We have reported on OR since 2006, so this is our 9th year and 18th OR that we have covered. The Show format has not changed much, but it gets bigger and broader every year with more exhibitors and attendees. OR has its roots in backpacking, hiking, camping, and climbing. But over the years its scope has expanded to encompass running, paddle sports, fly fishing, outdoor electronics, suppliers of outdoor fabrics and insulations, fabric treatments, skiing, family camping, tailgating, trail foods…. and on and on. Our challenge is to sort through it all and find the gems of interest to our readers.
Also, for us, it’s like a family reunion; we get to see our many friends in the outdoor industry and ask them “What’s new, lightweight, and remarkable?” So, let’s get on with it and highlight what we found this time.
Items featured in this collection of gear are in no particular order and will be available in spring 2015, unless stated otherwise. Shoe weights are for men’s size 9; garment weights are for a men’s Medium.
Also please note that our coverage does not include backpacks, shelters, trekking poles, and sleeping pads because Gossamer Gear sells products in these categories and we want to avoid any potential conflict of interest. We will publish our coverage of those items separately in our own blog Ultralight Insight.
Runners love color because it’s so uplifting and expresses the endorphin-enhanced euphoria one gets from outdoor exercise and all the health benefits it generates. While backpackers and hikers prefer more stealth colors in the backcountry, they are no less enthusiastic and inspired.
Remember the Cagoule? It’s basically an extended rain jacket that goes down below the knees. Sierra Design’s reincarnation is made of much lighter weight fabrics and combines it with lightweight rain chaps. The jacket has underarm vents, a Velcro dot closure system, attached hood, and a flap to easily access a backpack hipbelt. The chaps have ankle openings so they can be slipped on over boots. Weight is 11.5 ounces for the pair, and MSRPs are $109 for the cagoule and $59 for the chaps.
This new shoe is colorful, lightweight, and functional. The upper is highly breathable and the footbed provides lots of breathability and drainage as well. Columbia points out that one-third of the sweat glands in the foot are on the bottom, so breathability is needed there too; 10 ounces/shoe, $90.
This shirt is not lightweight but it has an interesting concept. It’s based on an observation that lighter-colored herons catch more fish than brown ones. So Columbia created this shirt especially for fly fishermen – heat activates the white areas in the shirt and UV activates the dark areas, resulting in a fisherman disguised as a well-adapted heron, well sort of. The analogy seems to fit, and think of it – this is the perfect Christmas present for an avid fly fisherman; $140. Sorry, that’s all you get this year!
Flip the switch and let there be light! In concert with the expansion of outdoor electronics, Big Agnes adds optional overhead lighting to seven of its tents. The Joey-based lighting system adds about 2 ounces (excluding the battery pack) to the weight of the tent. One of the included tents is the lightweight Copper Spur UL2. When you think of it, this adds a lot of utility for the weight – the batteries can be charged with a lightweight solar panel and the system can recharge various electronic devices. Shall we watch a movie on the I-Pad tonight?
The Pitchpine is not a new product, but its specifications illustrate the sleeping bag temperature rating conundrum that currently exists. This hoodless and ½ bottomless bag is rated at 45F but it’s filled with 10.5 ounces of 800 fill-power water-resistant down; that’s the typical amount of insulation in a 32F sleeping bag from some manufacturers! The bag has a sleeve to hold a ¾-length sleeping pad for bottom insulation, and will accommodate longer pads. Total weight is 18 ounces, $350.
What’s different about this wind shirt is the inside surface (shown) has a matrix of thin fleece patches that hold the nylon shell off your skin, providing a softer feel and a bit of insulation, and helps manage moisture by moving sweat away from the skin; 5.5 ounces, $150. It seems like every manufacturer has a new windbreaker in the 5 to 6 ounce range, well suited for day excursions but a bit heavy for lightweight backpacking.
Here’s a new ultralight sleeping bag for summer backpacking. The Drift 30 is insulated with 11 ounces of 850 fill-power water-resistant down, has a very lightweight shell, full-length zipper, and weighs 23 ounces. It’s rated at 30F and costs $440. Other bags in the Drift line range from 0F to 45F. Down sleeping bags are very expensive due to a shortage of high-loft down.
