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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest

By Will Rietveld

A down vest that weighs only 3 ounces? Yes! The Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest is basically their uberlight 4.8 ounce Plasma 1000 Down Jacket minus the sleeves.

New for fall 2016, the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest is insulated with 1000 fill-power down and weighs just 3.1 ounces in size Medium

A down vest is an orphan in a way; it doesn’t have a conventional home, and its an acquired affinity. It’s basically a midlayer, but the choice to buy and use a vest depends a lot on user preference. Some people simply like vests because they provide both warmth and freedom of movement. Or they simply like the athletic/outdoorsy appearance. Others (like me) look at it from a functionality viewpoint.

I see it mainly as a midlayer, and in the case of the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest, an ultralight midlayer that will enable me to cut some weight from my gear kit.

A midlayer or insulation layer is an essential part of a layering system to maintain comfort while hiking and camping. There are times (cool, overcast, windy) when hiking in only a baselayer is too chilly, and wearing a jacket is too hot. The options are donning a lightweight midlayer or wearing a windshirt over a baselayer. I have always preferred the latter; that combination is remarkably warm and versatile, and there are many windshirts that are extremely lightweight like Montbell’s Tachyon Jacket at 1.6 ounces.

Further, the amount of insulation needed depends on a lot of things – age, gender, activity level, weather, and elevation. And the amount and type of insulation needed for hiking can differ from that needed for camping, so versatility is needed.

So how functional and versatile is the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest in meeting these situations and needs?

Specifications and Features

Montbell (www.montbell.com)
Plasma 1000 Down Vest
Insulated Vest
Men’s S to XXL, women’s S to XL
1.1 oz 1000 fill-power down
7-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon shell with standard DWR
3.1 oz (men’s Medium), 2.8 oz (women’s Medium), measured weight 3.05 oz (men’s Medium tested)
Sewn-through construction, full-height front zipper, stand-up collar


As you can see in the first photo and the table above, the Plasma Vest is Spartan. Its only features are a full-height front zipper and stand-up collar. No pockets. That’s the point: it’s designed to be as lightweight as possible.

While I normally wear a size Large in a jacket, I found that a size Medium vest is a good choice. Since its main function is to insulate the torso, a trim fit works well to reduce drafts.


I tested the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest on three backpacking trips in the Southwestern Colorado mountains and Southern Utah canyon lands. Weather conditions ran the gambit, from mild and pleasant to windy, snowy, and cold.

I wore the vest over a baselayer in wind, while carrying a backpack, with a windshirt over it, in camp, under an insulated jacket, and I wore it in my sleeping bag.

For warmth, the Plasma Vest works best on the trail in cool, cloudy, and windy conditions. As I mentioned, a thin windshirt over a baselayer works great when I am actively hiking, but when its one notch colder adding the vest as a midlayer is the way to go. I personally prefer to wear a windshirt over the Plasma Vest when I use it, for three reasons: 1) the windshirt protects the vest so it doesn’t get damaged, 2) it keeps my arms from getting chilly when it’s cool and windy, and 3) the windshirt holds in the heat, so the combination is much warmer in camp when I am less active. On the trail I can regulate the temperature by opening the zippers.

The same is true in camp. A windshirt over the vest is remarkably warmer, and the combination suffices for insulation for mountain hiking and camping in midsummer. For cooler months, I would also take along an ultralight down jacket, like the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket, and the combination provides loads of warmth for the weight.

The weight savings from using the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest as a midlayer is significant by ultralight standards. The alternative midlayer for a lot of hikers is a fleece pullover, which can weigh at least 8 ounces. So the weight savings is 5 ounces, or more. I personally like a microfleece pullover because it’s durable and versatile, but its warmth to weight ratio is not nearly as good as a down vest.


I found the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest to be very functional while cutting some significant weight from my gear kit. For me, it works best in combination with a thin windshirt.

I find that it’s hard to get by without a midlayer while mountain backpacking. There are many times when a baselayer only is too chilly, and donning an insulated jacket over the baselayer is too hot. A midlayer or windshirt over the baselayer is just right for hiking when it’s some combination of overcast, cool, and windy.

While the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest can replace a heavier midlayer in an ultralight gear kit, it doesn’t come cheap; $199 is a lot of money for a 3.1 ounce garment.

