With contributions by Carol Crooker, Ken Knight, Will Rietveld, Janet Rietveld, and Don Wilson
One of the most exciting products I saw at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2006 today was a kite.
The Prism Micron is constructed of ultralight spinnaker sailcloths, had carbon fiber struts, was controlled by two Spectra lines (for acrobatic flying), was shaped like a Stealth Fighter, had a three-foot wingspan, and get this – weighed THREE OUNCES.
I’m getting one, just to fly off the summits of mountains I climb. It fits neatly into an ice tool loop. Check it out: www.prismkites.com.
Oregon Scientific had a quarter-pound digital video camera about the size of large monocular you can mount on helmet, or – are you following me – a kite!
OK, I clearly got distracted today.
I met Matt Colon and Brian Frankle for lunch. Matt is interviewing Brian about his recent Hayduke walk for an upcoming issue of the print magazine. Watching Brian’s eyes light up while recounting this amazing adventure caused me to drool Blue Iguana mole out of the corner of my mouth, distracted by the motivation to take on my own adventures – kitecam or not.
Cruising the show floor at ORWM is a daunting task. A gazillion booths well stocked with sales reps who think their brand-of-the-day is an absolute necessity was cause for pause after the show kicked off with a breakfast keynote about environmental sustainability preached by a floor coverings (a notoriously polluting industry) manufacturing CEO pointing his finger at the Outdoor Industry to step up to the plate and start taking some environmental responsibility for their grandchildren’s future. Ironic, perhaps, but his pointing was authentic. He’d done his part, and sadly, most of us in this industry have miserably failed to do ours, in spite of claims to the contrary by the Outdoor Industry Association, contrived Green Steps programs, and excuses that we’re all here to help people be healthier by providing the gear that helps them enjoy the outdoors, earth stewardship be damned.
I’d love to fly my kitecam above this industry’s manufacturing plants for textiles, titanium, and injection molded plastics. It would swoop down and grab an effluent sample from their waste streams, then beam the chemistry via satellite to someone’s blog where the entire world could see it.
In the coming days, Matt will have more to say about sustainability, we’ll investigate why financial metrics are among the worst indicators of Outdoor Industry health, and we’ll be revisiting the opportunities that BPL has to make a morally responsible, if not meaningfully defensible, contribution to this industry. But make no mistake: this show is indeed about gear – a lot of it – and here’s our pick list of favorites that didn’t quite make it into their own feature dispatches.
Atomic has made it very clear they are going to play serious in the ultralight ski market. Last year’s MX20 was one of the lightest skis ever produced at 1600g per foot. For 06-07, it gets a facelift with prettier graphics and a new name (the Atomic Tour Race) and is offered only in a rando-race-regulation 160cm length, but weighs a paltry 1200 g per ski.
More suitable for real backcountry touring is the Atomic Limit (96-67-86), which has a Densolite (acrylic) core and replaces the MX11 with new graphics but no weight change (1930 g/ski). Still, as aggressive as Atomic is making their ultralight skis, Dynafit and Goode are still setting the bar for weight, while Atomic is banking on selling performance for the added fat.
BCA introduces what I figure is the fastest avalanche probe on the market to deploy. Bullet points at each section, an effective tensioning cable, and a brilliant lock-and-release mechanism all serve to make probe deployment extremely fast. It’s certainly impressive when observed on the show floor.
In real life backcountry avalanche rescue situations, however, the difference between a probe that deploys in 2.9 seconds vs. one that deploys in 4.5 seconds is meaningless. The price of adding the speed premium: nearly two ounces.
A more impressive, albeit incremental development from BCA is the reintroduction of the BCA Tour fixed length snow shovel. One simple, but effective change, shaved an ounce off the shovel and brought its weight down to a pound: replacing the powder-coated aluminum blade with an anodized aluminum blade. And, here’s a first hand tip for you: drill 3/8" diameter holes throughout the blade, spaced at around an inch edge-to-edge, and you’ll save another whopping half an ounce.
Finally, BCA took a hint from the Mapdana fellas and printed rudimentary avalanche rescue instructions on their Companion Rescue Shovel. Multi-use, sure, but a pretty scary reminder that there may be a lot of people out there using shovels that have no clue what to do with them when the slope goes south.
The big story for Black Diamond are its new shovels, which are due out in fall of 2006 (see today’s dispatches for details). We could smell This Big Story a mile away because they put the shovel display on a high traffic corner of their booth and stepped through buyer drool en route to check the specs. Also featured on the corner cap was the new Flicklock Snow Saw, which at 5.6 oz, mates to BD’s Flicklock poles as an extendible handle. Avalanche enthusiasts like this feature for digging big snow pits for shear tests, but rednecks will appreciate the ability to reach wayyy up into a pine tree to cut limbs off for firewood.
