2011 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Coverage
- Part 1: Lightweight Shelters and Sleep Gear
- Part 2: Lightweight Backpacks, Stoves, and Accessories
- Part 3: Lightweight Apparel and Hiking Footwear
- Part 4: Technical Watches, Minimalist Footwear, and Family Gear
Summer 2011 was the biggest Outdoor Retailer Trade Show ever, with over 1,100 booths. As you can see, manufacturers invest heavily to impress retailers with their products.
The Outdoor Retailer trade show never disappoints. For gear lovers, it’s Heaven on Earth – endless eye candy, excitement, and enthusiasm. For outdoor writers seeking new lightweight and ultralight gear, it’s a treasure hunt to find the most fascinating gear of interest to our readers.
This year we are taking a different approach with our OR coverage, writing our articles back at home after a good night’s sleep. Previously we put in 18-hour days, roaming the show during the day and writing late into the night. Amazingly, we put out some good coverage, in spite of limited time and consciousness. With this new approach, our coverage may be delayed a few days, but hopefully the organization and depth will be better.
This year we were joined by Damien and Renee Tougas, who are new writers for Backpacking Light. As you notice from Damien’s recent articles on barefoot running shoes, that’s one of his specialties. His other areas of expertise and interest are electronics and family camping, and he will focus on those topics in his article. Janet and I will produce several articles covering equipment, apparel, hiking footwear, and accessories. We found a ton of eclectic items in our search and will feature as many of them as we can.
Most of the gear we report on are evolutionary improvements on existing gear, where gear is made better by incorporating new materials, technologies and designs. Revolutionary new gear only turns up once in awhile. The outdoor industry is really driving hard to develop new and better products, and weight reduction is part of the equation. We are now seeing more and more sub-4-pound two-person tents, several in the sub-3-pound range, and this time some in the sub-2-pound range. We are finding lighter sleeping bags, packs, shelters, footwear, and apparel – everything just keeps getting better and lighter.
Shelters are always a topic of high interest, so we will start there. We found a wide range of new lightweight shelters this time, so there is something here that will interest most of our readers.
We got stoked right off the bat when we found the new Hyperlite Mountain Gear Traverse Shelter at tent city. The Traverse is a twin peak floorless mid-type shelter, supported by two trekking poles, made of the same durable Cuben fiber CF8 0.78 oz/yd2 (26.4 g/m2) HMG uses in their Echo Modular Shelter systems. This shelter is big, we don’t have an exact number for the protected area but the measurements are about 13 feet long and 8.5 feet wide (4 m x 2.6 m). It will comfortably accommodate three hikers plus gear, but it has enough capacity to shelter six Boy Scouts. There is a zippered entry on both ends. Weight is 21 ounces (595 g), MSRP is US$650, and the shelter will be available in fall 2011. HMG manufactures their own gear, and the construction quality is superb. A smaller two-person version is planned. If you want to seriously reduce weight, have loads of protected area, and have a shelter that will easily accommodate your canine companion, you should give a floorless shelter of this type some serious consideration.
Big Agnes makes some of the lightest double-wall tents to be found, and this time we found the Big Agnes Fly Creek Platinum Special Edition. BA lightened the components of this popular tent by 5 ounces (142 g) to create their first sub-2-pound two-person double-wall tent; the trail weight is just 1 pound 13 ounces/822 g (the packed weight is 2 pounds 3 ounces/992 g). The design and protected area remain the same (28 ft2 floor plus 7 ft2 vestibule), but the cost for this weight savings is an extra US$130 over the standard Fly Creek UL2. MSRP is US$500; available spring 2012. It’s really lightweight, but a bit cramped and expensive.
We reported on the Easton Kilo tent last time, which, as the name implies, is a two-person double-wall tent weighing just one kilo (2.25 pounds) and featuring Easton’s new Easton Carbon ION pole system with AirLock connectors. For spring 2012, Easton will be expanding their tent line with Kilo 1P and 3P double-wall tents. The Kilo 1P (left) has 18.8 ft2 (1.75 m2) of floor area, minimum weight of 1 pound 14 ounces (850 g), a side entry, a small packed size so it will fit into small spaces, and MSRP of US$350. The Kilo 3P (right) has three poles (providing more room in the rear of the tent), a front entry, 43 ft2 (4 m2) of floor area, a minimum weight of 3 pounds (1.4 kg), and MSRP of US$499. Although the Kilo 2P has been improved for spring 2012, our picks are the Kilo 1P for its convenient side entry and compact packed size, and the 3P for its roomier interior making it an excellent tent for two people plus gear.
