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, August 22, 2014

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014 – Gear of Interest for Lightweight and Ultralight Backcountry Travel – Sleeping Pads, Shelters, Backpacks, and Trekking Poles. Plus the Lightest Rain Jacket on the Market, Made Lighter.

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

We publish our main OR coverage on the Gossamer Gear blog. That coverage omits sleeping pads, shelters, backpacks, and trekking poles due to a potential conflict of interest because Gossamer Gear sells gear in those categories. We publish our coverage in those categories here on our own independent blog.

Note: items featured in this collection of gear will be available in spring 2015 unless stated otherwise.

Sleeping Pads

There were a bunch of new pads this time, including one that is full length and weighs just 6.5 ounces and costs $25 – I’ll bet that gets your interest! For lightweight and minimalist pads, we definitely have more options.

Adventure Medical Kits Escape Sleeping Pad. Made of aluminized plastic with 85% heat reflectivity, this full size pad weighs just 6.5 ounces and will cost around $25-$30. That’s the good news. The downside is this is considered an emergency pad, which means it’s not designed for continuous use. Obviously the plastic is pretty thin for it to be that light weight. Ultralight backpackers will see it a little differently: how long will it last if I use it carefully, like on top of a good groundsheet or a Gossamer Gear ThinLight pad? I look forward to testing that idea. The Escape Pad can be paired with AMKs 5.5 ounce Escape Bivy (that we reported on last summer) to create a 12-ounce sleeping system.

Exped SynMat Hyperlite Sleeping Pad. This new R-3.2 insulated, full-length, 11.6-ounce sleeping pad is claimed to be the lightest insulated sleeping pad when it comes out in spring 2015. It will actually be available in three sizes: the 71x20.5x2.75 inch version (the lightest one) will cost $169; the wide version will cost $179, and a long-wide version will cost $189. Exped laminates the insulation to both the top and bottom surfaces within the pad to get maximal benefit from the enclosed synthetic insulation. Also, their pads use an exclusive pair of inflation and deflation valves (the intake one is one-way) instead of the familiar plastic twist valve, which they claim is prone to breakage and leakage.

Big Agnes Green Ridge Pad. This new pad will replace the Clearview, and yes it’s green rather than clear. It will be available in a range of sizes like the Clearview; the lightest one is 20x60x2.5 inches and 13 ounces; $60. It does gain a bit of weight since the Clearview in that size was about 11.5 ounces as I recall. This is a good value for a lightweight inflatable non-insulated sleeping pad.

Big Agnes Double Z Sleeping Pad. For anyone who wants a lightweight thick sleeping pad, the 4-inch thick Double Z pad weighs only 17 ounces and costs $80, also a good value. 17 ounces is heavy for ultralight backpackers, but lightweight backpackers may find this pad made in heaven. After all, a standard Therm-a-Rest foam pad weighs about a pound and a half, so this is lighter and much more comfortable than a conventional pad. You might faint while blowing it up at high elevations, but that’s another matter.

Sea To Summit Sleeping Pads. Sea To Summit introduced a line of sleeping bags a couple of years ago, and now they will be getting into the sleeping pad business with a new line of pads that includes three versions: Comfort Plus, Comfort Light, and Ultralight. I will focus on the latter version because it’s the lightest one at 11.5 ounces for the Small size (66x21.5x2 inches), 12.5 ounces for the Regular size (72x21.5x2 inches), and 16 ounces for the Large size (78x25x2 inches); MSRPs are $100 for Small and Regular and $129 for Large. These pads feature Air-Sprung Cells which means the cells are independent; pressing on one cell does not affect adjacent cells. Other features are liquid extrusion TPU lamination which prevents fabric delamination, anti-microbial treatment of the interior to prevent mold development, and a multi-function valve that allows for easy inflation, rapid deflation, and a fine-tuned pressure adjustment. The bottom is 40 denier nylon for durability, and the R-value is 0.7. A ThermoLite insulated version will also be available for $30 more and adds 3 ounces.

Crazy Creek Air Chair Pad. The good news is this minimalist 36x17.5 inch pad weighs just 7.4 ounces; the bad news is you need to buy the Air Chair to get the pad, $79.75. The pad is made by Klymit, so perhaps if we encourage them enough, one company or the other will offer the pad separately. At one time Kooka Bay offered a torso pad with similar dimensions that weighed only 5.3 ounces, but alas Kooka Bay is gone. Hopefully, someone will fill the void.



