By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl, Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors
Outdoor Retailer happens twice a year in Salt Lake City, where about 25,000 attendees gather to see what’s in the pipeline from over 1000 companies. The companies set up elaborate booths, like a Bird of Paradise, to display their latest and greatest products, which will hit showrooms in about 6 to 8 months (in this case spring 2016), and company representatives make their pitch. Buyers choose the gear and apparel they want to bring into their stores and place their orders. And Media (like us) prowl the Show searching for gear of interest for our readers.
Our focus is new lightweight gear, and new technologies that make gear better.
Following, in no particular order, are our findings from Summer OR, held August 4-8, 2015. Items featured will be available in spring 2016 unless stated otherwise. Weights are for men’s size Medium apparel or size 9 footwear. Note: for more information on any of the items featured, simply Google the name and experience the wonders of the internet.
Berghaus holds the claim to the world’s lightest rainshell with their VapourLight HyperSmock, now they are introducing the Berghaus VapourLight HyperJacket (shown above in two colors). The original smock is nicely designed but Spartan, with one (very useful) zippered front pocket. The HyperJacket has a full-height front zipper, but drops the pocket. The jacket weighs 100 grams (3.53 ounces) versus 75 grams (2.65 ounces) for the smock. The caveat is the garment runs small, so most people need to go up one size, which increases the weight. The HyperJacket will retail for $155 (the smock is available now for $150). Men’s and women’s versions will be available.
Solar Paper by Yolk is claimed to be world’s thinnest and lightest solar charger. Claims aside, this is the nicest solar power system we have seen so far for backpackers. Each panel is 2.5 watts; the panels connect with magnets, so panels can be stringed for a total of 10 watts. They attach to a backpack with mini-carabineers. An LED screen on one panel displays how much the string is currently charging. It requires about 3 hours to charge a phone in full sun, which is about the same time it takes with a power adapter. Two panels (including one with the LED display) weigh 4.35 ounces and cost $89; four panels cost $149. Available September 2015.
Altera Alpaca Socks are claimed to insulate 30% better than merino wool. The difference, according to the Altera rep, is Alpaca fibers are hollow and don’t absorb water, which allows the fabric to wick away moisture better and thermoregulate better. Their Explore Light Crew socks are 45% Alpaca, 34% Hydrotec, 15% nylon, 5% Spandex, and 1% silver to make them antimicrobial. MSRP is $22; available now.
Wild Zora is a meat and veggie bar made of unadulterated ingredients. The meats are beef, lamb, or turkey, each combined with 30% veggies. The 1-ounce bars sell for $3 to $3.50.
Vasque has a reputation for building sturdy hiking boots and shoes. The revised Vasque Inhaler 2.0 will be available in mid and low styles. We were especially attracted to the low because of its lighter weight of 13.5 ounces/shoe and breathability. Notable features are heel and toebox ventilation ports and Vibram MegaGrip outsole for extraordinary grip on wet and dry surfaces. MSRP is $120. The mid version (above) has a Gore-Tex lining; $160.
The Vargo Outdoors Pocket Cleats are most likely the lightest most compact serious traction device to be found, weighing just 1.9 ounces each. They are collapsible down to a small size for packing. New improvements are tread and side brackets to keep them in place underfoot. They are constructed of Titanium, Vargo’s specialty. MSRP is $60; the improved version will be available in late August 2015.
Also at Vargo we spied the Vargo Converter Stove, made of Titanium of course, weighing just 1.6 ounces with pot stand. It’s called the Converter because you fill it to cook with alcohol or invert it to cook with Exbit tabs. MSRP is $40 and it will be available in mid October 2015.
The Travelon Clear View Waterproof Pouch for a cell phone or tablet is waterproof and floats. It has a closed-cell foam insert to make it float. Nowadays many hikers use their phone for all their electronic needs on the trail, so a waterproof case is essential to protect it. The Travelon goes one step further by making it buoyant so it won’t sink, so now you have to chase it down a stream rather than dive for it. MSRP is $13, and it’s available now.
The TowTab Instant Towel is a mini-towel compressed down to a small tablet and come 10 per package (1 ounce; 0.1 ounce/towel) for $2.50. All you do is add water to put them to use, and they can be dried and reused several times if desired. A final use could be for TP, but be sure to pack it out rather than bury it.
