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Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016: A Year of Innovation in Gear

Allgood and I test out the new Vibram Arctic Grip shoes on a block of ice.
Allgood and I test out the new Vibram Arctic Grip shoes on a block of ice.

It’s the time of year when the outdoor industry showcases their newest innovations in gear and give retailers a chance to see (and buy) what is getting rolled out in 2017. In 2015, I wrote about gear I saw at Winter Outdoor Retailer that is just hitting the markets now. The Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City is attracts between 20,000 and 40,000 people involved in the outdoor industry. But it’s a closed show–so you can’t get in unless you’re buying or selling gear, are assigned a story from a major news outlet, or come in with a 501c3 non-profit.

Winter 2016 saw big innovations with gear that allows you to walk On Ice, Flameless stoves, Oatless Oatmeal, New Altra Lone Peaks, and Yak Wool Baselayers. I’ll be writing more about trends in the show (including fashion trends, booth babes, the happy hour scene, and attendance) in my next write-up. For now–this is for you, gearheads!

Best of Show: Vibram Arctic Grip

No joke. You can walk on ice with the new Vibram Arctic grip rubber. In the photos and video above, Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and I are wearing one shoe with a normal Vibram sole, and one with an Arctic Grip sole.

The normal sole slips and slides on ice. The Arctic grip actually allows you to walk. It’s a Winter OR Miracle and among the most innovative technologies I’ve seen at OR in years. This could have a HUGE impact on the backpacking industry…if only we are willing to wait.

Timberland won the bid for exclusive use of the Vibram Arctic Grip until 2017. Here’s to patiently waiting for when Altra, Brooks, or other companies that thru-hikers typically wear can start sole-ing up their shoes with it.

Upgraded models of Altras
Upgraded models of Altras

Sneak Peak at the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 and Altra Lone Peak Mid

This is a great year for Altra to be rolling out a mid-ankle height shoe. With the snow levels in the Cascades, Sierras, and Rockies slowly approaching 2011 levels, hikers are going to want their same beloved thru-hiking shoe, just more of it. Soon, many hikers’ favorite shoe model, the Lone Peak, will be available in mid height. It should be available in Neoshell (“Better Than Waterproof”—check out my review here), but may also be available in normal breathable mesh for the hikers out there who prefer a mid even when not hiking in snow.

The Neoshell Lone Peak is getting a make over. I got a sneak peak at the new women’s shoe, looking a lot more stylish than the old model and available in new colors.

The Lone Peak 3.0 and Olympus 3.0 are coming out in new colors and have a sleeker look that (sacrilegiously) reminds me of the old Brooks Cascadia design. I’m excited to be styling in these new sportier looks on the trail this summer.

GU has a Honey Stinger-like Waffle

GU, the original energy gel company, is coming out with solid food. Tried it on a hike up Mt. Diablo last week. Side by side with a Honey Stinger waffle, my GU waffle (Mocha flavored) looks and seems the exactly the same as a Honey Stinger waffle. The only difference as far as I can tell it is slightly sweeter (the ingredients weren’t on the top secret packaging they gave me), a little goo-eyer (no pun intended), and less cardboardy. But the differences are so minor (perhaps having to do more with flavor differences) that I would be surprised if they make them out of the same factory. The big difference for consumers will be the price point. It releases this Spring.

One Giant GU to Rule Them All

GU finally got the idea to make a Thru-Hiker Size packet of energy gel! Each packet holds the equivalent of 15 gels and is resealable and doesn’t require refrigeration (in fact, I was told it would last opened and resealed for 6 months). This makes it the perfect way for a thru-hiker to consume GU’s—not those silly little packets that don’t deliver nearly enough calories and create a lot of sticky trash you have to pack out. Now, insert spout into mouth and get your 1,500 calories in one squirt.

They’re also rolling out these smaller refillable tubes. Normal people will be able to squirt a GU or two’s worth of gel from their big reservoir into the tube. I’m planning on filling mine with cream cheese.

Oatless Oatmeal

Wildway Grain Free Hot Cereal and Granola debuted at Winter OR offering an oatless oatmeal. We’re talking a paleo-friendly oatmeal alternative that is grain free. I tried some and it was coconut, nutty, and seemed like it would be really filling and stick to your bones while backpacking. I loved the flavor. As companies are increasingly rolling out heartier breakfast porridges for backpacking and gluten free backpackers are more common that ever, it’s great timing to be releasing this kind of product.

