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, August 10, 2016

Summer 2016 Outdoor Retailer Trade Show: Lightweight Gear of Interest

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

LW Backpacking (this article)

As you might expect, the majority of gear we feature from OR is in the lightweight category. Lighter weight is a desired feature in most outdoor gear and manufacturers strive to reduce weight while retaining features, durability, and performance. They accomplish that through improved design and incorporating improved materials that provide the same or better performance with lower weight.

Nearly everyone wants to reduce their pack weight, so lighter weight gear is appealing if performance is not compromised. That means desired features, comfort, dryness, warmness, adequate shelter, and ease of use, to name a few attributes.

As gear gets lighter from various improvements, and meets our weight criteria, it gets included in our coverage of gear of interest to lightweight backpackers, and nowadays to other lightweight endeavors like bike packing, canoeing and kayaking, and lightweight mountaineering.

Herein we report our lightweight 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.

For skiing and mountaineering, the durable CAMP Duo Gaiter is a good choice. It’s made of 1000-denier Cordura, has a full-height zipper, and lightweight underfoot cable to hold it in place. Weight is 8.4 ounces/pair and MSRP is $60. Available now.

REI really delivered on lightweight gear this time around. Their REI Quarter Dome II Tent is destined to be a popular choice because of its light weight and value. It will be available in 1-person, 2-person, and 3-person versions with weights of 2 pounds 7 ounces, 3 pounds 5 ounces, and 4 pounds 1 ounce, respectively. Notable features are 15-denier fabrics in the canopy, 20-denier floor, steep sidewalls at the head and foot ends for great headroom, and huge vestibules. MSRPs are $279, $339, and $399 respectively.

Also included in REIs suite of new lightweight gear is the REI Flash Insulated Sleeping Pad, which has an R-Value of 4.1 and will come in four sizes: Short, Regular, Regular-Wide, and Long-Wide. Size Regular is shown in the photos. MSRP is $99 for the Regular size, and weight is “less than 1 pound”.

Next from REI is the REI Magma Sleeping Bag featuring 850 fill-power down, a temperature rated to 10F, Pertex Quantum shell, and weight “under 2 pounds” (which is good for a 10-degree bag). There will be men’s and women’s versions selling for $349, which is a great value.

Still going from REI is the REI Magma Jacket which is a lightweight hoodless puffy featuring 850 fill-power down insulation, Pertex Quantum shell, and two hand pockets. Weight is about 10 ounces. Men’s and women’s versions will sell for $189.

Finally from REI comes the REI Flash 45 Backpack to join the existing updated Flash 60. This must be about the fourth generation of the popular lightweight Flash backpack. Weight is 2 pounds 12 ounces. I didn’t catch the MSRP, but the Flash is always a good value. Note that a 45 liter pack is about the right volume for a lightweight backpacker who has worked diligently to reduce weight and bulk of her gear kit.

Our good friend Andrew Skurka is now a brand ambassador for Sierra Designs. A new backpack designed by Andrew with SD is the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor, which expands from 40 to 60 liters in volume. Features of the 2.5 pound pack include two top access zippers, top cap, large hipbelt pockets, two stretch nylon side pockets, a removable hydration sleeve, and a pronounced lumbar pad. The pack’s internal Y-shaped tubular frame (shown in the right photo) is lightweight and supportive. The MSRP is $200; a limited number will be available in September on Sierra Designs’ website.

The second innovative new product of the Skurka/SD collaboration is the Sierra Designs High Route Tent, which is a very roomy 1-person tent with two doors with vestibules. The inner tent has a 30"x90" floor (18.8 square feet); with a 3-season fly-only pitch the tent provides 36 square feet of protected area. The tent has a diagonal ridgeline and requires trekking poles for setup. There is a lot of space between the inner tent body and the fly, so ventilation should be good. The body fabric is 20-denier, and the floor is 30-denier, and weight is 2 pounds 5 ounces, which is very good for a double-wall tent. MSRP is $299.

The Columbia OutDry Extreme Eco Jacket is the next introduction in Columbia’s innovative line of “membrane on the outside” shell jackets. So far, only Columbia’s OutDry membrane is sufficiently durable to put it on the outside of the garment. The resulting jacket has a rubbery look and feel, but it’s entirely functional because it eliminates the face fabric and DWR coating (which are the nemesis of conventional 3-layer W/B jackets), allowing the jacket to breathe much better. The Eco Jacket features 100% recycled materials, PFC-free membrane, and it’s not dyed to minimize water use in its manufacture. The white color is attractive and very functional to avoid overheating. Weight is 12 ounces and MSRP is $199.

Really lightweight double-wall tents under 2.5 pounds are becoming more common. The new Nemo Hornet Elite Series Tents attain their low weight by using lightweight materials throughout: 7-denier body, 10-denier floor, lots of no-see-um mesh, and a minimal wishbone pole structure. The 1-person version has one door with vestibule and has a minimum weight of 1 pound 7 ounces ($449); the 2-person version has two doors with vestibules and weighs 1 pound 12 ounces ($499). Really lightweight tents like these are expensive because of the cost of the specialty fine denier fabrics that are available only from certain factories and take longer to weave.