This is not new, but it’s a reminder of one of the options available. The Elephant Foot sleeping bag, popular with climbers, is waist high and worn with a down jacket to achieve a complete sleeping system. It’s insulated with 850 fill-power water-resistant down and costs $350.
Superfeet has a Wide Green footbed (left) for people like me who have duck feet; $40. The new lightweight Carbon footbed (right) is only 3 millimeters thick and is targeted for minimalist footwear, but can be used for any type of shoe; $50. The upper surface is hard and smooth and takes some getting used to.
The Fusion is a new lightweight hike/run shoe from Montrail available in low and mid heights and with or without an OutDry waterproof/breathable membrane, and also featuring their new Fluid Foam Midsole cushioning. Fluid Foam is a method to inject different densities of EVA foam into the midsole section to create zonal cushioning for different parts of the foot. The Fusion Mid is $135 with OutDry, $125 without. The popular Mountain Masochist trail runner is updated with new fabrics and a Fluid Foam midsole.
One of our more exciting finds at this OR is the new Rab Flashpoint Jacket, which is constructed of a proprietary 3-layer air-permeable Flashpoint fabric and weighs just 6 ounces. And it’s not a pullover, it has a full-height Aquagard zipper and attached hood. Waterproofness is 20,000 mm (which is very good) and breathability MVTR is 20,000 (which is average); $325. I have been lobbying for a 6-ounce air permeable jacket for years, and perhaps this is it. Hope-Hope!
The most breathable eVent fabric is called Direct Venting Storm or DVS for short. It’s 20% lighter and15% more breathable than regular eVent. It has 10,000 mm waterproofness) and 31,000 MVTR breathability, which is barely enough for waterproofness and very high for breathability. Weight is 12 ounces and cost is $300. By the numbers, and personal experience, jackets made of eVent DVS are the most breathable to be found.
The original unisex Plasma Jacket came out a year or so ago. It’s insulated with 1000 fill-power down and has a 7 denier shell with no features other than a full-height front zipper and a standup collar. For fall 2014 there will be men’s and women’s versions; $269. This jacket is made in heaven for any ultralight gear kit.
While the primary insulative function of down is preventing heat from escaping, ThermaDown actually stores heat. The down has a nano-coating (one atom thick) of Celliant, which is a heat absorbing blend of minerals that re-radiate the heat back to the body in the far infra-red spectrum. ThermaDown also incorporates HyperDry technology to provide water resistance. The particle coating lasts the lifetime of the product. No information is readily available detailing how the ThermaDown treatment is applied or data on its actual contribution to sleeping bag or jacket warmth. Rather, there is a lot of hype regarding interaction with the “dermis” providing enhanced circulation and oxygenation, which are things that heat therapy normally does.
The majority of down sleeping bag and down jacket manufacturers are embracing water-resistant down, which is basically down with a DWR treatment. But some manufacturers are holding back in a wait-and-see mode. So far, the only complaints I have heard are remarks about the chemical environment it creates, namely “sleeping in an environment loaded with fluorocarbons”. It’s akin to food preservatives; the chemicals are toxic in larger concentrations, but “benign” in minute amounts, and there is no clear method to measure their long-term effects. Most people see the benefits far outweighing any disadvantages, and so far no disadvantages have been documented. Carol McDermott, founder of Crux and Lightwave in England, points out that water-resistant down is a moot issue because you don’t want to get any water into your down insulation, period. Water transmits heat much better than air, so if any water gets into your insulation, wetting the down or not, it is a major heat sink. So a good DWR on the shell fabric remains the most important factor to keeping your insulation dry.
We attended a presentation sponsored by Allied Down and The North Face regarding the establishment of a Responsible Down Standard. As background, the outdoor industry is placing a lot of emphasis on sustainability and transparency these days, and any unethical or polluting practices in the supply chain are coming under scrutiny. The RDS seeks to eliminate practices like live plucking (you can imagine what that means) and forced feeding of geese and ducks raised for their meat and down. Since down is a relatively low value by-product of a meat industry, it has been challenging for the down industry to establish a certification system. However, due to the determined leadership of Allied and TNF, in concert with numerous partners, the standard is coming to fruition, with the goal of 100% down certification by 2017, a remarkable success story unselfishly achieved.
