This week, my sponsor Altra Zero Drop shoes launched a brand new clothing line. Footwear companies having their own running clothes follows the footsteps (excuse the pun), of other running companies like Nike, Adidas, etc., but–just as with Altra’s footwear–the new Altra apparel line has a big twist: it’s designed for ultra runners and outdoorsfolk obsessed with being as light, minimalist, and as on-the-go as possible.
I remember on my first thru-hike of the AT wishing that such a piece of gear existed. I heard from some other thru-hikers that Ray Jardine proposed such a design, but was never able to find any evidence of that. Altra’s design improves on my fantasy-windshirt though–you wear it in a pouch around your waist and then can pull the backless windshirt onto yourself without having to stop or remove your pack. Whether you’re ultramaronther, speed hiker, or just hiking through a climate that changes really quickly like the Colorado Rockies or the Sierras, it seems like the Stash Jack can solve an old backpacking problem. Best yet, the pricing is better than the popular with thru-hikers Patagonoia Houdini.
2.4 oz quick dry t-shirts
I’m impressed by the thought that has gone into designing the super light weight, super quick drying new Altra Performance Tee shirts. First, the zoned mesh fabric breathes really well and keeps you cool even when you’re, say, traversing the exposed Wasatch range in 90 degree weather.
Second, I haven’t found a hiking shirt with a good sleeve design since Patagonia discontinued the cap-shoulder sleeve. I prefer to hike in tank tops because I like the air flowing to my armpits–but I know especially as I get older, I need to have sun protection on my shoulders. The mesh sleeves on the Performance T’s breathes very well and are cut so my armpit can still get flow. Thank you!!!
Third, the fabric dries really quickly–like potentially faster that Patagonia Capilene quickly. This is helpful for if you get caught in a rain storm, or have been sweating in the heat and have to stop hiking (because a wet shirt will maintain evaporative cooling against your skin making you feel colder than just the outside temps). It’s also useful for when you want to wash your shirt on trail.
Fourth–the shirt has welded seams and hems meaning that the chances of weird rubbing or chaffing going on are seriously reduced. Many hikers found that they get chaffing around the area of their pack straps and salt and dirt rub against the seam to create a really painful shoulder. The welded seams could potentially fix this. My only concern is the durability of welded construction vs. sewn hems over the course of a long hike, since I haven’t seen many clothing companies do this. I didn’t notice problems when I wore the tank top on the 200 mile Seattle urban thru, though.
Lastly, these Altra shirts–unlike MANY other outdoor t-shirts for women–manage to fit well, look good, and aren’t dumpy. Call me vain, but I feel like I hike stronger when I look better. I really like the pink and green, but found the neon yellow to collect trail dirt quickly. That being said, I’m still glad that I had a neon yellow shirt for when I hiked the Wasatch Range–there were some roadwalking sections where being visible was really important (and I imagine if you’re a road-runner, you appreciate it, too).
The Performance Tank has the same awesome advantages of zoned mesh, super fast drying, and breathability as the Performance Tee. But–it has three sweet advantages over other performance tank tops out there. 1) Length—FINALLY–a tank top that won’t ride up with my pack on. I have a long torso and with this tank, I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll lose heat from an exposed hiker belly. When it’s super cold and I’m wearing it as a baselayer, I can tuck it in and it doesn’t pop out of my pants or skirt.
2) Weight—As an avowed ultralight backpacker, I thought I would NEVER say this–but if a shirt only weighs 1.95 oz, I can actually afford to carry an EXTRA SHIRT. When I backpack, I don’t even carry extra sleep clothes/town clothes because it weighs too much. I’m essentially a gross, dirty, mess. But, this shirt weighs as much as a pair of socks. That’s light enough that I would actually think about it.
3) Tummy hider–I usually start my thru-hikes heavier than I wish I was, as friends have pointed out about my starting terminus photos. The design on this tank is not form fitting around the midsection, which means that my hiker belly doesn’t show *quite* as much.
Altra also released performance bottoms including racing shorts and a performance skirt. I haven’t tried them yet (my butt wouldn’t fit into sample size) so can’t testify to their features–but they do weigh 3.6 and 2.6 oz, respectively!
As far as sizing goes, I’m 5 feet 7.5 inch and 145 pounds and fit the medium top and have been told by other ambassadors with similar dimensions that the medium is the way to go for bottoms, too.