However, when you add in the everyday uses for the vest, like social events, and wearing it under a jacket, it becomes a well used piece of gear. In many ways, it’s an acquired use; once you get the vest, you become aware of its many uses, and you get quite attached to it. The Plasma 1000 Down Vest not bulky like many down vests, so it feels uninhibiting, and it can be worn under your normal sized jacket.

This discussion begs a question for readers: do you commonly take a midlayer on backpacking trips, and what do you prefer to take. What is the lightest and most functional midlayer you have found? Post your response in the comments section below.

Monday, November 7, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka

By Will Rietveld

Montbell is a leader in providing down insulated garments that are cutting edge, very lightweight, and reasonable priced. The new Plasma 1000 Down Parka, introduced in fall 2016, is the latest example. The 1000 indicates 1000 fill-power down, and to my knowledge, no other manufacturer can make that claim. Combined with 7-denier shell fabric, this parka provides a lot of warmth for its weight.

At 8.4 ounces (size Medium) the Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka packs a lot of features and warmth in a very lightweight garment. It features 1000 fill-power down and a 7-denier shell. (Montbell photo)

Montbell’s abundance of down jackets can be confusing, but a visit to their website (www.montbell.com) will clear it up. The Plasma 1000 Down Parka is basically a big brother to their extremely lightweight, hoodless, less insulated Plasma 1000 Down Jacket, weighing a mere 4.8 ounces. The Parka version adds more insulation, a hood, zippered hand pockets, and a hem drawcord.

Specifications and Features

Montbell (www.montbell.com)
Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka
Hooded down parka
Unisex XS to XL
3.4 oz 1000 fill-power down
7-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon shell with standard DWR
8.4 oz (Medium), 8.9 oz (size Large tested)
Sewn-through construction, 2 zippered hand pockets, drawcord hem with 2 adjustors in pockets, elastic cuffs, 2-way adjustable fixed hood, full-height front zipper, stuff sack included


From an ultralight backpacker’s viewpoint, I had hoped for another version of the Plasma 1000 Down Jacket with twice as much down. That would have a super high warmth to weight ratio and weigh about 6.4 ounces. Well, we did get a jacket with twice the down, but it came in the form of a featured parka weighing 8.4 ounces (size Medium). Factoring in 0.2 extra ounces of down, the Alpine Down Parka weighs only 1.8 ounces more than my wished-for jacket. Which is remarkable; Montbell managed to add a bit more insulation, an adjustable hood, zippered hand pockets, and a drawcord hem for only 2 ounces.

Front and back views. The puffy parka has sewn-through construction, using a unique sewing pattern designed to promote down loft while keeping the stitching to a minimum to keep the garment as light as possible. The center back length is 28 inches.

Front and back of hood. The front of the hood has two simple adjustors that pull the hood in around the face. The back has one adjustor that pulls the hood back, as needed, so it doesn’t cover the eyes.

Hand pockets.  The zippered hand pockets have a lot of room inside: 8 inches deep and 12 inches high.

Elastic cuffs. The cuffs are simple elastic to save weight. They fit snugly.

Field Testing

I tested the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka on three backpacking trips in the Southwestern Colorado mountains and Southern Utah canyonlands. Weather conditions ran the gambit, from mild and pleasant to windy, snowy, and cold.

For me (6 feet, 165 pounds), the parka is a perfect fit. The sleeves are plenty long; I normally require a 35 inch sleeve length, and the sleeves on this jacket are just right. The back of the parka covers my butt.

The parka is cut to provide enough room (for me) to layer over a medium weight midlayer. In the photos above, I am wearing the Parka over the Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest, a 3-ounce vest that I will cover in a separate review.

While I love the featureless Plasma 1000 Down Jacket (4.8 ounces, size Medium) for its remarkable light weight, I must admit that I also love the hand pockets on the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka. In camp I stow a number of needed items in the pockets to keep them handy – gloves, matches, ear plugs, and pinch light – and leave them in the pockets throughout the trip. I close the zippers at night to keep items from falling out.

I typically wear my insulated camp clothing in my sleeping bag at night to extend the warmth of my bag. The Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka works well in that role, its not too bulky, and with the hood drawn over my camp hat, I can often sleep without using the hood on my sleeping bag. This Parka would also be an excellent match for a sleeping quilt or hoodless sleeping bag.

