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Sneak Peek at the new Altra Apparel Line

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.

In Fall 2015, I reported back from Outdoor Retailer with an piece of clothing that I thought was a true innovation–the 3.3 oz Stash Jack hooded windshirt that you can put on without removing your backpack.

The <a href="http://www.avantlink.com/click.php?tt=cl&mi=12441&pw=182290&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.altrarunning.com%2Fapparel%2Fstashjack">Stash Jack windshirt</a> starts on your waist, unfolds from its pouch, has a hood, and is backless…all for 3.3 oz!
The Stash Jack windshirt starts on your waist, unfolds from its pouch, has a hood, and is backless…all for 3.3 oz!

 

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

Altra designer Todd Falker hiked the first 6 miles of the Wasatch traverse with me. I wore the neon version of the <a href="http://www.avantlink.com/click.php?tt=cl&mi=12441&pw=182290&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.altrarunning.com%2Fapparel%2Fwomen%2Fperformance-tank">Altra Performance Tee</a> on that trip. PC: Todd Falker.
Altra designer Todd Falker hiked the first 6 miles of the Wasatch traverse with me. I wore the neon version of the Altra Performance Tee on that trip. PC: Todd Falker.

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!!!

In the Mt. Nebo wilderness on the Wasatch Traverse
In the Mt. Nebo wilderness on the Wasatch Traverse

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).

I wore the Performance Tank as a baselayer on the 200 mile <a href="http://www.eathomas.com/2015/10/28/seattle-urban-thru-hike-intro/">Seattle Urban Thru-hike</a>.
I wore the Performance Tank as a baselayer on the 200 mile Seattle Urban Thru-hike.

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.

A slide on the Seattle urban thru-hike.
A slide on the Seattle urban thru-hike.

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.

 

Where do you fall on the Camping-Hiking Spectrum?

Whatever gear you choose should be suited to how you plan to spend your time outdoors. Gear guru Glen Van Peski talks of the Camping-Hiking Spectrum.

So ask yourself: What does a day on trail look like to you?

If you plan to hike a few miles, sit by a lake, fish, play guitar, hang out, and cook over a campfire, then you are on the camping side of the spectrum (aka Camping-Backpacking Extreme). You’re going to want gear that will make you comfortable where you are spending most of your time: in camp. This includes a nice camp chair, big puffy jackets to keep you warm while you aren’t moving, good cookware, a fishing pole, a guitar, and maybe even a plastic portable sink to make camp dishes easier to clean. Sure, it may be a bit unwieldy to carry all that stuff, but you’re only walking a few hours a day, right?

The <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GSYGTH0/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00GSYGTH0&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20&linkId=BPGT4JZPWXB6WJ24">Big Agnes Scout Plus UL 2</a> is intended to be used for those in the middle of the camping-hiking spectrum. It offers some of the luxuries of the camping spectrum (double wall), and some of the luxuries of the hiking spectrum (uses a pole)
The Big Agnes Scout Plus UL 2 is intended to be used for those in the middle of the camping-hiking spectrum. It offers some of the luxuries of the camping spectrum (double wall), and some of the luxuries of the hiking spectrum (uses a pole)

 

The Camping-Backpacking extreme end of the spectrum will still have you carrying lighter gear than if you packed up all your car camping stuff. But, it’s goal should be to still provide you with many of the luxuries that you would expect from car camping (a lightweight French Press comes to mind). If you’re Camping-Backpacking, you’re still going to have to do without some things (e.g., the Coleman propane two-burner stove and the easy access to your cooler of beer). Camping-Backpacking  is what most people think about when they think “backpacking,” which is one reason why people think of backpacking as, well, back breaking work. But it is a system that is suited to an end goal: hanging out a little ways away from civilization, hopefully, in a pretty place.

