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: New Technologies, Trends, Issues, and the Sublime

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Technologies and Trends (this article)

We have been covering the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show for 10 years now, and frankly nothing surprises us anymore. New technologies are announced, product designers meet with materials suppliers, gear manufacturers announce new products to hit shelves in 6 months, new vendors exhibit their creations, retailers test out new equipment, everyone is looking for that new breakthrough product, friends gather and party, and retailers decide what to bring into their stores. And we media attendees search the Show for items that will interest their readers. It’s a treasure hunt, and fun if you enjoy keeping up on the latest gear and trends.

Watercraft and Outdoor Leisure

Watercraft is big and SUPs are everywhere! Demo Day, held at a nearby reservoir, was dominated by SUPs – Stand Up Paddleboards – in every shape and size imaginable. When they first came out a couple of years ago, who would have thought they would become so popular! Now, like kayaks, there are many models aimed at specific applications. Speedy ones, stable ones, big ones (we saw one big enough to hold 10 people), electric powered ones, and pedal powered ones (with handle bars and steering). It seems that everyone wants in on the game.

SUPs now dominate demo day at Outdoor Retailer. Besides SUPs, there are also lots of new sit-on injection-molded boats for many different purposes.
The HammoCraft is a frame that attaches to two SUPs or two sit-on kayaks, and holds five hammocks. What do you do with it? Well, you get out on the lake and relax. The basic frame and attachment kit costs $995, and the company will sell you a custom package with hammocks, ElectraFin motors (with a Bluetooth controller no less). We went for a ride on it; it’s a hoot!

 To summarize, people love water activities to beat the summer heat, and manufacturers are providing lots of ways to do it.


OR is loaded with new accessories and gadgets offered by new startups hoping to get a foothold in the industry. Most of it is concentrated in the Pavillions, which are huge temporary buildings that serve as an overflow area for OR. While many of these gadgets are not remarkable, or are not relevant to our audience, the Pavilions are a good place to look for innovation.

ThermoCell is introducing a no-spray system to repel mosquitoes. Their devices use a patch or cartridge containing Permethrin that is dispersed by a heat source. One patch will repel mosquitoes in a 15’ x 15’ area (i.e. a campsite) for 4 hours; a cartridge extends that to 12 hours. Devices to disburse the treatment include two lanterns ($40 and $60), a hand-held unit ($25), and a canister fuel mounted unit ($40). Their timing seems to be good with the approach of the Zika virus carried by mosquitoes.

Here’s another sort of watercraft, the Pickup Pool. Yep, it’s a liner to create a dipping pool in the bed of your pickup truck. Cost is $225 to $300. Cheaper than a swimming pool.

Food and Nutrition

As the OR umbrella expands ever more to include additional activities like yoga, fly fishing, and family camping, all categories have one thing in common: we all need food to maintain our energy and endurance. In response, the number of energy bar manufacturers is growing exponentially. And, in tune with the “green” focus of the industry, most of the new introductions emphasize organic components and metabolic efficiency to provide sustained energy. Proper foods go hand in hand with physical health and fitness.

Muir Energy is a good example of a new company entering the crowded sports food industry. Their 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.

More and more, the nutritional and performance foods theme is being extended to man’s best friend, our pets that accompany us on our outings. Zuke’s is a good example, emphasizing whole foods (for example, grass-fed beef for your dog), and a new line of formulations called Enhance supports various components of canine health ($7 a bag).

Synthetic Down and Down Blends

The recent spike in down prices provided manufacturers like Primaloft to introduce down blends (down blended with synthetic fibers) to provide garment insulation at a lower cost. And both Polartec and Primaloft introduced breathable insulations to lessen overheating during cool weather activities. Now, as the cost of down has receded about 50%, there is still a lot of interest in these specialized synthetic insulations, and a new category is opening up.

Allied Down and Feather enters the synthetic down game with their introduction of LofTech Summit, which is a blowable synthetic insulation resembling down. According to the Allied representatives, what makes LofTech unique is its multitude of deniers (fiber thickness), which mimics the randomness of down plumules. Their tests show it is equivalent to about 600 fill-power down, has a clo (resistance to heat transmission) of 4.3, it enables larger baffles in a garment, and it doesn’t break down with repeated washings and stuffings.

