Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Friday, November 29, 2013

GEAR REVIEW: Big Sky International Dream Sleeper UltraLight Inflatable Pillow

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Why would an ultralight backpacker carry a pillow?  Answer: when we sleep on an inflatable ¾-length 2.5 inch high sleeping pad that creates a drop-off at both ends, and we don’t have any extra clothing to use as a pillow. I use a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-Lite Short pad that weighs just 7.6 ounces, but the drop-off issue made it uncomfortable to sleep on until I considered a pillow. Now I put my empty backpack under my feet to elevate them off the cold ground, and use a pillow under my head. The extra weight is less than 2 ounces, not bad.

An ultralight backpacking pillow, like the Big Sky Dream Sleeper, eliminates the drop-off at the end of an inflatable air mattress and weighs less than 2 ounces.

I know this sounds decadent, but I have been loosening up a bit to include a few comforts in my UL backpacking kit like an inflatable sleeping pad and pillow. I’m not alone J. Gear is getting better and lighter, and my base weight is still under 6.5 pounds, and that’s for summer backpacking and camping at high elevations in the southern Rockies.

Big Sky International Dream Sleeper UltraLight Inflatable Pillow
Inflated Dimensions
17 inches wide x 11 inches high x 5 inches thick (4 inches in center head pocket)
Pillow alone 1.85* oz, pillow with soft cover 4.05 oz
Pillow alone $24.95, pillow with soft cover $34.95

*Note: This review is based on the original Dream Sleeper pillow that weighs 1.85 ounces; the latest version weighs just 1.45 ounces.

The Big Sky Dream Sleeper Inflatable Pillow is made of durable urethane plastic. The
inflated pillow measures 17 inches x 11 inches x 5 inches thick and weighs 1.85 ounces for the bare pillow. The center has a self-centering head pocket that is 4 inches thick (giving a 1-inch deep head pocket. An optional soft “pillow case” adds 2.2 ounces, for a total weight of 4.05 ounces if you use the cover.

The Big Sky Dream Sleeper UL Inflatable Pillow in profile (top) and flat (bottom). The pillow has a self-centering head pocket and has generous dimensions for its minimal weight.

In Use
The pillow inflates like an air mattress, requiring 5-6 blows to completely inflate it. We tested the pillow on several summer backpacking trips and loved it. Deflated, it fits in the palm of your hand; inflated, it is a very generous sized pillow. To save weight we prefer to carry and use the bare pillow, and rarely have skin contact with the plastic because we wear a warm hat at night. But even when sleeping with skin contact on the pillow, it doesn’t fill clammy or uncomfortable, at least for us.

Getting your head at the correct angle is important for comfortable sleeping. We accomplish that by either placing miscellaneous gear under the pillow, or inflating/deflating the pillow or air mattress slightly to achieve the optimum height and softness.

The optional “pillow case” soft cover makes the pillow feel really plush. It’s actually pretty complex: it has a soft outside fabric bonded to a synthetic insulation, each end has a zipper to facilitate inserting the inflatable pillow, and there is a hole in one corner for the inflation valve. It even has a built-in silnylon stuff sack on the inside. We use the plush version for car camping where we want to minimize volume and weight in our car. Likewise, we would also take the cover when canoe camping

In a recent review of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-Lite Short inflatable sleeping pad for Backpackinglight.com, I complained of the drop-off issue at both ends of the pad, and suggested that the pad could be made thinner to reduce that issue. However, since we have been using the Big Sky Dream Sleeper UL Inflatable Pillow the problem has literally gone away. It completely overcomes the drop-off issue when using a short inflatable sleeping pad, and frees up our empty backpack to put under our feet to insulate them from the cold ground. The combination turns a ¾-length 2.5-inch thick inflatable sleeping pad into a very comfortable sleeping system.

The current version of the Big Sky pillow has been lightened, making it the lightest one on the market (see footnote below), and it has ample dimensions to contribute to a good night’s sleep in the backcountry. The following table compares it with other pillows currently available, or soon to be available in spring 2014.

Weight (oz)
Big Sky Dream Sleeper
Montbell UL Pillow
Klymit Pillow-X
Sea To Summit Aeros
Exped Air Pillow UL (medium)

*We tested the original Dream Sleeper pillow for this review; the weight of the newest version (December 2013) has been reduced to 1.45 ounces, which makes it the lightest backpacking pillow currently available.

Considering its new lighter weight, the Big Sky Dream Sleeper provides the best balance of light weight, larger pillow size, and cost. The Exped pillow is also very light and ample sized, but it’s very expensive.

Overall, the Big Sky pillow is a great find and has become a core component of my UL backpacking gear kit.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

GEAR REVIEW: Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleepers (Inflatable Sleeping Pads)

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Ultralight gear keeps getting better, and provides more creature comfort. Nowadays many UL backpackers choose a lightweight inflatable sleeping pad instead of a closed cell foam pad. Why? -- Because the weight is similar (except for the skimpiest CCF pads), they are less bulky to pack, and they are much more comfortable. Bottom line, a good night’s sleep is very important after a full day on the trail, so many hikers choose a comfortable sleeping pad for their luxury item.

