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Outdoor Retailer 2017: Best of Thru-hiker and Ultralight Gear

I attended Outdoor Retailer as part of the staff at the <a href="http://thewirecutter.com/leaderboard/outdoors-2/">Wirecutter Outdoors</a>, my new job. They were kind enough to let me continue to write my annual OR write-up for thru-hikers and ultralighters on my blog while I go into more detail on gear findings for their site.
I attended Outdoor Retailer as part of the staff at the Wirecutter Outdoors, my new job. They were kind enough to let me continue to write my annual OR write-up for thru-hikers and ultralighters on my blog while I go into more detail on gear findings for their site.

 

 

This year, I was one of very few ultralight or long distance hikers reporting on emerging gear at the Outdoor Retailer Winter 2017 show. Winter OR is always a smaller show than Summer OR, but I didn’t see many of the old faces, like Will Rietveld, who usually cover new and emerging technology and design. OR is the world’s largest trade show in the gear industry bringing 40,000 people (in summer) to take over Salt Lake City and hand the Utahns an estimated $45 million annually in direct sales. As the recreation companies debut their 2018 models—vying to be seen as the most creative, innovative, inventive, and stylish—I sorted 11.8 acres of gear booths to find free food and beverage and the few items relevant to minimalist backpackers. Here’s what I found on my quest for gear and sustenance:

Shroomer and Allgood played in the new All Foams
Shroomer and Allgood played in the new All Foams

Eva All Foam Snow Shoes by Crescent Moon

If I saw anything at the Show that could totally revolutionize the long distance hiker’s life, the Eva All Foam Snow Shoes by Crescent Moon were them. I’m thinking NeoAir in 2008 kind of change. Super easy-to-use bindings, lightweight foam construction, no moving parts to break and fix in the middle of nowhere, and equal weight distribution across the shoe make these bad boys the most anticipated gear item at the show. The Evas should work well for non-technical uses (most thru-hikes in spring would be ok here) and they look light enough that it’ll ride as well on top of your pack as you hitch out of town as it will as you go up over Muir Pass.

Lugs on the Eva All Foam snowshoe. Shroomer comments that while it is not aggressive enough for anything technical, they will be great for playing and some less scary thru-hiking situations
Lugs on the Eva All Foam snowshoe. Shroomer comments that while it is not aggressive enough for anything technical, they will be great for playing and some less scary thru-hiking situations

Unlike traditional snowshoes, weight is balanced across the entire Eva All Foam shoe, reducing “swing weight.” The theory is that the lightweight binding system reduces the inertia associated with the weight of the binding. Unlike many snowshoe bindings, as you’re walking in the Eva, you’re not going to trip from catching a loose or moving part like a pre-schooler stepping on his untied shoelace.

The light and flexible Velcro binding system spares snowshoers from the dreaded pinch points and that hard strap that digs into the top of your foot found on most snowshoes.Specifically, I’m thinking of a pair that was worn by a good friend of mine through the San Juans on the CDT and left its unnamed user with sharp pain and tendentious in his big toes’ metatarsals.

Shroomer trying out the All Foam snowshoes
Shroomer trying out the All Foam snowshoes

The combination of the distributed weight and binding system on the Eva All Foam make the shoe feel like a natural extension of your body. My good friends Allgood and Shroomer tried the Eva snowshoes on and were like kids on their first snow play day: Snowshoeing feels more like going for a normal walk than a duck waddle in some other animal’s feet.

The new updated Lone Peak 3.0 on the left vs. the new Lone peak 3.5 on the right
The new updated Lone Peak 3.0 on the left vs. the new Lone peak 3.5 on the right

Updated Altras

If there is one question I get after Outdoor Retailer, it is: “what’s the new design on Altras?” This year is freakin’ AMAZING for Altra as they are planning to launch what could replace the Lone Peaks as the most popular thru-hiking shoe. There are also some serious updates on the popular Lone Peak and Olympus models that are going to make a lot of my friends happy.