Last summer we reported that we are starting to see two-person double wall shelters in the 2.5 pound range. A year later we are seeing more of them, and even some weighing just 2 pounds, which is remarkable. With the availability of high-tenacity nylon fabrics and coatings that make the fabric stronger, not weaker, manufacturers are less reluctant to use thinner fabrics in shelters. However, these fabrics are more expensive to manufacture, so expect to pay more. Tents made of 10 to 20 denier fabrics are wonderfully lightweight but require reasonable care to maintain their functionality and extend their longevity.

Also, it seems that manufacturers have gone beyond the stage where they were shrinking and de-featuring tents to lighten them. Buyers were simply not very interested in a two-person tent with only one door and little headroom. Now, with the use of lighter weight fabrics and lighter poles or the use of trekking poles, we are seeing more and more tents in the 2 to 2.5 pound range (trail weight) with two vestibuled doors and ample floor space and headroom, which is what buyers want.

Exped Mira Hyperlite (1, 2, and 3-person versions, double wall, semi-freestanding). This is a good one to start off with. This tent is supported by three poles in sleeves, which is a plus for distributing wind force thereby increasing stability.  It has dead-end pole sleeves for assembly convenience. The one person version has one side entry with vestibule, while the 2- and 3-person versions have two doors with vestibules. Floor dimensions for the 2P version are 49x85, with 43 inches of headroom. The Mira tents are made of 20 denier fabric with 1500 mm of waterproofness, which includes the floor. The 2-person version has a trail weight of 2 pounds 9 ounces and will sell for $379; the 1P is $329, and the 3P is $479.

Sierra Designs Tensegrity (1- and 2-person versions, single-wall, trekking pole supported). Sierra Designs is returning to its roots and re-inventing itself with innovative and functional gear for backpacking. The Tensegrity tents look like a lean-to; they are supported with two trekking poles at the head end and one hoop pole at the foot end, and have a gear storage vestibule at the head end which can be converted to a canopy with two more trekking poles. There is access to the gear storage from inside the tent via a zippered mesh window. Entry into the tent is through protected side doors (only one on the 1P version). The FL version is made of 20 denier coated polyester ripstop and is seam taped; the Elite version is made of nylon fabric coated with silicone on both sides, which will require seam sealing by the user. The Tensegrity 1 FL has a trail weight of 1 pound 15 ounces, and the Elite version weighs 5 ounces less; MSRPs are $320 and $400 respectively. The 2-person version weighs 2 pounds 8 ounces for the FL version and 6 ounces less for the Elite version; MSRPs are $390 and $490 respectively.

Hilleberg Enan (1-person, double-wall, semi-freestanding). The new Enan resembles the Akto, with a single center hoop pole. It’s made of Hilleberg’s new Kerlon 600 fabric, which is a 10 denier triple silicone coated nylon. Headroom is 37.4 inches at the center. It has a side entry, protected by a vestibule. Both ends have a mesh vent that is closable. Trail weight is 1 pound 15 ounces and MSRP is $625.

MSR Flylite (2-person, single-wall, trekking pole supported). The Flylite is another lean-to looking tent; it’s supported by two trekking poles at the head end and one pole at the foot end. The 29 square foot floor is 55 inches wide at the head end tapering to 42 inches at the foot end; headroom is 42 inches. The walls are 10 denier fabric and floor is 20 denier. Ventilation is through mesh panels protected by flaps on the front and sides. Weight is 1 pound 9 ounces and MSRP is $350.

Lightwave Sigma (1- and 2-person, breathable single-wall, freestanding). This breathable single wall tent has a technology story. Its 20 denier nylon fabric is coated on the inside with X-Tex which is a Cocona (activated carbon) coating. According to the designer, Carol McDermott “the activated carbon absorbs the water vapor and prevents it from forming droplets, so the inside tent surface feels dry to the touch. The large surface area created by the activated carbon means that the energy required to keep the water in an evaporative state is much lower, and this results in the fabric continuing to be effectively breathable.” He further explains “this technology is massively more breathable than an eVent tent because eVent is no longer functional when it becomes coated with condensation, while the Cocona technology continues to transfer water molecules to the outside.” The Sigma tents are rated 4-season, have one entry, and headroom is 42 inches. Weight for the 1P version is 3 pounds 8 ounces and 2P version is 4 pounds 5 ounces and MSRP is $649. It would be nice if they can get the tent weights down a pound or so.

Big Sky International Wisp (1-person, single-wall, trekking pole supported). The Wisp will be offered with five fabric choices: 40-denier PU coated nylon (a low cost option), SuprSil (like regular silnylon, only stronger), SuprSil UL SUL (a lighter version of silnylon), SuprSil SUL (a still lighter weight of Silnylon), and Let-it-Por (Cuben Fiber) with weights of XX, 20, 18, 14, and 10 ounces respectively. Entry is from the side though a vestibule. MSRPs range from $150 to $500 depending on the fabric option. I published a First Looks article on the Wisp on this blog in early August.