For an ultralight inflatable sleeping pad, the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-Lite is state-of-the-art. But it’s not perfect. Although its very lightweight, comfortable, and provides some insulation, the NeoAirs are very expensive, a bit narrow when inflated, noisy, and have a noticeable “drop-off” at the foot end if you choose the shorter pad.

For awhile we had the Kooka Bay inflatable pads, which were both lightweight and inexpensive, but unfortunately Kooka Bay is now out of business. The new Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleepers fill that niche, and significantly improve on the design and quality.

While simple air-only inflatable sleeping pads from other companies (except the NeoAir) are simply not light enough or durable enough, the new Gossamer Gear pads get it right with adequately durable materials, quality construction, sleeper-friendly design, and reasonable pricing.

The Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleepers currently come in four sizes; I tested three sizes: S, M, and XL.
The initial launch of the Air Beam Sleepers comes in four sizes, as summarized in the following table. Data are Gossamer Gear specifications.

Width (inches)
Length (inches)
Thickness (inches)
Weight (ounces)
Cost (USD)
21 tapering to 14.5
2.5 tapering to 1.5
21 tapering to 14.5
2.5 tapering to 1.5
21 tapering to 14.5
2.5 tapering to 1.5
28 tapering to 19
2.5 tapering to 1.5

Notable features evident from the table, and other observations:
  • The pad width is tapered to save weight. Also, the outer tubes are slightly larger in diameter to help a sleeper stay centered on the pad. Gossamer Gear describes this feature as follows: “Slightly higher side rails to let you know when you are on the edge.”
  • Pad thickness is also tapered to minimize the drop-off at the foot end. The foot end drop-off of other manufacturer’s pads makes it feel like your feet are hanging over a cliff. The design of the GG pads minimizes that issue.
  • A feature useful to some hikers is integrated tabs on the sides of the Sleepers for securing them to a quilt or foam pad.
  • The weights of the Gossamer Gear pads are comparable to the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir pads. (The pad dimensions differ so it’s hard to directly compare weights.)
  • The Gossamer Gear pads sell for about half the cost of the NeoAir pads.
  • So far, the Gossamer Gear pads are only available in shorter lengths. This is apparently due to the limited width (60 inches) of the bulk fabric. Although many UL backpackers will choose a shorter pad to save weight, many LW packpackers will insist on a full-length (72 inches long) pad, so Gossamer Gear needs to offer a full-length pad pronto, or lose a lot of sales.
I tested the pads on several backpacking trips and a car camping trip where my wife and I slept on the Gossamer Gear pads in a floorless tent and a double-wall tent, in temperatures down to freezing.

Gossamer Gear size L pad in a floorless pyramid shelter; the nighttime low was 34F. I used a LW inflatable pillow at the head end and put my empty backpack under my feet.
We camped one night in a LW two person double wall tent out in the dunes at White Sands National Park, New Mexico; the morning low was a chilly 33F.
Our observations after testing the pads in several shelters and conditions:
  • The pads inflate quickly by mouth, faster than the NeoAir pads.
  • The top and bottom fabrics are a good balance of lightweight and durability; we did not have any punctures, but it is still wise to avoid camping on sharp objects.
  • The top and bottom fabrics have good slide resistance; we did not have any problems with sliding around on a plastic groundsheet or nylon tent floor.
  • Janet reported some issues with staying on the size M pad, although that was not an issue for me on the size XL pad; more on this below.
  • For colder weather camping on a shorter pad, we found it necessary to use a LW inflatable pillow (or other gear) to support our head, and lay our empty backpacks at the foot end to insulate our feet. This is a typical routine for using a shorter sleeping pad (48 inches long or less).
  • On colder nights, which were the case for most of our testing, we felt our bottomside getting cold at around 35F. The pads are uninsulated and require some supplementary insulation for camping in colder temperatures.
I found that a 1/8-inch thick Gossamer Gear NightLight foam pad on top of the inflatable pad is sufficient to stay warm on colder nights. The thin pad stays in place very well and actually molds to the contours of the inflatable pad. A thicker foam pad, e.g. the Gossamer Gear ¼-inch thick ThinLight is overkill for temperatures around freezing but is a good choice for sleeping temperatures below around 25F.
 The “higher side rails” feature, meaning larger diameter outside tubes, applies to only the size XL pad. After my wife and I had dissimilar experiences sleeping on the pads, we looked more closely at the tube diameter difference in the pads, and found something interesting. The size XL (wide) pad has distinctly wider outside tubes; laid flat, the outside tubes are 25 millimeters wider at the top and bottom of the pad, meaning the tubes will inflate to a larger diameter. However, the outside tube width in the S and M sizes we tested is the same as its neighbors at the head end of the pad and 6-7 millimeters wider at the foot end of the pad. So, for the size XL pad, the larger outside tubes definitely provide their intended higher side rail function, but the similar tube sizing in the other pad sizes does not provide any effective side rail function at all (only a slightly larger tube diameter at the foot end).

I consulted with Gossamer Gear on the discrepancy and learned that, in the manufacturing process, they found it expedient to go with only one "die" to press the pads. The (expensive) die they use is the size of the XL pads; for the other pad sizes they omit the inside tubes, so the tubes are in fact all the same size. They hope to make standard size (72-inch long) pads in the next production run.

