2011 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Coverage
- Part 1: Lightweight Shelters and Sleep Gear
- Part 2: Lightweight Backpacks, Stoves, and Accessories
- Part 3: Lightweight Apparel and Hiking Footwear
- Part 4: Technical Watches, Minimalist Footwear, and Family Gear
These guys circulated around the Show floor modeling the new air-permeable “Nobody Suit” by Alien Sportswear. The suits come in a variety of bright colors, plus black if you aspire to be a night stalker or rob a convenience store. The Nobody concept seems to be catching on, with people wearing the suits anonymously at the return counter in outdoor stores, in bars, at parties, support groups, and even on TV's The Bachelorette. There’s something about the Nobody Suit that releases your inhibitions but keeps the rest of you covered up.
This is a broad category and there are always a lot of new introductions. The challenge is to find truly lightweight apparel for backpacking. Here is a summary of the most appealing apparel we found.
MontBell is always a good place to look for lightweight apparel. In spring 2012 they will be introducing the MontBell Versalite Jacket which will weigh 7.4 ounces (210 g) and cost US$179. It’s not the lightest rain jacket to be found (the lightest is the North Face Triumph Anorak at 5.85 oz/166 g), but the important facts to take into account are that the Versalite is made of MB’s Super Hydro Breeze fabric (20,000 mm waterproofness, 20,000 g/m2/hr MVTR) and has hand pockets and pit zips, so it's full-featured and more breathable for just 1.6 ounces (45.4 g) more. And the cost is the same as the TNF Triumph, so it’s a great value. Equally exciting is the new MontBell Versalite Pant (US$109) which will weigh just 4 ounces (114 g), making them the lightest on the market. The pant doesn’t have ankle zips, but I checked to see if my size 12 trail runner would go through, and it did. Finally, we heard a rumor that MontBell will be introducing a new ultralight down jacket at winter OR that will be insulated with 4.5 ounces (128 g) of 900 fillpower down and have a 7 denier shell. Sweet.
Another lightweight rain jacket coming in spring 2012 is the Rab Pulse Jacket made of Pertex Shield Plus 2.5-layer laminated fabric, which is the most breathable of the existing Shield fabrics. The Pulse is a minimalist rainshell with an attached hood, full height front zipper, and one chest pocket. The weight is 7 ounces (198 g), MSRP is US$175.
A similar rain jacket coming in spring 2012 is the Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket. The 6.4-ounce (181 g) Helium II switches to Pertex Shield DS to make it 6% lighter, 10% more breathable, and 30% more waterproof than the original Helium jacket. It has an attached hood, full height front zipper, one zippered chest pocket, and a stuff pocket. It will be available in men’s and women’s versions for US$150.
A new lightweight hardshell jacket coming in spring 2012 is the Mountain Hardwear Quasar Pullover constructed of MH’s new DryQ Active fabric, which is a proprietary 15 denier three-layer construction using an eVent membrane. Features include a deep watertight zipper opening at the neck for easy on/off and thermoregulation, a low profile hood with single-pull adjustment system, and an internal stash pocket. The weight is 9.2 ounces (261 g), challenging the Montane Spektr eVent Smock, which weighs a little less (about 8 oz/227 g) in an equivalent size, but has a klutzy front closure and hood. MSRP is US$375.
Although a windshirt is not a necessity, it is a remarkably versatile garment to have in your pack, especially when it weighs just 1.9 ounces (54 g). The new Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Anorak for spring 2012 is just that; the fabric is Whisperer 7 denier x 10 denier with DWR, it has a longer front zipper so it’s easier to put on and provides better ventilation, and packs into a small built-in pocket. No hood. MSRP is US$135. For comparison, the popular MontBell Tachyon Anorak has a hood, weighs 2.4 ounces (68 g) and costs US$90.
While we’re on the subject of windshirts, we also want to mention the Stoic Wraith Shell (2.5 oz/71 g, US$69) that we also saw at OR. Stoic is the house brand for Backcountry.com, and we are noticing some impressive products from them at value prices. The Wraith has an attached hood, full height front zipper, and one pocket. Available now.