The pricing errs definitely reflects an audience targeted at runners–that is, folks who have full time jobs who can afford to buy the best, lightest gear for their races that will make them run faster and perform better. We thru-hikers tend to not always have that kind of financial luxury and t-shirts and tank-tops are one spot where we can afford to skimp a little. But if you care about keeping every ounce in your pack as light as possible and can afford it, the only other apparel company I can think of making tops this light is Montbell.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
My general footwear plan for a thru-hike is to go with a breathable trail runner (the Altra Lone Peaks)—not a waterproof shoe. Non-waterproof shoes not only are less expensive, but also dry out more quickly when you get your shoes soaked in a ford. Non-waterproof shoes also breathe better in general, keeping your feet from sweating (which eventually can lead to blisters, or at the very least, foot odor).
But, I will admit, I was very curious about the Neoshell Lone Peaks. I love the Lone Peaks for all my backpacking in general, and Neoshell is a waterproof breathable material that has never been used in shoes before. Plus, the shoes were free (thanks Altra!), so I figured I’d give it a shot.
Altra’s marketing video for the Neoshells
The first “thru-hike” I took the Neoshells on was a late October hike of the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood. Normally, October is past season for that hike, and I knew it was going to be very cold. Indeed, it snowed and there were 30 mph winds on the second day (of course, on the part that is above treeline and totally exposed). There are several glacial rivers that need to be forded, but the runoff was so low that my feet didn’t get wet from that.
My feet mostly got wet from rain and snow. I was hiking with a friend who wore Brooks Cascadias who told me her feet were warm while actively hiking, but were cold when we stopped moving. At the end of the hike (temps in the mid 30s to low 40s by that point), my feet were definitely still warm even when we were stopped. At the end of the trip, my friend’s feet were soaked. For me with the Neoshells, the inside of my shoes were about as dry as they would be if I were hiking on a non-rainy 80 degree day using my normal Lone Peaks. That’s to say, my feet must have sweat a little or otherwise some moisture to manage to get in, but it wasn’t noticeable except when I touched my sock with my hand. Note that I was not wearing gaiters at all on this trip.
The second hike thru-hike I took the Neoshells on was a late October/early November 200-mile, 10-day urban hike in Seattle. I knew this trip would be wet and cold, so the Neoshells were going to be the perfect shoe. My feet were super warm, even during the night hiking portions, and they never felt uncomfortably sweaty. Temps were in the 40s throughout the hike and being Seattle, it rained about half the days I was out. I brought my shoes inside a house every night and they were dry in the morning.
I took the Neoshells on a snowy dayhike near Denver in early December. Waterproof shoes are best used in cold, dry conditions, or for hiking in the snow that isn’t too wet or actively melting. Temps were in the high 20s/low 30s, but it was sunny. My feet stayed warm throughout the hike and did not sweat. I wasn’t wearing gaiters, but the snow generally wasn’t deep enough to get into the shoe.
I took the Neoshells on a 26 mile dayhike in the San Gabriel Mountains on the PCT in December. It was actually a mistake–I wore my Neoshells in the car on the way there because they are that comfortable. I had been planning to switch to the new Altra Olympus 2.0 with Vibram sole, but forgot to take my Neoshells off and just started hiking. There were a few patches of snow on the trail, but temps were in the high 60s. These temps were probably too warm for the Neoshells for most of the trip. My feet were not super sweaty (actually, wearing long underwear on that trip ended up being the bigger mistake), but they would’ve been a little happier if I’d just worn my normal Neoshells.
To test how the shoes would work in “lab like” conditions, I soaked the Neoshells in my kitchen sink until the shoe filled with water, then laid it out to dry outside. Pretty much short of going through a ford, I don’t think the shoes will ever get that wet, even walking in the rain all day on the AT. Sure enough, they filled up like buckets. After dumping the water out, I put them in the sun in 50 degree temps in a dry Western climate to see how long it would take.
I removed the insole and surprisingly, it dried in less than 20 minutes (Altra’s insoles tend to take a longer time to dry). The padding inside the shoe took longer—3 hours–but it was completely drenched. Dry time is pretty key for thru-hikers and backpackers (not at all important for dayhikers or runners or even urban thru-hikers who get to dry their shoes inside). Of course, on a thru-hike, even if your shoes did dry overnight, they’ll likely just get wet as soon as you walk half a mile…
A typical waterproof shoe warms feet by acting like a Vapor Barrier, The Neoshell fabric as the vapor barrier breathed better than the waterproof fabric used in the Salomon Men’s XA Pro 3D CS WP Trail Running Shoe, ( a shoe I used on a later season JMT thru-hike a few years ago). Both shoes kept my feet warm, but sweatiness is a factor that can cause potential problems beyond just feeling uncomfortable.
