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New Lightweight Backpacking Gear - (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2003) - Member's Version


by the Product Review Staff | 2003-08-16 03:00:00-06

Gear Availability

Many of these products will be available in Spring '04. Some are being released in Fall '03 (as early as September) and a few are available now or in the next few weeks. Please contact the manufacturer directly (let 'em know you heard about their products here!) for more precise product release dates and updated retail pricing.



Frameless rucksacks aren't really getting much lighter this year, and there are few innovations in this area. However, there is a substantial push among several manufacturers to drop weights of internal frame packs, and we are now seeing several new internal frame packs in the 2-3 pound range with enough volume for week-long lightweight backpacking trips (up to 50L).


GoLite makes the most substantial contribution in internal frame philosophy and design by introducing a corrugated polystyrene frame sheet with rod-shaped aluminum stays, a combination that works well together to provide surprisingly good support for far less weight than full-blown suspension systems.

GoLite Framesheet

Combined with GoLite's minimal suspensions (padded foam shoulder straps and mesh/webbing or thinly padded hip belts), we think that GoLite spent its weight in the appropriate places in the suspension - these are very comfortable packs. There are three new packs in their internal frame line - the Vision (30L), the Continuum (40L), and the Infinity (50L). They use a combination of fabrics - a newer, stronger (1.76 oz/sq.yd.) silicone-coated polyester ripstop to save weight and Dimension-Polyant's lightest X-Pac diamond ripstop for wear areas. This combination provides the right balance of weight and durability and are significant improvements to currently available models that use a combination of lighter silicone-coated nylon and Dyneema ripstop. Another new addition to GoLite's pack line is the Jam - a smaller and more feature rich version of the Gust.

Vision. The internal frame 30L Vision comes in at 28 ounces and sports the following features: mesh and webbing belt, rear-loading main compartment with water-resistant zipper closure, stretch expansion panels, dual ice axe loops, 3-liter hydration sleeve, two side mesh bottle pockets, two daisy chains, single side compression straps, sternum strap, and haul loop.

GoLite Vision

Continuum. 40L and 35 ounces. Top-loading, mesh and webbing belt, dual bellowed rear pockets with watertight zippers and stretch expansion panels, dual ice axe loops, floating top lid with security pocket, 3-liter hydration sleeve, two side mesh bottle pockets, daisy chain, dual side compression straps, sternum strap, haul loop.

GoLite Continuum

Infinity. 50L and 37 ounces. Top-loading, padded belt, dual bellowed rear pockets with watertight zippers and stretch expansion panels, dual ice axe loops, floating top lid with security pocket, 3-liter hydration sleeve, two side mesh bottle pockets, three small daisy chains, dual side compression straps, sternum strap, haul loop.

Golite Infinity

Jam. 41L and 22 ounces. Top-loading, short extension collar, foam pad back panel, webbing-fabric hip belt, sternum strap, side mesh pockets, dual side compression straps, top retention strap, daisy chain, haul loop, dual ice tool loops, large rear bellows pocket with zipper closure, 3-liter hydration sleeve.

GoLite Jam


CamelBak enters the lightweight backpacking market with two sleepers that are not being highly touted but offer good load carrying capacity: the 28L frameless Raza and the 40L internal frame Kronos. We think these are a couple of packs awaiting discovery.

Raza. 28L and 27 ounces. 70d Cordura fabric, full-zip back panel for hydration reservoir, webbing-and-fabric belt with zippered pockets, top-loading, top lid with zippered mesh top pocket, hydration reservoir included. This pack has some of the best external storage pockets of any pack we've seen. It would work equally well for a day hike or a weekend overnighter.

CamelBak Raza

Kronos. 40L and 42 ounces. 70d Cordura fabric in wear areas with silicone-coated nylon for weight savings. polyethyene internal "Y-frame", full-zip back panel, dual compression straps, dual daisy chains, top lid with zippered pocket, hydration reservoir included. What impressed us with the Kronos was its excellent frame system.

CamelBak Kronos


Vaude offers what we think is going to be one of the best small volume packs that can comfortably carry a small, dense load (e.g., a full load of water with ultralight overnight gear) - the 24L Argon (weight about 24 oz).