Socks and baselayers continue to evolve and get better. These are really difficult categories to evaluate and identify the standouts. The trend in wool garments is to mix fibers to make them more durable, dry faster, and fit better. For example, the Dahlgren Light Hiking Sock (left) consists of the following: the toe/heel is 55% merino wool, 28% nylon, and 17% alpaca wool; the arch/instep is 70% recycled polyester, 17% merino wool, 8% nylon, and 5% alpaca wool; and the leg is 55% recycled polyester, 33% nylon, and 2% Spandex. That’s quite a formula, but it translates to enhanced warmth, durability, moisture wicking, and fit. We are seeing the same trend in baselayers; rather than pure merino wool, we are seeing hybrid garments like the SmartWool Merino Max (right), an attractive short sleeve baselayer that is 75% merino wool and 25% nylon. The nylon helps to make the top feel cooler by enhancing ventilation, and adds durability. Another interesting new technology is the addition of Cocona to baselayers, which is claimed to increase the surface area of a fabric by 800%, which results in a much faster conversion of liquid water to water vapor. An example is the Rab MeCo merino wool baselayers we previously reported on.
While at Stoic’s display we also noticed their new Stoic Hadron Down Anorak which will be available in late fall or early winter 2011. It’s insulated with 850 fill down, has a Pertex Quantum shell (not the new GL), is hoodless, has one kangaroo pocket on the front, weighs just 8 ounces (227 g) for size men’s Large, and will cost US$179. It has plastic snaps on the closure rather than a zipper, and will be available in both men’s and women’s models.
We found a really lightweight liner/shell combination at Outdoor Research called the Versalayers. It consists of a fleece liner and a Pertex Shield DS stretch ripstop shell; weight for men’s large is 3 ounces (84 g) per pair and women’s Medium is 2.4 ounces (68 g) per pair. As shown, the liner has a zippered pocket on top that stores the shell or a heat pack. The palm side of the shell has a silicone print to provide a better grip. MSRP is US$45, available fall 2011.
Also from Outdoor Research for spring 2012 is the Ultra Trail Gaiters which are stretchy, breathable, and ultralight at just 2.7 ounces (77 g) per pair. The inside side panels are Cordura nylon for durability and the uppers are stretchwoven. Each gaiter has two hooks in the front to keep debris out. They have an instep cord plus a silicone anti-slip material in the heel to secure the gaiter to the shoe, plus a Velcro tab that can be attached to gaiter and shoe, so you can mix and match to hold the gaiters in place. MSRP is US$45.
The new Hillsound Stretch Armadillo Gaiters will be available in spring 2012 in three versions: the top of the line Super Armadillo Nano (10.8 oz/306 g per pair, US$89) has durable SuperFabric in the lower part, and a stretch upper with Schoeller C-Change for temperature regulation, Schoeller NanoSphere to maintain a clean surface, and a PU-coated YKK on the front; the Super Armadillo (10.5 oz/298 g per pair, US$79) does not have the Schoeller technologies; and the Armadillo (10.2 oz/288 g per pair, US$65) does not have the SuperFabric or Schoeller features.
We will cover footwear for hiking and backpacking in this article and Damien Tougas will cover minimalist footwear in Part 4. There’s some overlap of course, but here we will cover footwear that we feel is suitable for hiking and backpacking in rougher terrain. While minimalist neutral (flat, zero drop) shoes without cushioning, rock protection, and motion control have generated a lot of interest for running on smooth flat surfaces, my contention is that we do need these properties for hiking and backpacking on rocky and inclined surfaces. I see no problem (so far) with a neutral platform for backpacking, but one still has to adjust to the change as with minimalist running shoes. But I also don’t see any problem with traditional trail runners and light hikers with a raised heel that promotes a heel strike. I don’t know how the raised heel originated in the first place, but I’ll bet it had something to do with positioning your feet in the stirrups atop a horse!
Ideally (in my opinion) a good backpacking shoe should be all synthetic (no leather) for low water retention and good breathability, have good cushioning, a TPU plate for rock protection, an aggressive outsole, good support for hiking sidehills and steep downhills, a wide toebox to allow feet to expand, and be as lightweight as possible. In this section we highlight some new lightweight shoes that incorporate many of these attributes.
Note that the weights given are per shoe for a men's size 9, which is the industry standard. For women, the stated weight is for a size 7.
