Outdoor Retailer 2010 is upon us – August 2-6 to be exact – and Backpacking Light will be there once again to roam through over 1,400 booths to find innovative new lightweight gear and report back to our readers. That’s not an easy task because there’s so much conventional gear to wade through to find the really good stuff – gear that’s new, innovative, and lightweight. We will publish a daily report from the show, starting on Tuesday August 3 and ending on Saturday August 7.
While OR showcases lots of interesting new gear from the big companies (plus some startups), it would be a disservice for us to ignore new gear from the small companies, focused on our specific needs, who sell ultralight gear online and can’t afford the high cost of exhibiting at OR. So, we are once again highlighting new goods from the small companies that design gear expressly for lightweight backpacking. They are definitely an important source of innovative new lightweight gear, and we want to give them equal visibility in our coverage of our industry’s biggest trade show.
It’s interesting to look back to the late 1990s when ultralight backpacking was first taking off: there were very few companies manufacturing ultralight gear, and ultralighters were making much of their own gear out of necessity. Remember the GoLite Breeze pack and Ray-Way gear? Fast forward to the present: we now have a growing number of small companies in the business, plus participation from the big companies, and in fact the lightweight/ultralight gear arena is getting quite competitive. This article is a testimony to that; I was amazed at the large number of new gear introductions from the small companies, it equals or exceeds what we are likely to find from the big companies at OR. Things have changed a lot in a little more than ten years. With that in mind, let’s get started!
Z-Packs Hexamid Tent and Dyneema X Gridstop Backpacks
You should by now be familiar with Z-Packs (zpacks.com) owned by thru-hiker Joe Valesko. Joe started out making silnylon frameless packs and has more recently switched to Cuben Fiber and Dyneema X Gridstop as his fabrics of choice.
Z-Packs’ newest creation is the Hexamid Tent. It’s a six-sided pyramid style tent available in one- and two-person versions. It’s made from the lightest materials currently available, 0.6 oz/yd2 (20.3 g/m2) Cuben Fiber and 0.7 oz/ yd2 (23.7 g/m2) no-see-um mesh. The weight of the solo shelter is 8.2 oz (232 g) including the Cuben stuff sack, and the twin version weighs 10.5 oz (298 g). I don’t see any cross-ventilation options, just the front entry, so condensation could be an issue. A protected vent in the back would be nice (there may be one and it’s not visible in the photo). MSRP is US$275, available now.
Also new from Z-Packs is their Dyneema X Gridstop Backpacks, available in three volumes. We’re seeing the new Dyneema X Gridstop fabric being used in packs from several manufacturers; it weighs 4.2 ounces/yd2 (142.4 g/m2), but a pack built of this fabric is extremely strong and durable and is still quite light. For example the 3200 cubic inch (52 L) pack weighs 13.9 oz (394 g). Z-Packs has a large number of à la carte options for their packs, so you can place a pack order and customize it to your heart’s content. MSRP is US$170 to 190 depending on size, available now.
Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cone
Trail Designs (traildesigns.com) is the company that invented the Caldera Cone, a cooking system that encloses your cook pot in a cone-shaped windscreen, making an alcohol stove as reliable as a canister stove (but not as fast). The only drawback of the Caldera Cone is that it must be coiled up and inserted in a drink cup to protect it in a backpack, and to protect your gear from any sharp edges on the Cone. Enter the new Sidewinder, a version of the Cone that will fit (coiled, sideways) inside your cook pot. It’s not as tall as the standard Caldera Cone, but for certain pots with the right form factor (wide and shallow), Trail Designs found it possible to design a cone that will fit inside the pot.
The Sidewinder Cone Ti-Tri System (available now) accommodates alcohol, Esbit, or wood fuels. It’s limited to the Evernew 1.3 L, 900 ml, and 600 ml short/wide pots, and the AntiGravityGear 2 quart (1.9 L) pot (if you ask them kindly). The photos show the system set up (left) and packed into the pot (right). Additional components are required to burn wood as fuel. As far as performance, Trail Designs says, “We really don’t see all that much difference between the Sidewinder and the Classic Ti-Tri.” The cost for the Ti-Tri Sidewinder will be the same as the Classic Ti-Tri, US$80, the Inferno add-on for wood fuel will be US$40, and the titanium floor will be US$15 standalone, US$10 bundled, and free if ordered with a pot.