Another good find at OR is Smelly Proof Bags, which as the name implies, are designed to keep odors inside. Currently the largest size is 12 inches wide x 16 inches tall, which can be used as a food bag for backpacking. They are working on a bear bag. Available in a range of sizes, they are very durable, puncture resistant, and seal tightly, so they can be used for a variety of purposes besides food storage – think ditty bag, food hydration, camera case, etc. An ultralight system I like to use for treating water with a Steripen is to scoop up water in a gallon size Ziplock bag, treat it with UV light, then pour it into a LW container for camp or trail water. The weakness is ordinary Ziplock bags are easily punctured, so the Smelly Proof Bags should work much better. Some sizes have a flat bottom (center one), so they will stand up when full, which may work well for camp water.
Scarpa introduced three new shoes designed for technical mountain running. The Scarpa Proton Shoe is the most stable of the three, with more lateral control and cushioning and 21 to 11 heel to forefoot drop. I also like its all synthetic content, TPU overlay, welded construction, and airmesh upper for durability and breathability. Its Vibram Genesis outsole provides great traction. Weight is 12.5 ounces/shoe and MSRP is $129 ($169 for the Gore-Tex version).
The Balega Blister Resist Sock resists blisters and ventilates through a combination of 45% more stretchiness in the heel pocket and a Drynamix Mohair footbed. MSRP is $12-$14, which is a great value.
The Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter kit will soon include the Sawyer Cleaning Coupler in addition to the current cleaning syringe. The Cleaning Coupler is a simple plastic adapter that allows use of a soda bottle to backflush the filter in the field. The coupling will be available from Sawyer for current users who want to get one.
The Salomon X Ultra 2 Shoe is a hiking shoe incorporating rugged trail running shoe technologies. It has an all synthetic upper (like most Salomon running shoes), and a chassis with plenty of support and cushioning needed for hiking, plus a quick lace system for easy on and off. Weight is 13.4 ounces/shoe and MSRP is $120; available now.
The Outdoor Research Realm Jacket features their new air-permeable 2.5 layer AscentShell, which is an electrospun membrane similar to NeoShell, but claimed to be more durable. Breathability is claimed to be better than Gore-Tex Active Shell. The Realm Jacket has stretchy fabric, which combined with Dynamic Reach underarm panels, allows exceptional freedom of movement. Features include a fully adjustable hood with a wire brim, two zippered front chest pockets, and adjustable cuffs and hem. The jacket packs into one of its pockets. Weight is 10.9 ounces and MSRP is $279.
The Outdoor Research Cascadia Gaiter is a new lightweight high gaiter made of Gore-Tex waterproof-breathable fabric. Weight is 7 ounces/pair and MSRP is $70.
A big issue with top-mount canister stoves is they usually lack a windscreen, and manufacturers frequently caution against using one, a wasteful dilemma. When cooking with an unprotected stove, even a light breeze blows a lot of the heat away, which is very inefficient and wasteful. The new GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Canister Fuel Stoves are matched with a heat deflector plate and windscreen called the Pinnacle Windscreen, which comes in two sizes. That constitutes a cooking system, which we strongly recommend instead of a bare stove. There are two versions of the Pinnacle Stove; one is a simple top mount (10,200 BTU, 2.4 ounces, 5.4 inch diameter pot supports) @ $50; the other is the Pinnacle 4-Season stove with an invertible remote canister weighing 5.8 ounces @ $80. The windscreens are called the Pinnacle Soloist (2.4 ounces, $12) and Pinnacle Dualist (2.6 ounces, $13). The windscreens are specific to the Pinnacle stoves and will not fit other stoves.
Ultralight backpackers are always looking for the easiest ways to get their caffeine fix. How about taking two pills and hitting the trail? Each OMeals Coffee Tablet is equivalent to one cup of coffee or 66 milligrams of caffeine. However, they cost $1 a pop, and come in a package of four for $4. Another useful product from the same company is OMeals Cheese Bites, which is chunks of freeze-dried cheese. We found them to be very tasty. A 2-ounce pack costs $5.