Six Moon Designs Deschutes Tarp (1-person, single-wall, floorless, trekking pole supported). I had the opportunity to meet with Ron Moak at OR, who showed me his new Deschutes Tarp. Basically it’s a roomy one-person floorless shelter made of Cuben Fiber that weighs a mere 7 ounces. This shelter is not bugproof, but it provides 44 square feet of protected area and 49 inches of headroom. I have used shelters of this type before (the SMD Gatewood Cape and Wild Oasis) and find them very liveable. The difference is the Deschutes is larger, and a floorless shelter is a good option if you hike with a dog. MSRP is $330. A silnylon version is available (13 ounces, $165).

Nemo Blaze (1- and 2-person versions, double-wall, non-freestanding). We found the lightest new double wall tents at Nemo. The Blaze 1P has a minimum weight of 1 pound 11 ounces and the 2P weighs 2 pounds – that’s right a 2-pound 2-person double wall tent! And it’s not skimpy on features and space either. The 2-person version has two side entries with vestibules, floor dimensions of 50x85 inches (30 square feet), and 40 inches of headroom. It attains that low weight by using one diagonal longitudinal hoop pole and hubbed cross pole to support the vestibules, plus use of 7 denier fabrics for the canopy and 10 denier for the floor. The Blaze’s floor dimensions will accommodate two 25-inch wide sleeping pads and has more headroom than the Hornet below. This tent definitely requires some TLC, but from my past experiences its remarkable how strong and durable these fabrics are. MSRPs are $370 for the 1P and $450 for the 2P.

Nemo Hornet (1- and 2-person versions, double-wall, semi-freestanding). How’s this for beating your own record; the Hornet has a similar feature set as the Blaze but weighs slightly less and costs significantly less. The differences are the pole design (one longitudinal hubbed wishbone pole), fabrics (15 denier body, 7 denier fly, 15 denier floor), floor dimensions (the Hornet is narrower at the foot end), and less headroom compared to the Blaze. The 1P version weighs 1 pound 10 ounces and MSRP is $320; the 2P version weighs 1 pound 15 ounces and has an MSRP of $370.

Marmot Force (1- and 2-person versions, double-wall, freestanding). Even Marmot will be introducing new superlight tents. The Force 2P's trail weight is 2 pounds 15 ounces, and it has two side entries with vestibules. The interior is mostly mesh to save weight, the fly fabric is 30 denier ripstop nylon, and the floor is 40 denier. It has a cross pole at the top to provide more interior space and anchor the side vestibules. Floor area is 29 square feet and floor dimensions are 52/38 wide x 86 long. MSRP is $389.

Marmot Nitro (1- and 2-person versions, hybrid, trekking pole supported, non-freestanding). The Nitro (2-person version shown) is a hybrid design (meaning part of the tent is single-wall and part is double-wall) that looks a bit odd, but its functional. The exposed part of the tent body is waterproof, and the interior part is mesh. It has one included strut at the foot end, and the front can be supported with a trekking pole. Trail weight for the 2P version is 2 pounds 5 ounces and floor area is 29 square feet. It has one end entry protected by a vestibule. Fly, canopy, and floor fabric weights are the same as the Force. MSRP is $329.



Under backpacks I present a potpourri of new models, new manufacturers, and new innovations.

Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 and 30. Ultimate Direction specializes in gear for endurance runners, who prefer a pack with lower volume and plenty of pockets to make everything accessible on the fly. Many of those features transfer to fastpacking, which introduce some refreshingly innovative ideas into backpacks. What distinguishes these packs are their vest suspension and well-designed feature set. The Fastpack is available in 20 and 30 liter volumes, which could accommodate an overnight gear kit. I received the Fastpack 20 three months ago for testing and comment, and was immediately impressed with the feature set and vest suspension. The backpanel side of the pack has extra wide shoulder flaps (like a vest) with numerous pockets on them, two sternum straps for securing it over your chest, a removable padded backpanel, and no hip strap. The absence of a hipbelt is surprisingly liberating, as long as pack weight is under about 10 pounds. You wear it instead of carrying it. The frontpanel side had a full-height stretch nylon front pocket plus two stretch side pockets that are reachable. It has s drybag type top closure that attaches to side compression straps, so compression is self-adjusting. Inside there is a hydration sleeve with one center hose port. The front pockets, five of them on the vest flaps hold water bottles, energy bars, and other needed items close at hand. For fast and light trips, it’s really handy to carry energy drink in a chest pocket bottle plus plain water in a hydration bladder. The new for 2015 Fastpack 30 has a HDPE framesheet+foam backpanel, and an internal stretch mesh divider. Both packs are available in unisex S/M and M/L; the Fastpack 20 weighs 24.8 ounces and costs $149, and the Fastpack 30 weighs 26.6 ounces and costs $174.