Our longstanding impressions of Hilleberg tents have been: sturdy, well designed, and high quality, but a bit heavy. Now Hilleberg has solidly moved into the lightweight double-wall tent category with the introduction of their new Kerlon 1000 fabric, which is similar in weight to silnylon but has 22 pounds (10 kg) of tear strength. All three tents featured here are constructed of this new fabric, producing a weight savings of 25% to 35%. Available in spring 2012, the Hilleberg Anjan 2 and 3 Tents (left) are a tunnel design, which is very strong and produces a large protected area to weight ratio. The Anjan 2 has a minimum weight of 3 pounds 1 ounce (1.4 kg), has a floor area of 30.1 ft2 (2.8 m2), and MSRP of US$570, and the Anjan 3 weighs 3 pounds 8 ounces (1.6 kg), has a floor area of 36.6 ft2 (3.4 m2), and costs US$598. Additionally, Hilleberg is also introducing the Rogen (right), which is a two-person double-wall tent with a cross-pole design providing two vestibule-protected side entries. The minimum weight is 3 pounds 12 ounces (1.7 kg), floor area is 31.2 ft2 (3.4 m2), and MSRP is US$790. Although they are a little heavier and pricier than other lightweight tents, they are solidly built and roomy.
As usual, Terra Nova steps in to maintain its “lightest double-wall tent in the world” status with the new Terra Nova Voyager Ultra 2. This superlight tent has a Cuben Fiber fly and floor and hybrid Scandium/carbon fiber poles, giving it a minimum weight of just 1 pound 15 ounces (880 g). You read that correctly; this is a two-person double-wall tent that weighs less than 2 pounds (907 g), and it’s roomy inside (right). It has a vestibule-protected front entry. You can get yours for just US$1500.
The new Mountain Hardwear Hoopla 4 Shelter weighs just 1 pound 11 ounces (769 g) and accommodates four hikers. Got your interest? According to MH, “This is a new tent type. The Hoopla™ is a revolutionary Ring Pole™ tensegrity tent – the fabric is the frame. The patented Trussring™ support system greatly increases internal volume at head level, adds structural strength and provides a place to string a clothesline. A single door opens wide for stargazing. An optional floor footprint (shown) is available. Trussring™ tents can be set at different heights to optimize ventilation or protect users from outside weather.” It’s supported by the DAC Featherlight NSL Trussring plus a single trekking pole in the center; peak height is 50 inches (127 cm). Floor Area is 64 ft2 (5.9 m2), MSRP is US$350, available spring 2012. The Hoopla obviously contrasts with the previous Terra Nova Voyager Ultra 2. If you are willing to consider a floorless shelter with trekking pole support (which you should), you get a huge protected area to weight ratio, and a floorless shelter is very dog-friendly.
The new MSR Nook is a two-pole design that accommodates two, has a minimum weight of just 3 pounds 2 ounces (1.42 kg), has 28 ft2 (2.6 m2) of floor space, and costs US$400. The design is similar to the Easton Kilo 2P.
A well-designed, sturdy, roomy, value priced solo tent is the redesigned double wall REI Quarter Dome T1 (left) for spring 2012. The volume of the tent has been increased 38% with no increase in weight. The T1 has a side entry with vestibule, floor area of 20 ft2 (1.86 m2), vestibule area of 8 ft2 (0.74 m2), weight of 2 pounds 14 ounces (1.3 kg), and MSRP of US$219. Compare this 1P shelter with the 2P shelter below. The Quarter Dome 2P (right) is also revised a bit.
