I tried to hit more of the little back halls and hidden places today, and found some pretty great stuff. Some of the bigger manufacturers had newer exciting things, too. And I came across a few products that, although not lightweight, strike me as fitting within many of our lifestyle perspectives.
The big news from Marmot is their 900 fill down, slick-shelled Pertex 0.8 oz/yd2 Plasma sleeping bags. These bags have a number of intelligent design features, including a beautifully sculpted footbox and longitudinal baffles. The Plasmas are available as 30 and 15 degree bags. Both bags have full active draft collars (circumferential with draw cord) and full-length zippers. If I may be so blunt, they look about as sexy as a sleeping bag possibly could.
I do have some hesitations, though. When I hear 900 fill and 0.8 oz/yd2 Pertex, I think crazy wicked light. But the Plasma 30 comes in at 1 pound 6 ounces and the Plasma 15 weighs 1 pound 14 ounces. Using Western as a benchmark, the 32 degree Summerlite weighs 1 pound 3 ounces and the 20 degree Ultralite weighs 1 pound 13 ounces. The Plasma 30 does have a full draft collar and the Summerlite doesn't. So the bags are pretty comparable overall... but the Plasma 30 will cost $419 versus $315, and the Plasma 15 will cost $469 versus $385. Maybe some field testing would make it clear that the different features are worth their price?
From one of the giants to one of the tiny guys. I pretty literally stumbled across Portec, almost blowing by their booth until I saw silnylon tarps and sil pack bodies glinting at me from the corner. The small Canadian company produces a nice selection of sil tarps. One thing I liked was the range of sizing and pricing. Their 6 x 9 tarp weighs 12 ounces with guylines and stuff sack and costs $69. They also make huge sil tarps, like a 12 x 14 that weighs in at 1 pound 11.5 ounces with guylines and stuff sack, for $179. They even make a 16 x 20!
Portec also had a pack line they've just started developing. Their Capacity 55L has dual aluminum stays in a frame sheet, zippered bottom access, and one of the beefiest hipbelts I've seen on a lighter pack. The packs weighs 3 pounds 15 ounces and will cost $174.
It's pretty hard for me to get excited about protein or energy bars, or to really want to eat them. However, Honey Stinger makes energy and meal supplements that are almost as interesting as they are tasty. The Stinger folks are rightfully proud that they use no refined sugars, corn syrup, or weird stuff. The 10-gram protein bars seem to be one of their standards and are made with over 30% organic honey and 25% organic ingredients overall. One of the Stinger claims to fame is a naturally balanced, highly digestible and low glycemic nutritional product.
Their product range is... very tasty. And it has really good texture compared to other products within the categories. The flavors are great and eating the bars is surprisingly explorational. Their energy chews are not only edible, but almost like eating a nice soft candy (not at all like the hard rubbery pellets of other companies). Lance Armstrong recently joined the company as a partner and inspired the Stinger waffles, honey sandwiched between two thin waffles. Again, great taste and texture!
I'm not sure if Vasque's Mind Benders (coming out in fall) really are mind bending, but my initial impression is that they have a lot of potential. The shoes feel relatively light in hand but offer a somewhat surprising amount of torsional support. The midsole is constructed of a dual density EVA, TPU instep plate, and a "textile forefoot plate." Standard sample size 9 shoes weigh in at 11.5 ounces (per shoe, as standard shoe weights are). They'll also be available in a 13.6-ounce Gore-tex version. We'll be testing them and reporting back to you. MSRP will be $95.
As I sit here typing, I'm listening to tunes through my new Yurbuds, which is kinda funny since the earbud enhancers were developed for the most active of pursuits. What are Yurbuds? They're soft silicone fit enhancers for earbuds that come in 6 different sizes. Fit enhancer? That sounds a little... used car sales-like, doesn't it? But no fear, the Yurbuds really make your buds fit a lot better. Most importantly, they're designed specifically to keep the earbuds in your ear regardless of what you're doing.
The fit is very comfortable and very secure. You'd have to do some crazy stuff to get the earbuds to come out. Yurbuds are designed as an add-on product for the earbuds you already have. They'll also fit on many Bluetooth headsets. The company also makes Yurphones earbuds, and you can purchase the Yurphones w/enhancers as a package. MSRP for the enhancers is $20, the Yurphones are $10, and the package is (surprise!) $30.
These tents are impossible to miss and irresistibly cool. Now, I do realize that alpine expedition tents aren't normally our thing, but there's just no excuse for not sharing this company's innovation with you. Most of their shelters encase the poles in webby-looking intertwined sleeves (the company descriptively calls it WebTruss technology), making pretty killer Bucky domes. The space : strength : weight ratio is pretty incredible, and options abound.
The One model is 76 square feet and uses 6 equidistant poles. With the fly stretched over the frame, weight is only 9 pounds 4 ounces. For a huge expedition tent, that's really light. You can also get an inner tent that would add 2.95 pounds; it's designed to fit in the tent so that you have a 13.75 square foot vestibule on each side of two doors, leaving a 47 square foot sleeping space. The guys at SlingFin are working on some really killer ideas, and for you fabric nuts they've been using some great materials from Dimension Polyant. I can hardly wait to watch this company grow!