Argon. Made with a durable silicone-coated nylon ripstop body, the Argon sports a hooped frame in combination with a mesh back panel held in tension panel prevents your back from coming into contact with the pack body - which will significantly enhance ventilation across your back. The pack is top-loading, has a rear bungee compression system, dual side mesh pockets, top lid with zippered pocket, durable bottom, and webbing straps.

Vaude Argon


Equinox released a new version of their evolving frameless Katahdin pack. At 55L, it offers a fabric-wing and buckle compression system that works well to reduce pack volume for smaller loads.

Equinox Katahdin

Katahdin. 22 oz. Relocation of cinch straps to better integrate with the suspension (the bottom cinch strap is now in line with the hip belt) and lower lumbar (small of back) padding are the more significant improvements. However, more than anything, we like the fact that Equinox raised the shoulder straps, offering a truer fit more appropriate for load transfer for the intended torso sizes. A 1.4-oz silicone coated nylon body complements more durable fabric in the compression system and harness. Standard features include two mesh side bottle/gear pockets, vertically-adjustable and padded hip belt, sternum strap, mesh belt, three compression straps.


Marmot has contributed to the flood of other alpine pack manufacturers with reasonably-light frameless rucksacks that carry heavy loads poorly and are somewhat ill-suited for the backpacker. However, this year they introduce hollow 7075-T6 frame stays to the rucksack design in 40L and 55L versions of the Alpinist packs. Both packs are well under 3 pounds.

Alpinist 40. 40 oz Kevlar-ripstop nylon body with 630d in wear areas, frame sheet, removable lid, haul loop, dual ice axe loops, waist belt pockets, daisy chains, single frame stay.

Alpinist 55. 44 oz Kevlar-ripstop nylon body with 630d in wear areas, frame sheet, removable lid, haul loop, dual ice axe loops, rear pocket, waist belt pockets, daisy chains, rear bungee, bellows front stash flap, dual frame stays.

Granite Gear

Granite Gear introduces the Wisp and enters the market for hardcore ultralighters needing a solid load-carrying pack in the 30L size range.

Wisp. 33L and 24 ounces. Silicone-coated nylon body with heavier nylon for wear areas. Beavertail-style flap with dual side compression straps, dual ice axe loops, and dual daisy chains. Top flap with zippered security pocket, padded hip belt with zippered belt pockets, sternum strap, haul loop.

Note: Most of our field testing is complete and We'll be publishing reviews on Granite Gear's other ultralight packs, Virga, Vapor Trail, Nimbus Ozone in the near future.



Weight is not being shaved in the area of shelters (with some notable innovations from Black Diamond) but a few solid designs emerged for those that like the security of a floored tent. In addition, Granite Gear offers some unique innovations in tarp design that are sure to improve the storm resistance of tarps in inclement conditions.

Black Diamond

Black Diamond introduces Epic Malibu (1.9 oz/sq.yd.) into a new line of shelters, including the Lighthouse (based on Bibler's Ahwahnee design), Firstlight (based on Bibler's I-Tent design), and the Lightsabre Bivy (based on Bibler's Tripod Bivy design). Yes, we said Epic. The same Epic (not waterproof in apparel) used in many popular apparel designs. And yes, these are designed to be standalone storm shelters not requiring a tarp pitched above them for a rain fly. We told Black Diamond that we thought this was a great innovation in cold-weather tent design. They replied with, "Cold weather? No, these are for all weather - rain, sleet, or snow, warm or cold..." The shelters save significant weights over the Bibler Todd-Tex counterparts (add Fibraplex carbon pole sets and you can shave a lot more weight). All have 30d silicone-coated nylon floors.

Lighthouse. 2 lb 14 oz (vestibule 1 lb 1 oz). Packed size 6" x 9". Two persons. Dimensions 87" x 51" x 43".

Firstlight. 2 lb 9 oz (vestibule 1 lb 2 oz). Packed size 6" x 9". Two persons. Dimensions 82" x 48" x 42".

