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

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016: NEW TECHNOLOGIES

By Will Rietveld

New technologies that will drive future gear design are unveiled at nearly every Outdoor Retailer trade show. Gear is continually evolving as new technologies are incorporated in an effort by companies to stay on the cutting edge and be competitive. Following is a look at new technologies, and updates on developing technologies, showcased at the winter 2016 Outdoor Retailer Show.

Allied Feather and the Responsible Down Standard. I reported on the Responsible Down Standard in previous OR coverage. Having worked intimately with The North Face to develop the Responsible Down Standard, Allied Feather & Down claims to be the first adopter and primary supplier of certified responsibly sourced down for the outdoor industry.

This time on my visit with Allied Feather and Down I learned more about the Track My Down label attached to down garments using sustainably sourced down. It’s worth the effort to track the down in your newly purchased garment; simply scan the QR code on the label, or go to Trackmydown.com and enter the number on the bottom of the label. The amount of information that comes up is amazing. One thing of interest is the fill power, after treatment, for the down in the garment you just purchased. This particular lot of down turns out to be 904 fill-power rather than the advertised 800; lots vary so this one gives you a windfall. There is also loads of information on the country of origin, purity of the down, and how down is processed. Fascinating and educational.

Other news:
  • After a sharp rise, the cost of down is declining at the wholesale level but has not reached the consumer yet, especially for lower fill-power downs. But prices are holding for high fill-power down, which comes from mature birds and is more limited in supply. Down is a by-product of the meat industry, so lower FP down from younger birds is much more plentiful, and cheaper.
  • Down water-resistance treatments increase the fill-power of high fill-power downs, e.g. 900 FP can go to 1150 FP with treatment. However lower fill-power downs are harder to treat, and get less of a boost because they have fewer filaments.
  • So far, there is no evidence that water-resistance treatments affect the longevity of down.
  • Garment manufacturers are pulling back on their use of water-resistant down. That’s not because it’s not working, but because new technologies (like welded seams) reduce the need for it. They are focusing more on using it where it is actually needed.

WR Not DWR. While visiting with the folks at Downlite, they made the point that many down water-resistance treatments will wash out with only one or two launderings using a traditional laundry detergent. I didn’t know that! Downlite has shown that their Nikwax Hydrophobic Down will last at least five home launderings when paired with NikWax Down Wash Direct (photo). The Nikwax product properly cleans down garments and restores water-resistance. The product was reformulated in late 2015 to eliminate fluorocarbons. Next, I visited Nikwax to verify what I had heard. Their representative was a bit more optimistic, stating that most down water-resistance products should endure 2-3 washings.

This is definitely enlightening. The takeaway message is that these treatments impart water-resistance to down, but it is not a DWR for down, so take away the D (durable) part, its water-resistant but not durable water-resistant like the surface treatment on many garments that typically last through 80 or more washings. Bottom line, it’s still best to keep your down garments from getting dirty and wash them only when they really need it.

eVent DVdry LT for Footwear. Until now waterproof footwear has been based on a bootie or gasket, which places a waterproof-breathable sock inside the shoe, encasing the foot. With the eVent DVdry LT construction, the eVent laminate is the outer layer of the shoe.  eVent engineers developed a method that simplifies shoe construction, reduces weight, and increases breathability by 40%. In the photo above the yellow fabric (red in the rear shoe) exposed on the top and sides of the shoe is the face fabric of the laminate, with the eVent membrane right underneath it, so the laminate is the upper of the shoe. To create the technology eVent developed a new membrane and shoe construction method. The first company to adopt the technology is Topo Footwear, in their Topo Hydroventure shoe (photo) for spring 2016; $130.

Gore-Tex Active. Don’t confuse this with Gore-Tex Active Shell, which is the most breathable conventional Gore-Tex construction. Gore-Tex Active, like Columbia Outdry Extreme, puts the membrane on the outside of the garment. It required the development of a new membrane that is sufficiently durable to abrasion, UV light, etc. when it is exposed on the outside of a garment. The Gore representative emphasized that in its current form the technology is only suitable for running and cycling jackets; it is not durable enough for carrying a backpack.

One of the first companies to adopt Gore-Tex Active is The North Face in The North Face HyperAir Jacket (photo) for fall 2016. The jacket has two hand pockets with water-resistant zippers, a hem drawcord, attached hood, and Velcro tab cuffs. Weight is 7 ounces; MSRP is $250.