Unfortunately, their website doesn’t appear to have cooking instructions (Can I just add hot water? How about cold water and soak?) or ingredient lists. I have an email into them to find out more about this cool new product.

Honey Stinger has GLUTEN free waffles

I tried this side by side with the Honey Stinger waffle on a hike, and actually prefer the gluten free! (?!???) The gluten free comes in this delicious Organic Maple flavor that may have had something do to with it (I’m a maple fanatic), but the Gluten Free option was AWESOME. Best yet, it was less crumbly, easier to break off, and easier to chew than the usual glutinous waffle. Although a traditional Wheat Honey Stinger waffle and the Gluten free both weigh 1 oz according to the package, the Gluten free one feels lighter—in fact, it is 140 calories vs. the traditional waffle’s 160 calories. It also has 6g of fat vs. the 7g in a traditional waffle and 10g of sugar vs. the traditional waffle’s 14 g. Either way, at the end of my hike, one of the waffles was downed a lot quicker than the other. And it wasn’t the one I expected.

I was seriously left wishing I had taken more samples from the Honey Stinger booth.

Sprouted *Watermelon* Seeds????

When I first saw GoRaw’s sprouted watermelon seeds, I was skeptical. I thought this was a new craze that’s actually a way to take a non-edible food and turn it into a fad. But I tried de-shelled, sprouted, and salted watermelon seeds, and they’re actually really good—like better than sunflower seed or pumpkin seed good. They’re nutty, and moist, and fresh tasting. GoRaw debuted at Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016, and came armedwith new packaging for a more outdoorsy market (it wasn’t until I looked on Amazon and saw their old packaging that I realized I’ve seen this company before in hippie natural food stores).

The cooking pot on the bottom, with the two parts of the tumbler up top (not showing the lid of the tumbler)
The cooking pot on the bottom, with the two parts of the tumbler up top (not showing the lid of the tumbler)

Flameless stove????

With fire restrictions in effect throughout California and the rest of the west up in flames each summer, there is a real market for flameless stove units. The Hydroheat Flameless Cooking System has you put a little bit of water and a heat pouch (essentially, your fuel) into an insulated tumbler. Then you put the water you want to eat in another cup, submerge it into the tumbler, and 10 minutes later, you have boiling water.

The “cooking” tumbler
The “cooking” tumbler

What intrigued me about this system for ultralight hikers is that the heat pouch weighs 0.5 oz—pretty comparable to other ultralight fuel systems like Esbit. Each heat pouch lasts 20 minutes on the smaller models, and up to an hour on the larger models—meaning that you get a lot more hot water (it seems like multi-person ability) than you would out of comparable fuels of the same weight. On top of that (I’d need to check with the folks at Leave No Trace first) but the company claims that the fuel byproduct is calcium carbonate, so can be buried and left behind without packing out (they also said the pouch’s paper could be left in nature, which I highly disagree with.)

So, essentially, if this flameless system were modified to not require the heavy stock tumbler or pot, you’d be operating a flameless system with little weight penalty. Now, I’m not sure if you could get the system to work without their stock equipment (which is better suited for campers and hunters than backpackers), but if you could, this could be a pretty revolutionary new cooking system for backpackers. I’m keeping my eyes peeled to see how this product will evolve over time.

More flameless cooking?

Also offering an innovative method of flameless cooking, OMeals (who I reported about in the Summer 2015 Outdoor Retailer review) has stepped up its game and gone through rebranding for a strong showing at Winter OR.

Their flameless cooking system, which debuted at Summer 2015, has you put a heating pouch (essentially, your fuel) inside of a mylar bag along with a small amount of liquid. Then you put a pouch of their meals (Fully cooked, MRE or Tasty Bite style) into the mylar bag, close the mylar bag, and let the meal cook itself.

It’s a similar system to the Hydroheat set up, except that it doesn’t require the heavy cookware. Everything is self-contained in your backpacking food pouch. You just choose whatever flavor you want and it includes the heating system inside. No stove or cookware necessary. The downside is that it is designed to work with their food, which comes in packets fully hydrated.

The sales lady told me point-blank that it isn’t designed for thru-hikers and is too heavy. But I beg to disagree.

Why? Because she also told me that instead of using water to activate the heat pouch, you can use PEE! This could be a desert alternative set up. If you think you’re going to run out of water but still want hot food and want to have a flameless stove, this could be what you take. I can see some PCT hikers opting for this system.

