A Preview of This Year’s Best New Gear, Part 2
By Michael Lanza
Thinking about buying a new tent, boots, or a shell jacket or insulation for the outdoors? Last August, I spent a couple of days exploring the Outdoor Retailer Show, checking out the best of the new products for hiking, backpacking, climbing, and other outdoor activities that will hit the market this winter and spring. In this story, I cover some of the most interesting new apparel, shoes, and boots, plus a sleeping bag and pad for this spring, many of which I’ll test and review later at The Big Outside.
See also my Preview of This Year’s Best New Gear, Part 1, which covers new packs, tents, and other gear.
Brands are getting more creative with jackets intended to serve as a middle or outer layer, using breathable insulation and shell fabrics and designing zones of greater breathability where needed, to produce jackets that you can wear more without overheating—translating to greater comfort and less on-and-off layering management in the backcountry. It also effectively gives many of these apparel pieces year-round functionality: You might wear it as light insulation for hanging out in camp on summer trips, as an outer or middle layer on a cool, spring or fall hike or climb, and as a shell on a brisk fall or winter trail run or ski tour.
Here are three new for spring, multi-purpose insulation pieces that won’t spend a huge amount of time hanging in your closet:
Anyone looking for affordable performance outerwear will want to take a look at the L.L. Bean Primaloft Mountain Pro Hoodie ($129, 1 lb. 3 oz., men’s sizes), a hooded, mesh-lined fleece jacket featuring stretchable Primaloft Active Gold insulation in the front, back, and hood, and enhanced breathability in the uninsulated side panels and sleeves. With an adjustable hood and four pockets, this middle/outer layer is geared for winter activities like hiking, backcountry and Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing, but can certainly pull double duty as insulation in cool temps at any time of year.
I’ve already worn the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody ($229, 9 oz., men’s and women’s sizes) several times, from backpacking trips in August on the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park, in the Canadian Rockies, and in early October in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains, to the windy summit of 10,470-foot Horstman Peak in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains in September, and I’ll wear it a whole lot more. With very light, synthetic insulation in the jacket’s core, breathable fleece under the arms and in the sides, and only breathable, water- and wind-resistant fabric (no insulation) in the hood and sleeves, this shell functions as a middle or outer layer, for varying levels of exertion, in a huge range of cool to cold temperatures.
While puffy jackets can tend to all look basically the same, it’s what’s inside that counts. The hooded Big Agnes Shovelhead Jacket ($250, 1 lb. 2 oz., men’s and women’s sizes) will see improvements for 2016 with new materials and construction, but retain its good warmth-to-weight ratio thanks to Insotect Flow vertical baffles that cradle 700-fill, water-resistant DownTek feathers, and a durable, wind- and water resistant shell fabric, plus an athletic cut that allows layering. See my review of the hoodless version of the Shovelhead, the Big Agnes Hole in the Wall Jacket.
In shell jackets, we’re seeing constant competition between brands to produce the lightest rain jackets without sacrificing performance. But there also remains a continued focus on creating fully featured shells for the most extreme weather conditions that are ever more breathable—because in persistently wet conditions in the backcountry, almost regardless of the temperatures, moisture management is largely about breathability—while keeping the garment weight and bulk as minimal as possible. Here are three examples:
At a wispy seven ounces, the Marmot Mica Jacket ($160, 7 oz., men’s sizes; women’s version is the Crystalline Jacket) offers minimalist but effective rain protection for hikers, backpackers, climbers, and others for whom low weight and bulk are paramount. Marmot’s proprietary Strata MemBrain isn’t as breathable as you’ll find in the Marmot Crux and Essence Jackets, but the Mica is seam-taped, has an adjustable hood, and packs into a pocket.
In the pursuit of maximizing breathability in a waterproof jacket, and keeping it fully featured while minimizing weight, comes the Outdoor Research Realm Jacket ($279, 11 oz., men’s sizes). OR says its AscentShell fabric marries unprecedented air permeability to a fully waterproof construction, and very light, 20-denier ripstop fabric also delivers mechanical stretch, while stretch underarm panels allow total freedom of movement. And the whole package weighs in at 11 ounces. Features include an adjustable hood, two zippered front chest pockets, laminated and seam-taped construction, and it packs into one of its own pockets.
Women adventurers in need of a highly technical, lightweight shell now have the Mammut Silvretta HS Women’s Jacket ($375, 10 oz.). Made with Gore-Tex Active fabric, engineered for extreme environments, the jacket has a fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood and harness-compatible, zippered pockets.
Shoes and Boots
I’ve been trail running in the Scarpa Proton GTX ($169, 1 lb. 7 oz., men’s and women’s sizes), and I like the shoe’s stability for trail running and long, light dayhikes. Built atop Scarpa’s most stable running platform, the Proton GTX and non-waterproof Proton ($129) feature substantial lateral support; a more cushioned, heel to forefoot drop of 21mm to 11mm; a dual-density compression-molded EVA midsole with a high-density EVA trail plate; and a molded, external heel counter.
The Airmesh uppers are ribbed with a welded TPU external frame for added protection, and the Vibram Genesis outsole has relatively deep, 4mm lugs that bite into loose dirt and mud. The Gore-Tex membrane has kept my feet dry on wet trails.
