We are pleased to cover the Outdoor Retailer Show for Backpacking Light Magazine once again, to sift through thousands of outdoor gear items looking for new, lightweight, interesting, unique, useful, revolutionary, unusual, or remarkable gear that should interest our readers. This is our fifth year covering OR, and I must say that OR never disappoints, there is always lots of interesting new gear to be found and always show highlights and trends that are noteworthy. And this show is no exception. So, let’s get started.
This is not a brand-new item, but it still caught our eye. The MontBell Stainless Mesh Cap is a very breathable skirted sun cap that weighs just 2 ounces (57 g)! It’s called “stainless” because it’s a nice bright nickel color. When you don’t need the skirt it can easily be tucked inside the cap (it’s not removable). MSRP is US$28; available now.
MontBell is also introducing the Dynamo Wind Parka (5 ounces/142 g, US$99) in men’s and women’s versions as a companion piece to the Dynamo Pant we previously reviewed. It’s a bit heavier than the ultralight Tachyon Windshirt (2.4 ounces/68 g) we also reviewed, but it’s also more durable and has two zippered pockets. The Dynamo for fall 2011 will be made of MontBell’s 12 denier Ballistic Airlight, the same superb fabric they use on their Spiral sleeping bags. Many hikers have found that MontBell windshirt and pants, with its superb Polkatex DWR, suffices quite well for ultralight rainwear when only showers are expected. It’s also very useful for campwear over an insulated layer to hold in the heat. I like to wear my hiking shorts over the pants so I have pockets, and to put the wear on the shorts instead of the wind pants.
Nemo will be introducing the new Go-Go Elite Bivy this year which weighs just 1 pound 7 ounces (0.65 kg). It will have Nemo’s new OSMO Elite waterproof-breathable fabric and a new single-wall air beam supporting the front end. Since it doesn’t have regular tent poles, this tent packs down to the size of a cantaloupe, making it useful for very lightweight, compact travel like bicycling or kayaking and of course UL backpacking. Their new OSMO Elite fabric has some amazing specs: 10 denier (!), waterproofness 1,686 mm tested, and breathability 6,131 g/m2/24 hours (ASTM e-96 method). Outside of Cuben Fiber, Nemo’s 10 denier OSMO Elite is the lightest tent fabric on the market, and it’s breathable. MSRP will be US$400.
We reported on Nemo’s new 31-ounce (0.88-kg) Obi Elite 1P tent (not shown) last summer, which also uses the new Nemo OSMO Elite fabric, and we are anxious to test it out this spring. I wanted to again mention the Obi 2P Tent (above), in case you missed it last summer. This is a two-person, double-wall tent with two doors and two vestibules weighing just 3 pounds (1.36 kg). It has ample floor space (27 ft2/2.5 m2), good vestibule area (18 ft2/1.7 m2), and good headroom inside, so when it comes out this spring it will be one of the lightest (non sardine can) two-person-double wall tents on the market. Inside (right) there is built-in gear storage at the head end; the two white panels are sleeves to put a headlamp in to light up the tent. The shell and fly are 20 denier nylon and floor is 30 denier nylon. MSRP is US$390.
Outdoor Research continues to add to their large collection of superb handwear and headwear for fall 2011. One of the standouts this time is the Mount Baker Modular Mitts (4.9 ounces per pair/139 g, US$139), consisting of a Primaloft 120 weight liner with heat pocket and 70 denier Gore-Tex shell. We really like modular mitts (or gloves) because you can wear them with a variety of liners (different materials and weights) to adjust to the conditions and keep your hands dry.
A unique new headpiece from Outdoor Research is the Transcendent Beanie (left, 1 ounce/28 g, US$40), which is insulated with 650 fill-power down. It’s like a sleeping bag for your head! Perhaps women will like this piece better than men (it is available in black too), but it’s obviously very functional. We included the Radiant Beanie (right, 1.2 ounces/34 g, US$22) as a consolation, because a liner cap like this a very lightweight multi-purpose piece – use it as a liner under a helmet or cap, as an outer layer, or a sleeping cap. Very useful and very light.
Over at the Rab booth we found the new Stretch Neo Jacket (17 ounces/482 g, US$365) for fall 2011, made of the new Polartec NeoShell, a new waterproof-breathable fabric that is at least twice as breathable than eVENT (much more on that in our special article at the end of the show). Because of its weight, the Stretch Neo Jacket is more of a day use garment, and Rab targets it to “fast moving activities.” The color is designed to get you to front of the ski lift line asap; other colors are available, honest! It’s fully featured with a helmet compatible hood and wire beak, YKK Aquaguard zippers, two large zippered chest pockets, two internal mesh zippered pockets, hem drawcord, and adjustable cuffs. A number of manufacturers will be introducing NeoShell jackets, and some may be a bit lighter, but Rab is adept at getting the features and details just right. Also noteworthy, we got to meet Rab Carrington at the Rab booth; they are celebrating their thirtieth year.
Granite Gear always has a new lightweight internal frame backpack for us to report on, and this time it’s the Nimbus Core (3 pounds 12 ounces/1.47 kg, US$280) available spring 2011. Many readers ask us about bear canister compatibility; well the Nimbus Core is literally designed around a bear canister! It’s capable of carrying a big one at that. The pack features a unique panel loading system, two large lateral pockets, and stretch side pockets. If you’re not familiar with Granite Gear packs, they weigh a tad more than the lightest internal frame backpacks, but they’re super adjustable and super comfortable to carry, and the Nimbus Core is no exception.