The size XL pad has distinctly larger outer tubes, which serve a "side rail" function, but the outer tubes on the other sizes we tested (S, M) are only slightly larger at the foot end, so no side rail function.
Another observation to note on the air-only inflatable pads is the feeling of floating while sleeping on them. Basically you feel like you are floating, like sleeping on a waterbed. Sleeping on an inflatable foam pad (like a traditional Therm-A-Rest) provides more support for your body, so you don’t feel like you are floating. All this is saying is that you need to get accustomed to sleeping on an airbed.

Overall we are very positive on the new Gossamer Gear Air Beam Sleepers. They are well-designed, a good balance of lightweight and durability, incorporate some innovative sleeper-friendly features, and are reasonably priced.

  • Pads are sleeper-friendly with their tapering width and thickness, plus oversized outside tubes (XL pad only).
  • Weight is comparable with the NeoAir pads.
  • Cost is about half that of the NeoAir pads.
  • Fabric is a great balance of lightweight and durability, slip-resistant, and a cheerful color.
  • They inflate quickly and are very comfortable to sleep on, much more comfortable than a closed cell foam pad.
  • No full-length (72-inch) sizes are currently available; which is a glaring deficiency in the sizes available.
  • Only the size XL pad clearly has larger outside tubes to provide a side rail effect, that feature is missing on the other pad sizes.
  • An air-only inflatable sleeping pad, i.e. an airbed, gives a floating feeling, while a foam core inflatable pad is more supportive (but heavier).
  • These uninsulated pads are cold to sleep on when temperatures drop below about 35F. (However, that is easily remedied by placing a Gossamer Gear ThinLight foam pad on top of the inflatable pad; the 1/8-inch thick 2.6 ounce ThinLight is sufficient.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

GEAR REVIEW: The 1.3 Ounce Sawyer Mini is the Lightest Water Filter Available

By Will Rietveld

Water treatment is always a hot topic among lightweight backpackers. We ditched the heavy pump style filters long ago, so they are totally out of the picture. Now it’s a debate about which is the best lightweight effective water treatment system: Aqua-Mira drops, Aqua-Mira tabs, Ultra Violet, or the Sawyer filters. Other “lightweight” filters on the market require expensive replacement cartridges, so I omit them.

It seems there is no “perfect” lightweight water treatment method currently available – they all have some drawbacks – so it’s a personal choice based on how one weighs the following factors: effectiveness, weight, convenience, wait time, taste, and cost.

My personal experience is probably typical: Aqua-Mira is the lightest system, but I got tired of the mixing and wait time, and the tabs are expensive; the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter (2.4 ounces) is lightweight, but I got tired of sucking to get my water – too much sucking and not enough drinking; the rechargeable SteriPen Freedom (2.65 ounces) is also very lightweight, but it requires a wide-mouth bottle for treatment and a full charge may not last through a trip. The SteriPen stopped working on a recent trip, which makes me less willing to rely on an electronic device for water treatment.

The new Sawyer Mini water filter weighs just 1.3 ounces (without the cap and drink tube), and can be used a variety of ways. It comes with a heavy-duty syringe (for backflushing), a drink tube (for drinking directly from a stream or lake), and a 16 ounce flask for $24.95).
Enter the Sawyer Mini (in September 2013), which at 1.3 ounces (without cap and drink tube) is the lightest water filter currently available. That’s roughly the same weight as using the Aqua-Mira drops in small dropper bottles! The beauty of the Mini is it filters to 0.1 micron (the same as the best pump filters) and it doesn’t use expensive replaceable cartridges. It comes with a heavy-duty syringe for backflushing, and it can be backflushed indefinitely; Sawyer guarantees it for 100,000 gallons.

Backflushing is the key, and I can’t emphasize that enough. I used the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter on many, many trips over a two year period and found that backflushing is essential after every trip, otherwise it is progressively harder to suck/squeeze water through the filter. If you go on an extended trip, take the syringe with you.

Another thing I learned is the filter can become “plugged” if it sits around for an extended period. After using it all summer (and backflushing it after every use, including at the end of the summer), the filter was unused over the winter. The first trip I used it the next summer it was very difficult to suck or push water through it, which was a pain since I was dependent on it. When I got home I soaked it in water overnight and backflushed it bigtime and was able to restore it to its “normal” performance, which I described earlier is a little too much sucking and not enough drinking.

Back to the new Mini. In my initial tests I found the flow rate to be much better than the Squeeze filter, but of course that can decline over time. For that reason, this will need to be an ongoing review of the Mini; I will add to this blog as I use it more over time.

My favorite way to use the Mini is screwed onto a beverage bottle. This is the same application as Sawyer’s Squeeze Water Filtration System. You drink by squeezing the bottle and sucking at the same time. The bottle is easy to fill from a stream or lake and is easy to insert into a side pocket of my pack.
 Another strong point of the Mini is its versatility; it can be used in a number of different ways: screwed on a beverage bottle, screwed on a Sawyer flask (but not a Platypus flask), used as an inline filter in a hydration system, in a gravity filtration system in camp, and drinking directly from a stream or lake.