The warmth of a garment is a relative thing; variables include age, gender, and actual weather conditions. For me, as I get older I find that I get cold easier and require more insulation for comfort. But that’s true for most campers in general; we all want to stay warm in the backcountry, and our comfort items are usually some extra insulation and a comfortable sleeping pad. For me, the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka is just right for summer backpacking in the mountains, where I frequently camp in the alpine zone above 12,000 feet, and for the shoulder seasons in various terrains. This Parka is a bit too light for winter camping, although it would be about right for active pursuits on cold days. For lightweight winter camping, the baffled Montbell Mirage Parka would be a better choice.

The harshest conditions I encountered in my testing were an early September wind/rain/hail/snow storm while camping at 12,500 feet. Wearing the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka paired with the Montbell Superior Down Pants, I was warm, dry, and comfortable, and enjoyed the experience.


The Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka is an ideal insulated garment for the shoulder seasons, high altitude summer camping, for campers who require extra insulation to stay warm, and for sleeping in a hoodless quilt or sleeping bag.

It’s remarkable how Montbell is able to provide so many useful features in an insulated jacket for so little weight, and provide so many choices. For example, comparing the Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka (8.4 ounces, size Medium) to the hooded Ex Light Down Anorak (6.2 ounces, size Medium), for an extra 2.2 extra ounces you get more down, loftier down, hood adjustment, hand pockets, a full-height zipper, and an adjustable hem drawcord.

A case in point regarding the Parka’s extra features is the adjustable hood; it adjusts in front to seal around your face, and adjusts in back to pull it away from your eyes. It doesn’t balloon or blow off in the wind. In contrast, the non-adjustable hood on the Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak fits loosely and blows off in the wind. My solution is to wear my billed cap over the hood to hold it in place. So, a good case can be made that features matter, especially on a parka, and Montbell has a knack for adding functional features with minimal extra weight.

Overall, I don’t have any issues at all with the Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka; it fills its niche perfectly – an ultralight garment for cool weather and shoulder season activities.

Friday, September 23, 2016

GEAR REVIEW: ZPacks Duplex Tarp

By Will Rietveld

Many readers are already familiar with the popular ZPacks Duplex Tent, which is a Cuben Fiber 2-person single-wall trekking pole supported shelter with two doors and vestibules, a mesh entry and perimeter, and a bathtub floor. The weight is 20.7 ounces, which is amazing for a roomy 2-person shelter.

I was introduced to the Duplex Tent when two of my backpacking buddies got this shelter for one person. I was envious of its roominess, and impressed with its design and performance in rain and wind.

Then, when I visited the ZPacks website, I found something really interesting: ZPacks has another version of the Duplex available, the Duplex Tarp without any mesh or floor. Everything else is the same, except this version is meshless and floorless. The weight, according to ZPacks is 10.7 ounces for the shelter with guylines. That’s half the weight of the Duplex Tent (20.7 ounces).

The meshless, floorless Duplex Tarp weighs half as much as the Duplex Tent.

About that time my inner gram counter got really excited! The Duplex Tarp has a wonderful design and amazing roominess for just 10.7 ounces (the measured weight is actually 9.85 ounces, sans the mid-side guylines).

While many hikers won’t consider a floorless shelter, I happen to like floorless. There’s only one door to enter, more usable protected area inside, and it’s a good option if you hike with a dog. I usually camp above treeline where bugs are not a big issue, but I realize that excluding bugs and creepy crawlers is a major requirement for many hikers.

So how well did the Duplex Tarp meet my expectations? Read on to find out.

Specifications and Features

ZPacks (www.zpacks.com)
Duplex Tarp
Capacity and Style
2-person, 2 trekking pole supported, single-wall floorless shelter with 2 doors and vestibules
53 in wide (86.5 in wide including vestibules) x 100 in long x 48 in high
Measured weight 9.85 oz for shelter and 6 guylines; manufacturer specification 10.7 oz for shelter and 8 guylines
0.51 oz/sq yd Cuben Fiber
Guylines with Lineloks allow easy tensioning and adjustment of shelter height; 2 side entry doors with vestibules; door panels overlap, are secured with a toggle, and are extended with Dutchware Hooks; tensioned catenary ridgeline; 8 staking points with guylines and Lineloks, clothes line loops inside

Setup and Use

I particularly like the design of this shelter. It has two peaks supported by trekking poles, with a catenary ridgeline between them that is tensioned with guylines from the peaks to the ground. This gives the shelter a very taut and storm-resistant basic structure that is further strengthened by tensioning the corner and mid-wall guylines.