Tomato and <a href="http://bobcat-tracks.blogspot.com/">Bobcat</a>, two extreme thru-hikers, take their break for the day against a rapidly melting glacier. No camp chairs needed.
Tomato and Bobcat, two extreme thru-hikers, take their break for the day against a rapidly melting glacier. No camp chairs needed.

The other end of the extreme is the Hike-All-Day-Extreme category. If you plan to get up, hike all day with few breaks, throw your sleeping bag down, drink some Soylent insta-food, and pass out, then you are on the other far end of the hiking spectrum. You’re going to want gear that will make you comfortable where you are spending most of your time: walking on trail. This is gear that will make walking all day easier—a light pack, comfy shoes, hiking poles, maybe an umbrella to block out the sun and rain. Sure, you may be cold hanging around in camp, but you’re probably in your sleeping bag almost immediately after you stop walking, right?

Hanging out with your friends during a rain storm isn’t always the most comfortable if you’re using gear from the Hike-All-Day end of the spectrum. Here, three hikers crowd in a UL Pyramid. Photo courtesy <a href="http://www.barefootjake.com">Barefoot Jake</a>.
Hanging out with your friends during a rain storm isn’t always the most comfortable if you’re using gear from the Hike-All-Day end of the spectrum. Here, three hikers crowd in a UL Pyramid. Photo courtesy Barefoot Jake.

Most thru-hikers fall close to the end of the hiking spectrum. Most Pacific Crest Trail hikers and especially Continental Divide Trail hikers find that they need to be walking most of the day, most of the days that they are outdoors, in order to obtain their goal before the weather window closes (aka, it starts snowing and they can’t really keep traveling in the mountains safely).

But there are other thru-hikes–especially shorter thru-hikes–that don’t require backpackers to be on the extreme end of the spectrum (the hike-all-day-hiker). The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is probably the most obvious, but the Tahoe Rim Trail, or even the John Muir Trail are frequently backpacked more on the camping spectrum.

Glen Van Peski on a 3.5 day trip in the Sierra with his very light system. Photo by Alejandro P.
Glen Van Peski on a 3.5 day trip in the Sierra with his very light system. Photo by Alejandro P.

You most definitely don’t have to be a thru-hiker to be on the hike-all-day end of the spectrum, either. Glen Van Peski takes his ultralight system out backpacking for long weekend trips where the goal is exploration and seeing as many things as possible.

To tailor gear for your trip, find out where you fit on the camping-hiking spectrum, and choose your gear accordingly. Where you fit will depend on your goals, the terrain of the trip, weather/climate, the size of the party, and your experience level.

Backpacking stops being fun and people start complaining about their gear when they don’t have the right gear for their type of trip. By finding where you fit on the spectrum (and of course, but knowing how to use your gear and using it correctly in the right situations) you can maximize happiness on whatever trip you take.

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.

 

Stocking Stuffers for Hikers: Food Edition

 

The term might be used best to describe how to train a dog, but I would identify myself as Highly Motivated By Food. So, when it comes to hiking up the next big climb or making big miles to the next water, there’s no incentive to keep moving quite like a Food Treat.

This holiday season, consider giving your hiker friends some inspiring non-perishable food that carries easily in a pack and can help turn a pretty awesome day of hiking into an extraordinary day of hiking. Treat Food is the kind of stuff that can be a little heavy and pricey to base one’s complete thru-hiking diet off of, but can make a dayhike or a hard backpacking trip all the more delightful.  Disclaimer: I’ve bought all of these, and they’re delicious.

These are a few of my favorites:

The Epic bar is a meat-bar that has fantastic art
The Epic bar is a meat-bar that has fantastic art

1)      Epic Savory Bar: I just discovered these bars, and they blow your usual trail jerky off the mountain. They come in great flavors like Bison-Bacon-Cranberry and Beef-Cherry-Habanero. One of these bad boys will motivate any meat-eater to pick up the pace.

