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, January 30, 2018

Highlights from the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2018: Interesting and Useful New Gear for Lightweight Backcountry Travel

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

As you probably know by now, Outdoor Retailer has moved to Denver Colorado and this is the first show at the new location. Also the winter OR show has been combined with SIA, which is the snowsports industry trade show, a complementary combination.

We cover the show to find gear of interest for lightweight backcountry travel: backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, and mountaineering. Most of the gear we find at OR is in the lightweight category, although we find some ultralight items as well. For gearheads, its just fun to keep up with new gear and technologies that lighten our load and improve our enjoyment of the backcountry.

Lifestraw Flex Water Filtration System. We reported on this last summer but the product was more of a prototype then. The 0.65 liter flask is made of TPU and has a fairly large opening for the filter unit to screw in. Weight is 3.05 ounces for the flask and filter; cost is $35, and it’s available in spring 2018.

Kahtoola Instagaiters. This new line of lightweight gaiters will come out in January 2019. Four styles are: Low (1.7-2 oz, $39), Mid (2.3-2.6 oz, $49), Navigaiter (tall, 6-7 oz, $75), and Levagaiter (tall, 4.4-5 oz, $85). Each has a zipper that angles to the side (water-resistant on the tall gaiters)  and a durable TPU underfoot strap, which is replaceable. The Levagaiter (left one in the right photo) is made of Gore-Tex fabric, making it a very lightweight breathable gaiter. The Navigater has a Gore-Tex fabric upper and durable ballistic nylon lower, so it weighs a bit more. The tall gaiters (in black only) will be available from REI in July 2018.

Tinkle Belle. We have seen various devices for women to pee in the woods, and perhaps this is the best one yet. Its claims to fame are a better fit to the female anatomy, and it moves urine farther away from the body. To use it, you only have to unzip your pants, not take them down, or push your swimsuit aside. Available now at www.thetinkerbelle.com for $25. A case is included and it weighs 1.75 ounces.
Outdoor Element Firebiner. This one ounce gadget is a multitool on a carabiner. It’s a carabiner, screwdriver, cord cutter, and fire starter (see right photo for complete list). MSRP is $15 and its available now.
Maxsun Canister Stove. How about a 0.95 ounce canister stove? This one coming from Maxsun, a South Korea company, is super light and compact. They are looking for a US distributor and they say it will be available in three months. Stay tuned.
Aketta Cricket Protein Products. Keep saying “it’s all in my mind”. We covered chocolate products with cricket protein before, and to be truthful, we couldn’t taste the cricket part. That’s true of Aketta’s granola ($6 for a 5-ounce package), but they also sell pure dried flavored crickets (inset, $4 for a 1-ounce package), which is a little harder to get past the gums. We tried them and found them crunchy and flavorful. They also have pure cricket protein powder ($15 for 4 ounces) which can be added to smoothies and other concoctions. Available now.
Ostrim Meat Sticks with Ostrich. The exhibitor, who formerly raised ostriches in Texas, claims that ostrich is the leanest red meat with high protein. They now buy the meat on the open market, and claim to be the largest ostrich meat buyer in the US. Their “meat sticks with ostrich” are beef + ostrich. They also have elk and turkey meat sticks without ostrich. Cost for a 1.5 ounce stick containing 14 grams of protein is $2. Available now.
Aftershokx Bone Conduction Headphone. We tried their lightest model, the Trekzair weighing 1.05 ounces/pair, and were impressed with their clarity and volume. They use Bluetooth to pick up music and talk on the phone. MSRP is $179, but they can be found for $149; available now.

Yukon Charlie Elite Snowshoes. The new Elite is their top of the line and is available in three lengths: 21 inches ($199, 3.89 pounds/pair), 25 inches ($199, 4.2 pounds/pair), and 30 inches ($199, 4.8 pounds/pair). They are reasonably lightweight for an aluminum frame snowshoe. The bottomside of the frame is serrated, and there are toe and heel crampons, as well as a heel lifter. Their Northwave Spin binding compresses the boot from the side, not the top, which is more comfortable. There is a pullcord to release the binding. Available around September-October 2018.

Crescent Moon All Foam Snowshoes. These came out in fall 2017 and are a new concept in snowshoes. They are made of different densities of EVA foam (like the midsole in a running shoe or boot), have a hard TPU plastic tread on the bottom, and have a lot of rocker (curvature). They work like a snow tire on snow. Version 2 coming in fall 2018 will add aluminum crampons (right photo) to make them climb better, with no weight gain. The current ones come in only one size (about 25 inches), weigh 3.5 pounds/pair, and sell for $159; available now. 