Sleepers are positioned perpendicular to the ridgeline and sloped walls; the entry doors and vestibules are at the sides of the shelter. That arrangement puts the sloped walls of the shelter just above your head and feet. It’s possible to sleep parallel to the ridgeline, but that puts your head and feet into the vestibules, and the trekking poles will divide two sleepers. For one person, which is a likely scenario for this shelter, there is unlimited space and sleeping options.

ZPacks lists the shelter’s dimensions as 53 inches wide, 100 inches long, and 48 inches high at the peaks. My measurements came out a little short on the length. I found that angling the poles out a bit provides a width up to 68 inches, but that extends into the vestibules a bit and reduces headroom. With trekking poles set to 48 inches as specified, and sloped walls pinned to the ground the measured length is 86 inches and height at the center is 42 inches; extending the corner guylines increased the length to 94 inches; lengthening the poles to 52 inches and further extending the corner guylines did not change the width but did increase the headroom at the center of the shelter to 46.5 inches. In summary: 1) the width can be increased a bit by angling the poles outward; 2) it is difficult to get the full specified 100 inches of length, but 86-94 inches is adequate; and 3) the specified height is at the peaks, which are about 4 inches higher than the center of the ridgeline.

Setup is simple and fast: 1) lay the shelter out in the desired location (preferably with the sloped sides facing the wind); 2) stake the four corners loosely, 3) insert the trekking poles (adjusted to about 48 inches) in the peak pockets and raise the tent (angle the bottom outward a bit to increase interior elbow room); 4) stake the guylines from the peaks; and 5) tension the guylines all around.

I found that a Gossamer Gear Polycro 2-person groundsheet (3.65 ounces) fits the Duplex perfectly, and is quite durable. It can be adapted to a “bathtub floor” by attaching a short piece of elastic cord and hooks to the corners of the groundsheet (reinforced with tape), which is then tied to the Lineloks at the corners of the shelter.  This arrangement needs to be designed to accommodate different pitch heights of the shelter.

The Duplex Tarp can be pitched at different heights, depending on weather and bug conditions. When it’s windy or breezy I like to stake the corners to the ground to reduce airflow through the shelter. A titanium shepherd-hook stake fits through a corner Linklok buckle as shown in the photo.

On a calm night, when more airflow is desired, the shelter can be pitched higher by extending the trekking poles and corner guylines.

The entry doors are a masterpiece of simplicity and functionality. There is no zipper; the doors overlap to seal, and a toggle & loop holds them closed.

The vestibule is extended out by a custom “Dutchware Hook” (left) that has two clips for D-rings at the bottom of the door panels to snap into. An integrated Linelok enables tensioning against the stake from the shelter’s peak (right). This arrangement nicely extends, tensions, and seals the vestibules; and either door can be opened fairly easily from the inside for egress.

The following videos provide tours of the outside and inside of the Duplex Tarp.


I tested the Duplex Tarp on several late summer backpacking trips in the Southwest Colorado Rockies, camping at higher elevations. I used it alone as a solo shelter and with my wife as a 2-person shelter. The weather varied from balmy to stormy with wind, rain, hail, and snow.

Although tent weights are typically given as the “trail weight” or “minimum weight”, it is often unclear what is included, which is frustrating. For the Duplex Tarp, the minimum weight of the shelter plus guylines, groundsheet, and six stakes is 14.9 ounces. I removed the guylines from the sloping walls of the tent, and use six shepherd hook stakes instead of the recommended eight. These ultralight stakes work quite well, if you put a rock on them.

As a 1-person shelter, the Duplex Tarp is hard to beat; it provides an enormous amount of protected area and excellent shelter from weather.

As a 2-person shelter, the 53-inch width of the Duplex Tarp provides adequate room for two sleepers plus gear; that’s more then you get in most tents. When the sloping walls are staked to the ground, the shelter has enough headroom so I don’t brush against the inside wall when I sit up, but that requires the footbox of my sleeping bag being against the opposite wall (I’m 6 feet tall).

