in the main jacket closure; photo by Sean McCoy

It’s branded as the Lightrail Zipper, and the new kind of closure is found exclusively on Columbia outerwear for Olympians. I got a first look at it during an event in Utah last week — the zipper is incredibly slim, flexible and light. Other than the zipper-pull, you have to look close to see the seam on a jacket.

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The thin seam in fabric left by the closed LightRail zipper

“The goal was to create a lighter, easier to zip, more flexible (and packable), waterproof zipper,” said Columbia’s Jeff Mergy. “The PU zipper has long screamed ‘outdoor look/performance’ and we wanted to change the game on that — we wanted to go low-profile with a totally new aesthetic.”

Columbia’s zipper is bonded to laser-cut fabric using an adhesive similar to seam tape. This eliminates stitching bulk, zipper tape, and weight from the garment. It took a few years in development to bring to market.

The waterproof zipper is designed with a “dock” for the zipper head to eliminate any gap in the closure. The metal part of the zipper body is a new design that blocks water and directs it away from the inside of the garment.

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The head of the zipper “docks” to maintain waterproofness

“The zipper naturally lends itself for designers to get very creative with over-molding, design, and color selection to create the look they desire,” Mergy said. He noted that athletes and testers have been using the zippers in the field for about a year to ensure they are solid for the Olympics.

The LightRail zippers are used on pockets of Olympians’ jackets for now, but don’t be surprised to see them on the retail floor soon. Columbia says it’s too early to predict the exact timing of a release now, but we will keep our eyes peeled for announcements in the coming year. —Sean McCoy

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Posted by Gary Scott - 01/15/2014 08:39 AM

Two important things to point out with this zipper:

1. It’s plastic, so it will break very quickly.
2. The zipper running so close to the edge of the fabric will cause huge fraying of the edges.

Posted by Steve - 01/15/2014 02:22 PM

“Two important things to point out with this zipper:

1. It’s plastic, so it will break very quickly.
2. The zipper running so close to the edge of the fabric will cause huge fraying of the edges.”

Possibly true, but a lot of sports use higher-performing gear of all types that has a very limited lifetime due to wear.

At elevated levels of performance, ie: the Olympics, wind drag and grams matter a lot, so shorter service life is an easy trade-off to make. When they do release it to public, it may be sold with the caveat of shorter life.

PS- not all plastics misbehave as you seem to think.

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