The people behind these products have the inquisitive minds and depth of knowledge that professionals in any industry should have, but frequently seem to lack. I'd just like to send out a much deserved shout out to the people who make our toys happen: Thank you for an amazing amount of work and dedication!
Big Sky International
Big Sky has some big news, in the form of an all-new Mirage 2P (Will mentioned it in his Kickoff Article. Bob won an Outdoor Industry Award for Design at the Friedrichshafen show for the new Mirage, and I have some more details. What's so cool? How about a two-person hybrid (vestibules are double wall, ceiling is single wall) free standing tent that weighs 1 pound 15 ounces? Or how about this: a waterproof breathable Cubic Tech fabric on the ceiling of the tent (the gray fabric in the photo)! Will is going to test one of these beauties and let you all know what field trials are like. In the meantime, save up your pennies. MSRP is $999.95. The tents will be made to order and will be available with other (less expensive) options. If you ditch the Cuben floor and go for SuprSil you could save yourself a few hundred dollars.
I'm all about a comfortable night of sleep, and Exped continues to deliver. They're introducing the Synmat UL 7, a 2.5-inch thick pad with a layer of insulation attached to the underside of the top fabric, with an R-value of 4 that weighs in at a mere 16 ounces. The pad will be available in two sizes, a 21 x 64 inch (15.5 oz) and a 21 x 72 inch (16.5 oz) model. Inflation is by mouth, but they will have several accessory pump options. MSRP will be $145 and $155, respectively.
It seems like I keep hearing requests for a combination stuff sack/day pack, and Exped is going to deliver. They're launching the dry sack Cloudburst in 15 and 25 liter sizes. They even put a transparent back panel window on the pack to help find things. The sacks have a criss-crossing compression system and some pretty comfy looking shoulder straps. The Cloudbursts aren't exactly light, though: the 15L is 9.9 ounces, the 25L is 10.6 ounces. They're no stripped-down sil sack with straps, but I think they're worthy of consideration since it's still light for a daypack, and they are completely waterproof. MSRP will be $49 for the 15L and $59 for the 25L.
Titanium, sweet titanium. What else can tickle a backpacker's fancy so much? Perhaps gazing into the embers of a fire? Vargo introduces their new titanium Hexagon Wood Stove, a fold-flat 4.1-ounce wood burner that is quite nicely engineered. Each panel is hinged, and the bottom is connected to the sides so no fear about losing parts. For the $59.95 asking price, I can see this jumping into a number of gear closets.
If you haven't heard, Integral Designs and Rab got married not so long ago. Initial impressions are that it's a great match! One thing that caught my fancy was the new ID Bothy, an emergency shelter with great protection and no need for set up. The Bothy is available in a number of sizes: 2-person, 4- to 6-person, and 8- to 10-person. It's made of a waterproof polyester and has windows and vents. You could use trekking poles to set up, but the design has side walls that wrap under and no floor. All you've gotta do is pull it over yourself and sit on the fabric edge. The two-person model weighs 11 ounces; if you want to count ounces, they also have a SilBothy, minus the windows and vents, that weighs 8 ounces. We'll be doing a full review of the Bothy in the future.
Another nice touch from Integral Designs (that you might recognize from Rab) is the eVent Rain Pullover. Pertinent facts: It's a stream-lined 10-ounce eVent anorak. Just about perfect in my book. The only thing that drives me a little batty is the zippered chest pocket. For such a clean and minimalist design, the pocket just doesn't belong. I don't think that can stop me from wanting this shell, though.
Lowe Alpine?! Betcha didn't think you'd see them on our pages. But they have a pretty exciting line of lightweight to (arguably) ultralight packs. Most noteworthy for us: The Zepton 50, a simple packbag with minimalist compression and Dyneema fabric. The Zepton is framed with a wire hoop in a plastic framesheet, and with the hoop and top lid removed, the pack weighs 2 pounds. Keeping the lid and hoop in place gets the weight to 2 pounds 8 ounces. Your intrepid BPL staff will be testing this pack in the near future and will bring you our typical beautifully detailed report. MSRP is $190.
I've gotta hand it to Big Agnes: they've been hard at work! What's particularly interesting to me is that all of their new tents fit perfectly into an existing line or fill a hole in their existing lines. On one hand, beefing up a line makes good sense and seems straightforward. On the other hand, getting the new patterns dialed in isn't such a simple thing. At any rate, one tent I wanted to highlight is the upcoming Jack Rabbit SL series. What makes it special? It's basically a Copper Spur that weighs 7 ounces more and costs $120 less. In rough terms, they redid the Copper Spur ULs with Seedhouse SL materials. All in all, the Jack Rabbit SL2 will weigh in at 3 pounds 13 ounces and have a MSRP of $279.95.
Another new option from Big Agnes is a 48-inch Insulated Air Core. C'mon now, you know the IACs. What's to say? 20 x 48 x 2.5, R-value of 4.1, weight of 16 ounces. If you compared the stats to the new Synmat ULs, Exped would win. But the 48-inch IAC is half the cost, coming in at $69.95.
I'm not sure if it's new, or if I just didn't see it before. But Brunton has a Braille compass! The model 16B weighs 2.3 ounces and costs $100.
Ooooh. More and more big pack manufacturers are getting the idea: More light packs, please! And Deuter is delivering. Enter the new ACT Zero 50 + 15, a 3-pound 5-ounce framed pack designed to be used without the top lid. Strip that lid and you could save 6 or 7 ounces on the weight; it leaves you with a roll-top closure on the pack body. This pack looks pretty well dialed for the thru-hiker crowd, with a "properly" sized main pack bag and a pretty massive extension sleeve for resupplies. We'll be testing this one for you and doing a full review. MSRP will be $169.
Those of you active in the forums know I'm a big fan of white gas stoves for winter. But as we've discussed, lightweight options are... thin. The only option readily available to the consumer has been the 8.5-ounce Simmerlite. But Primus has answered the call of UL white gas fans! They're introducing the new ExpressLander, a 6.2-ounce liquid fuel stove. However, I was a tad suspicious and returned with a scale. The stove itself is 6.2 ounces, but add the pump and add 4 ounces more. MSRP is $96. Not quite too good to be true, but there's potential, and if I were a betting man, I'd say you'll be hearing more about this one.
Confused? Nah, this isn't some new company. I just wanted to let you know that manufacturers (and BPL!) are concerned about testing and specification standardization in the industry. There are a lot of industry working-group meetings during OR; one of particular interest was about standardizing testing and reporting methods for R-value or temperature ratings on sleeping bags and pads. The stuff isn't for the faint of heart: we're talking about size of hot plates, air flow in the testing room, calibration of testing equipment, 3D thermal considerations, mannequin surface area, mass, temperature... and so on. In terms of tents, some companies are interested in adopting the publication of overall tent volume; if you were to consider a Fly Creek 2 and Copper Spur 2, they're essentially the same floor area. But the reality is that the Copper Spur has nearly double the internal living space. Including tent volume on spec sheets would give consumers a better overall picture of the tent. Other tent standardization considerations include making floor area measurements equivalent between companies. The point is, industry pros know and understand consumer frustrations... and they're probably even more frustrated by reporting inconsistencies than consumers! But instead of just futzing about it, they're working toward solutions.