Kooka Bay Ultra Light Sleeping Pads and Kookalight Pillow
If you haven’t heard of Kooka Bay gear (kookabay.com), you should check them out. For starters, they offer the lightest inflatable sleeping pads on the market. Their torso-length pad (32 in/81 cm long and tapering from 18 inches to 14 inches / 46 cm to 36 cm wide) weighs just 5.5 ounces (156 g). Got your attention? It certainly got mine! I will be testing a couple of their lightest pads and reporting my findings this fall.
The Kooka Bay Torso Length Sleeping Pad is tapered and weighs just 5.5 ounces (156 g). A variety of lengths are available now (visit their website to see the list) and all are very light. Down-insulated versions will also be available later on.
Many ultralight backpackers shun carrying a pillow (“I don’t need no stinkin’ pillow!”). But the Kookalight Pillow may change your mind. There will be two versions: Regular – 15 x 8 x 4.5 inches (38 x 20 x 11 cm) and Small – 9 x 7 x 3.5 inches (23 x 18 x 9 cm). The weights will be about 4 ounces (113 g) and 2 ounces (57 g) using 800-900 fill power goose down and a very skin-friendly 20 denier fabric shell. No information available yet on cost or when they will be available. The miniscule weights are enough to tempt me; how about you?
Big Sky International Mirage 2P-BF Tent, New Fabrics, and New Poles
While the Big Sky International (bigskyinternational.com) hybrid Mirage tent is not new, this new version will have a breathable fabric ceiling to enhance ventilation. The breathable fabric used (no fabric description available) is claimed to be as light as generic silnylon and five times more waterproof.
The new Big Sky International Mirage 2P-BF Tent has a breathable fabric ceiling for enhanced ventilation. The new tent will have two side entries, each with a vestibule. The floor length is longer than other Big Sky tents at 91 inches (2.31 m) long, and it’s 49 inches (1.24 m) wide at the head end, 41 inches (1.04 m) wide at the foot end, with 42 inches (1.07 m) of interior height. The weight is 2 pounds (907 g) with Big Sky’s DuraLite poles described below. MSRP and availability date have not been determined.
This is also a good time to mention Big Sky’s next gen tent fabrics and poles. Most manufacturers of lightweight shelters research the different types of silnylon and spinnaker fabrics available (there are many different constructions available) and choose the one(s) that meet their requirements. Big Sky has taken it a step further by developing their own versions of silnylon specifically for their tents, which they call SuprSil. Their basic SuprSil is about the same weight as generic silnylon, but is twice as waterproof and four times more tearproof. SuprSil HD used for the tent floors is also similar in weight to generic silnylon but three times more waterproof and four times more tearproof. Finally, SuprSil UL’s weight is similar to spinnaker but is four times more waterproof and tearproof compared to spinnaker.
Big Sky has also developed new ultralight DuraLite Poles for their tents. The Fibraplex carbon fiber poles they previously sold were too flexible and subject to breakage, especially at the joints. So, Big Sky developed their own ultralight composite poles that are just as light but much more durable. Rather than a parallel orientation, the composite fibers are arranged in a matrix like a ripstop pattern, making them stronger, especially at the joints. They also have an elastomeric bumper at the joints to help prevent a chip or crack from starting. They are not as stiff as aluminum poles or the Easton FX carbon fiber poles, and they are still pricey (about US$100 extra), but they are significantly lighter (the weight savings on a Mirage 1P tent is 3 oz/85 g). Available now.
Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) Introduces New Camino and Epic Backpacks
Adding to their line of lightweight durable backpacks, Chris McMaster, the new owner of ULA (ula-equipment.com) is rolling out the Camino (a panel loader) and the Epic (which is designed to carry a dry bag).
