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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2017: Gear for Ultralight Backpacking

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Not all ultralight backpacking gear comes from small online manufacturers; the larger companies are providing a lot as well. In fact, there are 238 companies that manufacture ultralight gear, according to Alex Beale at 99Boulders.com. His list is searchable, so you can quickly find a source for anything you need. Thanks Alex!

And nowadays, ultralight gear is not just for backpacking – think bikepacking, UL mountaineering, canoep acking, kayak packing, motorcycle travel, and UL adventure travel. Whatever your endeavor, who’s not to like lightweight/ultralight compact versions of every component needed for camping. A lighter load is much easier on the body and enhances the enjoyment of what we do.

Ultralight backpacking is defined as a base pack weight under 10 pounds, which is all of your gear exclusive of consumables like food, water, and fuel, which vary by trip length. With today’s gear options it’s easy to get your pack weight under 10 pounds; all you have to do is spend a little time to find the lighter stuff.

All items will be available in spring 2018, unless stated otherwise. Weights are for a men’s size Medium.

Raidlight Trekking Poles.  Raidlight is a French company that was recently purchased by Rossignol, and is now distributed in the US. The company’s main focus is equipment for trail running. Their Composite Carbon Collapsible Pole (photo) is available in 110 and 123 cm fixed lengths and weighs 6.4 ounces/pole, $150. They also have the Vertical Carbon 3 Pole which weigh 5.6 ounces/pole, adjust from 105 cm to 130 cm, and cost $120. Available now.

Raidlight Ultralight Rain Jacket. Also available now from Raidlight is this 6-ounce WP/B rain jacket for $199. But their bigger news is next year they will have a 3.2 ounce WP/B jacket that is expected to sell for $265, which is a bit expensive.

Toaks Ultralight Titanium Cooking Systems. We have covered Toaks titanium cookwear before; it’s very lightweight and reasonably priced. At this OR we noticed that their pots are getting thinner and lighter, which is good, and we spied their new cooking systems for alcohol, fuel tabs, and wood fuels. Their Alcohol Fuel Cooking System consists of a burner, pot stand, and 900 ml pot,  (6 ounces/$90); their Fuel Tab Cooking System includes a fuel holder/potstand, 550 ml pot, foil windscreen, and spork (3.3 ounces/$58); their Small Wood Fuel Cooking System has a 750 ml pot (5 ounces/$45); and their Large Wood Fuel Cooking System has a 1100 ml pot (8 ounces/$60. In each system all of the components nest inside the cook pot, and a super light carry bag is included to hold it all together for packing.

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Sleeping Bags.  Following on their successful line of Ghost Whisperer down jackets and windshirts, Mountain Hardwear is introducing new sleeping bags with the same 10x10 denier fabric and 900 fill-power goose down insulation. Two versions will be offered with 40F and 20F temperature ratings. The 40F version will weigh 17 ounces and sell for $400, and the 20F version will be 29 ounces and $580. Expensive, but those are typical prices for a premium ultralight down sleeping bag. 

A cautionary note on shoulder girth of sleeping bags – This is a good time to mention the sleeping bag shoulder girth issue, and that applies to all mummy style sleeping bags. To make a bag lighter and warmer, manufacturers will often shrink the size of the sleeping bag, reducing the shoulder girth to the 58-59 inch range. The fact that many fabrics come in a 60-inch width may also affect that decision. That shoulder girth is fine for small people, but if you are an average or larger size person, that dimension is simply too tight, because it is very difficult to get the zipper closed or open. Wearing camp clothing inside the bag worsens the issue. Being locked in can get scary in the middle of the night, if you know what I mean! So here’s my words of advice when purchasing a sleeping bag: be sure to determine the shoulder girth of the bag; for an average or larger person, especially if you wear insulated clothing inside the bag, be sure the shoulder girth is 62 inches or more. A 61-inch girth may suffice, but know what you are getting into, so to speak.
Update: I requested the shoulder girth specification for three manufacturer's bags featured in this summer's coverage, and none of them was able to provide it. So, unfortunately, it buyer beware. Many manufacturers do provide that important information, which we appreciate, but many do not. Bottom line, do every thing you can to know the shoulder girth of a bag before you buy it, so you don't make an expensive mistake.

Columbia OutDry Extreme Caldorado Shell. By now you are probably familiar with Columbia’s OutDry Extreme fabric, which is the OutDry membrane used in their footwear adapted to create hardshell jackets with the membrane on the outside. The beauty of this technology is it is WP/B without needing a DWR treatment on the surface. Until now these jackets have been heavier, weighing a pound or more, and primarily used for snow sports and conventional backpacking. Now it is finally getting lighter and receiving our attention; the Caldorado Shell weighs just 6 ounces and costs $199. This jacket is targeted for running and has a minimal feature set, but it should perform just fine for backpacking.  A novel feature is gill vents under the armpits.

Columbia Featherweight Long Sleeve Shirt. This new outdoor shirt weighs just 4 ounces and costs $60. We like the topographic map print. It will be available in several colors for men and women.

Outdoor Research Surge Running Gaiter. This new gaiter is made of polyester and spandex material and is really lightweight. We were not able to weigh it, but it is similar to their 1.2 ounce Sparkplug Gaiter. $28.