My favorite system is the Mini screwed onto a 1-liter beverage bottle. The bottle is free and very lightweight, can be filled from a minimally flowing water source, and is easily inserted/withdrawn into/from a pack side pocket. In contrast, a flask is very difficult to fill from a stream or lake and does not carry well in a side pocket, but it works well for camp water.

One final point in this installment: it’s very important to protect a Sawyer filter from freezing. The filter uses a microtubule system for filtration, similar to that used for dialysis, which can be damaged by freezing, resulting in an impaired ability to safely filter water.

Stay tuned for future reports on the Mini water filter after I use it more in the field over time.

Addendum Nocember 17, 2013
I recently took the Mini on a 5-day backpacking trip in Utah's canyonlands country, where the water is often a bit cloudy. The Mini mounted on a one liter beverage bottle performed flawlessly, maintaining a good flow rate. I prefer to drink directly through the filter by simultaneously squeezing the bottle and sucking, but pre-filtering the water into another container is almost as fast and you can gulp the water.

One caveat with using the Mini mounted on a beverage bottle is the bottle flattens as shown, so you need to unscrew the filter one-half turn to expand the bottle so you can drink from it again. That step is unnecessary if you pre-filter water into another container or use the filter inline in a hydration system

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

GEAR REVIEW and My Favorite Gear #3 My Favorite Ultralight Gaiter: The Montbell Stretch Semi-Long Spats

By Will Rietveld

What a name; I challenge you to say it three times as fast as you can!

In spite of its long name, which doesn’t actually identify it as a gaiter, the Montbell Stretch Semi-Long Spats are my favorite gaiter, for the following reasons:
  • The fabric stretch is just right and very durable
  • An underfoot elastic cord is protected by a flat polyurethane tube
  • They are easy to put on/take off
  • They reliably seal shoe tops and ankles, keeping debris and snow out
  • They stay in place
  • They perform well on a wide range of shoes/boots
 The measured weight is 1.95 ounces per pair for Size Large, and cost is a reasonable $34. They are not the very lightest available; the Dirty Girl gaiters weigh as little as 1.15 ounces per pair (weight varies by style), but they fit too loose and are not very durable. The Montbell gaiters weigh a tad more, but they get everything right.

My initial impression was the gaiters are too small for my size 12 shoes, because they cover just the top opening of the shoe or boot. Other gaiters cover most of the topside of a shoe, which is unnecessary, and may impede shoe breathability.

The Montbell Stretch Semi-Long Spats are not “long” as the name implies; the height is 7 inches, which is about right. They cover the top opening of a trail running shoe or light hiker (shown) very well, and stay put, including the heel.

A unique feature is Montbell’s Dura Strap – a double underfoot elastic cord protected by a flat polyurethane tube – which are replaceable for just $3 a pair. The Dura Strap's elastic cord loops through a grommet on one side and hooks on the other.

The Dura Strap runs underfoot in the cavity in front of the heel. They make a huge difference in durability and longevity compared to a traditional underfoot elastic cord.

I have put hundreds of miles on these gaiters and find them to be extremely durable. The stretch fabric shows very few signs of wear, and I am still using the original set of Dura Straps. Before finding the Montbell gaiters, I went through a dozen pairs of underfoot elastic cords a year on other gaiters, especially when hiking off-trail through slide rock and scree. Montbell has eliminated this nemesis with their Dura Strap.

Overall, these gaiters are very rugged and maintenance free, and are built to last a long time.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Little Known Secret of the Gossamer Gear LT-4 Trekking Poles: Combine Two Poles to Create One Long Pole to Support a Pyramid-Type Shelter.

By Will Rietveld

Pyramid (Mid) shelters require a center support pole that is taller than most trekking poles. So, how do you come up with a tall pole without carrying extra weight? Common solutions are: 1) purchase a “pole jack” to extend the length of a trekking pole, 2) purchase a dedicated pole for that purpose, 3) lash two trekking poles together, or 4) use a ski or onsite tree branch. Most of these options require extra materials and time, and they are difficult to adjust to the exact height needed.

There’s an easier way, if you have a pair of Gossamer Gear LT-4 adjustable trekking poles. You can pull the tip section from one pole and connect it to the other pole, creating a long and adjustable tent pole.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that this idea originated from Dan Durston, a Backpacking Light subscriber, who posted it on the BPL Gear forum. There have been frequent discussions on this topic, and I believe Dan’s idea is the best solution because you do not have to take any extra parts with you (well almost none), it’s fast, and it’s easily adjustable. Herein I report my experience with the method, including a few small embellishments.

The following sequence shows how it’s done.

Remove the circular plug from the top of one of the trekking poles. A thin/narrow screwdriver or knife blade works well. Also cut through the thin tape below the plug, to access the carbon fiber tube below.
Remove the tip end from the other pole and insert the end with the adjusting mechanism into the grip hole you created. Slide the pole down a ways to provide good overlap, then twist the section clockwise to tighten it. Place a plastic tip guard (these come with many conventional trekking poles, and are available at outdoor stores) over the tip of the inserted pole.

A plastic tip guard fits snugly over the pole section's sharp carbide tip; this end goes into the cone at the top of the Mid, so the tip guard is needed to protect the shelter.

