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Nothing New Under the Sun?
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Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 04:59:59 MDT Print View

I've been contemplating the content of all the discussions and articles lately and yesterday wondered, "What happened to all those wonderfully innovative ideas that were the hallmark of early BPL?" When I started in UL Ray Jardin had just published "Beyond Backpacking" (and I had just finished reading the older "The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook"), Glen van Peski was sewing G4 packs, Ryan Jordan was still writing in his Yellowstone Journal blog and had just started experimenting with breathable bivies and cuben tarps, SUL, and synthetic fill jackets, Bill Fornsnell had introduced a lot of alternative lightweight ideas, and the Hennessey Hammock had just come out. They were all very exciting, "new" ideas at the time, and changed the way I thought about backpacking.

Recently, though, I see almost nothing new anymore, even from those who pioneered the present UL movement (perhaps the newest idea is packrafting). I can't recall a single recent idea that had me excited to go try it the way the early ideas did. It seems the grander UL "thread" seems to have petered out and now it's just repetition of older tried concepts. A lot of the new shelters and such seem to just be refinements of the earlier ideas. Are the creative juices faded away, or have all the ideas been tried? Or is it a wave, like happened in the 70's when the new backpacking movement triggered a lot of new ideas and companies like Patagonia and Mont Bell and The North Face?

I'd really like to revive the spirit of experimentation and see where SUL can take us now. Will there ever be a material beyond cuben? (wish there was something like funnel web spider silk, that you could draw into something as thin as a tent pole, but it would fan out and stick any way you needed it to) What other ideas in packs can be tried? (I'm working on a pack where the outer mesh is the frame and the "body" of the pack is a light dry sack, sort like an ultralight basket pack) Is there a way to think about rain gear that does away with the shell concept (such as the Paramo system)? What kinds of further improvements can be made to freezer bag cooking? Are there any fuels beyond alcohol, white gas, canisters, and wood? How about stakes? Anything different (I have an idea based on the incredible holding power of rhinoceros and stag beetle claws)?

Nature is probably the best inspiration... surely it has an example of just about anything we can think of... and haven't thought of.

Part of the reason I love the UL movement is the willingness to think in new ways, and to be willing to open our minds and see our approach to the outdoors in heretofore untried and unusual perspectives.

todd h
(funnymoney) - MLife

Locale: SE
Re: Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 07:21:49 MDT Print View

"... refinements of the earlier ideas. Are the creative juices faded away, or have all the ideas been tried? Or is it a wave..."

All of the above. It's only natural as more brains, ideas, enthusiasm come together as has happened w/the UL/SUL movement. The early excitement spawns involvement and innovation, then the ideas become harder to come by and things slow down.

The passion is still here, as evident from your thinking on new ideas. That's why I believe that, while the pace of "new" ideas may be slower, the innovation won't stall completely.

Nice observations, and thoughts, by the way!

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Re: Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 07:51:26 MDT Print View

Have you seen this thread: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography?

I propose a SUL integrated system for under one pound consisting of

>iphone 3GS
>zoom liquid lens camera with foveon sensor
>Flashlight module for camera/navigation/camp (Photon Rex??)
>Weather tracker module
>Iridium satellite transceiver/antenna module for 2way communication and real time GPS tracking

The camera body acts as a host to these modules allowing you to customize as per your needs. iphone acts as a CPU/power source and controls camera and other modules via touch interface.

Any comments??

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Re : Nothing new under the sun? on 06/22/2009 08:06:34 MDT Print View

I'm convinced that more can be made of the Vapour Barrier side in clothing, as technology is producing some interesting new fabrics. Unless it's extremely cold, then using tradiotional VB clothing involves too much hassle. I think it's Schoeller who have produced a fabric that has 'pores' that open and close depending on temperature. Further work in this direction would be good.
A full VB set of clothing that was able to 'open up' in warmer temperatures would enable the backpacker to carry much less clothing.