Black Diamond also introduced the Moxie headlamp for women, who have more sensitive corneal nerve endings and respond emotionally to different lighting spectra. Put a man and woman behind the same set of headlamps on a trail late at night and it’s a recipe for incompatibility. Just kidding. The new light has a floral headband and purple housing. It has four SuperBright LED’s, three brightness settings, a strobe, and runs on 3xAA batteries. It weighs 1.6 oz with no batteries and 2.8 oz with. I asked a BD engineer about its performance with lithium batteries (Energizer should consider a women’s lithium version, perhaps with a tiger instead of a bunny on it) and he started twitching, muttering about voltage incompatibilities and irreversible shutoff problems – seemingly real concerns in controlled laboratory conditions. Field reports of lithium battery problems seem few and far between.
Black Diamond has a wonderful product in the Avalung II – a 9-oz shoulder sling containing a snow snorkel for avalanche victims that draws fresh air from around the face and expels its CO2-contaminated respiration waste down around the waist area. Now the Avalung has been integrated into a shoulder strap of two new backpacks, a 32L panel loader and a 42L top loader, both suitable for backcountry overnights and hut-to-hut ski trips. The problem with this approach: you better like the packs. A better solution: license the technology to other pack manufacturers, giving the consumer the option to use the pack they actually want. And so, look at this new development as a few new BD packs with an Avalung add-on, and not two new Avalung products, which they are decidedly not.
The best news from BD came for climbers: the gorgeous and comfortable 8.3 oz low volume Tracer Helmet. The Tracer is a well ventilated foam cap that will appeal more to rock climbers in the heat than alpine climbers in the cold, but we’ll undoubtedly begin to see this hat gain popularity in the peaks.
The Coleman Fyrestorm multi-fuel titanium stove grabs the headlines, but for BPL’s crowd, more interesting news may actually be the introduction of an accessory that complements the crazy discussions we’ve had on our forums here about modifying the bloated Coleman Xtreme and other remote canister stoves.
The Coleman Xtreme burns fuel from Coleman Powermax cartridges. The Powermax cartridge is designed so that fuel leaves the cartridge in liquid rather than vaporized form as is the case with a standard canister stove. This has a couple of distinct advantages: the stove remains effective even in extreme cold and the canisters once emptied can be punctured with a "green key" and then easily disposed of. But, the Powermax cartridges have one great drawback too: they can be hard to find. Standard stove canisters are more common, but tend to fail under colder conditions because the fuel cannot vaporize properly. Today, Coleman introduced a (too heavy but meaningfully functional) 3.5 ounce adapter that lets Coleman Xtreme stove owners use standard (iso)butane stove canisters in an inverted position, thus causing the fuel to leave the canister in a liquid form, while making it much easier for the stove user to find fuel when he or she needs it.
Huh. Who woulda thought? (sic). How about these BPL readers?
Dynafit / Life-Link
We always expect new and great things from the ultralight-minded engineers at Dynafit and Life-Link, but this year was an exception. Absent were promises of shaving more ounces off of boots, bindings, and skis for the 2006-2007 season.
Instead, Dynafit introduced a new ski (a slightly lighter, and very expensive limited edition of the Carbon 10.0 called the Mustagh Ata) and a (gasp) heavier binding: the Dynafit Vertical. Uncharacteristic of the Dynafit ethos, the Vertical offers a – get this – full length plate connecting the toe and heel pieces. Innovation? Sounds like homogenization towards alpine bindings, I heard one buyer mutter. The premise is reasonable: they want to grab market share from extreme power skiers all giddy over Fritschi randonee bindings (distributed by Black Diamond). So, if power is your pie, then Dynafit may be on to something. And the Verticals are certainly quite a lot lighter than Fritschi’s. Next year will be an interesting one once these ski setups go to the field and get hammered by the world’s best.
As for Life-Link, they have a burly shovel (1.8 lb) called the Pit Boss. It’s black and has cool, masculine graphics. Interestingly, Life-Link introduced some of the lightest and most compact shovels with their Lexan blade lines, but the program has remained fairly static through several seasons now while BCA, BD, and others have introduced lighter shovels with larger blades.
Komperdell introduced their C3 (three-section carbon fiber) trekking poles as an REI-branded product last season to much fanfare as the lightest three-section pole on the market. Their two-section Duolock, which we reviewed in 2005 was introduced in Europe as the lightest adjustable trekking pole – ever.
Komperdell is riding the coattails of success on their US introduction, and making both poles available under their own brand this year, expanding into both static and antishock models, and models with standard and compact grips. All poles weigh less than 6.9 oz per pole.
The skinny on Komperdell’s pole line:
- C3 Duolock: three-section carbon fiber poles, no anti-shock, 6.2 ounces (175g) per pole, maximum length 55.1 inches (men’s), 46.2 inches (women’s); minimum length 26.7 inches (men’s) 23.6 inches (women’s)
- C3 Antishock: three-section carbon fiber poles, antishock, 6.9 ounces (195 grams) per pole
- C2 Duolock and C2 Antishock: 5.5 to 6.2 oz per pole
Last year, Komperdell introduced a carbon fiber avalanche probe that extends to 264 cm yet weighs only 200 g (7.1 oz). Tomorrow, we’ll report more details on their long-awaited carbon fiber avalanche shovel. We first reported on both of these products last year, but they are only beginning to see meaningful US distribution.