From Montane comes the Montane Featherlite 7d Jacket which is a hoodless windshirt made of 7-denier nylon that weighs just 1.7 ounces. It has raglan sleeves for articulation and a full-height front zipper. Unisex sizes for $149.
The Mountain Hardwear GhostLite Jacket is a 3-ounce windshirt that replaces the Ghost Whisperer. Features include an attached hood, full-height front zipper, DWR coating, and one chest pocket. Men’s and women’s versions will be available for $100.
We found gold at the Montbell booth. Since GoLite went out of business, demand has been high for Montbell’s current hiking umbrella similar to the GoLite Chrome Dome. In spring 2016, Montbell will introduce two new hiking umbrellas, the Montbell Sun Bloc Umbrella and Travel Umbrella. The Sun Bloc will be equivalent to a lighter Chrome Dome at 6.2 ounces, and the Travel Umbrella will weigh just 3 ounces. The latter doesn’t have a silver exterior, but it will be available in white. As shown in the photo, the Sun Bloc (right) is larger at 3 feet 8 inches, while the Travel version (left) is 2 feet 8 inches. MSRPs are $45 and $52 respectively.
Also new from Montbell is the Montbell Tachyon Wind Pant made of 7-denier nylon with Polkatex DWR and weighing just 1.9 ounces; $74. The cuffs have a “snugger” feature that closes them around your shoe, and will also hold the legs up so the pant can be worn like shorts. I look forward to testing the Tachyon Wind Pant and Travel Umbrella combo for an UL rainwear system in showers to see if it’s adequate. Montbell’s Polkatex is their best DWR so I expect the wind pants to be very water resistant.
If you need non-chemical insect protection, check out all the products from Bug Baffler (www.bugbaffler.com). They have headnets, gaiters, shirts, and pants – you can shield your entire body! Their Bug Baffler Headnet weighs just 0.65 ounce and is nicely designed for coverage and visibility; $10. Their gaiters are 18 inches tall for protection from critters like chiggers and fireants; $12.
We found lightweight gold at the Crux/Lightwave booth. Their new range of seven Lightwave Firelight Sleeping Bags are on the cutting edge of lightweight performance. All bags are fully baffled, insulated with 970 fill-power European down, have a Pertex Quantum GL shell and lining and Pertex Endurance foot end, and a #3 full-length zipper. It’s important to note that these bags are not tight-fitting, like some manufacturers do to reduce weight and cost; the shoulder girth is 61 inches. Three sizes are available to fit short, regular, and tall sleepers. The bags are named for the amount (in grams) of down fill contained: 150, 250, 350, 450, 550, 650, and 750. The Firelight 450, for example, has a comfort rating of 32F, weighs 26.3 ounces, and costs $750, which is a premium price for a premium bag. The temperature ratings seem very conservative because this bag contains nearly 16 ounces of down. A typical US 32F bag contains about 12 ounces of 800 fill-power down, which corresponds to the Firelight 250 @ $599.
Keen is now one of the world’s biggest shoemakers. Their new Keen VersaTrail Shoe is a light hiking shoe. It’s all synthetic and very breathable (which we like), with dual-density cushioning, especially in the heel. It has an Anaprene tongue, which is an elastic enclosure around the instep which helps adjust fit and rotates with the ankle. Weight is 12 ounces/shoe and MSRP is $120 in men’s and women’s sizes.
The Hummingbird Single Hammock is the lightest on the market @ 5.2 ounces and $75, and their Tree Strap kit weighs just 2.3 ounces, for a total of 7.5 ounces. The dimensions are 104 inches long x 48 inches wide. For hammock camping, their Single Plus size is longer and roomier @7.6 ounces and $80. There is also a Double version @10.2 ounces and $85. All of their hammocks are made of 1.1 ounce/square yard braided nylon parachute material without any seams. The Tree Strap uses 1500# Spectra cord with an interwoven adjustment that operates like a Chinese finger trap – no knots or buckles. All of the Hummingbird Hammock products are available now.
We can’t possibly cover all the energy bars available, but we can feature a few standouts. The Four Points Whole Food Nutrition Bars are based on four goals: balanced macro-nutrient ratios, antioxidant richness, optimal glycemic load, and natural ingredients. They are available in 5 flavors and a 2.5 ounce bar costs $3.