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL Tent. Tents keep getting lighter. The Tiger Wall is a two-person, double-wall tent with two doors and two vestibules that weights just 2 pounds 3 ounces and costs $400. A three-person version will weigh 2 pounds 11 ounces and cost $450. Note the floor is wide enough for two standard air mattresses side by side, and headroom is very good in both height and width. The interior is ultralight mesh, with three storage pockets. The floor and fly are 15 denier nylon with a silicone coating on the outside and polyurethane on the inside. This one looks to be a winner; available fall 2018.

Big Agnes AXL Sleeping Pad. We covered this last summer, but the details were not complete then, and it also bears repeating. This is a full size, 3-inch thick air mattress weighing as little as 9.6 ounces. It will be available in two sizes: 20x72x3 uninsulated (9.6 ounces, $140) or insulated (10.6 ounces, $180), and 25x72x3 (13 ounces). They have a wide-opening valve that is compatible with an available inflation bag for fast inflation. Available spring 2018.

Soto Amicus Canister Stove. This new model is not regulated, weighs 2.55 ounces, and costs $40 without an igniter or $45 with an igniter. A regulated version, the Windmaster, weighs 3.15 ounces and costs $75. Both have a convex burner head to resist the effects of wind. They come with two different detachable pot supports. Available now. I am very partial to Soto stoves, and would be willing to carry a little extra weight to have their performance and reliability.

Leatherman Multi-Tool at 35 Years. We were privileged to attend a breakfast to hear the remarkable story of Tim Leatherman and the development of his multi-tool. Tim is a modest and articulate mechanical engineer who recognized the need for a multi-tool while fixing a Fiat in Europe, then spent 8 years developing the tool and struggling to find a market for it. That finally happened in 1983 and the rest is history; the company now has 400 employees and makes 35 models sold around the world. Very inspiring.

Altra Lone Peak 4.0. It wasn’t long ago that we reported on the Lone Peak 3.5 and tested it. The 3.5 was more of an upgrade but the 4.0 will be more of a makeover, in a good way. As before, it will be available in Low and Mid styles, mesh upper or waterproof-breathable upper. The latter will be eVent in the new version, rather than NeoShell. Other major changes are a newly designed TrailClaw tread with new rubber and grip pattern, a new rock plate shaped like a foot with long toes to provide more lateral stability, and a five-layer outsole. The mesh version is dialed in to make it just right for breathability and durability. I was so excited I forgot to get weights and MSRPs, but they should be similar to the current version.

Patagonia Capeline Air Baselayers. Their popular Capeline baselayers will now be available in four versions: Air, Thermal, Midweight, and Lightweight. The new Air version is knitted as one piece, meaning no seams, akin to printing it on a 3-D printer. The women’s version (right) has a bit more texture for more warmth. The yarn is 40% recycled polyethylene and 51% merino wool. We were unable to get the garment weights, but they appear to be very lightweight. A hoody version is $149 and a crew is $129; available now at www.patagonia.com and a little later in retail stores.

Patagonia Micropuff Jackets and Vests. The newest version of the popular Micropuff Jacket will feature Plumafill insulation, which is made from recycled polyethylene bottles. The insulation is in sheet form and the garment is sewn with minimal seams. Versions will be men’s and women’s jackets with or without a hood, and men’s and women’s vests. The hoodie is $299, jacket is $249, and vest is $199; available September 2018.

Western Mountaineering Quilts. Yep, quilts coming from WM. They will feature 7d fabric with an acrylic “kiss coating”, 850+ fill-power down, easy to use cord pad attachment, a wrap-around closure system, and an innovative collar design to seal in heat. The Nanolite has a 38F rating, weighs 11 ounces (12.5 ounces in size Long), and costs $330 ($345 for Long). The Astralite has a 26F rating, weighs 16 ounces (17.5 ounces for size Long), and costs $400 ($415 for Long). They will be available in spring 2018. As you can see, I tried one out and found the 6-foot Regular length a little short for my 6’ height, so I would need the Long. I was impressed with the loft of these bags, so they should be true to their temperature ratings.

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Pants. A new addition to the Ghost Whisperer line is an ultralight down pant, which will be arriving in fall 2018. They are insulated with 800 fill-power Nikwax hydrophobic down. Weight is 7.8 ounces and MSRP will be $250. The beauty of down pants is they weigh about the same as a baselayer bottom, but provide a lot more insulation.


  1. Thanks Will! Interesting stuff.

  2. Thanks for all of the insight ...and the shoutout for the Firebiner!
    That less than 1 oz stove seems awesome. I'd like to give it a try.

  3. The burner on that .95oz stove looks like the BRS3000 stove.

  4. That WM Quilt looks rather narrow - any additional insight there? It would appear that WM is going for the hardcore hiker who is ok with the tradeoffs of 7d fabric, slightly short length, and narrow girth. Sound about right?

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