In fact, I kind of wish I had a system like this for my last month southbounding the CDT in New Mexico in November. It was so cold at night, I definitely wanted hot food, but water was scarce as the springs had dried up. The heavier food would’ve been a disadvantage, but knowing that regardless of whether I found that spring, I could still have a hot meal, might have been a real comfort.

I never got a chance to ask their competitor across the row if pee can activate their heating system (which boils water for your own dehydrated food instead of requiring their dehydrated food). But if you could add pee, that also adds some potentially real game changing options to the desert hiking set up.

NUUN Energy and a Sad Update From NUUN

Nuun Energy is the same electrolyte fizzy tabs that we love…but with more caffeine. Winter OR saw the debut of a new mango flavor.

Also—some sad news for NUUN lovers: I learned at Winter OR that my favorite NUUN flavor, Kona Cola (you know, the Alka Seltzer tabs that make your backcountry water taste like a Coke) are GETTING DISCONTINUED! Stock up now, and be sure to write NUUN and tell them not to discontinue their best flavor!

Never Tie Your Shoes Again

Hate tying your shoes? Do your shoes always seem to become untied? Zubuts offers a magnetic shoe closure system that is attachable and reusable with any shoe. I tried them out and they don’t fall apart when walking or pretty much anytime except when you want them to. Because they’re metal magnets and lace into your shoes, you won’t lose them and they won’t break (unlike other non-lacing closure systems like BOAs) That being said, they weigh in at 1 oz at the pair, so for those of us trying to keep extra weight off our feet, Zubits may still be too heavy.

New European Down-Like Synthetic Fill

European company Save the Duck premiered at Outdoor Retailer Winter 2016 with a new kind of proprietary synthetic lofting system. The material seems very soft and puffy, unlike the usual plasticky feel of synthetic-fills. It’s won all sorts of awards in Europe (including from PETA), but is just rolling out its line of mostly fashion-oriented clothing in the US. While the stuff looks heavy to wear backpacking, there’s a huge potential for a softer, puffy synthetic to do cool things for the outdoor industry. I’m staying tuned to see if Save the Duck won’t lease out its technology to other companies who can apply it in lighter weight gear scenarios.

Yakwool Baselayers

Yaks live at lower elevations than merino sheep, which could provide the market in a lighter wool that breathes better. Kora, a Yakwool baselayer company, premiered at Outdoor Retailer 2016, with a series of designs. I can’t tell if it’s a gimmick or not, and couldn’t get much more info out of the sales lady, who was a booth babe, instead of a designer or person knowledgeable about the product.

A little research shows that this first-ever baselayer made of Yakwool appears to at least be as good as merino wool. TGO does a nice review of it here.

Wheat, Dairy, and Egg Free Energy Cookies

Those looking for a wheat free, dairy free, egg free cookie need look no further. These cookies taste similar to bars, but there is something very comforting about the circular shape. Designed for long distance cyclists, the Kakookies are about 230 calories and have a 6 month shelf life. As someone always on the look out for a new backpacking food, this was a fun find.

 

 

 

 

 

Better Hiking Underwear

Ex-Officio, long time maker of the

especially their smell and lack of style, but I never seem to replace them because there isn’t much better out there. Now, Ex-Officio has upgraded their design  and switched to a softer fabric, the Sport Mesh. I haven’t tested them yet, so can’t testify to the smell or performing properties, but they sure look a lot nicer and feel a lot nicer than the old model. Available in men’s and women’s models.

 

Resizing Compete Energy Bites

Those who attended the ALDHA-W Gathering 2015 may remember a certain chocolate flavored Energy Chew that delivers a big caffeinated punch (Compete Energy Bites was a big sponsor of the event…leading to high energy event). Realizing that a 6 pack of Energy Bites is a lot to chew (lol), they’ve resized their bites into manageable two packs, making it way easier for people to grab and go with. The flavor profile has been changed with a chocolate-y flavor. And of course, the packaging has been updated from the 1980s.

Ultra Runner U-Go Bars

Although they didn’t have a booth, I stumbled across the owner of UGo Bars, a new hand-crafted, vegan, non-GMO, gluten free bar. On the outside, they look a lot like Lara Bars, but actually have a much better flavor and feel…fresher and nuttier.

Although Outdoor Retailer 2016 seemed to drag on forever and have a low attendance, after doing this write-up, I realize I’ve seen a lot of innovative things that could potentially change the market for good.

