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 Lightweight Backpacking

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

Not all lightweight 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!

Lightweight backpacking is defined as a base pack weight under 20 pounds, and nowadays that’s extremely easy to attain. There is absolutely no reason to carry a heavy pack anymore; all it takes is a little effort to find and select lighter gear.

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

Osprey Levity and Lumina Backpacks.  Osprey probably has the most complete line of backpacks, and somehow they found a way to add two more. The men’s Levity and women’s Lumina are internal frame backpacks in 45 and 60 liter volumes that weigh less than 2 pounds. Their light weight is made possible by their new Nano-Fly fabric, which is an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) ripstop Cordura nylon, plus common 30 denier silnylon. UHMWPE is very abrasion resistant. The aluminum frame design is similar to their Exos packs. The men’s Levity Pack weighs 1.82 pounds and 1.95 pounds for the two sizes, and the Lumina is 1.76 and 1.85 pounds. MSRPs are $250 and $270; available in January 2017.

Osprey Ether and Aeriel Pro Backpacks.  Osprey is also introducing a lightened version of these two popular backpacks, weighing 2.5 to 3 pounds, which is good for a full-featured load hauler. The Pro version will also utilize the new Nano-Fly fabrics, feature their Airspeed suspension and moldable hipbelt, and be strippable to further reduce weight if desired. MSRP is $375. Available in January 2017.

Klymit V Ultralite Sleeping Pad. This is a full-length (22 inches wide at the head end, 18 inches wide at the foot end, 2.5 inches thick) mummy shaped sleeping pad that weighs just 11.9 ounces and takes only 8-12 breaths to inflate. The standard pad has an R-value of 1.3 and costs $100; an insulated version weighs 15.9 ounces, has an R-value of 4.4, and costs $120. Both pads use 20 denier polyester fabric and are available now. A Zion Narrows printed version (photo) is available while supplies last.

Exped Down Socks.  These down insulated socks are available in S, M, and L sizes weighing 4.4, 4.6, and 4.9 ounces. MSRP is $59 and available now. They are not as lightweight as the Goosefeet down socks, but they are fitted better and more durable. To reduce weight, they don’t have a waterproof non-slip bottom surface like many other down booties.

Sierra Designs Backpacking Tents. Sierra Designs has been reinventing itself for the past two years to get back in touch with their backpacking roots. Their new lines of backpacking gear balance lightweight, quality materials, and price. There are four tents in the series, all double wall: the High Side is for one person, has a side entry with vestibule, weighs 1 pound 14 ounces, packs small, and costs $280; the Sweet Suite has 2 doors with vestibules, weighs 3 pounds 1 ounce, and costs $370 for the 2P version and $460 for the 3P version; the Studio 2P has an end entry with vestibule, weighs 2 pounds 12 ounces, and costs $350 and a 3P version costs $420; and the Meteor 2P also has an end entry, weighs 3 pounds 15 ounces, and costs $250 and a 3P version costs $300. The High Side has limited headroom. 

Sierra Designs Cloud Sleeping BagsSierra Designs introduced the first zipperless sleeping bag a couple of years ago with their Backcountry Bed, which is a bit heavy but very comfortable. Their new Cloud bags are a lightened version. Instead of a zipper, these bags have a flap closure, or comforter as SD calls it. Insulated with 800 fill-power DryDown, the Cloud will come in 35F and 20F ratings weighing 23 ounces and 29 ounces and costing $270 and $300. Both bags have a foot vent. The comforter closure is a big plus because it eliminates a snaggy zipper and the tight shoulder girth issue, but there are still a couple caveats. The upper 2 feet of the bottomside of the bag is uninsulated to save weight, relying on a sleeping pad for insulation, and it has pad sleeves on the bottom to hold a sleeping pad in place. That works out just fine for back sleepers, but it creates a situation for side sleepers: it appears that side sleepers need to sleep on their left side so the flap stays tucked in. Also the hood it facing up, so how does that work out for side sleeping? I slipped into the bag to try it out and it seemed manageable for a side sleeper like me, but that needs to be tested in the field to provide a full analysis.

Sierra Designs Nitro Sleeping Bags.  These are conventional mummy bags in three temperature ratings: 35F, 20F, and 0F weighing 22 ounces, 28 ounces, and 40 ounces and costing $300, $330, and $380. Insulation is 800 fill-power DryDown and they have a ½ length zipper. Available September 2017.

Sierra Designs Firefly Windshirt.  This 3-ounce windshirt costs only $84 for the hoodless version and $89 for the hooded version.

Columbia OutDry EX Featherweight ShellColumbia’s OutDry Extreme fabric puts the WP/B membrane on the outside of the jacket, and does not require a DWR coating for water repellency, or any maintenance for that matter. Previous OutDry Extreme jackets were heavier and targeted for snow sports and general weather protection. For 2018 Columbia is introducing a thinner version of this fabric, which translates to lightweight rain jackets like this one at 8 ounces, and the OutDry Extreme Caldorado Shell at 6 ounces (covered in our UL gear article). The Featherweight Shell has a few more features: adjustable hood for peripheral visability, underarm and chest vents, center front and chest pockets, and adjustable cuffs and hem. MSRP is $199.

Hilleberg Mesh Tent 1 and Tarp 5.  Hilleberg’s new Mesh Tent 1 is sized for one person, and is made of Monomesh, which is actually a fabric rather than a netting. It appears to be more durable than ordinary no-see-um netting. The Mesh tent sets up with two trekking poles (the same ones used for the tarp), weighs 14.5 ounces, costs $210, and will be available in April. The Tarp 5 is available now, weighs 11.3 ounces, and costs $160. The combo weighs a total of 25.8 ounces, about the same as a lightweight single-wall tent. The advantage is the versatility: pitch one or the other, or both, depending on the weather and bugs. Headroom in the mesh tent is 37 inches at the entry, just barely enough.

