I spent three days last week in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show, a twice annual exhibition where manufacturer meet retail buyers and the press to show them new products and product prototypes which will be available to consumers anywhere from six months to two years in the future. With over 1000 manufacturers exhibiting, there were close to a million products on display from outdoor pizza ovens to ukuleles, drones, electric skateboards, fishing kayaks, and SUPs outfitted with yoga mats.
This being the summer show (there’s a second winter gear orgy every year), the focus was on warm weather activities. Here’s a summary of the main themes I observed and some standout products that I think you’ll find interesting.
Ultralight Minimalist Raincoats
Berghaus, Montane, and Ultimate Direction, all announced waterproof breathable rain jackets at the show that push the envelope of what’s possible with ultralight rain garments.
Berghaus announced the 75 g ( 2.6 ounce) full-zip Hypershell Jacket made using the company’s proprietary membrane and waterproof coating. With an elasticized hood, wrist cuffs, hem, and taped seams, this minimalist jacket, which compresses down to the size of an orange, is a high exertion piece targeted at mountain runners and fast packers.
Montane announced the Minimus 777 Jacket, weighing 140 g (4.9 oz). A triple layer waterproof breathable jacket, the Minimus 777 has a 7 denier nylon face, a 7 micron laminate film, and a 7 denier tricot backing for durability and comfort. It a nice looking jacket.
Not to be out done by the Brits, US-based Ultimate Direction showed off the waterproof breathable Ultra Jacket (5.9 ounces /167 grams) which features pit zips and self storing rain mitts attached at the end of the sleeves.
While the jury is out on whether any of these ultralight jackets will be sufficiently waterproof and breathable for hiking and backpacking in all-day rain, I expect to put them to the test when the first production runs become available later this year.
Killing the Mummy
Backcountry style beds, quilts, technical blankets, and modular bed systems continue to erode the long-held mummy style monopoly on sleeping bags, which have been increasingly relegated to technical and cold weather adventures rather than mainstream camping and backpacking use. Spurred by innovator Sierra Designs, this trend has been snowballing since last year when the company introduced their best-selling Backpacking Bed. Building on that success, Sierra Designs brings the queen bed to the campsite with its new Frontcountry Bed Sleep system so you can have all the comforts of home while camping.
Along the bed theme, Nemo introduced the 700 fill power Downtek Concerto bed system, rated to 20 degrees which includes removable sheets, stretch construction and a quilted mattress top. Building on the success of NEMO’s Stratoloft bed system, the Concerto’s hood has extra down baffles inside the hood that cradle your head and increase heat retention in cold weather.
Sea-to-Summit introduced three Basecamp Bed systems that are generously sized for side sleepers or tall campers. Available with down or synthetic insulation, you can vent the feet or unzip one or both sides to remain comfortable, transforming the Basecamp into large summer quilt. Sea-to Summit also introduced three new down ultralight style Ember Quilts which can be used as blankets or attached to a sleeping pad using adjustable straps.
Additionally, Therm-a-Rest announced several new quilts and warm weather camping blankets, including the Corus HD Quilt rated for 35-45 degrees, filled with 650 fill power Nikwax Hyrodophobic Down, an updated Vela Quilt and Double Vela Quilt, and four new technical sleeping blankets: the Proton with a reflective liner, the Stellar and Argo blankets, and the wearable Honcho Poncho.
Camping Stoves Reimagined
Jetboil has come out with a new propane powered car camping stove called the Genesis which leverages the simmer control in the Jetboil Minimo Canister Stove. Highly modular, the Genesis breaks the traditional camping stove paradigm in half, with rounded stacking burners instead of your father’s rectangular Coleman style camp stove. Never fear, if you still like making your morning coffee with a Jetboil French Press and can’t give that up, you can daisy chain the propane burning Jetboil Luna pot and Satellite Burner off the same propane tank as the Genesis so you only have to carry one Propane bottle when you go camping.
If you prefer sleeker European styling, check out the new Onja, Tupike, and Kinjia isobutane burning stoves from Primus. Designed for easy urban transport, the Onja includes a built-in cutting board and folds up into a stylish briefcase-sized unit that you can sling over your shoulder.
In other stove news, Soto stove has a new low-cost, high performance stove called the Amicus, designed for first time stove buyers, available with and without built-in igniter. (2.7 ounces).
Additionally, GSI Outdoors will begin bundling isobutane canister stoves and windscreens with their cookware systems so consumers can purchase all the components required for a full camping or backpacking cook system at once. The Minimalist Complete, shown below, includes the Minimalist cook pot, lid, spoon, pot holder, windshield, and canister stove. All of the new GSI Outdoors Complete stove systems will be available in January.
Finally, stove-making giant Kovea has released the Alpine Pot EZ Eco Stove which has a built-in fuel tank that can be refilled using the partially used isobutane canisters you have lying around the house. Developed to help reduce litter from discarded gas canisters in Korea’s National Parks, the Alpine Pot EZ Eco can hold one ounce of isobutane fuel, which according to the manufacturer, is enough to boil six 500 ml portions of water.
Kovea plans to sell the Alpine EZ Eco directly to consumers in the US and not through retail channels.
Tents, Shelters, and Hammocks: Oh My!
Tent weights continue to plunge with major brands racing for ultralight bragging rights, although the livability, features, and durability of these tents do suffer when all you care about is weight. One exception is the new Fly Creek UL+ 1 & 2 HV (for high volume) series of tents from Big Agnes, built using a new tent pole hub that enables steeper side-walls, improving interior volume while improving the effectiveness of the vestibule to shed rain.