New to the tent category is the hybrid (single-wall ceiling) Sea to Summit Specialist which will be available in spring 2012 in Solo and Duo models. Both tents feature a Pertex Endurance WP/B (2000 mm/7000 MVTR) ceiling. The Solo features 14.5 ft2 (1.35 m2) of floor space, a side entry with vestibule, a minimum weight of 1 pound 1.9 ounces (507 g) if you use trekking poles for support, and MSRP of US$449. The Duo features two doors with vestibules, a minimum weight of 1 pound 8.6 ounces (697 g) if you use trekking poles for support, 23 ft2 (2.14 m2) of floor area, and MSRP of US$499. Lightweight aluminum poles and stakes are included with the shelters. These are minimalist shelters with little room for gear inside, but thankfully the vestibules provide the needed space for gear storage. Both shelters have a very small packed size, making them ideal for bikepacking and kayakpacking, as well as UL backpacking.
You probably have noticed by now that most of these new lightweight conventional tents have limited floor area, a breath-taking price tag, or both. In many cases, tent manufacturers achieve a lighter weight by making the tent smaller. To bring us back down to Earth, lets take a look at a couple of new tents from familiar small companies not represented at OR.
The new Tarptent StratoSpire, a double-wall tent available in fall 2011 in one- and two-person versions, is supported by trekking poles, has two doors and two vestibules, and loads of interior space thanks to its extended horizontal trekking pole support. The 1P version has 18.7 ft2 (1.7 m2) of floor area and weighs 2 pounds (900 g); the 2P has 31 ft2 (2.9 m2) of floor space and weighs 2 pounds 8 ounces (1.1 kg). The high vents on the peaks are a big plus. MSRPs have not been determined yet, but will be less than the Scarp 1 and 2.
Another roomy tent is the trekking pole supported hybrid double-wall 1+ person Six Moon Designs SkyScape which has 23 ft2 (2.2 m2) of floor area and two side entry doors with vestibules. It’s available in three versions: the Scout (shown) is made of coated polyester fabric, weighs 2 pounds 2 ounces (0.96 kg), and costs only US$125; the Trekker is made of silnylon, weighs 1 pound 8 ounces (0.65 kg), and costs US$225, and the X is constructed of Cuben fiber, weighs just 1 pound (0.45 kg), and costs US$450. As shown, the vestibules can be tied back completely, which really opens the tent up in fair weather (thus the name SkyScape). It also has lots of head room right where it’s needed, and it’s extra long to accommodate tall hikers. There is no access to the rear vestibule from the inside of the tent.
In summary, you have lots of choices in shelters, and there are zillions of shelters available because different people have different preferences. The point I want to make is this: if you really want to reduce shelter weight you need to think outside the box, so to speak. If you insist on a conventional double-wall tent with poles, a really lightweight one is either cramped inside or very expensive, or both. But if you are willing to consider a floorless shelter or a tent that uses trekking poles for support, you can get a very lightweight roomy shelter for a lot less money.
Tent stakes are getting lighter and better too. Easton has updated their Nano Tent Stakes (left) to make them stronger and lighter. They will be available in 6-, 8-, and 10-inch (15-, 20-, 25-cm) lengths. Weight per stake is 7.4, 12.2, and 17.6 grams. MSR is introducing their Carbon Core Tent Stakes (right) which will be available only in a 6-inch (15-cm) length weighing 0.2 ounce (5.7 g) per stake. They have a carbon fiber core, aluminum skin, and polycarbonate head. A package of four stakes will cost US$28.
How do you improve an ultralight sleeping bag? Well, you use higher lofting down, lighter shell fabric, shorten the zipper, make them more slender, and eliminate extra features. Bags with vertical baffles are becoming more common; they have Insotect Flow technology to allow shifting down within each baffle to achieve user-specific zonal insulation. In the case of sleeping pads, you lighten them by filling them full of holes. One or more of those approaches is used in each of the following new products.
Stoic is Backcountry.com’s house brand, and they have several gear items that provide high performance at value prices. Their new Somnus 30 and 15 Sleeping Bags for spring 2012 will be insulated with 850 fill power down, have a Pertex Quantum shell (not the new GL), center half-length zipper, and foot pocket. Note that the photo above is the current model; the new bags will be black. The Somnus 30 weighs 24 ounces (680 g) and will sell for US$299, and the Somnus 15 weighs 31 ounces (879 g) and will go for US$349.
