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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2017: Interesting New Technology that Improves Our Gear

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Most of the improvements in the gear we use are evolutionary; it improves one step at a time, making it lighter, stronger, warmer, more comfortable, more durable, more functional, more weatherproof, environmentally sustainable, etc. New technologies from materials suppliers are incorporated into new products by manufacturers. New products with appealing new features entice buyers, who in turn enjoy and benefit from the improvements. The evolutionary cycle goes on year after year. You would think they would run out of ways to improve outdoor products, but you would be wrong.

Our coverage of new technologies covers highlights from this show that we thought would interest backpackers. Please keep in mind that these are technology stories, not lightweight stories.

Zipperless Sleeping Bag. The zipper is the nemesis of a sleeping bag because it’s hard to avoid snagging. Instead of a zipper, the Sierra Designs Cloud sleeping bags have a tuck-in left side opening. You simply lift the flap (SD calls it an integrated comforter), slide in, and close the flap. The Cloud will come in 35F and 20F versions weighing 23 ounces and 29 ounces. It has a foot vent to enhance ventilation when needed. Insulation is 800 fill-power DryDown and MSRPs are $270 and $300. Functional design, quality materials, and value priced. Some sleepers may not like the fact that the upper 2 feet of the bag’s bottomside is uninsulated, requiring a sleeping pad for insulation, and has pad sleeves on the back. The design works best for back sleepers, but side sleepers will need to sleep on their left side so the flap stays tucked in. When I got in the bag I found that the bag does not turn with me because of the pad sleeves, but the hood twists enough to allow side sleeping; not ideal but it works.

Gore-Tex Active. The next generation of Gore-Tex Active 3-layer fabric will be lighter, softer, quieter, more comfortable, more durable, and more breathable. REI is one of the early adopters with their new REI Drypoint Jacket for 2018. This minimalist jacket for hiking and backpacking weighs only 10 ounces and costs $249. It has an essential feature set that includes an adjustable hood with brim, two zippered hand pockets, and adjustable hem and cuffs. Pants of the same fabric will also be available.

Gore-Tex Invisible Fit. Previously, footwear with a Gore-Tex or eVent waterproof-breathable lining consisted of a bootie inside the shoe. Various other shoe manufactures used a proprietary laminate with the same construction. Columbia’s OutDry has always been different: it attaches the WP/B laminate to the inside surface of the shoe’s upper, and then the upper is attached to the footbed. The Gore-Tex Invisible Fit technology is basically the same approach, as is eVent’s DVdryLT technology that came out last year. The new approach is claimed to be easier to construct, less bulky, lighter weight, and faster drying. An example is the new Merrell MQM Flex GTX for spring 2018. The mid version costs $170; the low weighs 11.5 ounces/shoe and costs $140; a non GTX version of the low will sell for $110 and weigh 9.5 ounces/shoe.
Pertex Simplifies their Fabric Line. To keep things simple, its now Shield or Quantum. Pertex wants you to know that each category   is an array of fabrics, catered to manufacturer’s needs and specifications, so it’s not accurate to label them with a certain weight or function. That said, I would like to mention that we are now seeing 7 denier Quantum fabric in some top shelf sleeping bags and insulated jackets.

Down Prices Rising, Again. We visited the good folks at Downlite to find out what’s new in down insulation. The short answer is Bird Flu. The disease has especially affected white ducks in Europe and China. Additionally, higher living standards in China are diverting more down to domestic uses. So down prices are going up, especially scarcer premium downs. Options available to manufacturers are: using duck down, down blends (with synthetics or wool), and recycled down. Their Recharge recycled down can now reach 700 fill-power.

Primaloft Cross-Core Insulation. Primaloft Cross-Core insulation is infused with Aerogel. Aerogel (Google it to get a full description) is a nanotechnology insulation, consisting of microscopic pores within a solid that are so numerous that the solid is mostly air and practically weightless. When converted to dust, the particles are still full of pores. Primaloft has found a way to incorporate Aerogel “dust” into Primaloft fibers to increase their insulative properties 14%. The new insulation is being introduced in upgrades of LL Bean’s Packaway Jacket and Ultralight 20F Sleeping Bag for spring 2018, both insulated with Primaloft Gold with Aerogel.

Lumin Aid PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger. This solar rechargeable inflatable cube serves as both a camp light and phone charger. The solar panel on top requires 12-14 hours of sun to obtain a full charge, which is enough to charge a cell phone or provide camp lighting for up to 50 hours, or some of both. It can also be charged with a USB cable from a car outlet. It has five lighting modes, a battery indicator, its waterproof, and can be strapped to the top of a pack. Weight is 8.5 ounces and MSRP is $40.

Kovea Alpine Pot EZ ECO Stove Stores Fuel Inside. It’s heavy at 19.75 ounces, not including fuel, but the technology is interesting. This stove has an internal gas tank, so you can pre-load it with fuel for a shorter trip. Pre-loaded, it will allow six boils of 500 ml of water. One reason why I included this item is it’s a way to empty all those partial canisters that you have accumulated at home, or you can utilize inexpensive 8oz/220g Butane canisters used by caterers. A full review of this stove is available on Section HikerIt will be available in early 2018. Another way to use up those partial fuel canisters is to get a simple canister fuel lantern, such as the Snow Peak Mini Flame, $40 and 3.9 ounces, and take it on car camping trips.

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