The new Camino Backpack (available now) is the first panel loader from ULA. The 3900 cubic inches (64 L), 48-oz (1.36-kg) pack features two internal compression straps and a frame consisting of two aluminum stays against a stiff foam framesheet. The pack is full featured with numerous pockets, including hipbelt pockets. MSRP is US$225. The new Camino is included in Roger Caffin’s State of the Market report on internal frame backpacks, which will begin publishing in early September.
The Epic (available now) is the next gen Arctic 1000 backpack and will accommodate dry bags from 35 to 70 liters. It’s actually a sleeve that cradles the dry bag, adding a mesh front pocket and hipbelt pockets, optional aluminum stays, and compression straps. The total volume capacity is 38 to 82 liters for the dry bag (not included) and the pack’s pockets. The weight of the pack sans dry bag is 32.5 oz (921 g) and MSRP is US$275. The Epic offers an integrated solution for packrafters with packraft carry straps designed into the bottom panel.
LightHeart Solo and Duo Tents Set Up With Trekking Poles
Have you heard of LightHeart Gear (lightheartgear.com)? They’re another company you should check out. Their Solo and Duo tents set up with trekking poles, which saves a lot of weight, and they’re very roomy.
The LightHeart Solo (available now) is a spacious one-person, three-season, double-wall tent that weighs only 27 oz (765 g). It is supported with trekking poles (or available adjustable aluminum poles) that fit into the corners inside this diamond shaped shelter, creating a strong structure. With the attached rain fly deployed, it keeps the user dry in heavy rains, but in nice weather the fly can be pulled over the top of the tent to give a “star-gazing mode” for maximum views and ventilation. Trekking pole length needs to be in the 125 to 130 cm range; a lightweight plastic ridge pole (that connects the trekking poles) is provided. The tent appears to have cross-ventilation options, but there is no top vent. Specifications: weight 27 ounces (765 g), length 133 inches (338 cm), width 65 inches (165 cm), headroom 43 inches (109 cm), floor area 30 ft2 (2.8 m2), vestibule area 3.7 ft2 (0.34 m2), packed size 6 inches x 12 inches (15 x 30 cm). MSRP is US$245.
The LightHeart Duo (available now) comfortably accommodates two people and all their gear with 41 ft2 (3.8 m2) of floor space. It uses the same structural support system as in the Solo and features two large doors with vestibules. It uses a hybrid single/double-wall design and attached flies for quick set-up and minimum weight. The Duo has cross-ventilation with its two doors and vestibules, but it does not have a top vent. Specifications: weight 32 ounces (907 g), length 103 inches (262 cm), width 57 inches (145 cm), headroom 42 inches (107 cm), floor area 41 ft2 (3.8 m2), vestibules 5.4 ft2 (0.5 m2) each, packed size 6 inches x 12 inches (15 x 30 cm). MSRP is US$295.
The weight and floor area specifications for these tents are impressive, but how do they perform in the field in terms of wind stability and storm protection? Ryan Jordan is currently testing the Solo and will report his findings this fall at Backpackinglight.com.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo Ultralight Shelter Systems and Windrider Backpack
Here’s another new company you may not have heard of: Hyperlite Mountain Gear (hyperlitemountaingear.com), located in Kennebunk, Maine, and specialists in Cuben Fiber shelters, packs, and stuff sacks..
The HMG Echo I and II Modular Ultralight Shelter Systems (available now) consist of a Cuben Fiber tarp, a detachable mesh and Cuben Fiber insert for ground water and insect protection, and a detachable Cuben Fiber front vestibule for heavy storm protection. The Echo I system weighs 19.8 oz (561 g) and costs US$490; the Echo II system weighs in at 26.9 ounces (763 g) and costs US$595. These systems add up to an amazingly lightweight double-wall tent for one or two people.
