A Preview of This Year’s Best New Gear, Part 1
By Michael Lanza
Thinking about buying a new backpack, daypack, tent, or other outdoor gear? Last August, I spent a couple of days wandering the floor of The Salt Palace in Salt Lake City—a convention center you could fit a few Wal-Marts inside—at the Outdoor Retailer Show, ogling the best of the new products for hiking, backpacking, climbing, and other outdoor activities that will hit the market this winter and spring.
I’ll test and review many of these later at The Big Outside. But here’s an early peek at the most interesting packs, tents, and other gear I saw (in other words, the stuff I’m most coveting). Tomorrow, in A Preview of This Year’s Best New Gear, Part 2, I’ll look at new apparel, shoes and boots, and sleeping bags and pads for this spring.
The Petzl Bug 18L ($68, 1 lb. 4 oz.) takes a bold stab at reinventing the daypack for multi-pitch climbing. Made with high-tenacity nylon fabric, its low-profile shape stays out of the way, and a single zipper accesses the main compartment. It’s surprisingly feature-rich for such a light, compact daypack: There’s a pocket between the back pad and the main compartment for stashing a guidebook; one zippered, mesh inside pocket; a small stretch pocket on the left shoulder strap for a route topo; a strap inside for attaching a Petzl eLite; a bladder sleeve/laptop pocket; dual side compression straps; bottom compression straps long enough to hold a coiled rope; and a daisy chain on the front. It also makes a functional bike-commuting or carry-on pack.
I recently picked up the new Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak ($215, 17L/1,040 c.i., 1 lb. 3 oz.) and I’m eager to test drive it. Very light but ruggedly built with waterproof, ripstop, Dyneema Cuben fiber, this technical daypack comes in three sizes—unusual for daypacks. Besides those options for nailing an excellent fit, the Daybreak has a large, stuff-it front pocket, a wide clamshell zipper to quickly access the main compartment, angled side pockets for bottles, an ice axe loop, and the capacity to fit all you’d really need for a big day in the mountains. With a thin back pad, hipbelt, and shoulder straps, I’d say it’s designed to carry 12 to 15 pounds.
Big dayhikes in the backcountry may get a little more comfortable with the Gregory men’s Salvo and women’s Sula daypacks ($99 to $129, both come in 28L, 24L, and 18L versions; 2 lbs. 6 oz. for the Salvo 28). Gregory’s Freespan suspension uses an aluminum leaf spring for lumbar support, and sports complete flow-through ventilation while still maximizing interior volume. They are panel loaders, with a zipper accessing the main compartment for convenience, and have ample compression plus roomy side and hipbelt pockets. I’ve used the Salvo 28 for dayhikes up to 12 miles in Yellowstone, carrying 10-12 pounds, and on a cross-country flight, for which it held all I needed for a weeklong visit, saving me from checking luggage.
Gregory will also expand its line of youth backpacks with the Wander 38 ($139). A smaller version of the existing Wander 50 ($169) and Wander 70 ($189) packs, the 38 will feature Wander’s Versafit suspension, completely adjustable for torso lengths from 13 to 18 inches (33 to 46 cm), making it a good first backpack for a young kid. The 50L and 70L packs also have the Quick-Adjust hipbelt, with movable Aeromesh hip pads that offer improved load transfer for smaller waists, making this a good pack for small adults, too. (See also my review of the Osprey Ace kids backpacks, new in 2015.)
The North Face Adder 40 ($190, 2 lbs. 13 oz., two sizes, adjustable suspension) is a fully featured but lightweight alpine-climbing pack that strips down to a minimalist two pounds, yet comes loaded with climbing-specific features, including a lid that flips forward, an oversized crampon pocket, tool attachments, carrying systems for skis and a rope, wand pockets, a hipbelt equipped with one pocket and one gear loop, a removable framesheet and hipbelt, and lash points.
On the heels of the huge success of the new Anti-Gravity Suspension System in Osprey’s men’s Atmos AG and women’s Aura AG packs last year, Osprey will introduce that suspension in two more lines this year: the men’s Manta and women’s Mira hydration daypacks and the Poco child-carrier backpacks. The Manta AG 36 ($175, 2 lbs. 13 oz.), AG 28 ($165, 2 lbs. 11 oz.), and AG 20 ($155, 2 lbs. 11 oz., one size) and Mira AG 34 ($175, 2 lbs. 11 oz., two sizes), AG 26 ($165, 2 lbs. 8 oz., two sizes), and AG 18 ($155, 2 lbs. 8 oz., one size) are designed for multi-sport use, with direct access to the hydration and main compartments, a shoulder strap loop for quickly attaching trekking poles, a helmet attachment, an integrated rain cover, and pockets in front, on the sides, and on the hipbelt. Bonus: A 2.5-liter Hydraulics bladder is included.
In my experience, if you want to dayhike or backpack any real distance carrying an infant or toddler, you must get a child-carrier pack that’s built for comfort and durability. With the Anti-Gravity Suspension System added to them, the three Osprey Poco AG packs (Premium $330, Plus $290, Poco AG $250) may become the most comfortable child-carrier packs on the market. They also have good ventilation, a hipbelt adjustable to fit a wide range of wearers, and a sunshade and add-on rain cover, not to mention a well-padded child cockpit.