The Five Ten Access ($140, 1 lb. 8 oz., men’s sizes, mesh and leather versions) are shoes with a split personality: a hiking/approach shoe built on a trail running last. Sporting Five Ten’s sticky Stealth S1 rubber on the outsole; a “climbing zone” under the forefoot on the outsole for more grip when smearing on rock; and what Five Ten calls a new, high-resilience EVA in the midsole, these shoes are built for fast trail hiking and serious scrambling. Plus, the wide platform means more cushion and comfort on heel and forefoot strikes.
One of the most interesting-looking new shoes for 2016 is the La Sportiva TX3 ($130, 1 lb. 9 oz., men’s and women’s sizes). A high-tech, all-around dayhiking and scrambling/approach shoe, it has quick-drying, polyester mesh uppers for breathability; a wrap-around, air-injected rubber rand; a compression-molded EVA midsole; Ortholite insoles for comfort and odor control; and a sticky Vibram Idro-Grip rubber outsole. The line includes the lighter TX2 ($125, 1 lb. 4 oz.), with collapsible uppers for easy packing, and the TX4 ($135, 1 lb. 12 oz.), similar to the TX3 but with nubuck leather uppers for added durability.
The low-cut Aku Mio Surround GTX ($200, 1 lb. 12 oz., men’s sizes) brings the impressive breathability of Gore’s Surround technology to a lightweight dayhiking shoe. Built with side vents to increase breathability, a thicker midsole of molded EVA for shock absorption, and the traction of a Vibram Megagrip outsole, this shoe appears built to stay comfortable no matter how many miles you’re walking.
The most affordable, new, performance hiking shoe I’ve seen is the Vasque Inhaler II Low ($120, 1 lb. 12 oz., men’s and women’s sizes). Vasque’s lightest, most breathable hiker, it features mesh uppers and air-permeable, perforated foam toe and heel counters for maximum airflow. The deeply lugged, Vibram Pneumatic outsole with Megagrip rubber looks like it will deliver confident traction whether in muck or on steep slabs. My 15-year-old son wore last year’s Inhaler Low GTX ($160 for 2016, 1 lb. 10 oz., men’s and women’s sizes), backpacking with me on a largely off-trail route in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains, and they gave him plenty of support for carrying a 20-pound pack (he weighs 100 pounds), plus the Gore-Tex membrane kept his feet totally dry.
If you need footwear for carrying a heavy pack, but prefer a lightweight low-cut, Asolo is targeting you with the new Celerus ($210, 1 lb. 14 oz., men’s and women’s sizes). Built with Asoflex technology, an EVA midsole, TPU toe and heel protectors, these shoes are designed to provide the support for carrying various pack weights up to about 45 pounds. The uppers are made of polyester and suede leather and the shoes have a Gore-Tex membrane.
The Oboz Scapegoat Mid ($145, 2 lbs. 1 oz.), Scapegoat Low ($130), and women’s Pika Low ($120) look to me like the kind of footwear some readers I hear from are looking for: supportive but lightweight, with mesh uppers and no waterproof membrane, for maximum breathability. They appear to promise good support for dayhiking and light backpacking, with a compression‐molded EVA midsole; a forefoot protection plate and a nylon shank; and a polyurethane heel plug for durable cushioning. Synthetic leather overlays anchor the lacing system, provide added protection, and conform to the foot. Throw in deep lugs, a toe, heel, and sides reinforced with rubber, an elastic collar designed to keep out stones and grit, and Oboz’s BFit Deluxe footbed inserts (which are superior to standard shoe inserts, as I’ve found in all the Oboz models I’ve reviewed), and I think these shoes and boots will deliver good performance and value. I have a pair of the Scapegoat Mid and I’m eager to test them out.
For my next water-based adventure, I may pick up the Treksta Kisachie ($120, 1 lb. 4 oz., men’s and women’s sizes), which has an open-concept upper, like a sandal, yet offers the stability, support, protection, and traction of a trail shoe, including a Hypergrip WaterLock outsole for traction on wet surfaces. A Boa lacing system offers easy adjustment, and a Neoprene-like liner should keep feet a little warmer in cold water.
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Sleeping Bag and Pad
Like staying warm but don’t want to lug around a heavy, bulky bag? The Marmot Ion 20 ($419, 1 lb. 13 oz. regular) is just the ticket. Marmot’s Composite Construction body maps 850-fill-power down feathers to maximize warmth where you need it without adding weight, and a “fold-down” second zipper increases ventilation options. The fat footbox should keep toes toasty in temps well below freezing, and 12-denier nylon ripstop shell fabric helps keep this bag lightweight and supremely packable.
I really like the surprising comfort for the low weight and compact size of the Exped SynMat HyperLite air mattress, and Exped is now coming out with a two-person version, the SynMat Hyperlite Duo ($279, 1 lb. 12 oz.). With an R-value of 3.3, it has adequate insulation for three-season camping even when temps dip below freezing. Really nice feature: separate halves that allow each person to personalize his or her mat firmness. Plus, it packs down to 7×5 inches, smaller than the combined size of two already-compact SynMat Hyperlites.
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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