Black Diamond Firstlight

Lightsabre Bivy. 1 lb 4 oz with two hooped poles. One person. Dimensions 94" x 35" x 25".


GoLite introduces the Trig 2 shelter, a more stormproof, vestibuled, and floored version of the Lair 2. The shelter pitches taut, offers ventilation, and good vestibule storage. A key innovation with this shelter: you can pitch it with trekking poles inside (for greater stability and ease of setup in stormy weather) or outside (for more free space inside the shelter).

Trig 2. 2 lb 9 oz. Two persons. Area 35 sq. ft. + 10 sq. ft. vestibule. Single-wall, pole-less shelter (uses trekking poles inside or outside to pitch), closed rear beak, noseeum mesh door (protected with a solid fabric zippered storm flaps) and lower side windows (protected with zip-down storm flaps), interior mesh hanging pockets. 30D silicone coated nylon body construction, 70d polyurethane-coated nylon floor.

GoLite Trig 2 - Front

GoLite Trig 2 - Rear

GoLite Trig 2 - Side Panels

Mont Bell

Mont Bell offers one person and two person floored double-walled and single-hoop pole tents that weigh less than 2.4 lbs and 3.1 lbs (stakes included) respectively, remarkably light weights for double-walled tents. The inner tents can be left at home, leaving you with virtually stormproof, floorless, single wall shelters with hooped pole designs that are very light.

Mono Frame Shelter Diamond. 2.4 lbs with stakes. Single person shelter with 24 sq. ft. floor space (enough for two in emergencies). Peak height 3 ft 8 in, length 9 ft 10 in, width 4 ft 11 in. Packed size 10.2 in x 4.7 in (tent) and 15.7 in x 1.6 in (pole).

Mono Frame Shelter Hexagon. 3.1 lbs with stakes. Two persons, 40 sq. ft. (enough for three in emergencies). Peak height 3 ft 10 in, width 4 ft 11 in, length (sides) 5 ft 9 in, length (center) 8 ft 2 in. Packed size 12.6 in x 5.5 in (tent) and 15.7 in x 2.0 in (pole).

Granite Gear

Who would have thought that a major pack maker would be introducing what might be this year's most innovative advances in design application for ultralight tarps. Granite Gear introduces the White Lightnin', a series of silicone-coated nylon tarps that offer what is probably the tightest pitch of any tarps available on the market today. Offered in sizes suitable for 1-4 persons. A new type of silicone-coated nylon, a unique cut, load bearing binding tape on tarp edges and ridgline, tension buckles at guy points, and finally, an easy way to integrate trekking poles into the ridgeline pitch.

White Lightnin'. Sizes: 8x10, 10x10, and 10x12. Weights (estimated) 16 oz, 20 oz, and 24 oz. Tension buckle guy out points, catenary cut ridgelines and side edges, reinforced binding on edges and ridgeline to improve tautness of pitch. The tarp has a center vent for condensation resistance.

Sleeping Bags

Top bags! More designs are being introduced and it looks like this is a market segment that will have a strong suite of options by Spring 2004.

Western Mountaineering

Western Mountaineering's Pod 15 and Pod 30 - we've been waiting a long time for these. The new bags are shipping soon. The Pods come with or without an inflatable sleeping pad (and, coming soon: a custom shaped foam pad to fit the bags) and make valiant attempts to control drafts at the bag-pad interface down the sides with an innovative pad attachment system and side baffle. Our staff is split on whether this will be the bags' weak point. We'll reserve our judgment on performance following at the end of our review period. Statistics, features, and more photos are available at

Western Mountaineering Pod 15 - Pad Attachment

Western Mountaineering Pod 15 - Pad Seal

Sierra Designs

Sierra Designs also enters the top bag market with their Wicked Fast line, comprised of two bags ("summer" and "spring" weights). The summer weight bag (size regular) weighs less than a pound and has more loft than the Pod 30, from 7 oz of 800 fill down (15 oz claimed weight, which we could not verify). The spring weight bag (size regular) was even loftier, has 14 oz of 800-fill down (1 lb 9 oz total weight). Both bags have generous girth of 63" x 59" x 46", which may cause problems for thin sleepers needing to warm up the extra space.