The Lone Peak 3.5s (women’s colors)
The Lone Peak 3.5s (women’s colors)

Updated Lone Peak 3.5s

The 3.5s have some pretty sweet updates to the Lone Peak 3.0s. I loved the improved durability on the 3.0s and wore them on the Low 2 High Route last October, but some of my hiking partners have said they feel narrow compared to the Lone Peak 2.5s. I asked Altra about it, and it turns out the 3.0s are just as wide as ever, but different fabric reinforcement (done to increase durability) is giving it that feeling. If you were skeptical about the 3.0s, worry not. Here is what the 3.5s have to offer:

-Less TPU paneling around the middle of the shoe means less constriction. The 3.0s went crazy on trying to reinforce a known failure point. The 3.5s are taking a lesson rom that design, and the TPU has been strategically placed around the main area that people were feeling constricted on the 3.0s. Now it should ride more like the toebox on the older models, but still have the durability in that area seen on the 3.0s.

-Reinforced stitching in the bunion window (the point where the big toe joint and pinky toe pop out—you know, where Altras always get holes after 700 miles). This should increase durability while feeling less constricting than the TPU reinforcement in the LP 3.0s.

The four point gaiter trap on the men’s Lone Peak 3.5
The four point gaiter trap on the men’s Lone Peak 3.5

-The world’s first four point gaiter hook to prevent pine needles from finding their way into your shoes from the sides. (They’re really minimal, but you can always chop them off if you’re very concerned about weight)

-A balance between the stickiness of the Duramax soles and the older models’ durability. It’s a new updated compound with the best outsole yet. Brian Beckstead, one of Altra’s founders, told me that the Lone Peak has gone between being super sticky or super durable. Before, choosing where to go on the durability-stickiness spectrum has been tricky. (Long time Altra fan thru-hikers know right away which models lean towards one part of the spectrum vs. the other). The new sticky rubber in the 3.5s should be the best of both worlds.

Super traction (this photo actually on the King, a new mud-specific model that I’m not discussing in this write-up because I’m tired and am not completely convinced their use is for thru-hiking)
Super traction (this photo actually on the King, a new mud-specific model that I’m not discussing in this write-up because I’m tired and am not completely convinced their use is for thru-hiking)

-Improved traction: The design on the bottom of the shoe has directional cants that work for gripping uphill and backward cants for downhill. The metatarsal area in particular has stronger canted lugs, cuz, you know, that’s where you’re supposed to be striking in a zero drop shoe. These look far more aggressive than any of the early models of Altra and should fight the ball-bearing effect hikers have complained about in the past.

-6 drain holes when there were none before. Thru-hikers have for several decades preferred mesh to waterproof shoes. This new feature will keep water out even more.

-Seamless no-tongue stitching: This is a little change that makes a big difference. I’ve never had a thru-hiking shoe with no tongue stitching before, but after feeling the new LP 3.5, I don’t want to go back. Stitching rubs slightly on the top of your foot, abrading your sock and creating an extra chaffing point with wet socks (I can show you some scars from my first AT hike…).

The new women’s Olympus 3.0
The new women’s Olympus 3.0

Improved Altra Olympus

The Altra Olympus are my favorite hiking shoe right now and there are even more improvements coming in. With the extra cushioning, the Olympus have always been well-suited for people just starting a thru-hike—especially if they’ve had to spend all winter working instead of training as much as they’d like. The Olympus is also great for when you have especially heavy loads to carry or if you are new to zero drop shoes. I’ve used the Olympus extensively, most notably on the Great Divide Trail. The new model will have more rubber and less Eva cutout, but the same amount of cushioning.

