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Most gear designers are terrified to design products at the limits of ultralight.

Their fears include materials failure, customers disappointed by the lack of features, and ridicule of their product by the masses.

I wish designers would ignore this noise and unleash their artistic and engineering talents.

Through the years, we’ve seen feature creep and weight gain even by cottage industry manufacturers. Arguably, we have better (higher performance) designs with more durable materials, and that’s not a bad thing. However, sometimes the features and durability have creeped in opposite directions and we’re left with unnecessarily heavier gear, shoddily constructed.

One example of this was highlighted in a product review that should have been appealing to an ultralight backpacker, but offered an analysis that scares some us away from ultralight gear:

“Overall, we found the attention to detail during construction of the Haven to be considerably less confidence-inspiring than with many other shelters. While the SilNylon ripstop and other materials are high-quality, we observed sloppy sewing in a few places on our test model. Through our months of testing, this way the only shelter that had sewing failures. The loops on both of the webbing straps used to stake out the doors failed. Rather than a secure bar tack, these loops were held with only a few stitches of thread. We were able to improvise and continue to use the shelter, but something as simple as a sewn loop in webbing should not fail under the tension of normal set up.” – OutdoorGearLab

Some folks believe that there’s no more evolution remaining in the world of ultralight gear, and I wholeheartedly disagree with that.

There are more opportunities to push the limits of design and technology today than ever. At our disposal, we have a plethora of ultralight materials, the technologies to assemble them, the buyers who want them, and the platform (internet) to sell them. Unfortunately, what’s now missing from the equation seems to be the designer – someone who can create art and beauty in the products we use, and do so in a way that delivers durability, utility, and longevity – instead of extra features and dispose-ability.

With that introduction, here a few products I’ve used and loved over the past 12 months for their simple design, their use of ultralight materials, and construction quality that reflects engineering pride.

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