When weather and bugs permit, the shelter can be pitched higher to get even more protected area inside. That’s usually a calm night when you want more air circulation through the tent to prevent condensation. I like to leave one or more door panels open at night, when conditions permit, for ventilation and easy entry/exit.

Since my testing was done in late summer, I didn’t have an opportunity to test the shelter’s bug-resistance. However, I note that even when the sloped walls of the shelter are staked to the ground, the vestibules are raised about 8 inches off the ground. That would allow insects to enter fairly easily, so a headnet may be necessary when camping with bugs.

The raised vestibules are also an issue when it’s windy. Although the best wind-resistance is achieved by orienting a vestibule into the wind, that orientation allows wind to enter under the vestibule and invade the interior. Orienting a sloped wall, staked to the ground, to the wind keeps the wind out better, but it makes the shelter more susceptible to strong gusts, and the shelter contorts more. Using the mid-wall guylines would help to deflect the wind.

On one early September backpacking trip we camped in a beautiful basin at 12,500 feet. It was sunny and windy the day we arrived, and stormy late that night extending into the morning. We didn’t have the shelter oriented right for good wind protection (described above), so it was breezy inside. However, the shelter provided excellent protection from rain, hail, and snow, as good as any tent we have tested.

One nice thing about a Cuben Fiber shelter is, once tensioned, the material does not absorb water and sag, requiring re-tensioning, as with a nylon fabric shelter.

And one thing to keep in mind when using a floorless shelter, is to choose a campsite with good drainage away from the shelter. When it’s raining, water often pools on a compacted campsite, and you don’t want that puddle inside the shelter! The same principle applies to a floored tent, but more so to a floorless shelter.


A floorless shelter is not for everyone and every situation, but if you are an experienced ultralight backpacker, and have camping conditions suitable for a floorless shelter, it is a great way to reduce weight and increase versatility. In the case of the ZPacks Duplex Tarp, you get all of the benefits of the well-designed Duplex for only half of the weight and about 60% of the cost.

Ten years ago, who would have thunk than an ultralight backpacker could include a 2-person shelter with two doors in a 6-pound Mountain SuperUltralight (M-SUL) gear kit. If you are not familiar with that term, read my series on M-SUL backpacking at www.Backpackinglight.com. The ZPacks Duplex Tarp (and many other trekking pole supported Cuben Fiber shelters) makes it possible to have a SuperUltraLight gear kit and also have a very roomy protective shelter. I personally like an enclosed shelter for a good night’s sleep. A shelter like this is also called an “enclosed tarp”, which may be more descriptive, but it is hard to keep from calling it a tent.

The Duplex Tarp is somewhat hidden on the Zpacks website; you need to click on the Duplex Tent, and down a ways there are a pair of configuration/pricing gadgets, the right one showing the Tarp option. It was a lightbulb moment for me when I found it, because I realized I could get a Duplex for half the weight and 60% of the cost; compared to $599 (pricey) for the Tent, the Tarp costs $375 (a great value for a Cuben Fiber shelter).

From my 15 years of experience as a gear tester and reviewer, formerly with Backpacking Light magazine and now freelancing on my own, and having tested numerous shelters over the years, I can confidently state that the ZPacks Duplex Tarp is my current favorite. It’s a sturdy design, well-constructed, user-friendly, and very versatile and functional for ultralight backpacking. You need to be an ultralight backpacker, place a high priority on light weight and functionality, and have the appropriate situation, to fully appreciate the Duplex Tarp. For a M-SUL backpacker, it’s a great find.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Summer 2016 Outdoor Retailer Trade Show: Footwear of Interest

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

 Footwear (this article)

There are so many footwear brands at Outdoor Retailer that we could easily devote all of our time to footwear. Instead, we highlight several new shoes that we found that should be of interest to lightweight and ultralight hikers.

Overall, we are preferably looking for all-synthetic materials, no-stitch construction, reinforcement for stability, cushioning, a wide toebox and snug heelcup, and a good traction outsole.

Please note the following:
·         Items covered will be available for purchase in spring 2017, unless noted otherwise.
·         Weights are per shoe for a men’s size 9, unless noted otherwise.