The Timp is the newest trail hiking model
The Timp is the newest trail hiking model

One Shoe To Rule All Thru-hikers: The Timpanogos

If you’re like me, you have a hard time deciding on which situation is best suited for a Lone Peak and when the Olympus is the way to go. Altra has the answer: a new trail shoe. The Timpanogos is meant to take the best of Altra’s trail models and balance them out. Named after this mountain that kicked my butt on the Wasatch Traverse, the Timp offers hikers these features:

-Lighter than the Olympus, more cushioning than the Lone Peak

-Traction of the Superior (Altra’s lightest trail shoe) with the cushioning more like the Olympus at the weight of the Lone Peak

The men and women’s Timp models
The men and women’s Timp models

-Fit of the Torin

Using the flash on my phone, I captured the reflective mesh on the new Timp
Using the flash on my phone, I captured the reflective mesh on the new Timp

-Abrasion resistant mesh around the whole shoe to increase durability over the Lone Peak or Olympus. It’s also shiny and reflective, which is great for road runners, but I think may be weird or annoying for night hikers.

I’m most stoked that the outsole is like the Superior with similar rubber and design, but with more cushion than the Lone Peak. I LOVE the Superior’s aggressive outsole, but there isn’t enough cushion in them to put in 30 mile days, especially day in day out. Ever since the Superior 2.0 was released, I’ve been dreaming of a Lone Peak that had the Superior’s outsole. The Timp should be it.

Brian Beckstead tells me that the Timp takes the best features of all their top selling shoes and wraps them in one. So now it’s time for thru-hikers to make some serious decisions: In 2017, are you going Lone Peak, Olympus, or Timpanogos. Honestly, they all look so good, I don’t know which one I’m going to choose.

Know Brainer Instant Thinker “Bulletproof” Coffee Packets (the pre-mixed coffee product is coming out in April 2017, but the creamer is already available)

It’s a portable, no-mess pocket luxury—a taste of home on the fly. As a no-time-to-stop-for-a-break thru-hiker and a sometimes traveling laptop warrior, one packet has 200 calories plus caffeine and does the same job as my instant Starbucks Via and two GU packets in one (minus all the carbs and sugars). It has MCT (medium chain triglyercides) from coconut oil and grass-fed ghee, is available in multiple flavors, and also has a casein and lactose free option if that’s your jam. At $1.99 per packet, Know Brainer is one product new to Outdoor Retailer that I can actually afford.

KnowBrainer Thinker’s Instant creamer+coffee is available in 3 flavors, including a lactose/casein free version
KnowBrainer Thinker’s Instant creamer+coffee is available in 3 flavors, including a lactose/casein free version

Advocates of bulletproof coffee and ketogenic diets—including Know Brainer—claim that by not loading up on carbs and sugars first thing in the morning, fat+coffee drinkers are rewarded with long term, sustained energy. Dr. Brenda Braaten, thru-hiker nutritionist and trail angel extraordinaire, agrees eating lots of sugar right as you roll out of camp hurts endurance over the course of the day (although I doubt she’s stoked on the ketogenic diet). Ketogenic cheerleaders argue fat makes you feel full without eating massive quantities (Dr. Braaten would agree). Know Brainer’s General Manager Greg Leidrich (who co-founded along with his wife Chari, who also founded 2 Moms in the Raw) said he personally felt like Know Brainer helped curb his carb addiction. That morning, Greg had consumed nothing but an 8 oz cup of Know Brainer and still had plenty of energy at noon. Still, Gizmodo calls Bulletproof Coffee a “hot buttered hype” and questions some of the nutritional studies behind Know Brainer’s inspiration. US News and World Report is skeptical, too.

The reason I’d buy Know Brainer is its great taste, easy-clean up, it is pre-mixed, and that it creates less trash than a lot of competing products. Winter 2017 was Know Brainer’s first debut at Outdoor Retailer, but something tells me that it could end becoming a familiar face at the Show and also on the trail.