Ryan Linn

Locale: Maine!
Re: Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 08:13:03 MDT Print View

I've noticed that a lot of the new articles seem to be about packrafting, which isn't my cup of tea, but it seems to be a new place for innovation. And there's also the new technology in some of the state-of-the-market reviews from previous years, like the ion masking technology in Hi Tec's trailrunners or new eVent jackets that can break the 8 oz barrier.

Of course, when I started looking at these forums, everything seemed new and exciting, but I think now that I've got the hang of things on my own, less of the posts seem pertinent or urgent for me to follow. Especially now that it's summertime and I'd rather be testing my gear in the field than thinking about what might work while in the office.

But there are still great things to read here once in a while. I still look forward to each week's new articles in case there's anything really cool. The scientific testing of gear, like the alcohol efficiency or the NeoAir review, is what makes me really love the articles here.

David T
(DaveT) - F
. on 06/22/2009 10:10:39 MDT Print View


Edited by DaveT on 05/17/2015 22:40:33 MDT.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Nothing New Under the Sun.. on 06/22/2009 10:36:29 MDT Print View

Yes-Things have seemed to of slow down just a bit in means of a fresh new innovation. But you have to admit the Neo-Air sleeping pad is a NEW innovation.. The weight and very small packing size definitely says WOW!! and it is very comfortable too.....Some body need to invent a better integrated solar panel for our backpacks for heating, cooking and recharging our small tech gadgets...

Edited by Creachen on 06/22/2009 19:20:44 MDT.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Nothing New Under the Sun.. on 06/22/2009 10:54:10 MDT Print View

UL is an idea that came, was explored to death and now is just backpacking. Only newbies find the concept new.
New gear will come out but none of it will be truly innovative. Still, good cottage gear will continue to be made.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Re: Nothing New Under the Sun.. on 06/22/2009 11:34:04 MDT Print View

The gear innovations I'm most interested in are those that bring more lightweight gear options into the mainstream. Lighter weight gear that is nevertheless decently durable, affordable, and without too much of a learning curve to use (in lieu of heavier equivalents).

The movement is truly over (in a good way) when mainstream backpacking classes and books and just "conventional wisdom" contain more than just lame lip service towards lightweight backpacking. I helped out at a beginning backpacking class earlier this month and there's clearly a long way to go! Some future gear innovations will no doubt help.

(drown) - F - MLife

Locale: Shenandoah
"Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 12:29:11 MDT Print View

Avenues for development IMHO:

1. A perfect lightweight remote canister stove that doesn't require a machine shop modification in order to work well in winter and is at the same time light enough for summer use. Preferably with an optional very light fitted heat exchanger equipped pot available in several volumes. What Jetboil might of come up with if they had focused on innovation rather than color combination and aesthetics.

2. A GPS device that is small, lightweight, simple, and battery efficient. And a satellite network that is equally resilient. We are very close to the former and get further from the latter. I suspect what is lacking is a clearly articulated market driven vision of the perfect SUL GPS device. There is a vacuum to be filled here by an innovative company.

3. Textiles that can work as both vapor barrier or breathable shell based on humidity / temperature gradients. Probably will come out of space/military research

4. Durable, compressible, lightweight synthetic insulation. (We are getting closer).

5. Faster turn around time by the cottage industry without sacrificing quality or domestic manufacturing. (read jobs for seamstresses) This includes BPL which needs to stock more of it's products, more of the time.

6. Lightweight, simple, reliable gravity fed (no batteries) water purification that is clog free and that eliminates all pathogens, improves water taste and clarity, and that is easily field maintainenable.

7. Lighter weight, soft bear proof food storage devices. I think the ursack is a good concept that could be improved upon. Bearikade devices are also clever but the cylindrical shape carries poorly. Carbon fibre is shapeable. Black Diamond truly innovated in the creation of the CF black prophet ice tools. Someone needs to do the same for the canister A bear canister that fits a human back and into a pack in order to carry better, provide adequate food storage space and weighs less should be possible. A pack manufacture could potentially sell a custom fitted pack.bear canister combination.