When I thru-ed the PCT, I used plastic bags as Vapor Barriers and they disintegrated after a day. My feet were painfully cold and that trip ended up with huge chaffing and painfully cold feet. On the CDT, I used waterproof socks over normal hiking socks and ended up with pruney-ness and chaffing caused from the sweat inside my otherwise warm feet.
On a thru-hike, I would highly consider using the Neoshell in areas like the San Juans on the CDT or the Sierras on the PCT—situations of walking through snow for long periods of time. The Neoshell could be a better solution to those other Vapor Barrier situations listed above. Although Neoshells are more expensive than normal Lone Peaks, they are still retail slightly cheaper than using normal Lone Peaks and waterproof socks together (I’ve bought the RBH Designs VprThem socks and SealSkinz Thin Mid-Length Waterproof Sock). If I were taking any waterproof shoe or sock-system for a thru-hike with at least a week of continuous snow walking, I would definitely use MLD Event Gaiters in conjunction.
On a side note, for me, the Neoshells are the most comfortable pair of Lone Peaks I’ve used in a while. The toe box and general width works really well for my feet, which is why I find myself still grabbing for them in temps over 50 degrees. I’ve read some complaints that it isn’t wide enough, but I really enjoy the sizing and fit.
I have about 400 miles on my Neoshells, and haven’t noticed any wear. It’s really weird. They look almost like they’re out of the box. Now, 200 of those miles are urban, but so far, the Neoshells are proving to be the most durable Altras I’ve tried.
Ultimately, a waterproof shoe—like a heavy down jacket or a 0 degree sleeping bag—is a very specific instrument that has time and place. That time and place is not a desert hike in August (as one less than clever reviewer did). But, for runners or even dayhikers, a waterproof shoe can be a viable option to keep feet warm in the winter. And for thru-hikers who may be facing a big snow year, the Neoshells could potentially offer a better answer than what has been out there.
It seems like the past two months have been nothing but travel, hike, and travel, but this past week, I made another pilgrimage to the biggest outdoor gear trade show in the U.S.
My purpose was to scout out some of the newest, most innovative gear for the ultralight backpacking community. I was looking for big trends, game changing inventions, and incremental improvements on gear that is already out there. Here’s a recap of some of the coolest items spotted on the show floor:
Headlamps for your Shoes:
Winter OR brought us GoMotion lights—“headlamps” that don’t go on your head at all but are worn as sternum straps. This OR brings us “headlamps” that you attach to your shoes to immediately light up the trail right in front of you. Night Runner developed by FresheTech provides 30+ feet in beam distance at 270 degrees of visibility. The water resistant system clips right to your shoelaces like gaiters. Although right now the technology only allows for 4-8 hours of battery life (to keep the weight down, it is charged via micro USB instead of AAA batteries), my mind is blown at the endless possibilities this could have for changing the game of night hiking. A few years ago, the game changing gear trend for backpackers was in sleeping pads. These days, I’m increasingly impressed by what is coming out of the head (and other body part) lamp manufactures.
Removable Backpack Air Core Frame:
For those of you out there who love Osprey’s Air Core frame (a pack frame that allows air to vent between your back and the pack, minimizing back sweat), the Ventra is a BRAND NEW invention that can turn any pack into an Air Core Pack. Debuting at their first Show, you can attach any frameless pack to your Ventra and increase its carry load or just get it off your pack.
Right now, the Medium Ventra frame is weighing in at 11 oz. Considering that a normal frameless ultralight pack comes in at about a pound, by placing your frameless pack on a Ventra, you essentially get a framed Air Core pack for less than 2 pounds. The best part is one Ventra can be used on multiple packs (your pack attaches and unattaches very easily). So, if you have several frameless packs, you can use all of them with one Ventra. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this young company evolves and what great things it will develop (I also really hope that some bigger company doesn’t poach their idea).
Three Breath Inflatable Sleeping Pad:
You heard that right. Where a full length sleeping pad usually takes me 40 breaths to inflate, a brand new valve invention is blowing (excuse the pun) the competition out of the air. Windcatcher valves was developed by what I can only assume is some physics grad student who took aerodynamic application to a backpacking level. Using entrainment, a physics principle I had to look up on Wikipedia, I watched a full length pad inflate after 3 breaths. If you don’t believe me, check out this video:
Unfortunately, Windcatcher claims that a major gear manufacturer (a walk around the Show makes it obvious that company is MSR) stole their design and there is currently a legal battle going on. Windcatcher asks that you support the original inventor.