Big Agnes AXL Inflatable Sleeping Pad. This is something of interest to both LW and UL backpackers: the AXL is a full-length pad (20x72x3 inches thick) that weighs only 9 ounces. Many of us are willing to carry a few more ounces of sleeping pad to get a good night’s sleep, and this is “the one”. The AXL will be available in uninsulated ($140) and insulated with Primaloft Silver (10 ounces, $180) versions. The fabric is 20 denier with random ripstop, and the pad has a large inflation valve that seals as you blow.

Big Agnes Pumphouse Ultra Inflation Bag. An inflation bag is not new, but this one by BA weighs just 2 ounces, doubles as a stuff sack, and the outlet is compatible with the inlet on the AXL pad. Cost is $35; available now.

Granite Gear Crown2 38L Backpack. 38 liters of volume is enough for a compact lightweight backpacking kit, and Granite Gear’s new Crown2 38 weighs only 2.3 pounds (strippable down to 1.3 pounds sans framesheet, top cap, and hipbelt). But you probably don’t want to do that. Granite Gear packs are not the very lightest to be found, but those extra few ounces of weight are pure comfort. The Crown2 is made of durable Robic fabric, has an adjustable length hipbelt, and costs $185. It has a fixed torso length that fits torsos 18 to 21 inches.

Brooks-Range Foray Tent. The two person version of this 3-pole freestanding tent has a minimum weight of 2 pounds 15 ounces. It has an end entry with vestibule and the poleset is a hubbed unit. The fly is 15 denier and floor is 40 denier. MSRP is $390. 3P and 2P Deluxe versions (with 2 doors with vestibules) will also be available.

Frogg-Toggs Extreme Lite Jacket. This new rain jacket from Frogg-Toggs costs just $45. The WP/B fabric is two-ply and seam taped. Features are an adjustable attached hood, two zippered hand pockets, drawcord hem, and Velcro wrist closures. A name that includes the words “Extreme Lite” begs the question: “how light is it”. The answer was “I don’t know, but I’ll check”. The rep came back and said “4 ounces”. I said “I don’t think so…”, then he said “that was just a guess”. I think they are new to the LW business. My best guess is 8 to 10 ounces, maybe more.

New Sleeping Bags from Therm-a-Rest. TAR is coming out with a new line of three lightweight value priced 800 fill-power down sleeping bags, and one synthetic bag. All of the bags feature a Thermacapture heat reflective foil under the outer shell. The Polar Ranger (-20F), Oberon (0F), and Parsec (20F) feature Nikwax hydrophobic down, with 50%/50% top/bottom insulation for the Polar Ranger and 60%/40% top/bottom insulation for the Oberon and Parsec. The Space Cowboy (45F) is synthetic with 70%/30% top/bottom insulation. All have a ¾-length zipper and one zippered accessory pocket. The models of interest to backpackers are the 20F Parsec (31 ounces, $400), and the 45F Space Cowboy weighing 19 ounces and costing $150. All are designed to provide a bag with lightweight quality materials at a value price. 

Mountainsmith Scream 55 and 50 Backpacks. These new packs replace a previous version by the same name. The new packs, the Scream 55 for men (2 pounds 13 ounces, $160) and Scream 50 WSD for women (2 pounds 10 ounces, $160) are made of an attractive durable ripstop fabric and have a nice feature set: rolltop top closure, a wrap-around zipper for panel access, two tall fabric front pockets, two mesh side pockets, and hipbelt pockets. Each pack comes in one size; the men’s version fits 17 to 21 inch torsos, and the women’s version fits 14 to 17 inch torsos. The Scream is also available in 25 and 20 liter sizes with different feature sets. All are made of quality materials and value priced.

Alchemi Labs Sun Hats.  These hats use a radiant barrier technology from the space industry that blocks 99.8% of UV rays and reflects up to 80% of the sun’s heat waves, instead of absorbing heat like conventional hats. Their hats are available now in three styles: a billed Sun Cap, wide brimmed River Hat, and skirted Desert Hat. All are adjustable to head size and to keep them from blowing off. We weighed only the Desert Hat, 3.3 ounces. MSRPs are $35-$40.


  1. It's 4.1oz for the frogg toggs jacket. Look it up before you bash them

    1. I probably should not have made fun of the good people at the Frogg-Toggs booth, but they are paid to be knowledgeable about the brand and communicate to buyers and the media. I still doubt that it weighs only 4.1 ounces. Nevertheless, many of their jackets are lightweight and cheap. My favorite is the DriDucks jacket.

    2. I probably should not have made fun of the good people at the Frogg-Toggs booth, but they are paid to be knowledgeable about the brand and communicate to buyers and the media. I still doubt that it weighs only 4.1 ounces. Nevertheless, many of their jackets are lightweight and cheap. My favorite is the DriDucks jacket.

  2. The problem is that the people manning the booth were clueless.

  3. Frogg toggs isn't exactly new to the business. I've had their regular jacket (~6oz on my scale) for awhile. Their stuff is lightweight, pretty durable, and not stylish, but I love it. It's also ~$20 for the jacket and pant set. They just never marketed it as UL.

  4. Thank you..great to see! Any idea what the R value of the insulated BA AXL will be?

    1. BA declined to provide an R-value, saying there's no set standard, so mfrs are using different methods and the results are not comparable. They are waiting for a common standard. That said, the insulated version weighs only 1 ounce more, so it doesn't have a lot of insulation in it.

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  6. I really like the look of the new Osprey. I have an Aether 60liter right now and have been thinking about upgrading to save on base weight. Gonna have too try this one on.

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