Membrane on the Outside

Air-permeable waterproof-breathable membranes for shell jackets and footwear have continuously improved over the years, but they have one inconvenient truth – they require maintenance to function properly, which many consumers don’t do, which causes a loss of performance. These three-layer constructions have a face fabric over the membrane with a good DWR to repel water, and a liner fabric on the inside for softness and to protect the membrane. It’s critical to keep the garment clean (so the membrane doesn’t get clogged) and maintain its DWR treatment (so water rolls off). If the DWR washes or wears off, the surface fabric wets out and blocks breathability.

Manufacturers are now working on constructions that put the membrane on the outside of the garment, with a wicking lining on the inside. This eliminates the face fabric and the need for a DWR treatment, as well as adhesives that block air passage. The result is the membrane is freer to breathe. While Gore’s version has limited durability, Columbia’s OutDry Extreme membrane is more durable so Columbia has progressed further with new garments featuring this new construction. It’s definitely different; the jackets look and feel rubbery, and they are not lightweight, but they are claimed to be very breathable. For lightweight enthusiasts, these are not backpackable garments, but for day tripping, which we also do a lot of, the extra breathability (if the claim is true) may be worth the weight.

The new for spring 2017 Columbia OutDry Extreme Eco Jacket is made of 100% recycled materials, does not use any PFCs in the membrane, and is not dyed to reduce water consumption (12 oz and $199).

The membrane on the outside concept is making more headway in footwear. First to market is a waterproof version the Altra Lone Peak with the Neoshell membrane on the outside. The original version (bottom) was announced two years ago, and a mid-height version (top) is coming out now.

Also coming out now is the new Topo Hydroventure shoe, which features a new eVent membrane and construction method for footwear called DVdry LT. I tested this shoe for ultralight backpacking; my feet loved the shoe and the membrane provided waterproofness and breathability as promised.

Next up, coming spring 2017 by Columbia and Montrail, is OutDry Extreme Footwear, with the OutDry Extreme membrane on the outside. Examples is 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). The Caldorado II is available now with a breathable mesh upper. Both shoes are all-synthetic and have no-stitch construction, which is a big plus. The stitching at the outside metatarsal head is the nemesis of trail running shoes when you use them for hiking.


For several years now, the outdoor industry has put a strong emphasis on “going green” in the manufacture of outdoor gear, respecting the environment, and preserving our public lands. This is absolutely an appropriate emphasis for the outdoor industry. Thank you for all your efforts, it’s good for business and for the environment.

This philosophy extends to the field with the Pack It Out project. In 2015 team members Paul Twedt, Seth Orme, and Chris Moore packed out more than 1000 pounds of trash from the Appalachian Trail, and this year they are doing the same on the Pacific Crest Trail. This worthy effort was highlighted at the Granite Gear booth (one of the project sponsors), hosting team members Paul Twedt and Seth Orme. What a wonderful thing to do; these guys are saints, and their sponsors are demonstrating how much they truly care about our public lands.

However, at the Outdoor Retailer trade show there appears to be a disconnect to the sustainability theme that is apparent everywhere: a very poor implementation of recycling and lack of response by attendees. However, the word “appears” is operative here; as we investigated this further, we found on the Outdoor Retailer website, under Sustainability, that “All trash collected under the roof of the Salt Palace is taken to a transfer station and sorted. Every bag of trash is sorted for recyclables and only solid waste is sent to the dump”.

Clif Bar is the official recycling sponsor of Outdoor Retailer; they deserve our thanks, and better recognition for their support. Outdoor Retailer has instituted quite a few other green practices, as outlined on their website under “Sustainability”, so overall they really are doing their part to minimize their ecological footprint.

But the downsides of their “sort later” recycling approach are: 1) appearances count, and it does not appear that OR cares about recycling, and 2) this approach enables attendees to not care. Perhaps it would be better to make the recycling effort more visible by putting out more signed containers, especially at booth parties and special events, and requesting attendees to pitch their refuse in the proper container. We know it’s hard to get compliance, but a simple approach would be to set up one recycling container for cans and bottles, and another for everything else. That would reduce the sorting process.

On the show floor there are some good examples of how recycling should be properly done – a clearly labeled recycling container next to a clearly labeled trash container. This helps a lot to get people to put their refuse in the right place.

Technologies and Trends (this article)

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