Put on a Windshirt without Removing your Pack:
For those of you who dreamt of the day when someone would invent a layer that you could put on without requiring you to take off your pack—that day is here! Thru-hiker shoe favorite Altra just announced a new clothing line with its most exciting item being a windshirt that you wear in a pouch around your waist and then can pull onto yourself without having to stop or remove your pack. It is backless—so it won’t get caught on your pack and (extra bonus) means it has less fabric than a normal windshirt (meaning that it is ultralight). In fact, the whole system–which includes a hood, a pouch, and a waistband–is 3.3 oz (the tank top in the photo, by the way, weighs 1.95 oz). Although the Altra windshirt was invented for ultramarathoners whose every minute can count in a race, speed hikers, hikers who get cold and hot easily, or hikers who just enjoy being in their hiking groove and don’t want to stop will all go as gaga over this new item as I did.
Mini Wood Stove:
For the past 20 years, TOAKS has been manufacturing titanium stoves and cookware for the big players like Sea to Summit. In the past year, they’ve decided that they want to start selling their own designs, and their inventor has developed a wood stove that just won Best in Show at the European equivalent of Outdoor Retailer. After hearing from several thru-hikers that the wood burning backpacking stoves on the market were too big, TOAKS developed this stackable woodstove aimed for the solo hiker. It can take a 750 mL cup, but can also be used for larger pots.
Most notably—this wood stove packs down to a really small size, especially compared to some of the uber bulky wood stoves out there that just refuse to fit anywhere in an ultralight pack (too big for the water bottle pockets, bulky in the mesh, annoying to put in the body of the pack). This stove DEFINITELY fits in my Gosssamer Gear Kumo water bottle pocket—a first for a wood burner as far as I know!
Purify Your Water from Pesticides and Chemicals:
In the light of the Animas River spill, hikers are starting to think a little bit more about what may be in their “natural” seeming water sources. That mountain spring that may be free of Crypto and Giardia can still have plenty of Arsenic. I for one have downed more than my fair share of pesticides in my thru-hiking career. A new invention debuted at Summer OR that is a water filtration system that claims to address the usual water hazards while also removing petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, arsenic, lead, and mercury. Solarbug Water Purifier claims to be the first water purifier on the market that changes colors to let you know when your water is “done” (purified). You simply add a drop of chemical to the system and when it stops being blue, your water is ready to drink. The Solarbug system lasts for 500 gallons (when the water stops changing colors, you know you need a new system) and retails at $100. The company also donates a significant portion of its profits to clean water projects in developing countries. Right now, the gallon-to-dollar ratio isn’t quite within thru-hiker realm (and I’m very curious to see how long it takes to treat the water), but I am really looking forward to watching this technology improve in the future.
National Geographic Appalachian Trail Map Book:
In the same spirit of the highly popular John Muir Trail Map book rolled out at Winter Outdoor Retailer, Nat Geo is developing a mapbook set for the entire AT. Right now, the maps for Maine down to Pennsylvania are complete, in perfect timing for the typical southbounders. The thin book’s dimensions are longer than the maps you would print at home, making it well suited for a long skinny trail like the AT. Everything is put together in order including some town data, almost making it suited to be the only info source an AT thru-hiker would need. One downside, as with any long skinny map set, is that not all bail out options and not all resupply options are included. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to see a major map company like Nat Geo take on thru-hiking in full like this!
Water Resistant Altra Lone Peaks
The Altra Lone Peak, often called the “thru-hiker’s favorite shoe,” is coming out in a new fabric, a waterproof Polartec Neoshell. This breathable membrane has had huge success in outerwear but has never been used in shoes before. I have a feeling that the NeoShell Lone Peaks are going to open a lot of doors for three and four season hiking in trail runners. Furthermore, I run into a lot of people just getting into hiking and backpacking who demand a waterproof shoe, and now I’ll know what to tell them to get. Although I’m going to stick with my Lone Peaks for the summer (the new Lone Peak 2.5s were announced at Summer OR and offer a redesigned upper, improved lacing system, improved upper durability, and slightly firmer midsole over the Lone Peak 2.0s), I’m really looking forward to testing the Neoshell Lone Peaks in some snow later this year.
Hammock that Keeps out Amazonian Mosquitoes
Explorer, Adventurer, and former British Army Officer Ed Stafford set out to walk from the Andes to the ocean, following the Amazon River from its source to its end over 860 days. To undertake such an endeavor, he asked long time thru-hiker favorite Hennessy Hammock to design a special expedition grade double-walled hammock that would prevent mosquitoes from biting him as he slept. After the modern day Dr. Livingstone completed his journey, he cited his double-walled Hennessy as his favorite piece of gear. Hennessy decided to market the special design for others who hate mosquitoes or are traveling in super buggy territory.