At Ibex we spied the wool Coppi Cap ($40) which appears to be an appropriate piece to wear under the hood of a shelled jacket.
How do you cover the overwhelmingly diverse range of outdoor socks? — One at a time. Balega socks are made of Merino wool and mohair, and the toebox is hand-stitched to make it seamless. The combination provides natural blister resistance. Their socks are manufactured in a state-of-the-art facility in Cape Town, South Africa, utilizing the best performance yarns made in the United States.
Canada Goose, as the name implies, is a Canadian company making high-end outdoor gear. Their gear is not necessarily the lightest, but it is cutting edge, well designed, and elegantly constructed and coordinated. The Hybrid Light Jacket has a 10 denier face fabric with DWR, 30 denier polyester stretch sidepanels, and is insulated with 910 fill-power Hutterite premium down; $500.
New Balance is a sponsor of the Leadville 100 mile endurance run, so they created this shoe especially for endurance running. Of course it’s also a very capable shoe for ultralight backpacking and fastpacking. It has been updated throughout in version 2 for spring 2015, including more toe protection and a grippy Vibram outsole; 10.9 ounces/shoe for men’s size 9, $125. Available in extended sizes and widths.
The newest Gore-Tex footwear technology adds breathability to the bottom of your feet. Up until now the Gore-Tex bootie wraps only the sides and top of the foot to provide waterproofness and breathability. The Surround technology adds a layer to the bottom (see photo) consisting of a membrane and springy structure to allow air circulation around the bottom of the foot. According to the Gore-Tex representative, one-third of the sweat glands in our feet are on the bottom, so there are significant benefits from underfoot ventilation.
Several manufactures will be introducing Gore-Tex Surround in spring 2015 footwear. An appealing one is the Mammut Comfort, available in high and low styles. Weight for the high model is 16.2 ounces/shoe for men’s size 9, and 12.8 ounces for the low. MSRPs are $199 and $159 respectively.
The WindBoiler is a canister fuel integrated stove resembling the Jetboil, but the key difference is it utilizes a smaller version of the original Reactor’s radiant burner and a 1 liter cook pot with a heat exchanger on the bottom that encloses the burner. It’s claimed to boil a half liter of water a full minute faster than the competition, but it is not quite as fast as the original Reactor; $130. The enclosed burner makes it nearly windproof and highly fuel efficient. The complete unit weighs 15.2 ounces and costs $130. From my previous testing of integrated canister fuel stoves, I found the radiant burner technology provides a lightning fast boil, but it doesn’t simmer very well at all; is the WindBoiler any different? I also realized that one of these speed demons can crank out enough boiling water to supply a half dozen campers for hot beverages and hydrating meals, without much of a wait. That makes an integrated canister stove weight efficient for group cooking, even though it weighs more than other stoves.
Not to be outdone, Jetboil will introduce the Mini-Mo with a more convenient shorter, wider 1 liter cup. It’s the same diameter as the Sumo cup, so the larger Sumo will fit as well. The Mini-Mo has Jetboil’s latest regulator technology and enhanced regulator diaphragm to provide consistent performance down to 20F. I tested the technology in the Jetboil Sol, and it works. A new feature is metal handles to more securely hold the cup; 14.6 ounces, $130.
Despite its lightweight, the Odin is nicely featured with one chest pocket, thumb loops, an adjustable hem and hood, and true sizing. Claimed waterproofness is 20,000 mm (which is very high) and breathability MVTR of 32,000 (which is hard to believe); $220.
Another new lightweight hiker is the Vasque Inhaler, available in mid and low versions and Gore-Tex or not for the low. It’s claimed to be very breathable and has a grippy outsole. The mid has a Gore-Tex liner (not Surround) and weighs 15.2 ounces/shoe; the low is 14 ounces/shoe.