Another energy bar that stood out is Health Warrior Chia and Protein Bars. All are based on chia seed, which is considered a super food. The main ingredients are Chia seed, pea protein, quinoa, and oats. Their website at www.healthwarrior.com lists four flavors of protein bars and 10 flavors of Chia bars. Chia bars typically sell for $1 to $2 per bar.
Flopeeze are soft, lightweight, inexpensive sandals that can be used for a variety of things: fording streams, camp slippers, shower slippers, even for comfort while travelling. You put them on by slipping your foot through the hole, then inserting your toes into the toebox, so they stay on pretty well. They come in four sizes and several colors for $13; size Large weighs 2.35 ounces each; available now.
A hydration bladder is usually heavier than a plain water bottle, especially a soda bottle, but it’s a lot more convenient and efficient. Finding a lightweight hydration system, like the EZ Hydration by CDF Corp nearly eliminates the weight penalty. A 3-liter reservoir weighs 1.14 ounces and the hose adds 3.35 ounces. A three-pack with one hose costs $15. The reservoir is BPA free, disposable, and can be recycled (#7 plastic), but it makes sense to reuse it as much as possible. We would like to see it come with a thin-wall vinyl hose to make it lighter.
Because the price of premium down has raised so much in recent years, we were also looking for value-priced lightweight sleeping bags. We found some good ones at the Exped booth. The Exped Ultralite 300, 500, and 700 Sleeping Bags are insulated with European 840 fill-power down and have a 20-denier ripstop shell and lining. For example, the Ultralite 500 is rated at 30F, contains 15.2 ounces of down (which is a lot), weighs 26.8 ounces, and costs $349. When evaluating down bags, it’s important to look at both the fill weight and fill power, not just the total weight. While a typical 30F bag contains about 12 ounces of 800 fill-power down, this one contains a lot more down with higher fill-power, so I predict it will be a lot warmer. With a MSRP of $349 this is a great value for an UL sleeping bag.
Also from Exped is their Exped Pack Poncho UL, which is a poncho/pack cover combination, similar to the Packa. The poncho part is available in three sizes and two colors; weight of size Large is 8.6 ounces (lighter than the Packa); MSRP is $139.
According to CEO Don Ellsworth, until now, moisture management in socks has been dealt with by using different yarns. The new Ellsworth V-Channel Socks have air channels built into the physical design of the sock to provide the ventilation needed to “completely” expel moisture. The channels go under the foot and up the sides of the sock, as shown. These socks are very popular in the military. In cold temperatures they are claimed to completely avoid moisture buildup and cold feet. Their light hiking crew sock shown is 65% merino wool, 32% nylon, and 3% Spandex; MSRP is $19; available now.
At one time or another everyone needs to carry a headnet for pesky mosquitoes or whatever. Adventure Medical Kits has two versions available, labeled as Ben’s UltraNet and Ben’s InvisiNet. The UltraNet has arm holes, weighs 1 ounce, and costs $10; the InvisiNet is more transparent, weighs 0.7 ounce, and costs $12. We found they work better with a floppy hat rather than a baseball cap. Available now. While at AMK we inquired about the status of their Escape Sleeping Pad, which is a full-size thick pad weighing just 6 ounces. They are still working out details with welding the pad chambers and valve, and the weight will likely rise to 7 ounces.
Altra put the Polartec NeoShell membrane on the outside of the new zero drop Altra Lone Peak NeoShell Shoe. This is not a new waterproof-breathable footwear technology rollout from Polartec, rather it’s a one-of application for Altra, for now. If it’s successful, it will likely spread to other Altra footwear and perhaps other manufacturers. According to the Altra rep, a Gore-Tex interior bootie doesn’t breathe until you sweat, and the exterior fabrics of the shoe absorb 2-3 ounces of water. However, NeoShell breathes right away, and it’s on the outside so the shoe doesn’t absorb water. Altra claims the Lone Peak NeoShell at 11.5 ounces is the lightest waterproof-breathable shoe available. They anticipate the main applications for this new shoe will be backpacking and thru-hiking, followed by running. MSRP is $149.
To read more of our Summer 2015 Outdoor Retailer Show coverage go to www.backpackinglight.com (subscription required). The article will publish on or about August 18, 2015.
Did something catch your eye? Tell us about it in the comments below!