The new North Face Endurus Hiker and Runner have ExtraFoam midsole (thick foam cushioning), an all-synthetic upper, stitching in the hiker but no-stitch in the runner, and grippy Vibram outsole. The hiker (top) weighs 14.3 ounces/shoe and costs $130; a Gore-Tex version will be available. The Endurus Runner (bottom) has a 6 mm heel rise (20 mm/14 mm heel/forefoot sole unit), weighs 11.2 ounces/shoe and also costs $130.

Coming from Columbia and Montrail, is OutDry Extreme Footwear, with the OutDry Extreme membrane on the outside. Examples are the Terrebonne OutDry Extreme Mid (top), a hiking shoe with a Vibram outsole (17.5 oz/shoe, $150); and the Caldorado II OutDry Extreme, a trail runner (9.4 oz/shoe, $155). Both shoes are all-synthetic and have no-stitch construction, which is what we like to see.

Last year I reported on the Lone Peak NeoShell (bottom shoe), which is a low-cut shoe coming out this spring (10.9 ounces/shoe and $149). A mid-high version, the Altra Lone Peak NeoShell Mid (top shoe) is coming out now that will weigh 11.9 ounces/shoe and cost $159. The unique features about these shoes are they are zero drop (no heel rise), have a wide toe box for foot expansion, and are the only shoes that use a Polartec NeoShell membrane as the outside shell of the shoe, which makes them waterproof-breathable.

The new Salomon XA Enduro Shoe is intended for rough terrain and wet surfaces. It has a built-in gaiter at the top to keep grit out, reinforcement to provide stability, all synthetic materials, no-sew construction, a Contragrip outsole with wet-traction rubber, and weight of 10.6 ounces/shoe; $160.

As I reported from the winter 2016 OR, Under Armor is in the footwear business now and they have some good lightweight shoes suitable for hiking. This time we found the Under Armour FKT Trail Shoe, part of their Horizon trail run collection. FKT stands for Fastest Known Time. The collection features no-stitch sonic welded upper, durable welded overlays, ESS plate for protection, a translucent rip-stop upper with internal forefoot bootie construction, a high-density foam tongue, and a Michelin outsole with a Wild Dig Decent’ R lug pattern for all-weather traction. Weight is just 10 ounces/shoe and costs $130. It has a 7 millimeter heel rise.

We didn’t pay much attention to Sketchers shoes before, but then we started hearing some good things about their latest models. At their booth we found a new version of the Sketchers Go Trail Shoe, which will be available in September. This one has stitching around the toebox and 4 millimeters of heel rise. Weight is 9.6 ounces/shoe and MSRP is $120.

 Footwear (this article)

Summer 2016 Outdoor Retailer Trade Show: Food Items of Interest

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

 Food (this article)

There are many different brands of energy bars around nowadays, and at each OR there are always more. We like to feature the new ones to give them some visibility.

GLUKOS, as the name implies, is based on glucose, a directly digestible sugar for fast natural energy. Other sugars must be converted to glucose to be utilized by the body, and that process requires energy and time, and produces byproducts like lactic acid and triglycerides. The company serves up glucose in the form of energy bars, energy gummies, energy gel, energy tablets to dissolve in water, energy powder to dissolve in water, and a liquid energy drink. They also make a protein bar and protein powder based on whey protein.

Muir Energy Gels have all-natural ingredients and more calories than the competition, and they are available with or without caffeine. One pouch sells for $2.75.

Milkman is back. After being retired for awhile, Milkman is being revived and their packets of instant lowfat dry milk will again be available. They claim to produce the best tasting low-fat powdered milk product, based on their slogan “A kiss of cream”. So when you pick up your packets of Idahoan Instant Potatoes, pick up some packets of Milkman instant milk to go with them. $1.99 a packet.

We found the Simply Native Wild Rice Hot Cereal to be very tasty and it contains all natural ingredients: pre-cooked wild rice, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, cranberries, and blueberries. It cooks in 10 minutes, so in camp you can add boiling water to it, let it sit for 10 minutes, and eat; $8/package.

Gorilly Goods are snack mixes consisting of nuts, fruit, and spices; well I see from their flier that they sneak in a little chocolate, kale, hemp, and cilantro to add a little kick. They come in six yummy flavors, each with a unique taste. Cost is $2.19 to $2.49.