This will be about the 5th generation of the Marmot’s popular Essence rain jacket, with a claimed 120% gain in breathability compared to the original. It’s full featured, weighs a scant 6.5 ounces, and will sell for $199. According to the Marmot website “The NanoPro™ coating utilizes a new microporous technology with a pore structure that is 30% smaller than previous generations … and is 43% more breathable. This pore structure is also air permeable allowing for dynamic air exchange. This air permeability combined with the enhanced breathability creates a fabric that is incredible comfortable through a wide range of activities.” Well, I guess we will need to try it to find out how breathable it is; will it blow our socks off or not?
The move is on to blend polyester with most everything. From the winter 2014 OR Show I reported on down blends – down blended with Primaloft fibers. This time its merino wool blended with Polartec fibers. Polartec’s construction puts a wool layer next to skin and a polyester layer on the outside to maximize moisture transport. Other fabric manufacturers integrate the fibers, and at this point it is unknown which construction performs better. As you might expect, the polyester promoters claim the blend combines the best features of both fibers, while the wool promoters claim that the blend dilutes the inherent natural properties of wool. Another trend to watch and see what shakes out.
Ecco is a Danish company that sells footwear in many countries. Their new Ulterra boot (and several other models) feature Yak leather, which is claimed to be lighter and more breathable. As you might imagine, Yak leather is not particularly abundant, and is obtained in small lots. The company uses an injection molding process for the cushioned midsole and rubber outsole. The taller boot is 17.8 ounces/shoe and costs $210, and a low version costs $190.
Ultralight backpackers love to hike in trail running shoes for their light weight, traction, and support. The very popular and very adaptable Brooks Cascadia (left, 11.6 ounces/shoe, $120) will be updated for 2015 with no-sew construction, a technical lug outsole, and TPU rock shield. The Pure Grit (right, 9.9 ounces/shoe, $120) also features no-sew construction in a very capable trail runner.
From the 2014 winter OR I reported on my discovery of microfleece baselayers from Watsons. Although microfleece baselayers are lightweight and warm, they are hard to find nowadays. From this visit at the Watsons booth we feature their Merino 150 baselayer top and bottom, made of 18.5 micron merino wool. They will be available in adult and kids sizes for $55 and $35 a piece respectively, which is a great value, and they can be ordered online directly from Watsons.
The Lifestraw water filter is not exactly new; we just now discovered how lightweight it is, only 2 ounces. Their advertisements show a person lying down drinking water through the filter directly from a stream, which seems inconvenient when you are wearing a backpack. It doesn’t have to be that inconvenient; simply scoop up some water in a zip lock bag or wide mouth bottle and drink it through the filter from there. The Lifestraw filter unit is also available in a bottle filter as well (right). It’s claimed to have a good flow rate and lifespan (1000 gallons) if you backflush it by blowing residual water back through it. It filters down to 0.2 micron and costs $25 (commonly found for $20).
Zamst is a Japanese maker of a range of over-the-counter injury prevention and sports bracing and support products. They are entering the US market and looking to get their products into running and outdoor gear stores. This seems to be a good match considering the frequency of pain from overextending ankles, knees, muscles, and facia tissue. Today’s availability of information allows for diagnosis of many problems and selection of the proper support device without having to go through the medical system. Some examples of their products are a plantar fasciitis sock (left, $55) with zonal support and compression, knee support (center, $30), and ankle support (right, $40), both with easier rear entry and adjustable tightness.
Big Sky displayed a prototype of their new wearable sleeping bag that will be available in different configurations and insulations. As with their tents, ordering a sleeping bag will be ala carte allowing the buyer to configure it as desired. Conventional quilts and mummy bags will be offered too. The weight and price will vary by configuration, ranging from about $150 to $400.
Featuring eVent DVS fabric, this featured jacket comes in at 10.5 ounces and $399. Direct Venting Storm (DVS) is eVent’s most breathable fabric with 10,000 mm of waterproofness and 31,000 MVTR breathability. Features include high chest pockets, full height front zipper, water-resistant zippers, Velcro cuff tabs, drawcord hem, and attached adjustable hood with wire brim.