The Treksta Edict trail runner for spring 2012 weighs 10.9 ounces per shoe (309 g) in the men’s version and 10 ounces per shoe (283 g) in the women’s version. The Treksta last follows the natural shape of the foot, with a wide toebox and snug heel cup. The Edict has a neutral platform and features a HyperGrip outsole, ultralight triple density EVA midsole for cushioning, thin TPU plate for rock protection, and a highly breathable upper. MSRP is US$135.
GoLite BareTech shoes for spring 2012 feature a neutral platform and 270 degrees of flex from the coordinated design of the outsole, midsole, and TPU plate, providing torsional, lateral, and longitudinal flex. They also have a fairly aggressive Vibram outsole on some models. An example of the new shoes is the PT65 which has an external TPU cage over the synthetic upper and a TPU plate laminated to the lasting board in the bottom of the shoe. The target weight is less than 10 ounces per shoe (283 g) and MSRP will be US$120.
The new Salomon Synapse is also a good candidate for fastpacking. With the Synapse, Salomon is introducing a new shoe category called “Hike and Run,” which puts priority on the shoe’s use for hiking first, and then running, rather than the reverse. In spring 2012 it will be available in low and mid heights for men and women. The Synapse is not a barefoot type shoe; it has a raised heel to promote a heel strike for hiking. The men’s low cut shoe weighs 12.2 ounces per shoe (346 g) and the mid height weighs 13.5 ounces per shoe (383 g). MSRP’s are US$120 for the low and US$140 for the mid. This is the shoe that Jennifer Pharr Davis wore to set a new women’s AT supported trail record (she finished on July 31, 2011) of 46 days 1 hour 20 minutes. The previous record was 47 days 13 hours and 31 minutes.
Columbia is starting to speak our language too, with new shoes for spring 2012 that are lightweight, all synthetic, supportive, cushioned, and grippy. The Talus Ridge (left) will be available in a low cut and mid height (shown); the low cut weighs 12.2 ounces ( 346 g) per shoe and costs US$115, and the mid (shown) has Columbia’s WP/B Outdry technology, weighs 15.7 ounces per shoe and costs US$145. The new PeakFreak (right) is a low-cut shoe available with or without Outdry; the weight for the non-Outdry version is 11.2 ounces per shoe (331 g) and cost is US$120.
We normally don’t pay much attention to water shoes, but these caught our eye. The Baffin Amazon and Baja Shoes are lightweight, have a traction outsole, quick drying upper, and drain out the bottom. The Amazon weighs 14 ounces per shoe (397 g) and costs US$80; and the Baja has a quick lacing system, weighs 11.8 ounces per shoe (335 g), and costs US$85. Both are available now. We like these lugged water shoes because you can actually hike in them or wear them on canoe portages. Baffin will also introduce the Cabo and Panama in spring 2012, which have a smooth sticky rubber sole and weight just 9.5 ounces/shoe (269 g).
These are not hiking shoes, but the Sockwa Booties are the next best thing to going barefoot. They have a grippy plastic outsole rather than rubber, and next summer will see the G3 model debut, with a direct injected outsole (lower right) which eliminates adhesives. The G2 men’s model (top and lower left) weighs 6.6 ounces per pair (187 g), and the women’s is 4.9 ounces per pair (139 g) and are available now for US$50. A range of other styles are available. These could be just the thing for fording streams and wearing in camp.
At Spenco Medical’s booth we were pleasantly surprised to find some thin supportive lightweight insoles, and even insoles that warm or cool your feet. The Spenco Total Support Insole (left) weighs just 1.75 ounces (50 g) each. The advantage is they provide extra support without changing a shoe’s fit or weight like thicker/heavier after-market insoles do. They can even be used in minimalist shoes to assist with the transition to barefoot running. Spenco Flow Cool (center) insoles accomplish cooling via magnesium oxide in the EVA combined with wicking fabric to remove moisture, and air channels to increase air flow. The Flow Warm (right) insoles work via a reflective thermal barrier foil layer plus Outlast treated topcloth which stores and releases heat. Both weigh just 0.9 ounce per insole (25.5 g). All of these insoles retail for US$40.