Also coming from Nemo is the Nemo Tensor Field Insulated Sleeping Pad weighing 16 ounces ($170). This sounds heavy, but when you consider it’s double insulated to be comfortable down to 10-20 F, the weight is more acceptable. According to Nemo, a typical insulated pad is warm down to 15-25F, so the Tensor goes a step lower. It has horizontal tubes like the Thermarest NeoAir All-Season pad that weighs 19 ounces and costs $160.

Big Agnes has many lightweight tents to choose from, including the new Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL Tent Series, which replaces the current series.  HV stands for High Volume, 20% more, without a weight increase. The tent has an X-pole design plus a crossbar (replacing the current wishbone design), it’s more squared at the ends, and a new random ripstop body fabric has 25% more tensile strength. The series contains 1, 2, 3, and 4-person versions with minimum weights of 2 pounds 2 ounces, 2 pounds 12 ounces, 3 pounds 7 ounces, and 5 pounds 3 ounces respectively. MSRPs are $380, $450, $500, and $650 respectively. The Copper Spur is one of their most popular tents for backpacking because of its light weight and side entry, and the 2017 HV update makes it even better.

If you want to go even lighter you can get the new Big Agnes Copper Spur Platinum Tent and save a half pound. The Platinum version will be available in a 2-person size with a trail weight of just 2 pounds 4 ounces ($600). The weight savings (and increased cost) come from the use of 7-denier fabrics throughout the tent. However, this version retains the wishbone pole structure and does not have the HV volume increase.

What is unique about the new Black Diamond Iota Headlamp is its rechargeable battery (hooray, no AAA batteries!), 2 ounce weigh, and 150 lumens of light. It’s very user friendly too: it comes on at full brightness, then continue to hold the button and release it at a desired light level, and just tap the button to go back to high. It lasts 3 hours on the high beam and 6-8 hours on low intensity. MSRP is $40; available Oct 1.

At the Cascade Designs booth we found the MSR Big Titan Kettle, a 2-liter version of the popular Titan Kettle. It weighs 6.4 ounces and costs $100. This will be a very handy pot for a couple or small group.

The popular MSR Pocket Rocket Stove gets an upgrade to the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. It's 2.5 ounces lighter than the original and not nearly as tall, so its more compact when collapsed. The pot supports are wider at the top to accommodate pots ranging from a small cup to a larger one like the Big Titan Kettle above. Weight is 2.6 ounces, $45, available January 1.

Here’s a new twist, err squeeze, on water filtration. The new MSR TrailShot Microfilter has a bulb that you squeeze to pump water through the filter. It weighs just 5 ounces and will filter 1 liter of water per minute. It has a claimed lifespan of 2000 liters. To flush the filter just fill it with water, shake it, and drain it; $50.

Granite Gear made so many changes to their popular lightweight Crown 60 pack they renamed it the Granite Gear Crown2. The pack now has a lid (which is removable), more durable side stretch nylon pockets, a Re-Fit adjustable length hipbelt, large hipbelt pockets (formerly there were no hipbelt pockets), and stiffened framesheet. They did all this without increasing the weight; it remains at 2 pounds 2 ounces. It will be available in men’s and women’s versions for $200. For women it will be available in a Short size, and for men a Long version will be available.

We visited Craghoppers for the first time and found some interesting items. Their Craghoppers NosiLite ProLite Shirt and Pant are lightweight, durable, fast-drying, and treated with Insect Shield for bug resistance. Non-treated versions are also available. Both are available in men’s and women’s versions and extended sizes, like a Long for men and a Short for women. Weight is 6.7 ounces for each piece in men’s regular (lighter for women’s) and MSRPs are $75 for the shirt and $80 for the pant. Did you know that the mosquito is the most dangerous animal in the world? It carries the most dangerous diseases, including the current Ziki virus. So insect repellent clothing is something many people will be interested in nowadays for both domestic and foreign travel. However, please note that the garments protect only the areas they cover; they do not provide protection of adjacent exposed skin.

The new double-wall freestanding Marmot Bolt Tent has a trail weight of just 2 pounds 10.1 ounces for the 2-person version and costs just $369. It has a lightweight wishbone frame, end entry, and a mostly mesh interior to reduce weight. A 3-person version weighs 3 pounds 5.3 ounces and costs $489. Both are a great value.

The Marmot Tungsten UL 2P Tent claims to provide the most space per ounce than any other lightweight tent. That may be an overstatement, but the Tungsten does have 32 square feet of floor space, 52 square feet of protected area, loads of headroom, two side entry doors with big vestibules, and a polyester (no stretch) fly, weighing just 3 pounds 8.5 ounces, and priced at just $299. This is a very likeable, roomy couples tent, and a great value. A 3-person version will also be available for $389.