Rab Mythic Sleeping Bags.  Following on their remarkable Zero G Jacket that we reported on last time, with 1000 fill-power down and 7 denier fabrics, Rab announced their new Mythic Sleeping Bags featuring 900 fill-power down and Pertex Quantum GL 7-denier fabrics. That’s correct; Quantum is now available in 7-denier. Three Mythic bags will be available with the following specs: Mythic 200 (34F/16.7 ounces/$385), Mythic 400 (19.5F/23.2 ounces/$435), and Mythic 600 (3F/31 ounces/$485). All bags are insulated with Nikwax hydrophobic down, have a ½ length zipper, and are claimed to have “extra shoulder girth” for mountaineers. I requested the shoulder girth spec and will post it here when I get it. Comparing the MSRPs of these bags with others we are reporting on, you will notice that the Mythic bags are remarkably value priced for a top shelf premium ultralight down sleeping bag.

Rab Flashpoint Pullon Rain Jacket. This is pullover version of Rab’s successful Flashpoint Jacket. The weight is just 4.6 ounces for size Large and the WP/B fabric is Pertex Shield +. Features include a half zip on the front, one zippered chest pocket, attached hood, and elastic cuffs and hem. $250.

The North Face Summit L5 Storm Jacket. This traditional Gore-Tex 3-layer jacket weighs just 6.1 ounces and costs $300. That’s remarkably lightweight for a Gore-Tex air-permeable jacket!

FlowFold Ultralight Wallets. FlowFold makes a range of lightweight travel bags from 100% reclaimed sailcloth. We spied these ultralight items: the Minimalist Limited ($12) is an ID and credit card holder, and the Vanguard Limited ($30) is an ultralight wallet. Both provide super light protection of your money and cards using strong and light outdoor fabrics. As a bonus, their products come with a lifetime warranty.

LifeStraw Flex Water Filter. LifeStraw appears to be an up and coming company with an expanding array of products. Their new Flex Water Filter (1.75 ounces/$35) can be used five ways: as a straw to suck water directly from a stream, inside a soft bottle, mounted on a plastic beverage bottle, in-line in a hydration system, or in-line in a gravity filtration system. The filter cartridge itself, which is taller than a Sawyer Mini, contains a hollow fiber .02 micron filtration system to remove organisms plus a carbon filter to reduce heavy metals and chemicals. The former is backflushable with a life expectancy of 500 gallons of water, and the latter will filter about 26 gallons. A replacement carbon filter costs $15, but the Flex will work without it. The basic Flex system includes the dual filter cartridge, a soft bottle (about 24 ounces), and a syringe for backflushing. Available October 2017.

Petzl Bindi Headlamp. The Petzl E+Light has been a favorite lightweight headlamp for many backpackers, but it only produced 50 lumens of light. How about 200 lumens from a 1.2 ounce headlamp? The new Bindi does just that; it will be the lightest, most powerful headlamp on the market. And it’s USB rechargeable, so no more AAA batteries. It has three white light settings plus a red light plus a red strobe. The headband is a simple elastic cord. $60, available April 2018. 

Black Diamond Distance Z Collapsible Poles. This will be the newest version of Black Diamond’s fixed length collapsible carbon fiber trekking pole. It will be available in 100, 110, 120, and 130 cm lengths for $170 starting January 2017. Average weight is 5.3 ounces/pole. An adjustable length version, the Distance Carbon FLZ Pole adjusts from 105 to 125 cm, weighs 6.35 ounces/pole, and costs $189.

Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System. We reported on this last time, but there is more to the story. It seems that the original TPU soft flask provided with the system was undersized, so a bigger version is now being provided with the basic system. I was wondering why I was only getting two drinks out of the original bottle! Besides the 0.6 litter soft flask, Katadyn now has 1 liter and 3 liter sizes. The filter plus flask weights are 2 ounces for the 0.6 liter size, 2.3 ounces for the 1 liter size, and 3.4 ounces for the 3 liter size. So, this is a really lightweight and versatile water filtration system. The bonus is that it has a high flow rate, 2 liters/minute, which I found delightful, and it’s easily cleaned by simply shaking the filter in a partially filled flask. MSRPs are $40, $45, and $55 for the three sizes.

Steripen Ultralight UV Water Purifier. Perhaps the first word will be Katadyn when it comes out, because Katadyn is purchasing Steripen. The new Ultralight is the smallest and lightest of the Steripen line, formerly called the Freedom. This latest version does not have a built-in light (hooray!), which I found to be a nuisance because it frequently cane on accidentally and used up precious power. One 45 second cycle purifies ½ liter of water, and one charge will provide about 40-50 cycles. The weight is 2.6 ounces and it is USB rechargeable; $80 (which is less than the Freedom cost).


  1. Will and Janet- I always look forward to your OR coverage. Thank you- well done as always! Doug Johnson

  2. Excellent resource thank you very much

  3. I agree with the others. Thanks very much for this great update!!

  4. Never saw the point in ultralight hiking poles, as they are in your hands and not part of pack weight. I prefer aluminum poles anyways, they need to be able to support my body weight and take some abuse and not flex. I use them constantly, and they help my knees a lot, as well as preventing fluid buildup in my hands, which happens when I hike with a pack without using poles.

    I use a pair of $20 ones I got off Amazon, about 18oz a pair. The only time they are in my pack is trips to trails and hitching to town. I don't mind spending money where it matters, though, as I have several Zpacks items and some other fairly pricey gear items.

    With headlamps, I did my AT thru in 2010 with a 40 lumen light, and found it to be more than bright enough. Not too fond of the trend of super bright headlamps with bad battery life. I currently use a Photon micro light instead of a headlamp, and at 8 lumens, it's still bright enough for night hikes, though I generally use it just for camp chores. Your eyes work pretty well with low light.

  5. I agree on the Photon micro light, its all I need.

  6. I agree on the Photon micro light, its all I need.

  7. Awesome! I really like the direction it's taking.
    What I've learned over the years - quality over quantity - always!
    I will stay tuned for more to come!

    Thanks Will and Janet :)


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