It's only a matter of time before bear proof canisters are required in more National Parks and Forests.

8. Non toxic, effective, bug repellent.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Fascinating Discussion on 06/22/2009 12:59:48 MDT Print View

I’m pretty new to lightweight backpacking and this forum (just bought my BPL membership today), so a lot of what I have to add may be old news. I’ve been a designer and maker of things for a long time (taught sculpture at university for years, now working on a master’s in architecture as a second career) and can see a lot of creative research potential here.

If simply shedding weight is the goal of lightweight/UL/SUL (and I realize it isn’t), there is a theoretical and practical limit to that. The theoretical minimum skin-out weight would be hard to calculate exactly—seems like it would be a function of: 1) the minimum area of material required to cover an average adult and provide dead air space for 3 season insulation; 2) minimum strength(s) for the material to be usable; and 3) maximum strength to weight ratio of a suitable material. I have a couple of engineer friends who do research in nano and micro technology and are casual backpackers—they might have some interesting ideas about this.

I suggest the practical limit to weight reduction is something like the weight above the theoretical limit just before further increase becomes noticeable. This would probably be relative to the weight of consumables. I suspect some SUL weights are near this practical limit. Weight reduction below the practical limit is more about competitive spirit (like sprinters shaving hundredths of a second off existing records) than real-world results.

My observation, as someone new to the field, is that lightweight/UL/SUL is beginning to shift from using new materials, designs and techniques to further reduce base weights, and instead is using these to add back traditional backpacking values like ruggedness, use of the same item for a wide range of conditions, convenience and “comfort” while keeping weights low. This may not be as exciting as achieving sub 5 lb (or sub 2 lb) base weights, but it’s still pretty innovative, and compelling for those of us with tight budgets and small gear closets.

If I could make predictions for future areas of innovation (and again, I apologize if these are old hat or naive), I’d suggest this two:

UL innovations that open the skies to backpacking, the way packrafting has opened waterways. Packgliding or packflying using collapsible, packable gliders or even solar-powered electric motors. Imagine packflying the Amazon or PNW rainforests, spending every night sleeping high in the canopy, or packgliding in Canyon Lands.

Lightweight gear and techniques have allowed many with minor physical limitations (e.g bad backs and knees) to get into the backcountry again. Perhaps this could be extended so that even those with big physical challenges (wheelchair use, etc) could do wilderness hiking without compromise to the wilderness environment.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: "Nothing New Under the Sun? re:7 custom-molded Bearikade? on 06/22/2009 16:38:09 MDT Print View

I find idea 7 very fascinating but wonder. The difficulty is seeing if it would still be bear proof. From a strength resistance ratio, the cylinder is probably the strongest shape for least amount of material one can use. Still an interesting idea to muse over. I also wonder if one did make it still bear-resistant if the weight per cubic inch would not be significantly heavier.

I think a better idea is for some backpack manufacturers to make a backpack that enables one to pack the Bearikade Expedition cannister horizontally in the pack. It might require a couple of internal straps to hold it horizontally even ( to avoid tippage ). The backpack companies seem to currently ignore the High Sierra hikers who are in need of the Expedition Cannisters.

Jeremy Greene
(tippymcstagger) - F

Locale: North Texas
Re: "Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 17:09:18 MDT Print View

"6. Lightweight, simple, reliable gravity fed (no batteries) water purification that is clog free and that eliminates all pathogens, improves water taste and clarity, and that is easily field maintainenable."

How about monitoring and reporting on water quality?

(drown) - F - MLife

Locale: Shenandoah
Re: Re: "Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 17:44:47 MDT Print View

"How about monitoring and reporting on water quality?"

I'm not sure how to read your question but if you mean as part of a device, yes absolutely. Perhaps a simple test dropper kit that can provide a simple color reaction in the presence of pathogens.


Robert Blean
(blean) - MLife

Locale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
Re: Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 17:54:57 MDT Print View

Some things are known, but waiting for technology to catch up. I have in mind a SteriPEN type device, made with UV LED's. According to some of Roger's writings, this is still a year or two off, because of the rate of the LED development.