Bogg’s Trail Butters are mixed nut butters with natural flavorings that make them awesome. We really liked them; they rival nut butters from Justin’s and Yum Butters, which are also very good. They are calorie dense with healthy fats, come in three flavors for $5 per 4.5 oz pouch.

Santa Barbara Bars are fruit and nut based plus superfoods. They don’t contain any refined sugars and are a good source of healthy oils and protein; $1.59 to $2.50 per bar.

Skout Backcountry Organic Trail Bars deliver nutrient-rich organic fuel on the trail. They are date-based with various fruits, grains and seeds, and deliver 170 to 200 calories per bar. Although the contain grains they are gluten free; $2.30 to $2.40 per bar.

Kate’s Bars come in five flavors, each a separate recipe similar to energy bars you might make at home. Ingredients are all natural. Kate is best known for her Tram Bar, which started it all; ingredients are: oats, honey, peanut butter, chocolate, rice nuggets, dried bananas, dried apricots, raisins, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and sea salt. Each of the five varieties has a distinctive flavor; $2.99 per bar.

Simple Squares are nut and honey bars infused with herbs, and are made with just five organic nutritional ingredients. The eight savory flavors give you the idea: Chili Pep, Cho-Coco, Cinna-Clove, Coconut, Coffee, Ginger, Rosemary, and Sage; $2.49 per bar.

Thrive Go Macro Bars come in ten different flavors with all natural ingredients and provide 220 to 290 calories per bar. Each uses organic brown rice syrup as a binder with numerous nuts, fruits, and seeds; $2.19 to $2.99 per bar.

B.REDI Salsas are dried salsa mixes that come in a packet. One 18 gram packet plus water makes 8 ounces of salsa. They have four flavors available: Roasted Red, Tangy Tomatillo, Relleno, and Chipotle. I see great possibilities to use on chips or to provide flavor to our homemade trail meals. The cost is $2.50 per packet. http://www.bredifoods.com/

We reported on Health Warrior Chia Bars last year; this time we found the new Health Warrior Protein Bars that deliver 10g of clean, plant protein from a superfood blend of chia, quinoa, and oats. No soy, no whey, and half the sugar of many protein bars; $1.99 to $2.50 per bar.

 Food (this article)

Summer 2016 Outdoor Retailer Trade Show: Ultralight Gear of Interest

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

 UL Backpacking (this article)

Most of the gear found at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show is conventional gear that shows up in outdoor stores six months later. But most conventional gear is getting lighter due to the incorporation of lighter and stronger materials. It’s an evolutionary process, and when gear gets light enough to meet our lightweight and ultralight standards we include it in our Show coverage. As you might expect, the majority of gear we feature from OR is in the lightweight category, and the list of ultralight gear is shorter.

However, a lot of ultralight gear comes from the big gear manufactures – shelters, hammocks, sleeping bags and pads, insulated clothing, rainwear, windshirts, gaiters, to name a few. Herein we report our ultralight gear findings, in no particular order, from the summer 2016 OR Show.

Please note the following:
Items covered will be available for purchase in spring 2017, unless noted otherwise.
Weights are for a men’s size Medium, unless noted otherwise.

Its been a long time since Big Agnes last introduced an ultralight sleeping bag, but the new Big Agnes Flume UL 30 sleeping bag is worth waiting for. It’s insulated with 12 ounces of 850 fill-power down enclosed in a 7-denier shell with a 2/3-zipper. The weight is 22 ounces and cost is $470. Big Agnes uses a combination of baffling methods to hold the down in place. A warmer version also coming out is the Hitchens UL 20 weighing 27 ounces and priced at $530. These look to be well designed bags with cutting-edge materials, ample dimensions, and honest temperature ratings.

The new Nemo Spike 1-person and 2-person tents are floorless and trekking pole supported, and weigh just 15.5 ounces and 26 ounces, respectively. The fabric is 40-denier silicone coated ripstop nylon. MSRPs are $230 and $300. They did not have the tents on display, but we were able to take a photo of a page from their workbook.

Sea to Summit, which has well thought out products in nearly category will be introducing the Sea to Summit Ultralight Hammock which weighs just 5 ounces without straps and costs $89.