2) Kale Chips: Let’s face it: It’s surprising that hikers don’t get scurvy that awesome. Throw your friends and loved ones a light-weight veggie alternative in multiple flavors including Radical Ranch (really!) and Alive and Radiant Quite Cheezy. They aren’t calorie dense, but sometimes, a hiker’s body doesn’t just need calories. I’ve currently addicted to the Rhythm Honey Mustard flavor and to the , but you can make your own (just be sure to get a good vacuum pack system on DIY kale chips as they get stale quickly). Also worth checking out is this variety pack of 4 flavors.

3)      Probar: One of my favorites and a true trail staple, these meal replacement bars pack in almost 400 real food calories. Probars are great for getting a bunch of energy before a big climb or mornings when it’s so cold that the best way to get calories is to walk-and-eat. It’s not surprising to find whole dried strawberries and real nuts in these bars. They tend to be a bit on the pricier side, so a few of these make a great treat to throw in a stocking stuffer.

(Hint: the Chocolate Coconut is AMAZING).

4)      Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans/Edamame/Marshmallows/etc. On my first thru-hike of the AT, one of my old hiking buddies, Rick, sent me a care package with a crisp $20 bill and a pound of chocolate covered espresso beans. It was one of the most tailored hiking presents I’ve ever gotten. Trader Joe’s is a great place to get anything chocolate covered. I would highly recommend the super-calorie dense Chocolate Covered Sunflower seeds, better than candy bar chocolate covered marshmallows, or chocolate covered dried berries.

5)      Starbucks Via: Along the lines of the coffee beans, why not give your hiker friends the good stuff? The Vias make the lightest (weight-wise) and most flavorful cup of coffee you can get. Plus, Starbucks is pretty infamous for having almost twice as much caffeine as their competitors, so a Via can really be a treat in the middle of a day. You can usually find these at Costco for a great price.

6) Honey Stinger Waffle: Anytime a “waffle” can be sold as food athletes can eat, I’m in. A more calorific and less expensive option is Trader Joe’s Belgian Butter Waffle cookies.

7) Single Serving drink mixes: These can be a bit pricey to live off of during a thru-hike, but sometimes can make quite a difference. I’ve hiked with

8)      FishPeople Meals: These delicious meal-in-a-packet foods are legitimately good—like they’re still really good even when you’re not on trail. Although these food packets are a little heavy to eat for every meal in the backcountry, it’s nice to have one on hand for hard stretches between resupplies. They come in mile-motivating flavors like Thai Coconut Lemongrass and Wild Salmon Chardonnay and feature a variety of sustainable fish-based protein sources. I remember pushing hard at the end of a day on the John Muir Trail so that I could down one of these dinners. Let’s just say they really spice up instant mashed potatoes.

9)      Probolts (or similar GU gel/Clif Bloks/Gummi Bear like items): Sometimes, a hiker can get so into hiking that he forgets to eat. When blood sugar levels plummet, hikers get “hangry” (hungry+angry) and all sorts of other bad side effects. Probolts, GUs, ClifShots, and other gummy or gel-y delicious things help counteract low blood sugar levels rather quickly.

10) Specialty Store Novelties: My friend Dave “Lucky” Brunstein introduced me to Cost Plus World Market as the place to go for Food Treats for hiking. I’m also a big fan of Trader Joe’s for finding reasonably priced Treat Foods, especially the chocolate-covered variety.

 

 

I hope this inspires you to spice up you, your family, or your friend’s hiker diets!

Do you have any favorite trail treat foods that would make a great gift?

This is what an American-made Gear Factory Looks Like

Aaron and Kris from Katabatic Gear holding up a Palisade Quilt
Aaron and Kris from Katabatic Gear holding up a Palisade Quilt

For a lot of outdoorspeople—even long distance hikers—the question of “where my gear comes from” doesn’t expand much more than “from the store or website.” If we do think about where our gear comes from, images of crowded factories overseas come to mind—and then we quickly try to block that image and think of something more pleasant. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited by Aaron Martray and Kris Diers from Katabatic Gear to visit their factory in Lakewood, Colorado. Getting to visit Katabatic’s headquarters and floor space (“factory” makes it sound way bigger than officespace in a stripmall) gave me an insider’s look at how gear goes from raw materials to what is in my pack—and what an American-made “factory” looks like. It also gave me an idea of some of the challenges of running a small company, and the innovative tricks that have allowed Katabatic to provide customizable options to their users, while also allowing for a quick turnaround time.

