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, January 14, 2016

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2016 – Part 9: LIGHTWEIGHT/FUNCTIONAL STANDOUTS

By Will Rietveld

Note: Weights are for men's size Medium unless stated otherwise.

My coverage of the Outdoor Retailer winter market 2016 is a wrap. I featured a diversity of products interesting products this time, something for everyone. At OR, it’s hard to limit my selections to only ultralight gear because it would be a short list, so I open it up to include lightweight gear and useful gear for day tripping.

OR actually isn’t the best place to look for ultralight gear; it encompasses the entire outdoor industry, which is mostly mainstream gear. The exceptions are sleeping bags and clothing, where the larger companies provide some truly ultralight products (among all the heavier stuff). The truly lightweight gear comes from small businesses that sell online and can’t afford to attend OR.

But, perusing all the items I covered this time begs the question: What are the lightweight standouts in this batch of gear, items that really appeal because of their light weight, functionality and versatility? That’s the focus of this wrap-up article; in no particular order I present the items that impressed me the most. That’s from my perspective; I invite you to comment on your picks based on your perspective.

Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Vest. This minimalist 3.1 ounce down vest is insulated with 1000 fill-power down and has a 7 denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon shell with sewn-through construction. That’s incredible warmth for the weight and it will make a superlight midlayer. MSRP is $199; available mid August 2016.

Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka. This jacket is the one I wished for: 1000 fill-power down, 7 denier shell fabric, and twice the fill of the Plasma 1000 jacket. This jacket is a dream come true for shoulder season trips; it contains 3.4 ounces of fill and the jacket weight is just 8.4 ounces, which is amazing considering the jacket’s features: full height front zipper, attached 2-way adjustable hood, hem drawcord, two zippered hand pockets, and elastic cuffs. I could live without some of the features, but I understand why Montbell added features to this one.  The MSRP of $379 is actually a good value; available in mid August 2016.

CAMP Kristal Gaiter. These 16.5-inch tall gaiters weigh just 3.2 ounces/pair, which is really light. 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.
Steripen RealTree UV Water Purifier. The RealTree will be Steripen’s smallest and lightest water purifier. It’s basically the Freedom without the integrated flashlight feature, making it a smidgeon lighter at 2.6 ounces. Like the Freedom, it has a built-in USB rechargeable battery and a lamp that will provide 5000 treatments. It will purify a pint of water in 48 seconds. MSRP is $70, compared to $100 for the Freedom. I didn’t like the flashlight feature of the Freedom anyway; it sometimes came on by itself inside my pack, draining the battery, and I never used it as a flashlight for the same reason. In my opinion, the Freedom’s integrated flashlight is redundant. I don’t care for the camo theme on the RealTree because it makes it easier to lose. I would personally prefer a bright color so I don’t misplace it, so I suggest they offer us that option. Available in June 2016.

Topo HydroVenture Shoe. This is the first shoe to adopt the new eVent DVdry LT membrane and construction. It utilizes a 3-layer construction in the upper, with the membrane on outside. eVent’s DVdry LT construction method reduces the amount of material and number of steps in constructing the shoe, which will increase manufacturing efficiency. The membrane on top is durable, flexible, and highly breathable (a 40% increase), and is protected by a TPU overlay which also provides extra support. I don’t have the weight/shoe, but it is definitely very light. I look forward to testing this shoe when it comes out this spring. MSRP is $120.

Altra Lone Peak NeoShell Mid. A mid-high version will come out in July 2016 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.
Kora Shola 230 Zip Top. Kora baselayers are made of Yak wool, which has hollow fibers making it 40% warmer than an equivalent weight of merino wool, and also more breathable and moisture-wicking. Yaks molt in the spring, so there is no shearing. Since Yaks are mostly raised for their milk, meat, and hides, Kora created a market for their wool. I’m intrigued by this top because it’s something I haven’t tried before, and look forward to testing it. MSRP is $160; available now; Sold online at Kora.net.

My Package Icefil Boxers and Saxx Fuse Boxer. I have been wearing both brands and I’m a convert; they really are “Life Changing Underwear”. The new My Package boxers for summer wear contain Lyocell in the fabric to produce a cooling effect. It basically works the opposite of Outlast. MSRP is $45, available April 2016. The Saxx Fuse is 88% polyester and 18% Spandex, which enables the colorful design shown. MSRP is $32. 

CAMP Hotmit’N. This super warm mitt has a windproof membrane and is insulated with 50 grams of premium down. These mitts will be ideal for winter backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and snow camping as the go-to solution for cold hands. Weight is 6.1 oz/pr and MSRP is XX. Available now.
Snowline Chainsen City Slip-On Traction Aid. At 2.2 ounces/pr this is probably the lightest slip-on traction device to be found other than one that fits over the toebox only. The chain and spikes are stainless steel and the band is an elastomer that stays pliable down to -76F. MSRP is $25. Distribution in North America is by CAMP USA.

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