The new North Face Hyper Cat Sleeping Bag is claimed to be the lightest 20F synthetic sleeping bag available, weighing 30 ounces. It has a ½-length center zipper and vertical baffles; $249.

More tents. The LL Bean Microlight UL1 and UL2 double-wall freestanding tents weigh just 1 pound 14 ounces and 2 pounds 11 ounces respectively. The body fabric and mesh are 15-denier and the floor is 20-denier, a good balance of durability and light weight. The double wishbone hubed poleset is easy to assemble, and provides adequate headroom at the head end. The vestibuled side entry is large and convenient. MSRP for the 1-person version is $299 and the 2-person version sells for $349. Available now.

This coming January 1 Patagonia will introduce a lighter version of their Nano-Air Jacket called the Patagonia Nano-Air Light Hybrid Jacket. Its breathability is achieved by sandwiching a porous synthetic insulation between thin/porous face and liner fabrics. This is a hoodless highly breathable synthetic insulated jacket for continuous wear in high exertion activities in cool temperatures. Compared to the original Nano-Air’s 60-gram insulation, this one has 40-gram insulation that provides 85% as much warmth with 60% of the weight (10 ounces). Men’s and women’s versions will be available for $199. A vest version will also be available.

Montane is introducing a similar hooded breathable insulated jacket called the Montane Halogen Alpha Jacket, which is insulated with 50-gram Polartec Alpha. The outer shell is a non-calendared open-weave version of Pertex Microlight and the inside lining is a HyperVent fabric. The jacket is designed for continuous wear in cool weather high exertion activities. The jacket packs into the right pocket for stowage. Weight is 12 ounces and MSRP is $209.

Also from Montane is the Montane Terra Pack Pant for travel or hiking, which is made of a stretch nylon fabric. It comes with a belt, slit side pockets with a zippered pocket behind, and loops to roll up and fasten the legs. Men’s and women’s versions will be available in regular and short lengths, 8 ounces, $105.

Jetboil will be introducing their first non-integrated stove in spring 2017 called the Jetboil MightyMo. At 3.3 ounces, it isn’t the lightest, but it has a piezo igniter, wide burner head (10,000 BTU), regulator, and wide pot supports. It fits all Jetboil heat-exchanger pots and costs just $30.

The Nite-Ize Radiant 250 Headlamp is rechargeable and produces 250 lumens of light. It has multiple modes (spot, flood, and red), red and white LEDs, and comes with a USB charging cable. Weight is 3.15 ounces (headlamp only) and cost is $50; available now. The rechargeable feature is really nice; no more expensive throw-away AAA batteries.

I remember reviewing the Primus Micron Canister Fuel Stove years ago, and it was one of my favorites. The new version of the Primus Micron Stove weighs 2.8 ounces in the plain version ($39), 3.2 ounces with a piezo igniter ($45), and 3.3 ounces with regulator and piezo igniter ($55).

Our coverage has been heavy on lightweight tents, but here is another good one from Mountain Hardwear. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Series Tents are available now in 1, 2, and 3-person versions, with minimum weights of 1 pound 4 ounces ($349) for the 1P, 2 pounds 2 ounces ($449) for the 2P, and 2 pounds 11 ounces ($549) for the 3P. All have a wishbone frame, front entry with vestibule, 10-denier nylon fly, and 20-denier nylon floor. The floor areas are a bit on the cramped side at 16, 27, and 39 square feet respectively.

If you are a lightweight backpacker, chances are you are using your smartphone to navigate, take photos, take notes, and carry reading material. Another use is the Snakebite 911 App. If you get bit by a snake, chances are you are standing there wondering what to do. With the app, all you need to do is take a photo of the snake, use the app to identify it, and then the app will tell you where the nearest medical facility is that can treat you. If you have a cell signal you can call 911 directly, otherwise you will need a personal locator device, like the SPOT, to alert search and rescue with your location.

LW Backpacking (this article)


  1. When will the Big Agnes Copper Spur Platinum tent be available for purchase? Do you know of any other place I can find details on it? Thanks for all the info.

    1. Most gear featured at Summer 2016 Outdoor Retailer will be available in outdoor stores in spring 2017.

  2. I totally agree with you that reducing the weight of the pack should not compromize performance, especially when it comes to comfort! That is why I kept an eye on when choosing the best light-weight tent for my hiking adventures, and here are the reviews that made it much easier for me, and hopefully will for you too: http://hikingmastery.com/top-pick/best-backpacking-tent.html

    1. Your link shows 7 and 8 pound tents. Seriously, you use these for hiking??

    2. Yeah, I agree. The linked article contains some basic advice on choosing a lighter tent, but the tents featured are on the "lighter side of conventional". There are much lighter tents to be found than the ones featured. If you really want something lightweight, look for a tent that is supported by trekking poles. And many people can't give up on the idea that a double-wall tent provides more protection. Get over it! If a single wall tent develops condensation on the inside, simply wipe it down with a camp towel; a double-wall tent gets condensation on the inside of the fly, which is harder wipe down or dry out.

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