The new Jungle Series model marks the first new models of HH’s in a couple years and are a huge addition to the Hennessy line. The Expedition Jungle Zip and Jungle Explorer Zip and Jungle Safari Zip offer different features depending on your height and weight requirements (the Jungle can take enough weight for a couple). While heavy for a typical thru-hiker (the Hyperlite or Ultralite Backpacker models are the most popular among that crowd), I imagine the requirements for jungle thru-hiking are entirely different than back here in the states. If you’re designing a route across Borneo, it sounds like HH’s new Jungle Series hammocks are a piece of gear you may not want to be without.
Bigger “Bear Proof” Bag for Hungrier Hikers:
LokSak, maker of the OP (Odor Proof) bags that so many thru-hikers these days are carrying instead of bear canisters, just came out with a larger size bag. I’ve often carried two LokSaks myself for times when it is 6+ days between food resupplies. This larger bag has twice the capacity of a normal Loksak bag. I’m not sure how it will fit in my pack, but look forward to finding out.
14 g Socks that will Last a Lifetime:
Darn Tough just rolled out a new line of super ultralight socks, the Vertex Series Running Sock, that weigh in at 14 g a piece and still come with the Darn Tough Life Time Guarantee! (I can’t think of anything as ultralight that comes with a Life Time Guarantee). The Vertex Series socks were designed for runners who want the most minimal sock they can wear that will prevent chaffing and provide support just where it is needed, and nowhere else. This could be a great sock for those thru-hikers who enjoy hiking in liner socks or for thru-hikers who like to carry extra pairs of socks but don’t want the weight penalty.
Frog Togg/Driducks Waterproof Fleece Shell
Frog Toggs raingear is so affordable, I didn’t think they’d be able to afford a booth at OR. Nonetheless, they had a booth at the Show and were showing off their newest invention, a supposedly waterproof breathable fleece shell. Although heavy for the typical thru-hiker, like all Frog Toggs items, the sticker price seemed surprisingly affordable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this item become a new favorite among budget hikers.
Running Coach in a Box
Zero Drop thru-hiker standard Altra has just developed a “smart shoe” that integrates with your phone or Smartwatch when you are running. As you run, it informs you of your cadence (180 strikes per minute being the ideal) and also lets you know where on your foot you are striking. It’s like having your running coach always watching you, except it costs a fraction of an instructor’s time (the IQ shoe retails at less than $100 more than a normal running shoe). It can also be used as a great instructional tool for running coaches to use to have data to show clients about how they run. While only the most data-obsessed thru-hiker would wear an Altra IQ on the trail, you’d be hard pressed to find a thru-hiker who isn’t curious how to make his/her stride more efficient during the off season. Boys and girls, now you know what to ask Santa for Christmas.
Well, this wraps up the GEAR portion of the Outdoor Summer Retailer 2015 write-ups.
Stay tuned for the FOOD section where I describe all the innovative, potentially revolutionary foods debuting at the show including flavored caffeine pills, caffeinated chocolate chews, cricket energy bars, good tasting MREs, and dehydrated cheese!
For years, long distance backpackers who did a lot of nighthiking have been taking their headlamps and wearing them on their sternum straps or waist. The reason? To maximize the amount of light hitting the trail and minimize the chances that your body will create extra shadows between the light source and the trail. Now, GoMotion has come up with an innovative design based on what hikers (and runners) have been doing for years. Backed with a powerful lamp, long battery life, and versatile beams, the GoMotion provides an interesting solution to an old hiker’s problem. Over the past few months, I tested out the GoMotion Fusion, an adjustable sternum strap model that attaches to your thru-hiking pack on backpacking, camping, and multi-day urban hikes, experimenting with the light on hiking trips in several states, climates, and terrains in an attempt to answer whether the model is the new answer to backpacking lights.
The way it works:
The GoMotion Fusion operates as a second sternum strap that runs between your backpack’s two arm straps. The way it works is that you attach two Velcro bands (comes with the headlamp) to your backpack—one to each arm strap (the lamp is attached to one of the Velcro bands). From there, you hook the lamp and webbing from one Velcro to the other so it looks like you have a sternum strap on.
The hook allows the sternum light to be easy to attach and remove
Distance: I used the GoMotion Fusion headlamp on three multi-day urban hikes as an extra level of protection from cars. On the Selma to Montgomery hike, much of the distance covered was along a busy highway with cars zooming past me at 60 miles per hour. When I was in town, I ran into many people who said “I saw you on the road because your light was so visible.”