Sierra Designs - Wicked Fast Bag - Summer Weight

Mont Bell

Mont Bell offers a complete line of down bags but one contribution in particular, which is one of the lightest down bags in the world, has one of the longest and weirdest names of any bag on the market: The U.L. Alpine Down Hugger #5 (#5 in the U.L. Alpine Down Hugger series). This is a hoodless summer weight bag with vertical box baffles at 15 ounces (6.4 oz fill weight of 725-fill down).


Equinox introduces a beta version of a new synthetic sleeping bag. It is a 3/4-zippered design with 1.1 oz nylon shell and liner and summer-weight synthetic insulation. We couldn't validate the weight, and Equinox didn't give one, but they are targeting an $80 price point in a summer-weight bag that might be well-suited for combining with clothing and bivy gear for summertime backpacking especially in the humid Northeast.


Who would've thought that Slumberjack, not well known for their premier ultralight backpacking gear, would introduce a synthetic sleeping bag that weighs less than six ounces.

Slumberjack Ultralight Synthetic Bag


Kitchen gear innovations. Don't expect great things here, either. We thought the coolest new gear was a titanium java press.


Yep, Snow Peak introduces a titanium java press. And color.

Snow Peak Titanium Java Press

Snow Peak Titanium Mugs - In Color


Titanium cookpot and fry pan/lid for the 28-5 cookset.

Trangia 1L Titanium Cook Pot


(Markill) folding stove, titanium, 3 oz with piezo ignition. folding legs (good pot support).

Markill Folding Titanium Stove


Relatively new and redesigned for this year, Brunton has a nice and very compact canister stove, the Crux. This has 12,000 BTU output, a wide flame spread, and superb simmer control.

Brunton Crux

Rain Shells


Patagonia introduces the new Specter shell line that includes an 8 ounce anorak with hood (no pockets) and 10.5 ounce jacket that includes a hood, handwarmer pockets/core vents. The 3 oz waterproof breathable fabric has a nice drape and is very durable.

Patagonia Specter Jacket

Patagonia Specter Anorak


Equinox introduces an 8-ounce (size Large) silnylon anorak that has a neck zip, hood, mesh pit vents, and elastic drawcord hem. We thought this was an innovative piece that offered good emergency rain protection.

Equinox Squall Silnylon Anorak


Ibex is upgrading the Bug Wing for Spring '04 with an ultralight polyurethane-coated fabric that promises to be more breathable than than the current Tomen fabric used in the jacket. Expect it to remain less than four ounces, but offer significantly better comfort in the rain. Hood storage is also improved.

Ibex Bug Wing - 2004

Wind Shells


The Dragonfly gets a face lift and adds half an ounce with a full length zipper and a more durable fabric.

Patagonia Dragonfly

Pertex Equilibrium, Marmot, and GoLite

Stretchwoven softshell fabrics get even lighter with Pertex Equilibrium, a 4.5 oz fabric that gives full-zip jackets the ability to tip the scales at 10 oz or less. Equilibrium is a density gradient fabric that offers great breathability balanced with wind and drizzle protection, designed primarily for moisture (sweat vapor and wicking) management in high energy activities. Check out new garments from Marmot and GoLite that use Equilibrium.

Marmot Scirocco (Pertex Equilibrium)

Cloudveil Women's Cloudveil has two new garments for women. A nice pair of capri pants and the Rodeo pants are available in a women's style.

Base Layers


Ibex continues to innovate in the area of wool fabrics. They offer a loose-fitting aerobic jersey with a neck zipper that has a very subtle wool inner surface (for temperature control) and a tightly knitted polyester outer surface (for wind resistance and durability). This design provides a good balance between the wide temperature range of wool while still providing the benefits of low moisture absorption offered by all-synthetic garments.

Ibex Teague Wool/Poly Jersey

Ibex Pacifica Merino Wool Base Layer with Front Zip & Handwarmer Cuffs

Insulating Layers


Patagonia's new Micro Puff pullover revisits the long-forgotten roots of the original puffball, offering a new Polarguard Delta pullover with a 1 oz fabric shell and lining. The result: quite possibly the warmest 10.5 ounces you'll find in a synthetic garment.

