Wild Country Zephyros tent
Nemo Wave sleeping bag
Ecco Biom Hike
By Chris Townsend
New gear, old gear, tweaked gear, new colours, new trim, new logos. Outdoor equipment trade shows are overflowing with gear screaming for attention. Most of it isn’t new though and much that is doesn’t really offer anything different. Small improvements are far more common than big innovative leaps!
The biggest of all the trade shows is OutDoor in Friedrichshafen which this year had 907 exhibitors from 39 countries housed in giant aircraft hangar-like caverns. It’s impossible, of course, to see most of these in just a few days - but by selecting companies who usually have something worthwhile to show, pausing for quick looks at anything interesting caught out of the corner of the eye as you speed past, and collecting press releases, CDs, memory sticks, DVDs and catalogues to glance through in the evenings for stuff of interest, you can a surprising amount.
Here are the main items I saw that I thought looked good. Of course I haven’t used most of this gear and it’ll be real-world testing that shows how much of it really is impressive. That’s to come over the next year - keep an eye on this website and TGO magazine for full reviews.
Not previously noted as a rucksack maker, Exped has suddenly moved into the lightweight pack market with the 45- and 60-litre Lightning models. These good-looking minimalist packs have a single stay frame, a roll top, stretch side pockets, hipbelt pockets and a complex-looking webbing system for compression and attaching gear. The fabric is a mix of lightweight nylon and Dyneema. Weights will be around 1kg, which is pretty light for a framed pack.
Montane, who only launched their first packs a year ago, have a slightly heavier (1.3kg) and slightly less minimalist (lid with pocket, big zipped stretch side pockets) internal frame backpacking model, the Grand Tour 55. I have one of these on test and will be reporting on it soon. Initial trials are very positive.
Not particularly lightweight (2.2 -2.4kg) but looking good for heavy loads are the 65- and 75-litre Altra packs from Arc’teryx. These framed packs have big pockets on the front plus inverted U-shaped zipped panels for easy access to the contents. The hipbelt is substantial and the frame solid.
Lowe Alpine, now a British company again since being taken over by Equip Outdoor Technologies (makers of Rab and Outdoor Designs kit), have revamped their whole pack range. The redesigned models look excellent. I particularly like the look of the AirZone Trek 45-55, which has a completely new back system that looks much better than the original one.
Terra Nova’s top-of the range Laser tents have around been around for many years now. They are excellent lightweight backpacking tents but they're also costly. Now the same designs are available at a much lower price in the Wild Country range under the name Zephyros Lite. There are solo and two-person models, at £180 and £210 respectively. At weights of 1.25kg and 1.4kg these are still very light. The flysheets have taped seams, which mean there’s no need for the fiddly pole sleeve as found on the Lasers. For this reason I prefer the Zephyros design.
For ultralight backpackers the most exciting tent at the show was the Nordisk Telemark 2. This is a two-person single-hoop double-skin tent that weighs just 880 grams, achieved through the use of ultralight fabrics including carbon-fibre poles. It’s also surprisingly roomy for the weight.
Sleeping bag changes are usually about materials, both for fill and shell. Two companies however have been looking at shapes as well. Nemo showed the unusual-looking Wave bag that is very curvy and designed to allow comfortable sleeping on your side or any other position rather than just flat-on-your-back, staring-at-the-sky mummy bag mode.
Quilts with straps to attach them to sleeping pads have been popular with ultralight hikers for many years now but have never caught on with most campers. Cascade Designs has taken the idea of the straps and added them to the 890g -7ºC rated Antares sleeping bag so there won’t be any cold spots at the sides when you turn over and the bag won’t slide off the mat. The straps are wide and flexible and so should adapt to different shaped mats.
Of the many conventional bags on show the first ones ever from Lightwave look particularly good as the quality is superb and they are ultralight. These Firelight bags have 900 fill power down and Pertex Quantum shells and baffles. There will be four models with temperature ratings from zero to around -9ºC and three sizes.
As has been the case for the last few years, there were several new stoves on show. Primus has completely redesigned the solo EtaExpress, which was the only heat exchanger model from the company that I didn’t like. The new version has a wider, lower profile pot and a windscreen that fits properly. It looks far better.
The MSR Reactor stove is one of the most efficient heat exchanger stoves but also quite heavy and bulky with a large pot and so best suited for two or more people. Now MSR has made a smaller, lighter version with a 1 litre pot that looks good for solo use.
Occasionally a stove comes along that looks like it will revolutionise design and function. The original Jetboil with its then unique heat exchanger pot was one such model. The Biolite Camp Stove, probably the most exciting product at the show, could well be another. This wood-burning stove also generates electricity for recharging devices like mobile phones and GPS units, a brilliant idea. It’s not particularly light at 935 grams but it does serve two functions. And just as the Jetboil led to many other heat exchanger stoves I expect other charging devices to appear on other stoves.
Following the launch of Neoshell and Gore-Tex Active Shell last year, it wasn’t surprising that there weren’t any new waterproof fabrics at this year's OutDoor. There were some new designs though. Berghaus has a lightweight Active Shell jacket called the Vapour Storm that has unusual protected vents on the sides rather than underarm zips while Rab has a lightweight Neoshell jacket called the Myriad that weighs around 400 grams and has big chest pockets and a good-looking wired hood. Rab also showed garments made from eVent DVL, a lightweight 2.5-layer version of eVent.
For those for whom weight is the most important factor, Montane showed the Minimus Smock, made from 2.5-layer Pertex Shield, which weighs a mere 143 grams yet still manages to have a map-size pocket and a decent hood.
As always, there were masses of boots and shoes in masses of colours and styles at the show, especially low-profile trail-running shoes, which can now be found in every footwear collection from Regatta to Patagonia. The most original new idea came from Teva with the TevaSphere, which consists of a sole with a rounded heel and strange pods under the arch for stability. Teva says biomechanics research shows that TevaSphere soles are more efficient than other types. I’m looking forward to finding out. TevaSphere shoes are available with and without eVent linings under the names Trail and Speed.
Aimed at probably a different market to the sporty looking TevaSphere, Hanwag introduced a conventional-looking leather boot with a slight bulge on the inside of the forefront. This is designed to accommodate bunions and will I’m sure prove popular with many walkers old enough to have these (I have small ones). The boot is called Alta but will of course be known as the 'Bunion Boot!' Hanwag also had boots in environmentally friendly leather from cows raised on organic farms - each pair of which comes with a number so the leather can be traced back to the farm.
The final boots of interest are ones that I’ve actually used, the Ecco Biom Hike, as these were the winners of the Scandinavian Outdoor Award, and I was one of this year's judges. These yak leather boots are supremely soft and comfortable straight out of the box yet provide all the support and grip needed. They are also a warning against judging products purely on appearance or specifications. I’m not sure that I’d have thought them anything special if I’d only seen them on a stand at the show.
Check out the September issue of TGO (out from 16 August) for a detailed round-up of the 10 most exciting items from this year's OutDoor show.
Note that many of these products won’t appear in the shops until spring next year.