Barefoot technology has reached a new minimum with “shoes” being introduced by ZEMGear weighing in around 2.2 ounces (62 g) per shoe. No, that’s not a typo! They have various models, available in either a round toe or split toe, low cut or mid height, for different purposes from yoga to barefoot running. Some examples are the Oxygen2 (upper shoe) and the 360 (lower shoe). The MSRP is around US$30. Since they are so light, we thought they would make nice camp shoes or wading shoes at the very least; the rubber soles are very slip resistant. Check them out at ZEMGear.com. It will be interesting to see what our barefoot technology expert Damien Tougas has to say about this super minimalist shoe!
Cascade Designs has been busy too, developing the new Therm-a-Rest All-Season NeoAir Sleeping Pad, which is a four-season pad available in three sizes. These pads have overlapping tubes (upper right, with twice as many cells than the standard NeoAir pads) and three layers of reflective material, yielding a claimed R-value of 4.9. The sizes are: Medium (20 x 66 x 2.5 in / 51 x 168 x 6.4 cm; 18 ounces; US$140), Regular (20 x 72 x 2.5 in / 51 x 183 x 6.4 cm; 19 ounces; US$150), and Large (25 x 77 x 2.5 in / 64 x 196 x 6.4 cm ; 25 ounces; US$170). The pads will include a very lightweight pump (lower right) that can be used with any bag to inflate the pad more quickly. Although the weights climb up a bit from the standard NeoAir pads, the comfort and warmth increase as well. We hope to include this one in our State of the Market Report on lightweight inflatable sleeping pads planned for publication this summer.
Here’s the cure for cold hands and feet: Thermo Soles and Thermo Gloves by Atlantic Horizon. These are wireless rechargeable heated insoles and glove liners with multiple heat levels, and the insoles even come with a remote control. The insoles weigh 5 ounces (142 g) per pair and cost US$129. They have two settings: low (100F/38C) and high (111F/44C). A low-profile Lithium Ion battery is built into the heel of each insole. The gloves weigh 9.4 ounces (266 g) per pair and cost US$135. They have three temperature settings: low (93F/34C), medium (102F/39C), and high (111F/44C). A button sets the temperature level, and the heat comes from stretchable carbon fibers in the topside and fingers of the glove. A charge for the insoles or gloves will last five to six hours. If snowmobilers can have electronic hand and foot warmers, why can’t we?
Mountain Hardwear will be introducing their DryQ waterproof-breathable technology for fall 2011. DryQ combines the eVENT PTFE membrane with Mountain Hardwear’s expertise in all aspects of fabric technology and garment construction. (We will explain DryQ further in our upcoming article on new waterproof-breathable fabric technologies). There will be three types of DryQ: Elite for hardcore mountaineering and skiing, Core for the mainstream consumer, and Active for lightweight high energy pursuits. DryQ Active will probably interest our readers the most because it will be found in the MH’s lightest garments like the hooded Effusion Jacket (about 12 ounces/340 g, about US$200) which is a minimalist softshell utilizing Polartec Power Stretch as the face fabric. The jacket is waterproof and will have about the same breathability as a comparable eVENT jacket.
Since this is winter OR, we visited Backcountry Access (BCA) to see what’s new. They allowed us to demo their new Float 36 Avalanche Airbag Backpack (7.7 pounds/3.5 kg, US$785) for 2012 (see video below; small problem – it’s sideways – but you get the idea!). That was quite an experience; it made me feel like Rocket Man! The pack has a ripcord in the right shoulder strap, which needs to be kept handy when traveling in avalanche conditions. Obviously you try to avoid the dreaded event, but when it happens you pull (hard) on the ripcord and the resulting airbag inflates instantly and keeps you afloat (hopefully). The airbag is rechargeable by going to a paintball center and having them refill the gas cylinder for around US$10-20. The pack itself contains a full quiver of essentials including big volume, internal frame, inside shovel and probe pockets, ski and snowboard carry system, lined goggle pocket, hydration sleeve and through shoulder strap tube insulation, backpanel access, and hipbelt pockets.
We knocked on Timberland’s door and asked to see the new Cadion 2.0 Boot (right boot, 17.5 ounces/496 g per boot, US$180). Recall the Cadion of a several years back, which was an amazing lightweight boot from Timberland’s skunkworks. Well, they are at it again, with the goal of developing the world’s lightest full-on hiking boot, and it looks like they succeeded. This is a full-height boot with an aggressive Vibram outsole, Pebax foam midsole, and Gore-Tex WP-B lining. They reduced the weight of the outsole by 50% by reducing the number of lugs, while still providing plenty of traction and durability. The Pebax midsole is a plastic foam that is 20% lighter and 200 times more resilient than EVA and retains its softness over a wide temperature range. The boot’s upper is all synthetic materials, no leather (the brown upper looks like leather in the photo, but it’s actually a tough fabric like Cordura nylon). Another equally remarkable boot from Timberland is the LiteTrace Multisport Boot (left boot, 12 ounces/340 g per boot, US$ ). It’s also waterproof and breathable, but it’s not Gore-Tex. The mid-height LiteTrace also has a Pebax midsole, aggressive outsole, an all synthetic upper, and thin TPU plate for rock protection. It’s significantly softer than the Cadion; more like an Innov-8 boot. Both boots are about a D width and will be available in mid-summer 2011.
While I am on the subject of lightweight boots, I might mention that we are working on an article focused on lightweight wide mid-height boots, for publication this summer/fall. For those of us privileged to have wide feet for more traction and support, finding wide hiking boots is a challenge because manufacturers are not clear on how wide their boots actually are. We will report on the wider boots we found, and discuss the benefits (if any) of a mid-height boot over a low-cut trail runner.
That’s it for Day 1. Tomorrow will have another full load of interesting gear to report on again for Day 2 of the show. Cheers!
Will Rietveld, Senior Editor for Gear and Apparel