Lumens/brightness: I have never had a headlamp with seemingly car-headlight quality beam that was able to cover not just myself, but 4 other hikers. I started an early morning backpacking trip with several other hikers who had not brought headlamps. Using the floodlamp option on the GoMotion Fusion, we were all able to hike in car-headlight quality beam that was able to cover all of us.
Battery Life: While many headlamps have a bright life when the batteries are popped in, and then live 80% of their life in a dim gloom, the GoMotion Fusion stayed bright for much longer than I was expecting given that their target customer appears to be ultramarathoners (who, unlike long distance backpackers, have the luxury of replacing their batteries after 24 hours and of aid stations where new batteries can be retrieved). On my test hikes, light seemed steadily bright throughout my battery’s life instead of the dreaded first few hours of brightness followed by 50 hours of dim before the battery finally dies.
External battery pack: This headlamp uses three AAs, which certainly leads into this headlamp weighing more than the traditional lamps that hikers use. On my scale, the battery pack itself without batteries came in at 2.5 oz—almost the weight of a traditional backpacking headlamp. However, to avoid having that heavy weight strapped to the head, GoMotion has placed the battery pack externally, which is one reason why the batteries can last so long. As a backpacker, I put the battery pack in the back mesh pocket of my ultralight Gossamer Gear Pack or in the side water bottle pocket. The battery pack even comes with its own small red LED light to increase visibility from behind when you are running at night. However, finding a place for the external battery pocket and not getting the cord caught on other pieces of gear was not my favorite feature.
Weight: Due to its design, battery strength, and battery life, the GoMotion Fusion is heavier than other light options on the market.
Battery case only
Total weight without batteries
Total weight with 3 AA alkaline batteries
Waterproofness: I’ve spent a lot of time night hiking in the rain—in fact, many of the times I’ve nighthiked have been because it has been raining and I wanted to get to a shelter or better protected area. The GoMotion’s battery pack has a waterproof cover that was even able to keep out sand when I took it backpacking in the sand dunes.
Multi-use: When I’m backpacking, I often use my headlamp as a lantern in my tent. For most headlamps, this simply involves hanging it from a hook in my tarp. The GoMotion Fusion lamp, with its external battery pack, was a little unwieldy when hung from a tarp what weighs almost as much as it does. On subsequent backpacking trips, I brought a separate light to hang from my tent instead.
This headlamp is ideal for ultramarathoning, speedhiking, or Fastest Known Time attempts. It provides a lot of light, is hands-free, won’t give you a headache (and you can still wear a hat), and has a battery that lasts a long time. The downsides of the headlamp have mostly to do with camping—managing to avoid getting the wires caught in items like guylines, setting the light up in a tent, taking off your backpack, adding or taking off a layer, etc.—essentially things that speedhikers don’t spend too much time worrying about. If you’re planning on mostly cowboy camping or not sleeping at all and need to a light that won’t fail you, consider the GoMotion to be an incredibly useful tool in your quiver. For more traditional backpacking where you intend to camp before dark and start hiking after sunrise, the map is probably overkill.
Unexpectedly, the GoMotion Fusion sternum light was incredibly useful for urban hiking. After hearing from drivers and seeing how well cars can spot me with the Fusion on, I won’t do another long urban hike or long distance hike that requires long roadwalks (the American Discovery Trail, North Country Trail, or Mountains to Sea Trail all come to mind) without that light. The GoMotion Fusion provided a great buffer of safety and I felt like I was walking with my headlights on.
It’s encouraging seeing gear like the Fusion on the market as a solution to a problem hikers have been facing and, until now, have only been able to Macgyver solutions for. I look forward to watching subsequent models of the Fusion become lighter, allow for use with 3 AAA batteries instead of AA’s, and have a lighter weight attachment system. Ultimately, this will depend on backpackers and weight conscious gear users becoming a bigger part of their customer base. Keep your eyes out, as I imagine what we’re seeing with the Fusion is the forefront of what could be a revolution in backpacking lights in the next few years.
Disclosure: Liz Thomas received a Fusion from GoMotion to conduct this review.
Last month, I was in Silver City and Lordsburg, NM sending off this year’s crew of Northbound Continental Divide Trail hikers. Although I won’t be heading out on a CDT thru this year, time down in the Bootheel of New Mexico has given me the space to do some brainstorming on what gear I would—and did—bring out to the southern terminus of the CDT. Although all my miles on this trip have been daytrips or walking to water caches, and my camping has been in the backyard of a trail angel who lives on the CDT, I’m pretty sure this is the system I would bring out when I’m lucky enough to hike the CDT again.