New Flavors of Good to Go

The new kid on the dehydrated backpacking food block, Good to Go offers 4 star chef quality meals in the backcountry. I wrote a review of their meals here over a backpacking trip to the Sand Dunes, and am stoked about the new flavors. (Good to Go’s booth was conveniently located across the aisle from a CDTC happy hour, and I must have eaten at least 10 of their samples—Chef Jennifer even remembered my face and told me to stay way from the peanut-y ones!).

The new flavors are an Indian Vegetable Korma and a Pad Thai. The Pad Thai, unfortunately, has peanuts, but maybe they’ll decide to keep the peanut packet separate and then I will chow down. Good to Go partners with Jetboil and because of their dehydration process, it takes a little bit longer to rehydrate their foods using the soak method, especially at altitude.

 

Stay tuned for an OR follow-up piece!

It was a great OR full of lots of non-gear events, including huge donations to trail organizations, multiple happy hours celebrating the new accomplishments of hikers, and big trend changes in the industry. Thanks for reading and please leave any thoughts in the comments section.

 

I just took the first class of Thru-Hiking 101. Here’s what I think….

The first view students will get of my mug on the Thru-Hiking 101 class
The first view students will get of my mug on the Thru-Hiking 101 class

All right guys, s&*% just got real! As many of you know, I’ve been working for the past few months on developing BACKPACKER Magazine’s first on-line course, a 6-week  Thru-Hiking 101 class on the Adventure University Platform.

I’ve been a little nervous about how it’s all going to turn out. There’s other free material on the Internet. Was my little course going to actually be able to show it all up?

 

Now that I’ve seen the first class, I am absolutely BLOWN away by AWESOME it turned out! Like seriously–I felt like *I* learned a bunch of new stuff—and I wrote most of it! How well it turned out FAR exceeded expectations–and I had pretty high expectations of what this would look like. I’m impressed and really honored to have worked on such a project.

 

Backpacker Magazine did such a great job of integrating my content with that of experts in topics I don’t know so much about (like, say, all the financial planners they talked to about saving $ for a hike). And the photos and quizzes just made everything *pop* and engage in a way I don’t see in any sort of not-in person resource on thru-hiking.

At this point, I feel like I should be tired of looking at the content for the class, but Week’s 1 class was organized so well and flows so well it was actually really fun to take–even for me. Everything seemed broken down into really digestably chunks–somehow they turned all my lengthy 17 page monologues into exactly what I wanted to say, except way clearer (thanks, editors!).

My friend Drop N Roll lended her voice and perspective on how best to quit one’s job and follow dreams
My friend Drop N Roll lended her voice and perspective on how best to quit one’s job and follow dreams

I also love how well they integrated my content with that of so many other hikers who helped me. One of the most important facets of teaching this class for me was that it never comes across as pedantic. I believe that other than not being a d-bag and practicing LNT, thru-hiking has no rules. In the words of my friend Shane, “I may know thru-hiking well, but you know you well.” This course was designed to give tools to prospective hikers to make decisions best suited for them and I’m so thankful to all the other hikers who helped share their perspectives so that students of the trail can figure out what works best for them (even if it isn’t what works best for me!)

Read more about the course in my blog entry about it or on the course website.

It’s not too late! The class hasn’t started yet! Sign up today at www.tinyurl.com/thruhiking101

 

 

A Helpful Guide to Start Planning Your First Thru-Hike

After 6 years of dreaming, I finally was able to hike the Timberline Trail in 2015. Photo by <a href="http://www.drop-n-roll.com/">Kate Hoch.</a>
After 6 years of dreaming, I finally was able to hike the Timberline Trail in 2015. Photo by Kate Hoch.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” Mark Twain

Maps. Gear. Food. Planning for a thru-hike can involve so much stuff and data, it can seem downright daunting.

Before I started my first thru-hike, I obsessed the Pacific Crest Trail, but was scared to actually take the first step to make a thru-hike happen. Friends knew of my dream and would urge me to pursue it, but I kept letting fear and the amount of work involved keep me from doing anything about it. I found excuses to avoid even starting to plan. I didn’t even know if I could find the time and money, so why waste that time dreaming?

Then, in January of 2008, I took the plunge and went in head first. I didn’t know what I was doing, but all I can say is that that decision is among the best things I’ve ever done.