An addition to Sea to Summits sleeping quilt line is the Sea to Summit Ember EBIII Quilt filled with 750 fill-power down and rated to 14F. Weight is 27 ounces and MSRP is $299.

The Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pads have become very popular because of their lightweight and comfort. For spring 17, STS will add an Extra Small size, which is 50 inches long, weighs 10.4 ounces, and will cost $89. While the Thermarest XLite Short is a bit lighter, some hikers may like this one better because of its comfort. 

In our past OR coverage we have reported on some very lightweight but minimally breathable emergency bivies from Adventure Medical Kits. For spring 2017 AMK is introducing the AMK Escape Pro Bivvy, which is claimed to be “super breathable” and reflect 90% of body heat, which makes it more than an emergency bivy. Weight is 8.5 ounces and MSRP is $125.

More ultralight sleeping bags coming out in spring 2017 are the Marmot Phase 30 and Phase 20 Sleeping Bags, weighing just 17.6 ounces and 23.3 ounces respectively. The bags are insulated with 850 fill-power down, have a full-length zipper, and 60 inches of shoulder girth for the regular length and 62 inches for the  long version. Prices are $399 and $459. A women’s version of the Phase 20 will be available, weighing 29 ounces (that’s 5.7 ounces heavier, which I assume is mostly down, so much warmer, but fits to only 5' 6").

Some years ago The North Face Flight Series was ultralight gear, then it changed, and now its back. For spring 2017 we will get TNF Flight Series Fuse Jacket, which will be a sub-4 ounce rain jacket. The spots in the jacket (Fuse-Form Venting) are cutouts in the fabric covered with their DryVent PU waterproof-breathable membrane, which saves weight and increases breathability. The jacket has water-resistant zippers, one chest pocket, and attached hood. MSRP is $250 (not cheap).

Also from The North Face is TNF Better Than Naked Jacket, which is a windshirt weighing approximately 2.5 ounces (our estimate since they did not have data). It features FlashDry fabrics, stitch-free seams, and body-mapped venting. Notice the openings in the side seams to catch breezes while running. MSRP is $120.

A new type of garment from Patagonia is the Patagonia AirShed Pullover, which weighs just 4 ounces and is claimed to function as both a baselayer and midlaryer. This one is a little hard for me to wrap my brain around; it seems like more of a baselayer, a very light one at that. The fabric is 20-denier nylon, the same as the face fabric used in their Nano-Air jacket. It has lots of stretch and is abrasion-resistant. MSRP is $119.

Also from Patagonia is a new lightweight hooded rain jacket called the Patagonia Stormracer Jacket, weighing just 6 ounces. The W/B technology is Patagonia’s H2No, a 2.5 layer construction. MSRP is $249.

For men only. You are probably familiar with the MyPackage “Keyhole Pocket” technology, which provides for men what a sports bra provides for women. For spring 2017 they will be introducing the MyPackage Running Short (held at the top of the photo) with the same technology. This would eliminate for wearing anything under the short. A version with an attached running tight (lower part of the photo) will also be offered. MSRPs are $80 for the short and $85 for the short+tight.

CAMP, the climbing gear company, has provided us with several ultralight gear items to feature in the past. This time we found the 3.3 oz/pair CAMP Mini Gaiter. The ankle height gaiter is made of a stretch fabric with a Cordura tab at the toe where the gaiter hook is attached. It has a tough Hypalon underfoot strap, which will eventually wear out from hiking (but not from skiing), but it can easily be replaced with Velcro patches on the heel of the gaiter and shoe. MSRP is $40, available now. I previously reported on the CAMP Crystal Gaiter, which is a very lightweight tall gaiter for hiking.

The popular lightweight Big Agnes Fly Creek Platinum Tent will get the HV (High Volume) treatment, increasing its volume 20%. The 1-person version will have a trail weight of 1 pound 7 ounces ($500), and the 2-person version will weigh 1 pound 10 ounces ($550). The Platinum version uses 7-denier fabrics, which accounts for the higher cost. This tent has an end entry (which reduces weight), compared to the Copper Spur’s side entry. Normally I would put a double-wall tent into the lightweight backpacking category, but this one is light enough to slip into an ultralight gear kit. 

 UL Backpacking (this article)