 

Rhone wear in an outdoor setting (image courtesy Rhone)

Rhone Gold-Infused Anti-Stink Technology

Rhone is positioning itself to be the Lululemon For Men with a market aimed at tech-bros trying to one-up each other on early adoption (and their workout). The product they’ve got is pretty cool: gold and silver nanotech treated athletic fabric. Silver has long been used as an anti-stink agent in clothes but has some environmental and functional issues: silver washes out into our sewer systems making the treatment less effective in as soon as 30 washes. Rhone makes bold claims about what gold + silver can do better than just silver: quicker drying, doesn’t wash out as quickly, keeps sun rays off your skin better, color and fabric last longer due to reduced sun damage, quicker drying, and of course reduced stink as its very hard for odor-causing bacteria to replicate on silver and cold. The same tech has been used in agriculture, medical, and other markets that have more money than the Outdoor Industry. Surprisingly, you don’t need a Silicon Valley salary to afford this sport clothing either: gold-infused nanotech clothing’s prices are pretty comparable to everything else in the mainstream outdoor market.

In 2017, the Mountaineers release an uber detailed PCT guide for section hikers.
In 2017, the Mountaineers release an uber detailed PCT guide for section hikers.

Mountaineers Section Hiker Oriented Trail Guides

This year, the Mountaineers are releasing an obsessive, comprehensive, uber-detailed section hikers’s guide to the PCT. Two of the guides are already out, and three are released later this year. The 286-page Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington book offers 4-10 day backpacking trips on the PCT, detailed camping info, elevation profiles, how to get to trailheads etc. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Oregon: Sectionhiking from Siskiyou Pass to Bridge of the Gods has been a much-awaited book and is written by Eli Boschetto, who will be speaking at this year’s American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Cascade Ruck.

 

 

Cascade Wild Ultralight Camp Table

I didn’t actually see this at the Show, but after perusing what other news sources are reporting from OR, this is the only thing the “mainstream outdoor media” is writing about that I could even potentially see thru-hikers being stoked about (besides the Crescent Moon All Foam snowshoes.)

A camp table seems like a luxury item incompatible with ultralight hiking…until now
A camp table seems like a luxury item incompatible with ultralight hiking…until now

This 2.3 oz table holds 10 pounds, folds into a water bottle pocket, and keeps your stuff on the ground. Now don’t get me wrong—I’m usually all about being as minimalist as possible and just throwing my gear on the ground. But after spending a few very wet nights in super muddy and horse poop-covered camps on the Great Divide Trail with a poop-adverse hiking partner, maybe there’s something to be said for not setting your food down right in a s%!* bog.

Core Third Ultralight Solar Panels

Designed specifically for backpackers, Core Third solar panels are cheaper and weigh significantly less than the standard Goal Zero solar panels most thru-hikers are using right now. Core Third panels are made of Hypalon, the same fabric used in white water rafting boats or Hazmat suits.

Hikers can charge phones directly from the Core Third solar panel or plug in an ultralight lithium battery and then charge their phones at night. The lithium battery that works with their solar panels doesn’t have the insulation of other batteries, reducing the weight by about 2 oz compared to the competitors. Core Third’s line up includes a 10 W/2 Amp panel compared to Goal Zero’s 7 W/1 Amp panel.

The two panel 10 W version of the Core Third ultralight solar panel
The two panel 10 W version of the Core Third ultralight solar panel

What struck me as the most intriguing thing about these panels wasn’t just the durability, weight, or the increased ampage (most of these things end up running at half of what they are rated for anyway): it was the price. Because their market is set up for direct sales and they have only been around 9 months (making this their first OR show), their 7 W panel is $79 and 10W is $99. They already know about thru-hikers and the many uses we will have for solar panels. Core Third is sponsoring the Warrior Hike and their Christine Walters, their COO, told me that that the panels in their support vehicle’s window charge faster than the USB on the car. I expect to see a lot more of these Core Third panels on the PCT this year and that Goal Zero will need to step up their game.