This is a true modular system; all of the components can be used separately or together. The one- or two-person Echo Tarp is made of Cuben Fiber and has catenary cut curves, double reinforced tie-outs, Spectra core guy lines, and a bonded felled seam ridgeline that doesn’t require seam sealing. The Echo Insert clips directly into the Echo Tarp. It’s constructed with a mesh ceiling and a Cuben Fiber bathtub floor providing 100% protection from insects and ground water. It can also be pitched separately. And the Echo Beak is a Cuben Fiber vestibule that attaches directly to the front of the Echo Tarp, providing increased protection in heavy wind or driving rain. Backpacking Light will publish a review of the Echo Shelter Systems later this year.
The Windrider I (available now) is an ultralight backpack with removable stays, constructed of a rip-stop nylon/Cuben Fiber hybrid material. The weight is 24.0 oz. (680 g) and volume of the main compartment is 2400 cubic inches (39 L). Features include a roll-top top closure, side and top compression straps, three exterior mesh pockets, and two waterproof hipbelt pockets. MSRP is US$240. The color will change to a printed pattern in late August. The Windrider I will be included in a frameless backpack state of the market report I’m working on for spring 2011 publication.
Elemental Horizons Aquilo Backpack and New Accessories
Like other new small companies, it takes us a while to discover them. Elemental Horizons (elementalhorizons.com) began with their Northern Lite internal frame backpack, which is included in Roger Caffin’s lightweight internal frame backpack state-of-the-market report, which will begin publication in early September.
Elemental Horizons’ Aquilo Backpack (left) is their newest, available in spring 2011. It has a unique suspension system that allows you to customize the pack to your individual trip and comfort desires. For vertical rigidity and load transfer, an internal sleeping pad holder securely holds either a standard 20-inch (51-cm) width foam sleeping pad and/or an optional aluminum frame stay can be inserted in a sleeve to create positive and comfortable structure inside the pack over a wide load weight range. The removable padded hip belt is available in three sizes and is interchangeable with all other Elemental Horizons pack models. The Aquilo is also equipped with a roll top closure to minimize exposure to the elements, a large front gear pocket, and dual side bottle pockets. All external pockets are self draining. Specifications: volume 2600 cubic inches (42.6 L), weight 25 ounces (709 g), sizes S-M-L, hipbelt sizes S-M-L. MSRP will be about US$180. Options are an aluminum frame stay (4 oz/113g), hipbelt pockets (available now), and a foam back pad/sit pad. The Aquilo will also be included in my frameless backpack state of the market report in spring 2011. The Ultra Lite Pack Cover (right, available in late August) is made of silnylon and fits backpacks from 3000 to 5000 cubic inches (49 to 82 L). Weight is 2.7 ounces (77 g), MSRP is US$25.
New accessories from Elemental Horizons include their Dragonfly Fishing Pouch (left), and Hydration Hammock (right). The Dragonfly Fishing Pouch (0.7 oz/20 g, available in late August) is a mini tacklebox that mounts on a backpack hipbelt or can be carried by a neck lanyard. Dimensions are 4.5 x 3.5 x 1.5 inches (11.4 x 8.9 x 3.8 cm), weight is 0.7 ounce (20 g), volume is 23.6 cubic inches (0.4 L), MSRP not yet available. The Hydration Hammock (available now) is a water bottle holster that attaches to a backpack shoulder strap. It will hold bottles from 20 ounces to 1 quart (0.6 to 1 L). Weight is 0.5 ounce (14 g), MSRP US$9.
Mountain Laurel Designs Introduces Extra Strong Cuben Fiber Dry Bags and 4.7 Ounce Hammock Tarp
MLD (mountainlaureldesigns.com) has been making bonded Cuben Fiber backpacking gear longer than any other company. Their new Cuben Dry Bags (available now) are made of a stronger Cuben laminate than that used for stuff sacks. This weight and type of Cuben Fiber is over three times stronger and more waterproof than the type used in MLD tarps. They are extremely light and very strong. Their envelope shape allows for the shortest and strongest seams with the least pressure on the seams when stuffed. These bags would also make an excellent bear hang. Small: 2 L, 7 x 11 inches (18 x 28 cm), 0.5 ounce (14 g), $18. Medium: 4 L, 8.5 x 15 inches (22 x 38 cm), 0.7 ounce (18 g), $20. Large: 8 L, 13 x 24 inches (33 x 61 cm), 1.2 ounces (34 g), $24. Extra-Large: 16 L, 17 x 33 inches (43 x 84 cm), 1.7 ounces (52 g), $34.
