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

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.