After staking out the corners of your pyramid shelter, go inside and raise the shelter with the center pole; the end with the tip guard goes into the cone at the top of the shelter. With the pole’s adjustment loosened, press the bottom tip into the ground, then push up on the pole to tension the shelter while twisting the lower section to lock the pole.
In my opinion, this is an elegant solution for creating a tall center pole for supporting a pyramid shelter. The result is a quick, sturdy, height adjustable center pole to support your Mid, and you don't need to carry any extra weight (except for the plastic tip guard).

Some comments and suggestions:

  1. Be sure to save the cork plug and replace it after you re-assemble your trekking poles. This keeps debris and water out of the pole, which could impair the adjusting mechanism.
  2. Be sure there is good overlap in the pole sections for maximum strength.
  3. If you will be day hiking from camp, it's easy to collapse your shelter and use your trekking poles. It's quick and easy to assemble/disassemble the extended pole.
  4. I don't know if this technique works on other brands of adjustable trekking poles; if you find it works with other poles, post your experience in the comments section.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2013 Delivers Again—Loads of New, Updated, Lighter, Better, and Outrageous Gear.

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Note: This article was originally published on the Gossamer Gear Blog (www.gossamergear.com) August 6, 2013. I am also posting it here because it is now buried in the GG blog and not very accessible anymore.

The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show happens twice a year in the Salt Lake City Salt Palace Convention Center, in downtown SLC.
The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show happens twice a year at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
We don’t need to describe in detail what Outdoor Retailer is, just know that it is huge – over 1000 exhibitors and 25,000 attendees – and it’s the go-to place to find out what’s coming in the outdoor gear pipeline, this time for Spring 2014.

Outdoor gear keeps getting better, and usually lighter weight, because of new fabrics and materials coming out that are incorporated into new and upgraded products. Believe me, the entrepreneurial spirit is strong in the outdoor industry, and people look at every angle in an effort to create that moonshot product or get an edge on the competition. And there is lots of positive energy and enthusiasm in their efforts to tell us about it.

Alienwear, a new company, introduced their new Thinsulate Platinum insulated jacket called the Invader. MSRP: Earth
Alienwear, a new company, introduced their new Thinsulate Platinum insulated jacket called the Invader. MSRP: Earth.

Our focus in covering OR is to seek out items of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers, to keep readers enlightened about what’s new. The items covered below are in no particular order (it’s more fun that way because you don’t know what to expect). Please note that this gear will be available in spring 2014 unless stated otherwise.

Jetboil Joule

Jetboil Introduces a New Winter Group Cooking System, the Joule

The Joule is a group cooking system that uses liquid canister fuel. It does weigh a bit, 25.2 ounces, but it’s a powerhouse. It’s more integrated than the Helios and has a large 2.5 liter pot with a fluxring on the bottom. It utilizes Jetboil’s latest burner technology, producing 10,000 BTU consistently even in colder temperatures, and has a push button igniter. MSRP will be $169.

When I reviewed Jetboil’s Sol stoves, I was amazed with how fast, fuel efficient, and cold resistant they are. The little Sol with its 0.5 liter pot could literally supply a small group of hikers with all the hot water they need to hydrate meals and beverages in separate cups; the new Joule system should be able to do that on steroids for a larger group. Since it’s a liquid feed, it will be an excellent winter group camping stove.
Salomon pant and shorts

Salomon Minim Pant and Short are Really Lightweight, Supple, Comfortable, and Durable

A new brand ambassador at Salomon is none other than our Andrew Skurka, who we had the pleasure to hike with one evening while testing some of Salomon’s new gear. Salomon plans to work with Andrew to develop a new range of “Adventure Hike” gear, which Andrew envisions to be about a dozen pieces of minimalist and really functional gear. And congratulations to Andrew and Amanda on their upcoming marriage! The first example of the new Adventure Hike gear is Salomon’s new Minim Pant and Short, which are really lightweight and articulated for comfort. The Minum Pant is not convertible (no zip-off legs), which I personally prefer. Pant MSRP $120, Short $90.

Suunto GPS Watch

Suunto Ambit2 Brings Full GPS Capability and Many Other Functions to Your Wrist

Earlier GPS watches were fairly rudimentary, with functions buried in complex menus. The Suunto Ambit2 is much more mature with much greater capability and ease of use. The capability is enhanced by thousands of Suunto Apps available for download. It has a mini USB interface that clamps to the watch to download and upload with your computer, and one battery charge will last up to 50 hours of use. MSRP is $500.


Footbalance Introduces a Custom-Molded Sandal

Using the same process as a custom molded footbed for a hiking shoe, Footbalance takes it one step further with custom molded sandals. The computerized custom foot analysis and molding process will be done on-site at outdoor retailer stores, providing you with custom sandals for your unique feet for $80. Weight per pair for size 11.5 is 8.2 ounces.

New Bags from Sierra Designs

The Mobile Mummy from Sierra Designs is a Wearable Sleeping Bag

A wearable sleeping bag is not a new concept, but innovative Sierra Designs does it elegantly with the Mobile Mummy (center). The bag has arm holes and a two-way center zipper which allows you to wear the bag in camp for super warmth. Other features are SDs Jacket Hood, garment-style shoulders, and a hook system to raise the footbox while you are walking around in the bag. While sleeping, the bag rolls with you. With 800 fill-power down, the 30F model weighs 26 ounces and costs $329. The other sleeping systems in the photo are the zipperless Backcountry Bed (left): 2 pounds and $349 for the 800 fill 30F version; and the Backcountry Quilt (right): 23 ounces and $259 for the 800 fill 30F version.