A photo posted by Kyle Lucherini (@kyleluch) on

For those unfamiliar with Katabatic Gear, they are a small, cottage company that makes high quality down sleeping quilts, bivys, down hoods, and cuben fiber backpacks. During his planning for a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail, Aaron had a hard time finding a quilt that could keep the draft out while still being warm—so he designed one himself. His quilt went on to become the popular Katabatic Palisade Quilt, which he used to thru-hike the Hayduke Trail, bicycle to Alaska, and packraft in Alaska. Since he first started working on designs in 2007, Katabatic has gone on to become “the gold standard of ultralight sleeping quilts” and is carried by elite thru-hikers, like Cam “Swami” Honan, who introduced me to the company in 2012.

The finishing table where Aaron personally inspects each quilt before shipment.
The finishing table where Aaron personally inspects each quilt before shipment.

As I entered Katabatic’s office, the first thing I noticed was a large table. Aaron and Kris explained to me that this is where Aaron personally inspects every quilt before it’s shipped. This is where bags are fluffed to make sure down is evenly distributed and where I was able to examine a fresh-off-the-sewing-machine Palisade Quilt. As a small, American-made company, Katabatic has built a niche for themselves in a market of foreign-made bags by emphasizing a quality and design that justifies the price.

A photo posted by 司徒寶 (@mkliu) on

Next, we passed Kris’s office—where she uses her CPA background to run the business side of the company. This includes everything from what happens when a hiker makes an order to making sure shipments of raw materials happen on time. A few months ago, Katabatic noticed that one supply of their stuff sacks had some issues. Their Customer Service response was to email all their customers who ever got a bag and offer a free replacement. That’s the sort of diligence that is usually only seen in government-mandated car recalls. But unlike cars, no one is going to die over a stuff sack and no government cares about a few off stitches. I could never imagine the North Face or any other big company caring that much about their customers or reputation for quality (or even having a way to track all their customers).

The sewing department at Katabatic
The sewing department at Katabatic

The main area of the factory was about as different from the factories I’ve seen abroad as anything. The sewers (or sewist—much debate on this topic) mostly looked like they were the hip, craftsy crew that sell stuff on Etsy—talented people who love sewing and make the rest of us feel dumpy in mass-consumer clothes. Each lady had a robust toolbox of different sewing machines to tackle whatever fabric or stitch they needed for whatever piece of gear they were working on.

A photo posted by 司徒寶 (@mkliu) on

Aaron and Kris explained Katabatic’s rigorous sewing test for would-be sewers. “People who have worked in bridal tend to do well,” Aaron explained that many bridal fabrics tend to be similar to Pertex Quantum. But their test, he told me, is rigorous enough that even people who have tailored for 20 years and have had formal training haven’t been able to pass it.

How a box of down feathers measures up to an Ewok
How a box of down feathers measures up to an Ewok

As someone used to seeing gear as finished products, it was especially exciting to see raw materials—bolts of fabric, cuben, and down feathers shipped from Allied Feather. A box of down half my size weighs only 15 pounds! Starting next year, all Katabatic Quilts will be part of the Track My Down program and will come with a number where you can find out where the down in your quilt comes from. A highlight of the trip was getting to see Katabatic’s patented, proprietary down insertion machine. If you’ve ever wondered how a factory can get all those feathers into such a confined space, know that there is something better out there than the mumble-your-prayers method that I learned when I tried to make my own quilt. Aaron’s machine gets rid of the inefficiencies, waste, and the mess. The sewers first make the sleeping bag shell—baffles and all—and down gets inserted last. This allows Katabatic to make their bags to order, allowing customers to special order extra fill and still get their bags quickly.