Following the lightweight trend, MSR introduced a lightweight double-walled freestanding tent called the Freelite 2, which weighs 2 pounds and has 2 doors, with enough internal volume for wide camping pads and internal gear storage. The Freelite will also be available in 1 person and 3 person models.
Hilleberg also unveiled a lightweight two person freestanding tent called the Niak, weighing 3 pounds 10 ounces, that builds on the success of the lightweight 1-person Enan tent that the company introduced last year. Well-ventilated, the Niak can be pitched fly first in rainy weather in order to keep the inner tent dry, with extra guy out points and pole sleeves for bomber protection in exposed and windy terrain.
Tent Fly Art
In a bid to woo millennials, several tent manufacturers including The North Face and Field Candy have strayed from using muted Leave No Trace colors on their tent fly sheets, replacing them with crowd-sourced art and retro prints. I’ll let you judge the results.
MSR unveiled two ultralight tarps called the Thru Hiker Wing 70 and 100 made with a 20 d coated ripstop nylon and weighing 12 ounces and 17 ounces respectively. When coupled with the Thru-Hiker Mesh House 2 (14 oz) and Thru-Hiker Mesh 3 (16 oz), they can accommodate two or three people.
Hilleberg also demonstrated a prototype of the Tarp 5 catenary cut tarp which is large enough for two people to share. Weighing under 11 ounces, the Tarp 5 does not have a ridgeline seam and is set up using trekking poles.
While hammocks are all the rage these days for car camping and urban hanging, and hammock manufacturers are springing up like weeds, there’s a surprising lack of innovation in the market when it comes to simple gathered end sling hammocks.
While hammock specialist, ENO (Eagles Nest Outfitters) did announce plans to sell single person, multi-person, and mobile hammock suspension systems, it’s not like Byer of Maine hasn’t been doing that for years already. I think there’s room for enormous innovation in the hammock space, but manufacturers are going to have to think out of the box to make them easy for consumers (beyond existing enthusiasts) to carry and use more widely.
Backpacks were all the rage this year, with manufacturers launching hundreds of new models especially lower volume urban lifestyle, day hiking, and climbing packs. Here are some of the more promising packs I saw.
In a major strategy shift, Mystery Ranch unveiled several lines of day packs in a repeat attempt to sell through select retailers, in addition to direct to consumer sales from their website. They’ve also started making packs with high tenacity Robic nylon to provide higher durability, while dropping pack weights, including their high-capacity hunting pack models.
On larger backpacks, having an adjustable frame and hip belt is quickly becoming a market requirement, especially as the number of people day hiking and backpacking grows. Granite Gear just introduced the Lutsen multi-day backpack in 35L, 45L, and 55L sizes, which has a significantly different look than the packs in their Blaze, Crown, and Leopard families. Weighing approximately 3 pounds in the 55L size, the Lutsen has an adjustable length torso and adjustable length hip belt, a first for the company. With a roll top closure, top lid, hip belt pockets (YAY!), solid side water bottle pockets, and a larger rear mesh pocket, Granite Gear plans to upgrade their backpacking line in coming years to look more like the Lutsen.
Kelty also rolled out new updated packs including the venerable Red Wing 50 Reserve with a whole new look and an adjustable frame which can be refitted on the fly while worn. Targeting women and millennials, Kelty hopes to leverage their brand-name capital for urban and backcountry adventures by providing cool products at reasonable prices.
After the successful launch of its Anti-Gravity backpack suspension system, Osprey Packs has started to incorporate the AG suspension into other packs including the large Poco Child Carrier AG and the Manta AG day pack.
Montane also added 14 new backpacks to the line, including a minimalist cuben fiber pack called the Hyper Tour 38.
Mountain Hardware continues to expand their lineup of waterproof backpacks and daypacks lined with Outdry in a bid to bring multi-sport athletes and urban pack users, such as cyclists, back to the brand.
Exped continues to expand its premium sleeping pad line, unveiling the Synmat Hyperlight Duo 2 person pad which provides separate firmness controls for each sleeper.
Therm-a-Rest demonstrated a prototype of the NeoAir Camper SV (Speed Valve) which inflates in 1/3 the time of a normal NeoAir pad and deflates almost instantly. Featuring a large roll top port, a user can inflate the pad with a few breaths and empty the air inside quickly, using the valve for fine adjustments only.
NEMO demonstrated a new family of insulated inflatable pads, the Tensor and the Vector, with internal reflective layers for better heat retention. The face fabric on these pads is quiet, comfortable, and feels better against the skin than competitive products.
Other Notable Product Announcements
- Altra has developed a bluetooth sensor-enabled running shoe that helps trail runners monitor variables such as pace, foot force, strike zone, cadence, and contact time to help improve their stride. It will be available next year.
- Big Agnes will release mtnGlo versions of the Fly Creek UL 1 & 2 and the Copper Spur UL 1 & 2.
- Exped’s USA subsidiary will begin selling all of the products sold by its European parent, including a greatly expanded backpack range.
- The Italian bootmaker Garmont has relaunched its USA business. Famous for its well-fitting boots, it is targeting the hiking boot, approach, and trail running segments.
- Ex Officio has come out with an even more comfortable version of its Give-N-Go performance underwear (a SectionHiker reader favorite) which is now available in a cooler, better wicking sports mesh version.
- Outdoor Research will introduce 22 new women’s specific sportswear styles combining outwardly casual styles that offer beneath-the-surface technical function.