-- MV

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: "Nothing New Under the Sun? re:7 custom-molded Bearikade? on 06/22/2009 18:05:18 MDT Print View

What ever happened to the electic shock critter bag? That seems a great idea as it both protects your food and provides a deterent to teach animals to avoid human bags of food.

Chris Benson
(roguenode) - F

Locale: Boulder
Palisade EST on 06/22/2009 18:24:49 MDT Print View

I actually have the 600 size EST. It didn't receive certification, but is supposed to be re-tested this year. I've used it a few times with good results and will be trying it out on the Sawatch Range in Colorado this August.

It does count as recent innovation in UL in my book.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 19:19:37 MDT Print View

"Are there any fuels beyond alcohol, white gas, canisters, and wood?"

How about these (probably not practical yet):

>Electrical resistance immersion heater, powered by a battery charged by a solar panel.

To raise temp of 500 ml water from 20 C to 95 C requires 500 * 75 = 37,500 calories = 43.5 watt-hours. Say <100 watt-hours to heat water per person per day. The weight of the solar panel and battery pack would clearly be an issue (but lighter, more efficient thin film solar and lithium-ion batteries are the subject of very active research), as would the poor performance of batteries in cold weather, and solar cells in dense forest. On the plus side, the heater itself would be very efficient, the system would have no moving parts, and the batteries and charger could be multi-use equipment. Used carefully, an immersion heater could boil water in a very lightweight container (paper or plastic).

>Cook with waste body heat

The average adult generates a continuous flux of 100 watts of waste heat (what a sleeping bag is capturing to keep us warm). If this could be captured, stored and then released quickly, with as low as 4% efficiency, it would heat > 1 liter of water per day. Exertion produces even more heat.

>The nuclear option

Some space probes use the waste heat of decaying plutonium as a power source. There might be practical problems applying this to UL backpacking…

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 21:37:28 MDT Print View

I'm not saying nothing new can be done, but personally, I'm at the point of diminishing returns.

I'm primarily into the practical aspect of UL, mostly concerned with what the lighter weight will enable me to do.
On short trips, UL gear allows me to carry 6 pints of beer and a bunch of fresh food.
On long trips, UL gear helps me do 35+ miles in a day or go peak bagging.

My current kit allows me to go as low as a 6 lb. base if I want to. I can't foresee (aside from doing it as an exercise in itself) why I'd ever need to go lighter. I could run a marathon with 10 pounds today. Even at 6 lbs. I sleep warm, eat well, and stay dry.

Really, what else do I need?

I think many of us may be at this point, inevitably causing a slowing in the market. Practically speaking, how far can it go?

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: Nothing New Under the Sun? on 06/22/2009 22:55:25 MDT Print View

I want a second generation Refuge-X tent with a colored-dyed cuben fiber cover and the groundcloth setup to handle the issues covered in the review.

I want a backpack similar to the Granite Gear Nimbus Ozone but made with Cuben Fiber and shaped to handle the Bearikade Expedition Cannister horizontally fitted (with straps to prevent tipping), that the pack weighs < 2.5 lb. I love the Nimbus Ozone and it's one thing I refuse to go lighter, I have tried but keep coming back to this pack.

I want a second generation Spot that is as light as the new McMurdo Fastfind (<= 5.3 oz) and that remedies the criticisms made against it in the reviews.

I want an Iphone with a good enough camera in it that I can take it as my camera/gps unit on the JMT even though the phone is useless then (but other features aren't).

I want more boots that weigh < 19 oz that are mid-height and use eVent not the inferior GoreTex stuff. I was disappointed to see Keen switch from eVent to Keen.Dry. Love to see an Asolo Everland GV or Spryre GV boot using eVent rather than GoreTex.

I want better camp/wading sandles than the Pocket Slipper (in just 2 nites of use, hole appeared in the toe area), they should be able to make decent camp/wading sandles that average 3-4 oz apiece.