Sierra Designs Stow Jacket

Sierra Designs Stow Windshirt is Showerproof

The new SD Stow Windshirt is not the lightest on the market, but it caught our eye because of its soft hand and water-resistance. The hood stows in the collar, thus the name. What appeals most to us is its potential to suffice for rainwear where only short duration showers are expected. The Stow has a good DWR on the outside and a “kiss-coat” of polyurethane on the inside, making it highly water-resistant (however, its not seam taped). With a MVTR of 53,700 g (JIS), this jacket should be much more comfortable to wear while hiking in showers than most traditional rainwear. Weight is 5 ounces for the men’s version and 3 ounces for the women’s. MSRP is $99.

Sawyer Mini

Introducing the Mini: The Popular Sawyer Squeeze Filter Gets Smaller and Lighter

The Mini weighs just 2 ounces, costs $20, and filters up to 100,000 gallons! What’s special about these Sawyer filters is they filter to 0.1 micron, as good as any pump filter, and they are backflushable indefinitely. They are NOT based on a replacement cartridge like many other UL filters; these filters last forever as long as you properly backflush them after every trip. The mini is designed to work as a squeeze filter on a beverage bottle or flask, as an inline filter, or a batch filter. If you don’t want to suck to get your water, you can filter water through the Mini (or other Sawyer filter) into a bottle and gulp it. Suggestion: sell your old pump filter before it becomes obsolete!

Darn Tough Socks

The Micro Crew from Darn Tough is Destined to be a Favorite Hiking Sock

1,442 stitches per square inch are what makes Darn Tough socks unique. There is twice as much yarn in a pair of DT socks than in other brands, which accounts for their comfort and durability. The density produces smaller pores, providing more capillary action to move moisture away from the foot, as well as smaller loops to cushion your foot. And DT socks have a lifetime warranty! Their rep mentioned that many of the (few) returns they get are not DT socks (!), but they send them a new pair anyway to introduce them to DT.



Here is a very lightweight wicking headband that is easily worn under a hiking hat. While other headbands, or a bandanna, are thicker, these are made of thinner absorbent fabric and cover the entire forehead, making it easy to wear a hat over them. The cost is $8-10 depending on design, and the weight is miniscule. You can make a statement if you like, like “I run so I can eat” or “I run for beer”. http://www.bondiband.com/

Sea To Summit Pillow

Sea To Summit Aeros Pillow

Using an inflatable sleeping pad results in a drop-off at the top, so an UL pillow is a very useful accessory for a good night’s sleep. We found a plethora of pillows at this OR, and one of the nicest is the STS Aeros (2.1 ounces, $40). A bit expensive and not the lightest one we found, but it has a thin soft cover and is sized and shaped just right.

Easton Composite Poles

Easton Introduces New Syclone Composite Tent Poles

Easton, the carbon fiber company, hosted a media event one evening at their factory where they demonstrated their new Syclone Composite Tent Poles. It was kind of like the Myth Busters TV show on the Discovery Channel, where they blow things up. Easton blasted tents with 85 mph winds using a blower from a snowmaking machine, and we had the opportunity to sit inside the tents when they did it! See our video on Vimeo to experience it. A “composite” can be a blend of many different things, and in tent poles it is a highly technical combination of materials and multi-directional braiding and wrapping. The new tent poles are not a carbon composite, rather they are an “aerospace grade S-glass fiberglass composite”. Yes, fiberglass and resin, not carbon fibers. This is no ordinary fiberglass. Resulting of much research and testing, the new Syclone poles weigh and cost the same as lightweight aluminum poles but are much stronger and resilient, like the best carbon fiber poles. This is revolutionary, because it will establish another tent pole option besides aluminum and carbon fiber.

Adventure Medical Kits Survival Poncho

Adventure Medical Kits SOL Survival Poncho is UL and Just $13!

It’s made of a durable aluminized plastic and weighs just a few ounces. A unique feature is the shiny interior provides 90% heat reflection to keep you warmer, which may or may not be an attribute, depending on where you hike. The arm holes, neck opening and bottom opening provide ventilation. The material is not breathable at all, but let’s face it, most rainwear that costs a lot more is not very breathable either. This might be a good choice for situations where the chance of rain is low, or to provide shelter during a brief shower.

Nikwax Polar Pruf

Nikwax Polar Pruf Makes Fleece Water-Repellant

I love the warmth and lightweight of fleece liners, but most get wet easily. Nikwax Polar Pruf solves that problem, making any fleece highly water-resistant.