Temps for the month have been in highs around 70, lows around 40, wind between 10 and 30 mph.
A few notes:
Despite the lack of rain, I opted for a full coverage shelter in the MLD Solomid. We’ve been having 30 mph winds in the afternoons and at night both south and north of Lordsburg, so I wanted a shelter that is tried and true in staying up in that kind of weather. Needless to say, I had no problem keeping my Solomid up and keeping the wind off my face at night in this shelter. Most importantly, it has been raining and snowing in the Gila, so even though we’re in New Mexico, rain gear and a good shelter are worth having.
With all the thorns, sands, and tumbleweed between the Southern terminus and Lordsburg, gaiters are a must for this trip. I also purposely opted not to bring an inflatable pad because of all the thorns in this section. I would potentially pick up an inflatable pad at Doc Campbell’s (a town where you can resupply before the Gila) before entering the higher altitude and cooler Gila Wilderness.
My Montbell windshirt was a must in this climate. Even though there was no rain while I was there, the NWAlpine Eyebright offered a breathable alternative to wearing my down jacket all day. Even though the trail starts in New Mexico, it can rain in the Spring and this year’s hikers got poured on! I would definitely carry my Mountain Laurel Designs rain kilt, which also makes a nice mini-ground sheet. I especially enjoyed my Montbell Down Parka early in the morning and in the evening—I slept in it all nights.
I would opt not to bring sleep socks (reflected in the gear list). I didn’t wear the tights, but know that they would be very useful in the Gila.
Also given the spikiness and cross-countryish nature of the section from the border to Lordsburg, I would seriously consider during the impossible and wearing pants instead of my Purple Rain Skirt, although I would switch back to my skirt as soon as the spiky cross country ceased.
My 28 degree MLD Spirit Quilt was just warm enough for the coldest nights, and perfect for the usual desert temperatures. Even though it only weighs 17 oz, the fabric is pretty tough and because it is synthetic, I never had to worry about feathers ending up everywhere as I tossed and turned off my groundsheet and onto spiky things in the night.
I’m trying out the GoMotion Fusion Backpack sternum strap light and felt that the desert would be the ideal place to use it. The GoMotion weighs more than I’m used to carrying for a headlamp, but hiking in the desert is easiest before the heat of the day sets in late into the evening, so I was willing to invest in a more robust headlamp. Plus, since the CDT has so much road walking, there is a lot of easy hiking that can be done at night by headlamp.
I’m still looking for a good camera and a good long sleeve collared shirt for the CDT. The sun was pretty intense, so I’d up my hat to something with 360 full brimmed coverage that would stay on my face during intense wind. Is there a model out there that you like that won’t require a trip to Australia to procure? I would probably look for a long sleeved shirt instead. I’ve increasingly been toying with sun gloves , too, but haven’t really experimented. Does anyone have a brand they like?
Are there any pieces of gear you would recommend for bringing on the CDT? What gear have you enjoyed carrying in the desert?
This weekend marked the 5 year anniversary of my PCT thru-hike. Although I’ve been back there and have about half the PCT miles done as section hikes since then, nothing quite beats the trepidation, excitement, and the unknown of the first time. In honor of that day, I’m posting my gearlist from 2009. Surprisingly, I would change very few things. Since this gear is old, this would also make a fantastic discount ultralight gear list–many things on this list are older models, but still work great. Hope you enjoy this ArcBlast from the past!
I carried an ipod nano with a solar panel until Tahoe, but it didn't work well and destoryed my ipod. The lyra (a model which isn't sold anymore that runs on batteries) is a great thru-hiking mp3 player
Wore from Kennedy Meadows north. I was very happy to have something cover my legs in the Sierra, though if I were to it again, would probably choose something lighter. The spandex stretchiness was nice, though
Like many ultralight hikers, I never thought I would carry a potty trowel. It was a piece of gear that seemed heavy and redundant, especially when a shoe, rock, or stick could do the job and serve multiple functions (or not need to be carried at all). However, after I tried my first ultralight potty trowel, I’ve become a strong advocate for potty trowels on trail. I believe carrying a potty trowel can improve the hiking experience, both for you, others, and the ecosystem for a near inconsequential weight penalty.
I first was willing to try carrying a potty trowel when I discovered that potty trowel technology now has multiple options available at less than an ounce. For me, it’s well worth carrying an extra 12 g to improve what was once the worst part of my hiking day.