The front panel of a Katabatic cuben fiber backpack.
The front panel of a Katabatic cuben fiber backpack.

Lastly, I got to see where Katabatic is headed in the future. This year, they launched their backpack line, and my friend Johnny Carr was the first to take a Katabatic pack on the CDT. I’m not going to lie–it was weird and a little creepy to see what a pack looks like before it’s all stitched together—like looking at a tortoise without its shell. Aaron puts cuben pack parts together by hand himself. It was encouraging to see the founder of a company working on the floor alongside the staff. Aaron joked that up until recently, he was the only male sewer in the building.  

This is what American-made small factories look like. Nothing dirty and industrial. Just real people like you and me—outdoor enthusiasts—making gear they actually use. Everyone knows everyone’s name in the building. For ultralight backpackers and long distance hikers, there are a lot of small, cottage industries that make gear. For these companies, it takes a lot of attention to detail and quality to compete with the big boys. Whatever company’s gear I go with, as a long distance hiker, I know that cottage industry gear tends to be higher quality and better designed that even the high-end mainstream stuff. Backpacking is my passion and my life, so it’s worth it to me to do some extra research and pay a little extra for gear I feel awesome about carrying.

Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015: Gear Best of Show

Nothing says new outdoor gear like neck pillows with hoods. By the way, NOT ultralight.
Nothing says new outdoor gear like neck pillows with hoods. By the way, NOT ultralight.

 

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:

FresheTech developed these headlamps for shoes as a Kickstarter campaign.
FresheTech developed these headlamps for shoes as a Kickstarter campaign.

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:

Inventor Mike shows off the Ventra removable backpack frame
Inventor Mike shows off the Ventra removable backpack 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.

My Gossamer Gear Type 2 frameless daypack attached to a Ventra frame
My Gossamer Gear Type 2 frameless daypack attached to a Ventra frame

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:

Windcatcher valves on a sleeping pad
Windcatcher valves on a 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:

The windshirt starts on your waist, unfolds from its pouch, has a hood, and is backless…all for 3.3 oz!
The windshirt starts on your waist, unfolds from its pouch, has a hood, and is backless…all for 3.3 oz!

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:

TOAKS Titanium Wood Burning Stove
TOAKS Titanium Wood Burning 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.

The whole stove system folds down to smaller than a Probar.
The whole stove system folds down to smaller than a Probar.

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:

Solarbug uses a filter, chemical, and sun activation process to remove contaminants from water.
Solarbug uses a filter, chemical, and sun activation process to remove contaminants from water.

 

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:

The AT Nat Geo maps come in the familiar and super-clear to read Trails Illustrated format and size.
The AT Nat Geo maps come in the familiar and super-clear to read Trails Illustrated format and size.

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

These Altra Neoshell Lone Peaks were submerged in water for 8 hours each day during the Show
These Altra Neoshell Lone Peaks were submerged in water for 8 hours each day during the Show

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:

Bigger Loksak foodbag
Bigger Loksak foodbag

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:

The Vertex socks are as light as 14 g
The Vertex socks are as light as 14 g

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!

 

 

 

Gear review: GoMotion Fusion Sternum Light

The end point of Colfax ave in Strasburg on Headlight Road.
The end point of Colfax ave in Strasburg on Headlight Road.

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 <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FNY2204/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00FNY2204&linkCode=as2&tag=lizthoadvhik-20&linkId=DT636G3WIRHWOBZ6 rel=”nofollow”">GoMotion Fusion’s</a> adjustable sternum strap model attaches between two Velcro bands (included in the Fusion kit). It is shown here on my <a href="http://www.avantlink.com/click.php?tt=cl&mi=13246&pw=182290&url=http%3A%2F%2Fgossamergear.com%2Ftype-2-utility-backpack.html rel="no follow"">Gossamer Gear Type 2 Ultralight Daypack.</a>
The GoMotion Fusion’s adjustable sternum strap model attaches between two Velcro bands (included in the Fusion kit). It is shown here on my Gossamer Gear Type 2 Ultralight Daypack.