Columbia Extends Their Omni-Freeze and Omni-Evap Technologies into More Garments

In baselayers and jackets, besides utilizing wicking materials that transmit moisture away from the body, manufacturers are utilizing additives and thin print layers to chemically and physically enhance the process. Omni-Freeze provides a cooling effect in baselayers, and Omni-Evap enhances moisture capture and dispersion. These technologies are featured in their new Freeze Degree II baselayers in various styles, Trail Drier Jacket (6 ounces, $90), and Pour-Osity Jacket (14 ounces, $200).


eVent Introduces a Thinner Lighter Membrane

For several years I have pestered eVent and their partners to give us a 6 to 7-ounce eVent rain jacket, and now it has arrived (see below). The new ePTFE membrane, as yet unnamed, is 20% lighter. Now it’s up to progressive apparel manufacturers to combine the new membrane with a superlight face fabric and scrim backing to deliver the hoped for Holy Grail of rainwear. The new membrane in a demonstration fabric construction has 10,000 mm of waterproofness and MVTR of 20,000, which is better than eVent DVL. The photo shows how much more breathable the new membrane (right) is compared to the conventional eVent membrane (left).

Cubic Tech

At Cubic Tech we Saw Cuben Fiber Rainwear Utilizing eVent and Monolithic Membranes

We spotted some UL rain jackets at the Cubic Tech booth and stopped to talk about them. They turned out to be prototype jackets made in-house to demonstrate WP/B constructions using Cuben Fiber. One is a laminate of Cuben Fiber with an eVent membrane (left) and others utilize a monolithic membrane that is “not polyurethane” (right), which requires water to be absorbed by the membrane and evaporated to the outside. These are 3-layer constructions, which are usually required for jackets to provide enough durability. Waterproofness is about 14,000 mm, and MVTR is 12,000 to 23,000 (JIS B1). The weight is 5-6 ounces. Cubic Tech is hoping apparel manufacturers will utilize these new constructions.

eVent Jackets

UL Breathable Cuben Fiber Rainwear is Already Happening With ZPacks and NW Alpine Gear Offerings

These two companies appear to be first to market with breathable Cuben Fiber rain jackets. The ZPacks hooded rain jacket with a full-height front zipper does not specify if it has an eVent membrane or not, but it is reasonably priced at $225 and weighs 4.5 ounces. The NW Alpine Gear Jacket (photo) is a cuben fiber and eVent laminate, weighs 5 ounces, and costs a hefty $600.

Oboz Helium

Oboz Helium Trail Runner a Standout

We can’t cover all the new lightweight trail runners coming out, but the new Oboz Helium is a good one to feature. The platform is lower to the ground, has a 10 mm heel rise, a highly breathable mesh upper, rock protection plate, and aggressive outsole. Weight will be less than 10 ounces per shoe (men’s 9), MSRP is $120. I personally prefer a standard heel rise in a hiking shoe, and see no particular benefit from a “zero drop” shoe. For example, while hiking uphill, a zero drop shoe will place more strain in the Achilles region.

Primus Stoves

Primus Introduces Two New Integrated Cooking Systems

The Primus Eta-Lite (left) is a solo cooking system with a half liter fluxring pot. The system features a new low profile burner and pot connection design, and comes with a hanging system for $100. The weight is 8.2 ounces. The Eta-Spider (right) is a winter use inverted canister system with a larger fluxring pot and a windscreen that has three magnets to instantly attach the burner in place; 12.5 ounces and $120.

Bergans Windshirt

Bergans of Norway Air Jacket is an UL Windshell

We’re finding some UL gear at Bergans of Norway nowadays, this time it’s a 2.8 ounce hooded full-height zippered windshirt made of Pertex Quantum GL. The weight is for a men’s Large and cost is $159.

MontBell Tachyon Anorak

Montbell Maintains its Leadership in Ultralight Windshirts

Not to be outdone, Montbell is going to a lighter 7-denier Ballistic Airlight fabric to shrink the weight of their Tachyon Anorak (hooded half-zip windshirt) to 1.9 ounces from 3.2 ounces. The windshell also features their Polkatex DWR treatment which is superb. The Tachyon Jacket (hoodless, full-zip) weighs just 1.6 ounces.

MontBell Sleeping Bag

Montbell Down Hugger 900 Series Sleeping Bags

Guess what the 900 means? Yep, 900 fill-power sleeping bags from Montbell. A 23F rated bag in this new series will weigh 24 ounces and cost $519 and a 38F bag will weigh 15 ounces and cost $419. The spiral hugger construction technology hugs your body in the relaxed position, but readily expands to provide plenty of girth for wearing warm clothing inside to extend the bag’s warmth. For me, that’s a game changer because most other UL bags on the market are simply too tight in girth to wear an insulated jacket inside, which make them very difficult to zip up.

MontBell Plasma Anorak

Coming in Fall 2014: The Montbell Plasma 1000 Anorak

I was impressed with the introduction of the Montbell Plasma 1000 Jacket at the last OR show, which raises the bar to 1000 fill power down and a jacket weight of 4.8 ounces. But the Plasma 1000 is a three-season jacket. The next step is to introduce an Anorak version with a hood, half-zip, and reach-through kangaroo front pocket for colder temps and for folks who want a warmer puffy. The photo is a prototype. Fill weight will be around 3 ounces, which is approximately double that in the Plasma 1000 Jacket. The anorak will have the same 7-denier shell fabric as the Plasma, so expect the weight to be very low.

Klymit Ozone Pad

Klymit Introduces a New Sleeping Pad in their X-Frame Series

Klymit will introduce their new Ozone Pad in spring 2013, which has an integrated pillow. The pad is full length and extra wide: 72” long x 21.5” wide x 1.5” thick. This one does not require a bulb for inflation; it has a conventional mouth inflation valve only. Weight is 12.5 ounces and cost is $100.