Columbia is entering the equipment category with their new Moonstone Mummy Bags for spring 2012. The bags are insulated with 800 fill power down and have Columbia’s unique Omni Heat Thermal Reflective technology, which consists of microdots of aluminized reflective material printed on the inside lining. It’s claimed to increase bag warmth by 20%. The Moonstone 32 weighs 25 ounces (709 g) and will retail for US$399; and the Moonstone 15 weighs 37 ounces (1.05 kg) and will cost US$499. These bags are a little on the heavy side by our standards, but the new reflective technology really catches our interest.
REI will be introducing the Men’s Igneo and Women’s Joule Sleeping Bags for spring 2012. The new bags will feature 800 fill power down, 1000 mm waterproof shell fabric, and EN comfort rating of 19 F (-7.2 C). REI says their new WP/B fabric does not have a membrane and is better than a DWR. The weights are a bit heavier than comparable bags (men’s is 31 ounces/879 g, women’s is 34 ounces/964 g), but REI doesn’t skimp on the down and warmth-retaining features; these bags are warm. MSRPs are US$329 for the Igneo and US$339 for the Joule; Long sizes will also be available.
Nemo will be introducing sleeping bags in 2013. Here Nemo’s marketing director Kate Ketschek is modeling their new 30 F bag for women, insulated with 100 ounces (2.84 kg) of 900 fill power down. According to Ketschek “women are always cold, so we wanted to design a sleeping bag that would end that problem once and for all.” To counteract the crushing effect of the insulation, the bag is supported with internal helium-filled airbeams, which levitate the bag and bring the effective weight down to just 19 ounces (539 g). Seriously, Nemo calls these “Spooning Bags” – they provide extra room inside for those who feel too confined by a mummy bag. The concept also has a lot of merit for couples who want to save weight by sharing a bag. Nemo has lots of clever ideas.
The new Sierra Designs Cloud 15 for spring 2012 will be insulated with 18 ounces (510 g) of 900 fill power down (size Regular) in vertical baffles, have a 10 denier nylon ripstop shell and lining, half-length zipper, weigh 28 ounces (794 g), and cost US$500 for size Regular and US$520 for size Long.
Rab’s new Infinity Bag for spring 2012 features 850 fill power down in vertical baffles, Pertex Quantum GL shell and lining, and half-length zipper. The Infinity 300 will contain 300 grams of down, weigh 22 ounces (625 g), have a comfort rating of 30 F (-1 C) and cost US$440. The Infinity 500 will contain 500 grams of down, weigh 29.7 ounces (843 g), have a comfort rating of 19 F (-7.5 C), and cost US$500. The bags will only be available in a size Regular, which fits people up to 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) tall.
The new for spring 2012 minimalist Mountain Hardwear MTN Speed 32 Bag is the lightweight standout in the new crop of sleeping bags. This 32 F (0 C) rated bag weighs just 15.7 ounces (446 g). It features 850 fill power down in horizontal baffles, 7 denier x 10 denier ripstop shell and lining fabrics, a snug fit, and a half-length #3 zipper. MSRP for size Regular is US$400; size Long is US$440.
The new Klymit Inertia X-Lite Sleeping Pad for spring 2012 is torso length (42 inches long x 18 inches wide) and weighs just 6.1 ounces (173 g). It has two valves (right), one for blowing it up by mouth and one for inflation using a 1.8-ounce (51-g) pump that comes with the pad. The pad has 75 denier fabric on the bottom for durability and 30 denier on top. As you can see from the photo, the pad has six holes called “insulation pockets” that save weight and allow down to expand on the bottom side. The pad’s tubes are zoned to provide padding for the hips, shoulders, and head, and it’s important to keep your body parts in the right place when using this pad. Klymit is working with Ultralight Adventure Equipment to mate the new X-Lite pad with ULA’s new AirX pack (75 Liters/40 ounces), where the inflated pad in a compartment designed for it will act as a framesheet for the pack, giving the pack a good degree of load transfer while creating a second use for the pad.
Finally, Cascade Designs will be introducing the new Therm-a-Rest XTherm Pad in spring 2012, which is claimed to have an R-Value of 5.7 and average weight of 15 ounces (430 g). The XTherm has four layers of reflective material and will be available in three sizes (Medium, Regular, Large). TaR’s entire line of inflatable pads will switch to the oval shape shown.