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.

Using the GoMotion Fusion attached to my <a href="http://www.avantlink.com/click.php?tt=cl&mi=13246&pw=182290&url=http%3A%2F%2Fgossamergear.com%2Fkumo-superlight-backpack.html rel="no follow"">Gossamer Gear Kumo backpacking backpack</a> on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
Using the GoMotion Fusion attached to my Gossamer Gear Kumo backpacking backpack on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail

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.

The GoMotion light angle adjustment pivots up and down and adjusts beam width
The GoMotion light angle adjustment pivots up and down and adjusts beam width

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.

The parts included in the GoMotion kit (includes 3 AA batteries, the orange reflective Velcro that wraps around the battery pack is not shown)
The parts included in the GoMotion kit (includes 3 AA batteries, the orange reflective Velcro that wraps around the battery pack is not shown)

Weight: Due to its design, battery strength, and battery life, the GoMotion Fusion is heavier than other light options on the market.

Part Weight
Grey Velcro .7 oz
Orange Velcro 0.4 oz
Battery case only 2. oz
Total weight without batteries 7.15 oz
Total weight with 3 AA alkaline batteries 9.6 oz

 

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.

The external battery pack has a waterproof lid.
The external battery pack has a waterproof lid.

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.

 

Using the Fusion light as a lantern inside my <a href="http://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com/shop/product_info.php?products_id=137">Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid</a> held up by <a href="http://www.avantlink.com/click.php?tt=cl&mi=13246&pw=182290&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.gossamergear.com">Gossamer Gear LT4 hiking poles</a>.
Using the Fusion light as a lantern inside my Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid held up by Gossamer Gear LT4 hiking poles.

 

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.

The GoMotion Fusion on the Selma to Montgomery Hike
The GoMotion Fusion on the Selma to Montgomery Hike

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.

Fast and Light Gear: Interview with TGO (The Great Outdoors)

Ultralight backpacking through Olympic National Park. Photo by Barefoot Jake Morrison.
Ultralight backpacking through Olympic National Park. Photo by Barefoot Jake Morrison.

The Great Outdoors (TGO) is the premiere backpacking publication in Europe, kind of like Backpacker Magazine in the U.S..  I was super fortunate to be interviewed by TGO for their Light and Fast Gear expert series. While unfortunately the magazine is super hard to get here in the States, our friends over at Trail Designs, the guys who make the ultralight backpacking stove I use, were able to scan it and put it up on their website. If you happen to be in the UK, or have a digital subscription, be sure to check this one out!

Link to the article: http://www.traildesigns.com/sites/default/files/liz-thomas-merged.jpg

 

6 Tips to Backpacking Fast and Light

Fast and Light shelter and sleep system with the <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CB8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mountainlaureldesigns.com%2Fshop%2Fproduct_info.php%3Fproducts_id%3D137&ei=N7ySVaLuKsa3oQTXrrkg&usg=AFQjCNG-alccEN9Na84aItwjpj8qA31V0g&sig2=rn4RA3SqkIi48WkVGot_uw&bvm=bv.96783405,d.cGU">Mountain Laurel Designs cuben fiber Solomid</a> (11 oz) and Brooks Range Cloak.
Fast and Light shelter and sleep system with the Mountain Laurel Designs cuben fiber Solomid (11 oz) and Brooks Range Cloak.

If you’re just thinking about getting into lightweight backpacking, or if you’re already light but are looking for lighter ways to roll, here are a few tips I wrote for our friends at Brooks Range Mountaineering about how you can take the heft out of your outdoor load.

http://brooks-range.com/brblog/2015/05/fast-and-light-10-tips-to-carry-less-stuff-in-the-outdoors/