MLD new UL Hammock Tarp (available now) is made of spinnaker fabric and is sized to fit over most lightweight single hammocks. Its asymmetrical shape provides maximum coverage for minimum weight and size. Linelocks and lightweight bungee cord are included for the ridgeline and four tieouts. Stuff sack included. Weight is 4.7 ounces (133 g) with attachments. MSRP is US$90.
New Ultralight Stuff From Gossamer Gear
Gossamer Gear (gossamergear.com) is the master of lightweight, so a new shelter from them is always big news. In late summer they will be introducing The Lodge, a very roomy two-person single-wall floorless shelter (like a DuoMid) that will be about 56 inches (142 cm) tall and about 9 feet (2.74 m) on each. The shelter has mesh around the perimeter to keep bugs out and a vent on the backside. There will also be a double wide polycryo groundsheet to go with it. The beta spinnaker version of the tent weighs about 1 pound 4 ounces in its stuff sack, and sets up with trekking poles and eight stakes. They are still messing with it, so the final details may change. A tent of this type has multiple uses; for example there’s room for a group of four to sit in the tent and play cards while waiting out the rain. MSRP has not been determined yet.
New from Gossamer Gear is the Riksak (available now, but not on their website), a simple day pack that doubles as a stuff sack or a pillow. It’s made of silnylon, has wide shoulder straps and drawcord closure. Volume is 792 cubic inches (13 L), weight is just 2 ounces (57 g), and MSRP is US$25. To use it as a stuff sack, simply turn it inside out to put the shoulder straps inside out of the way. Everyone can use one of these!
A Diversity of New Products from Titanium Goat
The Titanium Goat (titaniumgoat.com) Raven LW Omni-Zip Bivy has a top cover made of Intrepid fabric and a silnylon bottom. Weight is 7.6 ounces (215 g) with stuff sack, bug netting adds 1 ounce. The MSRP and availability have not been determined yet.
Titanium Goat is developing a 24 Ounce Raft and 2 Ounce Paddle for high mountain lakes. You are probably wondering if this might be a less expensive alternative to an Alpacka Packraft. The answer is NO, the fabric is too thin and vulnerable. The raft will be great on lakes, but bad on rivers. And yes, the paddle does weigh 2 ounces. MSRP and availability date have not been determined yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if they named this the Goat Boat!
Finally, Titanium Goat is developing (what else?) a Goat Pack , which is best described as a carbon fiber external frame gear harness/pack. The pack consists of a carbon fiber frame sheet that works in the same manner as most external frame packs. Bags and gear are attached to the harness via two fabric side wings and a web harness that is fixed to the bottom of the pack frame and attaches to the top of the frame. The Goat Pack is great for awkward loads, dry bag hauling, extended trips without resupply, and desert trekking. Features: carbon fiber frame, removable/adjustable lumbar pad, load lifters, adjustable gear harness, sternum strap, wide/stiff hipbelt, ergonomic shoulder straps, and ergonomic hip belt. Specifications: weight about 40 ounces (1.13 kg), volume 0-85 L, load limit 60+ pounds (27 kg). Price to be determined (in the ouch! Range).
Other New Small Companies Selling Lightweight Gear
Some of the companies we contacted did not have new gear for us to report on, but I wanted to mention them in this section to get them on your radar screen.
Katabatic Gear (katabaticgear.com) – Ultralight sleeping quilts featuring 850 fill power down and new Pertex Quantum shell, ultralight bivies made of Pertex Quantum Nano, and down hoods.
Packit Gourmet Trail Foods (packitgourmet.com) – A variety of packaged trail meals, bulk dehydrated foods, cooking and eating gear items.
Enertia Trail Foods (trailfoods.com) – A variety of packaged trail meals and snacks. (I have tried these, and they are really good!)