Gore-Tex Thermium. Thermium is a lightweight waterproof-breathable shell fabric from Gore intended for insulated jackets. This is a new membrane with enhanced water-resistance, wind-resistance, and breathability. The representative emphasized that the insulation (down or synthetic) is part of the construction and they are designed together.

One of the first companies to adopt Thermium is ArcTeryx in the ArcTeryx Firebee AR Parka (photo), which is insulated with a mix of down and Coreloft (synthetic), with a MSRP of $949.

Columbia Outdry Extreme Shell. We all know the limitations of waterproof-breathable jackets, when they get dirty or lose their DWR, they don’t work anymore unless you clean them and restore the DWR. The required maintenance is an inconvenience, and many buyers are not aware of the maintenance issue or don’t do it. OutDry Extreme is the first waterproof ultra-breathable jacket with a waterproof membrane on the outside of the jacket for permanent water repellency and durability. By putting an abrasion-resistant membrane on the outside where it’s in contact with the rain, there is virtually no risk of the jacket “wetting out” like others do when their DWR wears off. This is a durable, permanent waterproof layer that actively repels moisture and rain (left). The outside of the jacket has a “rubbery” look, and it is not lightweight so this is primarily a technology story. When Outdry Extreme arrives in spring 2016, Columbia will introduce it in 19 different styles of jackets and pants priced from $150 to $400.

New for fall 2016 is the Outdry Extreme membrane on the outside of a down jacket. The Columbia Diamond Down Insulated Jacket (right) is insulated with 800 fill-power Turbodown (why water-resistant down if the shell is so protective?) and will cost $500.

Pertex CS10. Pertex fabrics with CS10 technology use yarns with unique diamond shaped filaments (inset), which interlock to provide a very stable construction, like triangles in an engineered structure. These tightly interlocked filaments give fabrics superb abrasion resistance along with improved water beading properties. For example Velcro will abrade finely woven conventional fabrics, but will not abrade a fabric with CS10 technology. CS10 fabrics are also very soft to the touch, downproof, and have a pleasing sheen.

I asked the Pertex representative if CS10 will be a new category of Pertex fabrics or if it will be an enhancement to existing fabrics. He indicated it was undecided. However, the next day I found the Montane Hi Q Luxe Pro Pullon (photo) which features Pertex Quantum CS10 as the outer shell over insulation in the torso area. So there’s my answer – it’s an enhancement. The Luxe Pro Pullon is loaded with body mapped technologies; it’s made of Dry Active fleece with extra insulation in the torso area and top of the hood shelled with Pertex Quantum CS10, 2-way zipper so the bottom can be opened for ventilation, and a mesh inside water bottle pocket. Weight is 16 ounces and MSRP is $214.

Vibram Arctic Grip Compound.  According to Vibram’s press release, Arctic Grip is the most advanced wet ice gripping compound Vibram has created. I couldn’t get any information on the secret sauce in the new rubber compound, but it is claimed that Arctic Grip has up to 30% more traction on wet ice in extreme cold. Vibram had a slippery ice walk set up at their booth for attendees to try out shoes with Arctic Grip outsoles, and yes, it does make a big difference. If feels like you are wearing a traction device over your shoes, but you’re not; the outsole makes that much difference. I will update this report later when I can find more information describing how the technology works.
The Dyneema Project. Last summer I reported that Cubic Tech Corporation was acquired by DSM Dyneema, a large Dutch company. Now we are finding out more about the new owner’s visions for Dyneema, the criss-crossed fiber strands that provide exceptional strength to Cuben Fiber laminates. The first thing to know is that it’s not called Cuben Fiber anymore; the new name is “Dyneema Composite Fabrics”. We need to get used to that, but can we come up with a shorter, easier to remember name? Maybe “Cuben Fiber” won’t go away after all.

The Dyneema Project is a research, development, and applications group within Dyneema that will work with gear manufacturers to develop and tailor Dyneema Composite Fabrics to their specific needs. This approach isn’t unusual, other companies have been using that approach for years, companies like Gore, Boa, and Vibram. The best way to get your technology into applications is to be actively involved in assisting product specific development. The expected result is a wide range of products incorporating Dyneema to make them stronger, more durable, and lighter. For more detailed information on the Dyneema Project, read my recent article on the Gossamer Gear Blog.

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