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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016: SNOW SPORTS

By Will Rietveld

Please note that this article simply highlights new lightweight gear of interest, and by no means is it comprehensive of the category or constitute a review of the item.  It’s simply a collection of new interesting gear for lightweight backcountry travel.

Items featured will be available in spring 2016 unless stated otherwise. Weights are for men’s size Medium apparel or size 9 footwear.

Northern Lites Snowshoes. I was pleased to discover Northern Lites snowshoes at the demo event; with new company owners at OR for the first time. I have a lot of experience with these snowshoes, having reviewed the Elite and Backcountry models for Backpacking Light Magazine. The snowshoes are essentially unchanged from the ones I tested. The 8x25-inch Elite is their lightest at 2.5 pounds/pair and $249; the 9x30-inch Backcountry provides more flotation at 45 ounces/pair and $269. Northern Lites have retained their distinction of being the lightest snowshoes available (other than a race shoe).

Black Diamond Helio Ski Poles. These fixed-length poles are bladder molded carbon fiber, and have ski baskets. As you can see in the photo, the handle is molded-in and hollow. The lower part of the pole is thicker carbon fiber for extra strength. Weight is 9 ounces per pair and MSRP is $299/pair.

Black Diamond Cirque 35 Pack. This Dyneema Gridstop ski pack has ski loops on the sides, top and side access, and tool attachments. Weight is 2 pounds 4 ounces and MSRP is $200. It will also be available in 30 and 45 liter sizes.

CAMP Kristal Gaiter. These 16.5-inch tall gaiters weigh just 3.2 ounces/pair. They’re made of silicone coated B-Dry Evo ripstop nylon with taped seams, so they are completely waterproof. Features are a front water-resistant zipper, adjustable Dyneema cords underfoot, and elastic tensioners at the top and lace hook. MSRP is $60; available now.

Louis Garneau Phenom Snowshoe. These 25-inch long snowshoes have a Boa closure on the binding for quick in/out and precise tightening. Weight is 3.1 pounds/pair and MSRP is $300.

Louis Garneau Transition Boa Snowshoe. Length is 23 inches, 2.4 pounds/pair, $200. Available now.

Polaris eBikes. Polaris (the snowmobile company) had several electric snow bikes available for testing at Outdoor Demo. They have a 750 watt motor and Lithium ion battery. Simply pedal to get started and shift gears as needed; the electric motor and computer kick in to provide as much power as needed. The rider can pedal as much as he wants to generate additional power to extend battery life and speed. Several versions are available for travel on urban trails, mountain bike trails, and packed snow. MSRP ranges from $2,500 to $5,500 depending on the configuration. Available now.

Scarpa Alien Series Ski Boots. The Scarpa Alien 3.0 (left) is a minimalist carbon fiber ski boot weighing just 1 pound 4.3 ounces per boot. The cost for these uberlight boots is just $2,999. The Alien 1.0 (center) is a combination of carbon fiber and plastic, weighs 1 pound 8 ounces/boot, and costs just $1,799. The all-plastic Alien (right) weighs 1 pound 15 ounces/boot and costs $799. The venerable Scarpa F1 (not shown) is updated for fall 2016; 2 pounds 11 ounces/boot; $699. All have a Boa tightening system on the lower part of the boot, which saves weight and provides easy and precise adjustment throughout the day. The Alien and Alien 1.0 are available now.

Snow Gliders. These are basically a snowshoe alternative, enabling faster travel over snow once you master the technique. They are claimed to provide the traction, stability, and control of snowshoes with the speed of skis. The underside has a climbing skin strip on the length of the glider, so you can kick and glide over more gentle terrain. Two models are available with numerous binding options. Optional adjustable cleats slow you down on steep downhills. Expected MSRPs are $299 without cleats and $399 with cleats; this is a product looking for a manufacturer.

Yukon Charlie Carbon Flex Snowshoe. These 9x28-inch injection-molded snowshoes have some rocker, lots of flex, an unusual honeycomb pattern, Northway Spin binding, and heel lift. Weight is 4.9 pounds/pair and MSRP is $199. The honeycomb pattern is innovative, but I wonder if they might have a problem with wet snow packing into the pockets. Note: these snowshoes do not contain any carbon fiber; they just have a carbon fiber appearance.

Fischer Traverse Carbon Ski Boot. This makes use of carbon fiber to bring the weight down to 34.6 ounces/boot, which is pretty good for a full-featured downhill ski boot. Tech binding only. They have a Boa closure system on the lower boot and one buckle at the top. $900.

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