Camelbak Octane 18X and Pursuit 24LR/Sprite 22LR. The multisport Octane 18X (left) is a nicely designed larger size hydration pack with large easy-access hipbelt pockets, included 3 liter reservoir, and zippered front to allow extra storage; weight is 1 pound 2 ounces and MSRP is $120. The Pursuit and Sprite (right) are mens/womens done-in-a-day packs featuring a polycarbonate framesheet, trampoline backpanel, 100 ounce lumbar reservoir with wide opening for easy cleaning, and numerous outside pockets. Weight is 2 pounds 9 ounces, $150.

More Mountain Hardwear Backpacks Available with an OutDry Lining. Last year Mountain Hardwear announced their first waterproof backpacks, achieved by laminating an OutDry membrane to the inside of the pack. The initial packs are larger volume. Now MH will offer the OutDry feature to three more pack models (Scrambler, Ozonic, and Direttissima) in mens and womens versions ranging from 30 to 58 liters. According to the MH representative, the OutDry lining adds only a fraction of an ounce to the weight of the pack. The packs’ top pocket is not laminated, but does have a PU coating. Pictured is the Ozonic 50.

Granite Gear Virga 26. Granite Gear will be introducing a smaller version of their popular Virga frameless backpack, the Virga 26. The new pack has 26 liters of volume, 100 denier Cordura fabric with 210 denier reinforcements, a rolltop closure, stretchwoven front and side pockets, side compression straps, well-padded shoulder straps, and a webbing hipbelt. Weight is 16 ounces and MSRP will be $120.

Lightwave Fastpack 50 and Ultrahike 60. These are not brand new models but they are new to the US via www.crux.us.com, a US distributor. The Fastpack 50 (left) has aluminum stays, stretch nylon side pockets (no front pocket), zig-zig side compression straps, seams are either welded or seam taped for waterproofness, and each side has a ski holder strap at the base; weight is 2 pounds and MSRP is $240. The Ultrahike 60 (right) is a similar design except the side compression is via a zig-zag cord system. Weight is also 2 pounds and MSRP is $270.

Thule Capstone Backpacks. Thule, a Swedish company known for its car-mounted carrier systems surprised us with a line of new backpacks. The packs are not very lightweight, but we note their innovative frame system consisting of a framesheet plus two tensioned tubes.

Trekking Poles

Not a lot new in the trekking pole category, but we did find an interesting technology story.

Leki Speedlock II Pole Lock. The Leki representative provided us with some interesting information on pole locks. Leki will be introducing their new Speedlock II (left) on their poles in 2015. It’s one-third smaller, 25% lighter, and 20% stronger than their current external lever lock (right). Interestingly, he told us that their internal twist locking mechanism is significantly stronger than an external lever lock. I thought the opposite was true. When he explained it, it made sense: an internal expansion lock has more power than an external compression lock, partly due to the amount of surface area and partly due to the type of force.


As a bonus to this installment, I add the Berghaus Hypersmock 2.0, the lightest rain jacket on the market, made lighter for 2015.

Berhaus HyperSmock 2.0. In my winter 2014 OR Show coverage I reported on this hyperlight rain jacket, weighing just 3.88 ounces according to Berghaus. I got one in size Large to test and found it actually weighs 3.4 ounces (funny how you sometimes wish for less). At summer 2014 OR I found out this jacket will be revised for 2015 and lightened to 2.65 ounces! And it’s claimed to be 100% waterproof. The MSRP is $149. One thing I discovered right away is the jacket is very trim fitting; size Large will layer only over an ultralight down jacket, but no more. More info to come as my testing continues.


  1. Will -
    Thank you so much for your extensive, detailed and thoughtful reviews here, at BPL and GG. They are extremely helpful. I'm 53 and after a lifetime of being a competitive runner am just getting into the ultralight backpacking scene. Hopefully my best miles are ahead of me.

  2. Will, Thank you very much for your detailed, smart and fun-to-read report on OR - the best reporting I've seen anywhere, especially when you combine what you have here with your post on the Gossamer Gear blog. I've enjoyed your blog and BPL articles for many years and just wanted to let you know you're very much appreciated and you make backpacking, snowshoeing, skiing and hiking that much more fun and safe for so many people.

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  4. Thanks for the article! Do you know when the NEMO Blaze tents will be available? I'm planning a CT hike this summer and that looks like it might be a pretty good tent option if it's released before this summer...

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