Day One at Outdoor Retailer, the Open Air Demo day, was my kind of day. Great weather, great people, great toys... and plenty of boats to test paddle! There wasn't exactly a plethora of ultralight backpacking gear, but we definitely found some interesting and relevant things to share with you (the kayak test-paddling I guess I'll have to write off as fun background information).
Sand Socks, Inc. Grip Socks
I started wearing just socks around camp years ago as an alternative to heavy camp shoes. Then I started sticking my orthotics inside the socks, and it worked... mostly. Admittedly, the pine sap, needles, little twigs, debris, and water that accumulated in the socks were a drag. Enter the Grip Socks, just introduced to the market at Outdoor Retailer.
The Grip Socks have a 3mm neoprene sole with a roughly textured outer surface, mated to a thinner neoprene at heel and toe that gives way to a mid-calf height lycra upper. My size mediums weigh 3.3 ounces, and my initial impression is favorable after stalking rougher urban walking surfaces and patches of gravel. The socks are unobtrusive, but provide just enough underfoot protection for my needs and have relatively good traction. I do hope that future developments find slightly wider and longer underfoot padding, as my initial impression is that the periphery seems to attract sharper rocks. Overall, these are way better than my old "insole in sock" technique, with none of the drawbacks and more protection. MSRP $19.99.
If you're one of those who can't make yourself leave the electronics at home, the Dry Case might be a smart investment. The Dry Case is designed to fit most smart phones, MP3 players, and even small digital cameras. Its flexible, see-through pouch has a vacuum seal and is reputed to be waterproof to 100 feet. The 2.3-ounce case is made of a substantial material that still allows you to use your touch screen device with ease and even incorporates a waterproof headphone jack (Dry Buds, waterproof headphones, are also available).
One thing that immediately impressed me was the top seal... this is no zippered baggie! It seems to be made of an ABS-type plastic and incorporates two rotating, locking seals. You can vacuum seal the pouch just by sucking on the valve, or you can use the 1-ounce suction bulb. As long as you wouldn't need to change batteries, of course, you could just seal the pouch at the trailhead and leave the bulb behind anyway. The Dry Case has an integrated "belt loop" on the back; you can use the 2.1-ounce buoyant neoprene arm band, or if you're really trying to save weight, you could just slip it on a belt, a bit of webbing, or into your pack.
I don't take electronics backpacking, but I'm impressed enough by the design and execution of the Dry Case that I bought one anyway. I see a lot of potential for day hikes, paddle trips, and other outdoor adventures. Most things like this seem gimmicky to me, but if you like to carry your phone or MP3 (or camera!) in the backcountry, the Dry Case has my vote. MSRP is $39.99. A "folio" size will also be available if you're toting along your iPad or Kindle, $59.99.
Really. These are pretty good! I swore off dried eggs decades ago as being a substandard food product substitute, but you can bet Adventure Egg will be joining my food bag. The difference? Adventure Egg spray-dries their eggs over a low heat, which doesn't alter the protein structure of the eggs like freeze-drying or higher-temperature drying tend to do. The parent company, Henningsen Foods, has been supplying dried eggs to commercial food producers for sixty years, so chances are you've eaten these eggs in any number of baked products.
The eggs had the taste and texture of, well, "actual" scrambled eggs. I was shocked! Adventure Egg is also introducing flavors. The 2.5-ounce package is equivalent to 6 eggs, and projected retail is around $5.95. A 16-ounce, 36 egg package will also be available, with projected retail around $20.95.
Point 6 Socks
As a long-time buyer in specialty outdoor retail, the words I most dread hearing from a sales rep are "Let me show you our new sock line." Even if you feel that way hearing about yet another sock company, Point 6 is worth every bit of your attention! This year's Outdoor Retailer marks Point 6's first year on the market, and the other shop I work for (in Michigan) has been carrying the line since its launch.
What I can tell you is this: I own, well, hmm... bins and bins of socks, from the vast majority of manufacturers. Point 6 socks are the ones I always grab first. In my opinion, Point 6 has the best fit, finish, and yes, aesthetic of any sock I've worn. Not only are they a delight to wear, but all of the merino wool used in the socks is compact spun. Short version? The socks are more durable, too. The Active Medium Cushion Mini Crews weigh 2 ounces; if you prefer 'em thin, the Running Ultralight Mini Crews weigh 1.3 ounces. If you're more of a boot person or just like taller socks, check out their Hiking Tech or Active Crews.
We'll be writing up a full review on Point 6 in the near future.
Wait... Isn't this Backpacking Light? Well, yeah. But if you cruise down through the forums you'll find one dedicated to water travel, and most of the first day/Open Air Demo centered around watersport. So here's one for the canoeists out there.
Wenonah is introducing a new layup called Barracuda for 2011. Barracuda is an aluminized glass fabric that's tough, looks sharp, and approaches the weight of Kevlar boats. The interior of the layup is Innegra S fabric (a rep told me the military uses the stuff in fighter jets) that really beefs up the impact resistance and toughness. Wenonah's best-selling Spirit II weighs 42 pounds in Kevlar Ultra-Light, the Barracuda will be 46 pounds, and (for comparison) their glass Tuf-Weave Flex-Core is 58 pounds. From Wenonah's description: "Our canoes made from Barracuda emulate the silver sheen of 3-D steel." Prices vary based on model.
Wenonah is also introducing a new Kevlar vessel called the Canak to their line. It's a 16-foot boat with a hull similar to their solo Prism canoe that blends the better attributes of canoes and kayaks for tripping in lake country. Canoes are far easier to unload and load for portaging, but kayaks can have a bit nicer touring ability. What they've done is basically decked the canoe, but left huge fore and aft open portions covered by battened fabric covers. They're also introducing a portage yoke specially designed to mate with the framework of the sliding seat. My short spin in the 38 pound Canak left a favorable impression; with a bit of adjustment on the foot braces, I could even get a bit of a thigh brace on the cockpit coaming, great for better control when needed. If you like traveling solo in the Boundary Waters, this one's worth a test paddle.
The Street Strider
Call it a “mountain bike for seniors” if you want! The Street Strider is like an elliptical trainer on wheels, or on steroids. You power yourself and your “ride” down the street or the bike path with both your feet and your hands, like an elliptical trainer. You turn by shifting your weight like a Segway. It allows you to do your fitness exercising outside instead of in your local fitness club where you are distracted by all those chicks and dudes in tight Lycra, or by all the bad news on CNN. The Street Strider sells for US$1299 for a basic one with three speeds, or US$1699 for turbo version with eight speeds. Available spring 2011.
Stoic Somnus 30 and 15 Down Sleeping Bags
It never fails to happen, publish a “comprehensive” state-of-the-art article on ultralight down sleeping bags, and right away a bag surfaces that you never heard of before. Meet the Stoic Somnus bags, which are sold by backcountry.com as their house brand. These are impressive bags: 15 denier Pertex Quantum shell and 800 fill-power down. The 30 degree bag weighs in at 1 pound 7 ounces, and the 15 degree bag weighs 2 pounds 1 ounce - not bad. The MSRPs are US$269 and US$349 respectively - also not bad. Now for the drawbacks: the bags are currently only available in size Long, and the Pertex Quantum is the original Quantum, not the new lighter/softer Quantum. They expect a size Regular to be available around Summer 2011.