Last year, MontBell’s coolest product was an insanely ultralight inflatable sleeping pad. Of course, it was a Big Tease offered only in Japan and promised to the USA "sometime later". This year, the tease product is the Down Inner Shirt, modeled at right. When a vest is too little and you still want your arms free, it makes sense. We want it here in the US. Now. Ultralighters will eat this product up.
MontBell’s popular UL Thermawraps have undergone some improvements in 2006. The UL Thermawrap and UL Thermawrap Action series have improved, unconcealed zippers. The improved zippers are available in current versions of both of these jackets and correct problems with the zippers in previous versions of these products. Beginning in Fall 2006, the UL Thermawrap will expand with a women’s line, matching the current women’s line in the Action series.
The UL Down Inner Jacket, currently the lightest down jacket on the market at 7 ounces, will move to a new generation in fall 2006. The down fill will be upgraded from 725 fill power to 800 fill power. It will also get a full front zipper and hand warmer pockets. MontBell’s spec weight for this jacket will remain at 6.9 ounces for the men’s version and 6.3 ounces for the women’s.
In fall 2006, MontBell will introduce the all new Light Alpine Down Series (below) which replaces their Down Inner Jacket. This jacket will be available in men’s and women’s styles and includes 800 fill power down, full front zipper, zippered hand warmer pockets and an internal drop pocket. Spec weight for these jackets are 11.1 ounces for the men’s and 10 ounces for the women’s.
Mountain Safety Research (MSR)
MSR announced their Integrated Canister and Capillary Stoves at the summer 2004 Outdoor Retailer Show, so you would think we would have them by now. Not quite. The Integrated Canister stove is getting close: MSR plans to premier it at the summer 2006 OR Show. So we do expect see a real stove by then. MSR tantalized us by saying “it will be the most efficient canister stove on the market”.
Pssst – the weight is rumored to be around 13.5 ounces, which is a little lighter than the Jetboil PCS.
The Capillary Feed stove, or Vapore Stove, will take longer. Think 2007. They had problems with a partner not being able to manufacture the key components, so MSR had to take it on themselves. MSR is one of the more thorough companies when it comes to pre-market testing and evaluation of their products, so we don’t expect it to be released before it’s ready.
Pacific Outdoor Equipment
In addition to a tropics sleeping pad that keeps you cool in the heat (! – see today’s dispatches), POE adds a new Max Thermo Lite for women (green pad, right). The new pad hacks six inches off the length and replaces the diamond die cut throughout the pad with a circular die cut area in the hips for more support. Solid foam under the feet adds more insulation where women seem to need it, as well. It’s due out in March and should weigh around 17 or 18 ounces.
Nobody seems to care whether avalanche transceivers are light or not. Mammut almost nailed it when they introduced the sub-3-oz Barryvox a few years ago, but by the time you added batteries and put it into its obscenely overbuilt harness, it had bloomed to 6.5 oz.
But at least they are getting better. Digital technologies are making them faster and more accurate, and Ortovox raises the bar this year with a three-antenna digital beacon that can detect multiple burials and extends the operating range out to about 40 meters.
Which is all well and good, except that it’s an obese 8.7 oz in its rather overbuilt neoprene harness case.
Lighter weight aftermarket avalanche transceiver harnesses: market opportunity? How about simply integrating the webbing into the beacon itself and skipping the case? Reducing the interior volume of the circuitry? There’s got to be a lighter way to innovation, here.
We reported on the Shoeboard a year ago. Back then, it was heavy, but cool. It’s undergone significant changes for 2006, and is a little cooler, but still heavy: 3 lb 12 oz per foot. However, considering that it accomplishes several tasks in a single piece of gear, it’s not that bad. Its defining feature: the ability to snowshoe up and ski down. But now, it has an integrated climbing skin and randonee-style pivot binding that allows you to "skin" up without adding the snowshoe cleat (it also works as a snowshoe).
It’s a great concept, but grossly overbuilt and lacking the aesthetic simplicity of clean design. When this product dips below five pounds a pair and receives a makeover, then it’s worth a very serious look.
Major advances from Suunto are absent this year, but not potential: Suunto introduces the T6 watch, a heart-rate monitor more squarely aimed at fitness and training markets. A cooler gadget is a pod unit weighing 1.6 oz that attaches to your shoe and records your pace, speed, and distance, all downloadable to a computer when you get home. That could be a very fun toy for the gadget-excitable thru-hiker.
Like Atomic, Voile is after a piece of the ultralight ski market. They introduce the Carbon Surf, which at about 1700 g per ski in a 120-87-112 sidecut, offers backcountry specs that are vastly superior to the Atomic Limit. Whether it will ski as well as the Limit remains, of course, an open question.