The Deuter AirContact 55+10 ($249, 5 lbs. 15 oz.) 65+10 ($269, 6 lbs. 4 oz.), and 75+10 ($289, 6 lbs. 13 oz.), and the women’s AirContact 50+10 SL ($249, 5 lbs. 9 oz.), 60+10SL ($269, 5 lbs. 15 oz.), and 70+10SL ($289, 6 lbs. 6 oz.), will see several improvements to increase comfort with heavy loads. The flexible Active Fit shoulder straps are designed to conform to the shape of the wearer’s shoulders and prevent chafing or pressure points, and Deuter says the pivoting, ergonomically shaped hipbelt delivers increased stability. Deuter’s pump effect circulates air through the hollow-chamber back padding every time the wearer moves. The pack is adjustable for torso length and built tough, with a 330-denier nylon fabric with a waterproof polyurethane coating.
Another pack made for big loads that caught my eye is The North Face Fovero 70 ($290, 5 lbs.) and Fovero 85 ($310, 5 lbs. 10 oz.), both in two adjustable sizes and men’s and women’s models. Highly organized, this top-loader has a large zipper accessing the main compartment, a removable lid that converts to a daypack, a sleeping bag compartment, three-direction compression for load management, two ice-tool attachments, and more than 10 pockets, including a breathable “beaver-tail pocket” for drying wet gear.
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Sierra Designs has been pushing hard on innovation in backcountry tents and sleeping bags in recent years, and this year will continue that with the new Nightwatch 2 ($240, 4 lbs. 7 oz.). A freestanding, two-person, “convertible” tent, it has an integrated, retractable rainfly that can be quickly deployed in three configurations ranging from maximum weather protection to maximum stargazing. As with other recent SD tents, the Nightwatch features two large gear ports that double as fair-weather doors when the fly is rolled back; an awning and gear “closets” (instead of vestibules) located away from the wide, drop door; and an integrated rainfly and hybrid single-double-wall design to minimize weight and improve ventilation. The Nightwatch also comes with an accessory called the Night Glow, made of polyester taffeta, which can be hung from an interior hook or loop and disperses the light of a headlamp to brighten the tent. The Night Glow will be included in Sierra Designs tents in 2016 and available separately for $15.
The popular, freestanding Marmot Limelight 2P ($249, 5 lbs. 2 oz.) will see a redesign that creates even more space while retaining its two doors and vestibules and remaining simple to pitch. Large doors and a pole structure that makes the walls more vertical creates a sense of magnifying the floor area of 33 square feet and the 88-inch length, and it has adequate vestibule space for storing packs and boots. It’s built with quality details like DAC Press-Fit poles, seam taping, and rainfly vents.
Black Diamond’s bestselling headlamp, the Spot ($40, 3 oz.), gets a facelift with a waterproof design that features a powerful, 200-lumen TriplePower LED, one SinglePower white LED, one SinglePower red LED for night vision, PowerTap technology for on-the-go adjustment with the tap of a finger, and waterproofing up to a meter and 30 minutes (IPX 8). Best of all: The price stays affordable.
Also in the category of affordable, lightweight headlamps, the Petzl Tikka Plus ($40, 3 oz. with three AAA batteries, included) shines for its intuitive simplicity. Click through the white LED bulb’s three brightness modes and two red LED modes; hold the button down to switch between white and red. In the brightest setting, double clicking turns on the boost mode, which delivers 160 lumens of power, bright enough to project a few hundred feet. Petzl’s Constant Lighting technology maintains steady brightness in each mode until the batteries are nearly drained; then it automatically switches to reserve-power mode that reduces the beam to a dim five lumens to preserve battery life. The water-resistant headlamp can be used with rechargeable, Ni-MH batteries, doubling burn times. I’ve used various Tikka models for years; they’re simple, reliable, and inexpensive.
With the invention of the flexible and collapsible bottle some years back, Platypus redrew our mental picture of the water bottle. This spring, it will introduce the Meta Bottle ($20-$22). BPA-, BPS-, and phthalate-free, and flexible like other Platypus bottles, the Meta can be dissembled by unscrewing the top and bottom halves for cleaning and space-efficient storage; and the halves pull double duty as a mug or cup. A backcountry-ready microfilter (sold separately, $50) lets you dip the Meta Bottle into a wild water source and drink immediately. It will be available in two sizes: 0.75 liter and one liter.
For the car camper or expedition cook who regrets leaving the kitchen at home, there’s the Jetboil Genesis Basecamp 2 Burner System ($350, 9 lbs.). A fold-out, compact cooking system with two burners, a non-stick five-liter pot with lid, and a non-stick fry pan that nest together, the Genesis cranks out an atomic 10,000 BTUs from each burner (boiling a liter of water in three minutes) and has the flame control of Jetboil’s vaunted backpacking stoves. The system is modular, allowing you to connect additional Luna satellite burners ($60 each) or even another Genesis stove.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on Gear Reviews at left or in the main menu.
“Why and When to Spend More on Gear: Part 1, Packs and Tents, and Part 2, Rain Jackets, Boots, and Sleeping Bags”
“The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun”
“Buying Gear? Read This First”
“5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear”
“My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews”
“Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?”
“10 Smarter Ways to Think About Your Layering System”
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