I think the market may simply be pausing to consolidate (or co-opt, depending on your politics) the innovations being made by cutting-edge companies like Gossamer Gear, TarpTent, SixMoonDesigns, and others too numerous to mention. I’ve tried cutting-edge ultralight, and found it didn’t suit my hiking and camping style. (That’s another thread, for another time.) I’m now back to a 12-pound base weight, composed entirely of “mainstream” gear (Granite Gear, MSR, Western Mountaineering, Patagonia, etc.) However, my foray into ultralighting (an 8-pound base load) exposed me to a few new ideas and a lot of new gear design concepts that I believe will eventually work their way into the mainstream. When they do, I’m betting that my base weight will drift back down to 10 pounds. So, I’m fearlessly predicting that, within 5 years, the “boutique” companies mentioned earlier will become mainstream manufacturers and/or mainstream manufacturers will incorporate their ultralight design features:
Packs: Materials will get lighter, in exchange for durability (but when was the last time you owned a pack for more than 3 or 4 years?) Sleeping pads will be incorporated into frames, probably using an arrangement like Ron Moak’s compartments to which shoulder straps attach. Load lifters may disappear (but maybe not.) Shoulder straps and hip belts may incorporate clothing as padding – or at least reduce the amount of padding. Typical acceptable pack weight will drop to a pound or pound and a half.
Stoves: Alcohol will go mainstream; MSR or Snow Peak will come out with a titanium version of the Clikstand/Trangia (financing Scott Reiner’s early retirement) – thereby allowing you to “turn off” your stove even though the fuel isn’t all gone. Alternatively, they will use a pressurized system to feed a 3-oz. alcohol burner directly from a fuel bottle. Total weight (stove, windscreen, support) will standardize at 5 oz.
Sleeping pads: Self inflaters will be offered in 30 and 40 inch lengths. Shaped stays and light straps will be incorporated directly into the pad, eliminating the need for a separate chair kit – and eliminating the need for stays (and maybe framesheets) in packs. Also, the foam used in the Gossamer Gear pads will replace the closed cell foam currently used in Ridgerest and Z-Lite pads. Scoring, to allow pads to be used as frame components with minimal thickness, will become standard. Stays may even be incorporated directly into closed-cell pads. Typical weights will drop to 10 ounces for self-inflaters, 8 ounces for closed-cell.
Raingear: Some clever fellow will incorporate a self-storing pack cover into a pouch on the back of a rain jacket, thereby eliminating the one shortcoming of the pack cover: allowing water to soak into the back of the pack.
Water filters: the standard for weight will be reduced to 8 ounces – where the Katadyn Mini Filter is now – with no sacrifice in ease of pumping. The jury’s still out on whether there will ever be a no-wait chemical treatment that will ring a death knell for filters.
Tents: Single-purpose poles will disappear. Tents will use hiking poles for support, or packs will use tent poles as stays – or both. (And Henry Shires will join Scott Reiner in early retirement.) Spinnaker cloth may become the material of choice here. Will double wall tents vanish? Don’t know – depends on whether the condensation/ventilation issues (significant in the east) can be resolved. Standard weight for a one-person tent will drop to 2 pounds; for a two-person tent, 3 pounds.
You may now proceed to tell me that my parents weren’t married.