Klymit Pillow

Klymit Pillow-X

Klymit’s new pillow has an X-pattern on top which helps to center your head. Weight is 1.9 ounces, and cost is $30. The pillow does not have a soft cover; you will need to use some spare clothing to cover it if you don’t want to feel plastic against your skin.

Vasque Shape Shifter

The Vasque Shape Shifter is a Paradyne Shifter

This largely injection molded shoe weighs just 10.6 ounces per shoe (men’s 9) but is big on support and traction. Features include a 6 mm heel drop, Boa lacing system, and snug sleeve around the ankle; $160.


The SPOT Tracker Goes to Gen 3

The new Gen 3 SPOT is slightly lighter, has twice the battery life, a line power option, and new tracking options. It’s now more straightforward to use and has openings on top and bottom so it can be slid onto a webbing strap on a backpack for tracking. The new SPOT does not signal faster, but the satellite system is even better now, which can speed up the process a bit. The cost remains the same at $150.

Crux Bags

Crux Firelight Sleeping Bags Feature 970 Fill-Power Down

Made in the UK, these Crux bags are super premium utilizing 970 (US) fill-power down and Pertex Quantum fabrics. The Firelight 150 has 150 grams of down, a 35F rating, weighs 15 ounces, and costs $499. The Firelight 350 has 350 grams of down, rating of about 20F, weight of 20 ounces, and cost of $635. Both bags have a 64 inch shoulder girth which is a big plus for climbers and UL backpackers wanting to wear insulating clothing inside to extend warmth. The US contact for Crux is cruxusa@gmail.com, phone 970-980-6908.


EPIC Jerkey-Based Meal Bars

A new startup exhibiting at OR is EPIC, which sells bison, turkey, and beef jerky-based meal bars. The bars are about 1.5 ounces and cost $2.50 to $3 each. They are very tasty and easy to eat compared to chewing on normal jerky. Available in Whole Foods stores and other outlets. http://epicbar.com/


Toaks Titanium Ware is UL and Value Priced

Toaks is also a new exhibitor. They make titanium pots in a range of sizes, utensils and other items. Their prices are very reasonable; for example an 850 ml pot with lid costs $40 and weighs 3.5 ounces, and a 600 ml pot with lid and handles costs $32 and weighs 3.8 ounces. They offer an Esbit cooking system with a 550 ml titanium pot, titanium Esbit holder, titanium windscreen, and spork that weighs just 4.3 ounces. http://www.toaksoutdoor.com

Nemo Pad

The Nemo Astro Air Lite 20R Sleeping Pad Offers Luxury @ 13 Ounces

Don’t pass this up because of its “heavy” 13 ounce weight because this pad is full size (20” wide x 72” long) and 3 inches thick! The Air Lite has lateral tubes and an integrated pillow. A version with a built-in foot pump weighs 16 ounces. Many lightweight backpackers want a really comfortable sleeping pad for a good night’s sleep; this is the one for you. This model does not contain any insulation, so it’s usable down to about freezing. Another model containing synthetic insulation will be available. Cost is $140 for the model without a pump.

Grip Sock

Grip Socks: Stream Fording and Camp Socks for Under 4 Ounces

These socks have a 3 mm neoprene rubber sole to provide a secure grip while wading, and breathable Spandex uppers. They are an UL and inexpensive option when you need to do a lot of stream fording, and double as camp shoes at the end of the day. Sizes range from XXS to XXL. One version has a stabilizing strap over the instep and Velcro tab at the top (3.85 ounces in XL, $28), and the plain model without the instep strap costs $25. http://www.sandsocks.net

 Drimax Socks

Synthetic DryMax Socks Keep Feet Up to 25 Times Drier than Other Socks

Ultra runners love these socks because they do not retain water. While wool and acrylic socks retain water from sweat or from stream fords, and dry slowly, uncharged DryMax fibers against the skin do not bond with water at all, keeping the foot environment dry and blister resistant. A range of models is available for runners and hikers. The Lite Hiking model is $15; a heavy duty hiking model (more cushioning) is $17.50. http://www.drymaxsocks.com

Rand McNally GPS

Rand McNally Foris 850 GPS Has Built-In Contour Maps and Voice Directions

According to their rep, Rand McNally is already #1 in truck and car GPS systems; now they are entering the competitive outdoor GPS market with the Foris GPS. They gave us an in-depth demonstration, and we were impressed. For one thing, contour maps of the entire US, including special features like roads and trails and special interest sites, are already in the GPS – no cumbersome and expensive downloading of desired maps from a website like other products force you to do. Navigation is by touch screen and very user friendly. A special feature is the ability to offer localized hiking, biking, or driving options for the amount of time and energy you have available. The screen is very sharp and the unit responds quickly. And this one will provide voice directions, if desired, just like a car GPS. This is all very impressive for a brand new product. Weight is 8.15 ounces and MSRP is $400.

 Exped Pillow

Exped Air Pillow UL Medium is the Lightest of All

Weighing just 1.5 ounces, this is the lightest backpacking pillow we know of. But it’s pricey at $49. Size Large costs $55.