All right, gear junkies: eat your heart out. Here’s a sneak preview of the gear we will see on the shelves in the next few months–well, at least the stuff that ultralight hikers may be interested in.
Best of Show
Sea to Summit sleeping mat. The thru-hiker industry standard for sleeping pads, the Cascade Designs Neoair, has finally met its match. The ultralight version of this sleeping mat (the sales guy corrected me strongly when I called it a “sleeping pad,” ensuring me that it’s more like a MATtress than a pad) weighs in at 12 oz. Using “mattress technology,” the mat does not use baffles, but instead pockets that warm under you as you sleep. These pockets also prevent “bottoming out” even for bigger side sleepers. Supposedly, the pocket system are puncture resistant and all around stronger than baffles (yet to be seen). Another key advantage is their stuff-sack blow up system takes 10 seconds, and 10 seconds to deflate (this is going to be HUGE when hikers are trying to motivate themselves to get up on a cold AM, and to get moving quickly). The part that blows me out of the water, though, is the price point: $99—significantly less expensive than its competition.
NW Alpine breathable cuben fiber rain jacket: Improving on the already awesome design of the NW Alpine Eyebright jacket, this new model uses a fabric that is stronger and easier to seam seal (not that I ever had any problem with longevity even when bushwhacking). The best part is that it’s $150 less than the previous version, putting it in the same price range as other high-end breathable cuben fiber shirts, like Z-packs, but with a more form fitting and tailored design than its competitors.
Other Cool Stuff:
Sierra Designs double sleeping bag: I’m not sure what the weight was on this design (or whether they’re even making it or it was just a marketing gimmick), but this double-bag sure was good for a laugh at the show.
Petzl’s New Ice Axe: Although not the lightest UIAA approved ice axe on the market (the 8 oz CAMP Corsa is the thru-hiker standard), this ice axe is damn near close in weight, and has a significantly more aggressive looking axe. I’m not sure on the weight, but let’s put it this way—Tomo from Hiker’s Depot—the world’s only brick and mortar ultralight store—was interested.
Go Motion Sternum strap trail running light: Designed to reduce shadow blockage and keep night hiking light sources centered on you walk, this “headlamp” that actually goes on your sternum strap, could be a revolutionary design. As an avid night hiker, I’m hoping to try one out and see how it works.
Altra Lone Peak 2.5: The go-to shoe for the long distance hiking community is coming soon in a waterproof water-resistant material. Altra is well-aware that waterproof gear has a bad name—and with good reason—because no one wants to be walking around in Vapor Barrier stuff unless being sweaty and clammy is better than losing a toe to the cold. To address this issue, Altra teamed with a proprietary fabricmaker to create the first shoe with this particular water-resistant breathable material. It works so well that I watched Golden, one of the founders of Altra, pour a glass of water on the shoe and the contents completely rolled off. I can’t wait to take the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 on the trail and see how it breathes and holds up to snow, rain, and water.
Montrail: Bad news for lovers of the hiker standby from the early 2000s: Montrail has nothing but running slippers in their line up for the next year. No trail running shoes. No hiking shoes. Zip. I know there are a few hikers out there who still love their Montrails. Call me biased, but maybe this is just a sign you should check out the Altras.
National Geographic: This February is rolling out maps of two new areas: Paria Canyon and Grand Staircase/Escalante—two awesome places to visit in Utah on your next traverse of the Vagabond Loop.
Most exciting discovery this year is Nat Geo’s strong interest and dedication in making maps for long distance hikers. OR 2015 rolled out the John Muir Trail mapset. This is the first full and complete Nat Geo map set that is put together like a book. It’s a pretty brilliant idea considering I’ve bought the JMT map set at least three times because I always end up losing a page :(.
The whole booklet weighs 3.3 oz and has 48 pages of maps on Nat Geo’s waterproof, resistant paper. It also includes elevation profiles and a databook (!) and resupply locations. In essence, this $14.95 map set not only is less expensive than its competitors, won’t have you lose pages, but also will be the only resource you need. Oh yeah, and just to make sure you know that it’s made for thru-hikers, it was made by one of us: our own Sierra expert Justin Lichter.
Best yet—this summer, Nat Geo is rolling out a similar style map set for the Appalachian Trail! It’s going to come out in sections by state just in time for southbounders to use ‘em. If the AT maps look anything like the JMT maps, let’s just say they’re so cool, you may want maps for the AT.