Allgood and I rocking out on the ice in the new Kahtoolas
Allgood and I rocking out on the ice in the new Kahtoolas

Ice Traction Competition

Last year, I reported on the Vibram’s new sticky boot rubber that allows you to walk on ice. This year, Michelin released a competing product and had a giant Michelin Man walking the show to advertise it. They’re pairing with Columbia to roll the new tech is out. Trauma tells me these rubbers that are infused with glass for superior ice traction have been on the market for five years or so. As I reported last year, Vibram has an exclusive contract with Timberland up through 2017. Soon, we’re hoping for that kind of rubber on some more long distance hiker centric trail runners.

New Flavors of Clif Shot Bloks

Clif Shot Bloks have long been a thru-hiker favorite luxury food: easy to chew, quick infusions of energy with electrolytes. This year, Clif Shot Blok is offering three new flavors. Salted watermelon has double the salt of a normal Clif Blok. Ginger was good but IMHO could’ve been more gingery. I was stoked about a Spearmint flavor (it seems so obvious!!

People love mint gum. Why no mint energy block before?) but the flavor was disappointingly subtle: it wasn’t going to double as a backcountry breath refresher. I love Clif Bloks and the theory behind all these flavor choices, but I have a feeling at least two of them are going to be available at your local Grocery Outlet soon.

Redesigned Luna Sandals

Lunas sandals have long been a thru-hiker favorite for a durable, lightweight, stays on your foot, aggressive hiking sandal and camp and fording shoe. Their new version of the Monos have a redesigned strap and buckle system that reduce slippage compared to their old Mono. Like the old ones, they are still made in Seattle of Massachusetts-made ingredients and they won the Made in the USA Gear Award from the Outdoor Industry Association this year.

Crown Trails Headwear became the hiker headquarters booth at OR this year.
Crown Trails Headwear became the hiker headquarters booth at OR this year.

Crown Trail Headwear

This brand new company has become the official hat company of the CDT, PCT, AT, PNT, and Ice Age Trail—and are looking for more. They are the only hat company that not only has official permission to use the trail logos, but also gives back 8% on all sales to the trail organizations. It was started by hatmaker Bob Wilson, who lives in Silver City, NM—an important designated CDT Gateway Community. He wanted to use his business as a way to raise money for the trail work of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. The hats are stylish and were a success, so Crown Trail Headwears was founded as an offshoot of his old hat business with a goal of giving back.

Kuju Coffee Pocket Pourovers were pretty tasty
Kuju Coffee Pocket Pourovers were pretty tasty

A Great Year for Trail Ready Coffee

Multiple coffee companies are fighting back against Starbucks this year. Alpine Start, founded by a climber bro, offers Via-like freeze-dried coffee crystals at a slightly higher price. Kuju Coffee Pocket Pourovers started as a Kickstarter and has a minimalist pour over with less waste than a traditional coffee filter.

Treeline Coffee Roasters pourover jump started my Wednesday
Treeline Coffee Roasters pourover jump started my Wednesday

Treeline Coffee Roasters out of Montana makes a similar product—except focuses more on environmental and social issues with expected price differences.

These new, simple

Pour man’s pourover
Pour man’s pourover

pourover set ups are your new best bet for trail-ready pourover: no extra gear, less waste than a filter, everything is self-contained and measured in a packaged, vacuuming keeps the coffee fresh compared to your ziplock of grounds.

It’s also pretty similar to a mainstream grocery store product I saw in Japan a few weeks ago. The fancy ones are so much tastier it isn’t even funny, but the Japanese product goes for less than half the price. I bought 18 cups for about $5 (but as I’ve been reminded—they are Japanese-sized cups).

Wrap Up

Wow! If you’ve made it this far, you must really love gear and food updates. While this Winter OR was even slower than usual, it felt highly productive.  The free food and beverage scene was better than I’ve seen in a few years, whereas the schwag and discounted gear scene was not as advanced. The normal set up for OR includes some weekend days and is 4 days long. This year was only 3 days long and only on weekdays–which kept out riff raff and also got me home in time to enjoy my weekend….by writing up what I saw at OR.

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.