Carrying a trowel has become even more important because of the increase in number of hikers, especially on the PCT. The damage (and just plain grossness) created by hundreds or thousands of hikers doing a cr@ppy job of burying #2 is mind boggling. Particularly for desert sections of drought-struck Southern California, heat, dryness, and soil-not-conducive-to-bacteria can make it so a turd will take decades to decompose. This means that each year, more and more hikers leave landmines in the sand at a rate faster than they can return to the earth. This is why digging a good hole—and carrying the equipment that can make digging a good hole possible—has become even more important.
Lastly, hikers need to admit to themselves that they are infamously bad at burying poops. Thru-hikers especially. When you’re trying to make miles, have to get to town before the store closes, and have reduced control over your bowels, digging a quality hole in lickity-split time using only a rock becomes nearly impossible. The trowel can dig through all sorts of soils and build a fat cathole in a fraction of the time of many other building materials.
List of ultralight potty trowels
Qi Whiz—the one I use and the lightest on the market! It is pictured throughout this blogpost. The original model comes in at less than 0.4 oz or around 11 grams!
MSR Blizzard Stake is a stake but is as beefy as a trowel. Not sold at REIs, but can be ordered online.
The Deuce of Spades is the least expensive on the market and doubles as as stake!
If you’ve ever thought about switching to Altra Zero Drop trail running shoes for your backpacking season, now is the time to start getting your foot accustomed to the shoe. I find that switching to hiking in the Altra Lone Peaks has increased my stability, reduced my strike impact, provided comfort for hours of hiking, eliminated long term hiker issues like plantar fasciitis, and increased my efficiency. That being said, hitting the trail with a brand new pair of Altras if you’ve never worn them before may not be the best idea because there is a transition time associated with switching over to a Zero drop shoe.
Fear not, though—the benefits of switching over are HUGE for long distance hikers. Zero drop shoes help align the feet, reduce the impact of each foot step, and increase your stability. The foot shaped toe box—increases balance and efficiency, while reducing blisters and chaffing, maximize shock absorption and allows toes to spread out naturally. What this means for hikers is day-long comfort, increased stride efficiency, and less foot pain.
So, why should you start transitioning to Altra shoes now instead of say, a few days before my hike most thru-hikers (myself included) do the bulk of the trip planning? Because we’ve all spent years wearing high-heel like elevated trail runners, our feet have been trained to be lazy (in scientific speak—has neutralized our Achilles and lower calf muscles). If you hit the trail doing 15s, 20s, or 30 milers in a zero drop shoe when you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before, your Achilles and lower calf muscles are going to feel the burn. The muscles in your feet are going to be confused. It’s best to give yourself at least three weeks to strengthen your legs and feet before your hike.
Pre-hike training schedule:
Before you get your shoes (or during week 1): Walk around barefoot in the grass or the beach or your bedroom for 30 seconds, adding a 30 seconds per day.Week 1: Wear Altras around the office and running light errands (they sell a “work appropriate” show called the Instinct Everyday that has many of the same features as the running shoe, but looks like it’d work with a suit). At first, the Toe Shaped footbox may feel too roomy and weird. After a few days, your toes will start relaxing and will start spreading out naturally.
Week 2: Do a very short hikes (whatever that means to you). Start without your backpack and give yourself a rest day to assess how your feet, joints, Achilles, foot muscles, and lower calves feel. If everything seems great, slowly increase the mileage and add weight to your backpack, being sure to build in days in between for rest and recovery. On a thru-hike, it’s near impossible to take zero days every day, so let your body take advantage of rest days between hikes to build muscles and strength. Let your body also take advantage of the muscle building fuels that you can get from living off trail. Building muscles on trail when you’re living on instant mashed potatoes and ramen is going to be a little bit more difficult.
Barefoot Jake.Week 3: Up your mileage slightly, being sure to take days off in between. Take note of any excessive soreness or discomfort and rest up more. Week 4-6: Do a few hikes of the approximate length that you would wish to start a thru-hike. Take some days off between. Assess how you feel. Try doing that distance with a full pack of gear.
With this training system, your feet will get stronger and reduce the chance of getting bone fractures. Your lower calves will be ready to hit the trail (relatively speaking). And you’ll enjoy the natural alignment benefits of wearing a Zero Drop shoes. Wearing Zero Drop shoes is like long distance hiking: once you start doing it, you’ll have a hard time thinking of life the same way. If you’ve ever thought about it, I highly encourage starting now before hiking season gets into full swing so that you can maximize the benefits when you’re on trail. (P.S. I’m not a doctor. Legal says that you should consult with your physician before doing anything physical or changing your life in any way).