New Katoohlas Microspikes: To be released this hiking season, this thru-hiker must-have just got lighter and better designed. The full microspike is down to 12 oz for a medium pair and the nanospike (which is advertised as a runner, but I was still shocked at how well it worked on an ice block) comes in at 8 oz for the pair. The spike itself has been redesigned with the toe bar positioned to reduce slippage (which had been a problem in the previous model, especially, I noticed, when covering terrain with ice and post holing). I’m very optimistic about the new microspike and can’t wait to try it out!!
Sea to Summit pillow: A new ultralight inflatable pillow that is so light, that an ultralight hiker said “Wow, I might even start carrying a pillow now!) This uses a soft material on the outer and looks more durable than other ultralight pillows, which are pretty infamous for popping after a few weeks. Depending on the model, weights range between 1.8 and 3.0 oz.
Tenacious tape: Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more innovations in gear repair, Tenacious tape developed several cool new products slated to roll out this spring. First, and most exciting for thru-hikers, are stretch patches, which allow gear repair for fabrics that require a little elasticity, such as silnylon tents or stretchy pants. Tenacious tape is also coming out with a mini-repair carrying container for easy on-trail transport.
Super exciting for trail runners, night hikers, and anyone who carries a bear can is the new reflective tape. Now, when the bear comes and rolls around my bear can for a while, I’ll be able to shine my headlamp around and find its reflection. Lastly, and perhaps the most fun of the new products, are tattoo gear repear in fun shapes like Sasquatch.
Swiftwater by Crocs: Realizing that most thru-hikers switch over to their Crocs for creek crossings, this summer, the lightweight campshoe company is rolling out a new hybrid campshoe/water crossing shoe. These shoes keep most of the lightweight nature of the Croc for camp shoe, while adding on a more secure attachment over-foot system and a more aggressive sole for dealing with slippery rocks. These should be rolled out this summer, but unfortunately, won’t come in the awesome colors shown here.
Hydrapak: These hydration bladder system seems to have some clear advantages over what hikers have been using for years. This hydration bag has a baffled water system, so when it rides against your back, it won’t slouch or bunch as you drink water. Best yet, you refill the bag by taking off a lock meaning that it has the world’s WIDEST refill opening ever. For those who use a hydration tube, it comes with a quick lock which means it’s easy to take off the tube at night if you need to remove it to prevent freezing at night. Although the sales person ensured me this design has been around for 12 years (apparently, it’s popular with cyclists), this is the first I’ve seen of this potential competition to my beloved Cascade Designs Platypus.
Ultralight Frisbee: For those who get into camp and just want to play a little ultimate, the 0.8 oz Frisbee folds up nicely and comes with a weight penalty that even Glen van Peski wouldn’t object to (well, maybe). Ok, so this isn’t a standard competition weight Frisbee, but good for a few trail laughs at the end of the day. Watch this video of POD and Disco playing with it in their house after OR:
Trail Logoed stuff:
Hey, guess what? Gear companies are starting to love on the long trails. Here’s a few new items that are going to be logoed with our favorite confidence markers.
Point 6 socks CDT, AT, PCT socks: Point 6 socks is based in Steamboat Springs and was created by the founders of Smartwool after they decided they wanted to create a more mission-oriented sock company. These awesome made-in-the-USA trail-logoed socks look really cool and benefit the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association. They’re designed to hold up to a thru-hike, but I’m going to save mine from the sand and mud and keep it for stylin’ in town.
Vapur bottles: These lightweight water or (who are we kidding) wine carriers are logoed with the CDT logo. Because nothing says 100 mile resupply through the desert like packing out some Chardonnay.
Woolrich CDT, AT, and PCT blankets: These beautiful loomed in America wool blankets are works of art. These blankets are slated to come out to the consumer in October, but Woolrich was pre-selling the first run of these hand-signed, hand-numbered blankets. A certain founder of an ultralight gear company may have purchased one for each trail. The perfect gift for any trail lover or to get someone who loves the trail. Proceeds go to the trail organizations.
Beer tubes: Mountainsmith is creating a canned beer caddy that is good for infinite jokes. Watch out in June when you can purchase a CDT logoed beer tube!
Stay tuned for updates of new FOOD announced at Winter Outdoor Retailer in the next blogpost!