Just a heads-up for y'all. The venerable Shangri La line has undergone some updates. It seems like the forums generate chatter about how GoLite keeps getting heavier... Well, they just cut 25% of the weight off their Shangri La 2. It now only weighs 3 pounds for the tent and nest combined! They're using a 15 denier ripstop to create a 45 square foot shelter. One of the changes they made was in shortening the length of the Nest to provide a bit of vestibule space; the problem I have is that set up now seems to require a trekking pole right smack in the middle of the door. Talk about inconvenient! My solution has been to put a trekking pole in each front corner of the floor and let the (rubber-tipped) ends meet at the peak. MSRP for the SL 2 is $225, the nest is $100.
This is just a little public service type comment. If you go to your favorite local shop looking for McNett Seam Grip, for example, you probably won't find the familiar packaging. Through a merger and focusing lines, the familiar McNett stuff is now sold as Gear Aid. Same great product, different packaging, no worries.
I found SOLID gold at Cilo Gear. The crew was great, the packs were fantastic, and I learned some eye-opening things. Their ultimate pack, the NWD (Non-Woven Dyneema, aka Cuben) 60L WorkSack is pretty much an ultralight tank. The first thing I noticed walking up to the Cilo booth was a wall full of very used packs. Packs that had the distinct patina of having been through the wringer a time or four, but that were obviously still in quite functional condition. Funny-looking, almost translucent white packs. I had to know the story. Had the packs been on a few week-long backpacking trips, or a thru hike, or were they several years old? As it turns out, they had been used for some heinous mountaineering expeditions and climbing trips. The kind of trips that take months to complete and win awards and recognition for their zaniness. I knew Cilo folks were good people when I asked them which pack they wanted me to photograph, thinking of the new packs they had displayed, and they encouraged me to share the, um, well loved packs. The point of all this, of course, is that people are always concerned about the durability of Cuben... and these packs clearly illustrate the pretty bomber durability potential in the fabric.
For specifics: that NWD 60L WorkSack is, in typical alpine style, a strippable pack. With everything on there the pack weighs 3 pounds 8 ounces. Without the lid or compression straps (yes, removable compression straps) the framed pack weighs 2 pounds 13 ounces. Did I mention that the fabric is pretty bomber? Early on an expedition a pack got a hole in transit; several months of expedition later, the hole was no worse for wear. I mention that again to prepare you for this: the pack will set you back $750. But wow, what a pack!
This one is a category, not a company. I've found a number of manufacturers launching or promoting their glass bottles. If you're one of those not comfortable drinking from plastics in your day to day work life, these things could be pretty solid options. The glass itself is exceptionally stout, seemingly Pyrex-ish, and ensconced in protection. The bottles impart no taste at all to their contents and generally run around $20.
The Bamboo Bottle Company sheaths its glass bottles in bamboo for impact protection, insulation, and a clean aesthetic. The glass bottle itself is removable for cleaning.
Another company working on the concept is Lifefactory. Their glass bottles are enshrouded in silicone sleeves that have kind of polka-dottish cutouts. The cutouts are actually kind of nice, because it allows you to see the contents of the bottle.
SmartWool will be introducing a new sock called the Hiking Ultra Light Mini (and Crew) in their performance socks line. The socks have mesh panels on the tops for venting, are a bit shorter than their cousins, feel great, and have a more day-to-day look along with being a great technical sock. Size large crews weigh 2.1 ounces. Most notable aspects of the socks: very soft hand, pretty much see-through mesh on top of the foot, and (in my mind) very discreet color palette.
Tremont Electric nPowerPEG
Even walking through such an intensely whelming show, even little things just jump right out at you from the booth. Little things that literally make you stop in your tracks, perhaps because of cool factor, perhaps because you have no idea what it is, but it looks like it has potential. The nPowerPEG was such a situation.
The signs said "Personal Energy Generator," and that sounded pretty cool. So what is it? It's a kinetic energy charger designed to charge hand-held electronics. Basically, you can shove the thing upright in a pack, bag, or pocket and your movement as you walk will be enough to charge up the device. They're just launching the product, and anticipate developing smaller lighter models. As they're launching it, however, the device weighs a hair under 12 ounces. Their target market includes mountain bikers, commuters and college students, emergency services personnel, and, they say, backpackers. Cost will be around $150.
Nova Craft Canoe
I can't help myself. Even if I weren't just a paddlecraft nut, these are way too cool to ignore. Nova Craft has taken canoe customization to an entirely new level. Inspired by the radical designs at Orange County Choppers, the artwork on these canoes is amazing. Nova Craft figured out to print indelible designs onto fabric they lay up in the construction of their canoes. Weights are irrelevant here. Check out the images! (The brown one is city fading to backcountry. Don't miss the couch!)