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: Footwear

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Lightweight footwear is always a popular topic. Cutting footwear weight makes a difference; according to a research study, taking one pound off your feet is equivalent to taking 6 pounds out of your pack.

Ultralight backpackers prefer trail running shoes. Our preference is lightweight, stable, supportive, cushioned shoes with a wide toebox, snug heelcup, rock plate, high traction outsole, and preferably welded construction.

Lightweight backpackers still like a “light hiker” style of boot, which includes many of the “mid” styles. These boots are sturdier and more supportive. They are heavier than trail runners, but the weight is diminishing. They also last longer. We prefer boots that are made of all synthetic materials, welded construction, good cushioning and traction, and weight no more than 16 ounces/boot.

There are always many new shoe models on display at Outdoor Retailer; we highlight only a few to illustrate our preferences. Weights are for men’s size 9, available spring 2018 unless stated otherwise.

Altra Lone Peak 3.5  Altra Shoes are a thru hiker and ultralight backpacker favorite, and the Lone Peak is the most popular model. The newest Lone Peak will be available in low and mid styles, with or without a waterproof NeoShell upper. All are zero drop. The latest upgrade adds an updated drainage system, improved midsole foam, and durable mesh upper with reinforced stitching. The lightest is the low without NeoShell at 10.4 ounces and $120, available now. The mid style adds 2.1 ounces and will be available August 2017 for $140.

Altra 4-Point Gaiter  All new shoe models and upgrades from now on will have a 4-Point Gaiter Trap for attaching their new 4-Point Gaiter (left). As the name implies, it is attached at four points: front hook, rear Velcro, and two side hooks. We tested it briefly at OR and found it more cumbersome to attach, but it undoubtedly is more secure. Altra’s existing Trail Gaiter (right) already has a double Velcro attachment to a heel tab on the shoe, so it stays in place pretty darn well. Glissading on snow and dirt may be the exception.

The North Face Ultra Fastpack III Boot This new boot has a Gore-Tex lining and welded construction, and comes in mid and low styles. The TPU coated mesh upper is very durable and a FastFoam midsole provides extra cushioning. Weight for the mid is 15 ounces/shoe and cost is $160; the low is $150.

Topo Runventure 2 Shoe The Runventure 2 is a lightly cushioned and responsive zero drop trail runner.  Weight is 9.2 ounces/shoe and costs $110. The upper is welded construction, the outsole is high traction, and it has a thinner EVA midsole than the Terraventure. The gaiter shown in the photos costs just $10. Available November 2017.

My Comfy Socks There are so many sock companies and sock models out there that we can’t possibly cover them all, so we feature a different one each time. My Comfy Socks are made of Alpaca wool, which is claimed to be much warmer than merino. Alpaca is a naturally water resistant and soft fiber with inherent temperature control and wicking properties. They sell for $20-$22, and are available online and some retailers.

Merrell MQM Flex GTX Boot and Shoe 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. With a snug heel, cushioning, and great support and traction, this should be a great choice for fastpacking. Available spring 2018.

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