Planning and prep for a thru-hike will look different from person to person. We have different goals, different dreams, different timelines. And no matter how much prep we do, Mother Nature always throws something unexpected at us. But the truth is, regardless of who we are or how we want to hike, our experience in the outdoors is safer and more enjoyable when we take initiative and do some old fashioned planning.

Here are some tips to beat inertia and indecision and to hop on the planning train.

  1. Commit to hike, even if you aren’t 100% sure you can make it happen I can tell there’s a difference between the trails that I’ve planned a year out vs. hikes I cobbled together 2 weeks in advance. The further out I can commit to a trail (even if it’s a slow start), the better off I am physically and mentally when I do hit the trail. Committing to my hike early also allows gives me the time to address my demands at home (work, my stuff, bills, etc.) and to make sure years in advance that the family vacation won’t be scheduled in the middle of my hike.
  2. If you’re not sure you can actually hike (find time and money), research how others have made it happen. People from all walks of life have thru-hiked. All ages, all backgrounds, all sorts of professions. Finding the time and money to do a trip sometimes requires some creativity, but if you want it enough, it can be done! Work with a financial planner and talk to other hikers who are similar positions of you to get ideas and inspiration.
  3. Decide to start planning early….say, now. If you’ve ever thought about thru-hiking, the more time you give yourself to mentally be in the “I’m going on a thru-hike space” the better prepared you will be when that day actually happens. If you’re planning on hiking this summer, in 2017, or after you retire in 5 years, setting your goal now and moving on it is a great way to make sure it happens.
  4. Stop worrying that prep and planning will take away from the adventure. No matter how much prep and planning you do, the outdoors is always giving us surprises, always giving us gifts, and promises to keep us on our toes. On a long hike in remote country, you’ve got a smaller margin of error than you do at home. Planning and prep isn’t about forming expectations. It’s about being willing to take whatever Mother Nature gives us and have the knowledge and skills to know what to do with it.
  5. Don’t buy your gear yet. The temptation to go out and buy the first great deal that you see at the outfitter is great. “Who cares how it works? I’ll figure it out after I take it home!” I’ve declared far too often. But for many hikers, gear is the biggest expense of a thru-hike, so it’s worth doing some research—a lot of research—before handing over your hard earned cash.
  6. Find a mentor. First-time thru-hikers who learn from thru-hiking mentors not only get the information to hike, but also get personal support that a book or listserve doesn’t offer. A good mentor will live by the motto “there are no stupid questions.” Avoid online forums, listserves, and facebook groups with trolls that prey on newbies. Instead, look for mentors who are willing to take the time to “tailor” answers specifically to you and who are willing to invest the time to learn about you to help you come to decisions that fit your goals and values.
  7. Know How to Choose the Information You Use. There is a lot of info on mountaineering, survivalism, and “the right thing to do in the outdoors” out there. But just like if you’re planning to bake a cake, a cooking class will only be so useful, if you’re planning to thru-hike, a survivalism book will also be of limited use. A lot of hikers I meet get caught up in learning skills and strategies that tend to not be useful for most 3-season thru-hikers, like learning to kill and skin squirrels or build ice caves. These people would have better spent their time learning to develop a lighter gear system or plan out their resupplies—skills better suited to long distance backpackers.
  8. Carve out time each week to plan for your trip. Even if it’s only an hour each week, this is your time to re-commit to your goal, familiarize yourself with your trail, and prepare yourself for the challenges of a hike. Whether this time is spent taking a class, watching a hiking movie, reading a book, or going over your dream gear list, regularly making trip planning a part of your habitual routine will make sure your dream can’t slip away.
  9. Break planning into chunks. Planning, research, and prep can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do everything all at once. For example, a friend of mine committed to spend one month just on finding the best sleeping bag for his trip and saving up for it. You can do something similar by spending one week (or one month if your trip is a few years out) just researching something as silly as salty snack foods. The more time you have before your trip, the more easily you can break up your research and prepping needs and make the process fun. Plus, staying engaged throughout the planning process can help you get even more psyched about your trip.

 

If you have always dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, Camino de Santiago, or any other trail, on January 12th, I will be launching (with BACKPACKER Magazine) a 6-week online course called Thru-Hiking 101 with videos, worksheets, interviews, webinars, gearlists, physical fitness training calendars, and community. It’s an easy to digest, unintimidating guide to help you plan for your first thru-hike and make your dream of outdoor adventure come true. Sign up today