This new small company generated their initial startup funding on Kickstarter in 6 hours, and ended up with over six times the capital they requested. The Fireant weighs just 2.8 ounces and boils a quart of water in about 12 minutes, depending on the fuel available. It completely disassembles and packs flat as shown. The cost will be about $65. They will also have a larger model that supports a larger pot.
SolaPur demonstrated a prototype water purifier based on a catalyst that is activated by ultraviolet light to produce free radicals which purify water passing through the system. The system is still in development, but the prototype shown weighs about 1 ounce and treats a liter of water in about 5 minutes. The setup is similar to a gravity filtration system. Free radicals kill all organisms, including cysts. Expected cost of the finished product is around $40. The longevity of the catalyst is unknown. You may remember that MSR once sold a unit called the Miox that purified water using free radicals; the Miox used a more complex process, which was its downfall, but the free radical approach works.
White wool is elusive to attain and rare in the marketplace. Many people shun a white baselayer top because it gets dirty easily and looks shabby. So, people wear white cotton tops instead; go figure. But it’s much cooler to wear white in the summertime because a white top absorbs much less heat. Smartwool worked with Schoeller utilizing their Enciel technology to develop a brilliant white wool, which will appear first in athletic socks. Hopefully it will appear later in baselayers, giving us a cooler to wear summertime baselayer. Polyester baselayer manufacturers: are you listening?
This innovation is a fake blister to prevent a real one, so it’s a blister prevention product. The Blist-O-Ban is placed on a problem area, like the back of the heel, where it absorbs the rubbing action rather than your skin. It’s claimed to be very durable and stays in place.
According to a survey conducted by TVs Dr. Oz, lentil crackers have the highest nutrition among snack foods. These lentil crackers will be available alone as a flavored chip snack and as Tapaz 2 Go packaged with a small tub of hummus in different flavors.
Nut butters are a good backpacking food because of their high caloric density, but they have been inconvenient to carry and potentially messy. Yum Butters will now be available in disposable lightweight dispenser pouches which make it easy to squeeze some onto a cracker.
Kovea, located in South Korea, produces a range of camp stoves branded with their name and OEMs stoves sold by several other companies. They showed us a prototype of a new integrated canister fuel stove they are developing that holds 30 grams of fuel in a built-in fuel chamber. It comes with an adapter tube to transfer liquid fuel from a fuel canister. The advantage is eliminating the need to carry a whole canister of fuel for a short trip. They are working on a version that will hold 90 grams of fuel. The new stove could be introduced as early as a year from now.
SG-20 is a two part urethane adhesive-sealant that sets up in 30 seconds and is completely dry in 1 hour. It’s dispensed via a plunger device that comes with three tips. The product has an 18 month shelf life open or closed. It puts on a fairly thick flexible layer so it seems most suitable for patching boots and waders rather than thin fabrics; $20.
One answer to the difficult task of cleaning a cruddy hydration reservoir is to dispose of it in the recycling bin. This system utilizes thin disposable lightweight urethane flasks that are purchased in a 4-pack. Some people will switch to this system for its lighter weight and ease of filling. The flasks come in 50, 70, and 100 fluid ounce sizes; a four-pack with drink tube is $23 and a four-pack of flasks is $13. The drink tube has an antimicrobial treatment. One nice feature is the flasks have a self-sealing fast fill port for easy filling without the need to remove it from a pack. RoguePak also sells a lightweight pack designed for the hydration system.
Weighing just 3 ounces, the Lumin Aid is a solar charged camp or tent light that will provide 16 hours of light on the low setting and 10 hours of light when set on high. It can double as a pillow, but there are nicer pillows available that weigh less. MSRP is $20.
It’s remarkable how long it has taken for someone to think of this. This simple 2-ounce $13 accessory screws onto a beverage bottle or Platypus flask to provide a fully functional shower. The process is to wet yourself down, soap up, then rinse by allowing the water to run down you arm and body. The thin tube supplied allows the shower to work with a bottle without glugging; interestingly it works with a Platy without the tube.
This post was contributed by Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors Will Reitveld and Janet Reichl. You can follow all of their adventures at Southwest Ultralight Backpacking – Ultralight Insights.