Patagonia Micro Puff

Western Mountaineering

Western has a 5 oz down vest. It's very nice. And very lofty!

Western Mountaineering Flight Vest


At a higher price, the Belay Parka is a great upgrade to the Coal. It uses Epic fabric and ads many nice design improvements. The Coal continues in GoLite's product line.


The Black Diamond Zenix is a 4.4-ounce headlamp (weight includes 3xAAA batteries that constitute 1.2 oz of the headlamp weight?? why on earth not just use 2xAA lithiums for less weight, more power, and better cold weather performance?) that still works with a helmet. The lamp uses a "hyper" bright LED that can shoot a 50-meter beam. It's a nice lamp, but what gives with the battery choice?

Black Diamond Zenix

Trekking Poles aren't making a big splash this year, but they do shave a few ounces. Look for 13 oz Leki Air Ergo Ultralight Ti poles and new 14 oz two-section carbon fiber trekking poles from Life-Link.

Leki Air Ergo

Water Treatment. No one really cares about water filters anymore, but the MSR Miox Purifier pen offers 30-minute water treatment for up to 4L at a time in a 3.5 ounce package. Pour some water into a little reservoir in the end of the pen, push a button, wait 30 seconds, watch the solution bubble up, and pour the magic solution into your water bottle. Originally developed for the U.S. Military, the Miox works by reacting salt with a small volume of untreated water to create a brine solution. Then, after electrical activation of the solution, a chemical reaction produces a powerful cocktail of mixed oxidants that is then poured into the untreated water container. The microbes are typically killed in 30 minutes, and the pen is said to be capable of eliminating viruses, bacteria, Giardia, and Cryptosporidia. The pen includes safety indicator strips that measure oxidant residual, useful for evaluating the effectiveness of the dose in particularly dirty waters. The Miox is about the size of a good cigar, leaves no foul taste, and requires only salt (included in tablet form by MSR, or you can add your own iodized rock salt) and a pair of CR-123 batteries to operate.

MSR Miox Purifier

ThermaRest lightens their ultralight inflatable sleeping pads with the ProLite 3 series (13 oz in a 3/4 length, 20 oz in full length, and 2.75 oz in a 12" x 16" sit pad). But, stay tuned, Bozeman Mountain Works is whispering that a torso-sized inflatable sleeping pad to be introduced this fall will tip the scales at less than 10 ounces, a product to be found exclusively at

SealSkinz Inroduces fleece lined gloves and socks using their WP/B technology.

Storage. Granite gear introduced a new line of extremely light stuff and storage sacks at the show. These use the lightest silicone fabric in the industry, 1.1 oz coated weight. A 5x12.5" stuff sack weights in at 0.56 oz! A 5.5x15" compression sack weighs 2.5 oz. Also included are the rectangular side zip style Air Space stow bags and the smaller Air Pocket stow bags for items like maps, toiletries, sunscreen, matches and the ilk.

Granite Gear Compression Sack

Granite Gear Silnylon Stow Bag

Product Review Program - Participating Companies is pleased to announce that nearly every company that has been a previous participant in our product review program will be returning for the 2003-2004 season. In addition, we are excited to announce the inclusion of several new companies. In 2003-2004, we will be reviewing products from.

  • Patagonia
  • Sierra Designs
  • Marmot
  • Arc'Teryx
  • GoLite
  • Integral Designs
  • Cloudveil
  • Brunton
  • Mont Bell
  • CamelBak
  • Merrell
  • Black Diamond
  • Vaude
  • Western Mountaineering
  • Granite Gear
  • Cascade Designs
  • Equinox

This is only a partial list, of course, that doesn't include our existing cottage industry base and many, many more manufacturers that showcased their ultralight products to us at the show and will be submitting them for review.


"New Lightweight Backpacking Gear - (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2003) - Member's Version," by the Product Review Staff. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2003-08-16 03:00:00-06.