Hard-won insights on gear and skills
At the Outdoor Retailer trade show last month, these seven standout hiking and trail running products caught my eye
Outdoor Retailer, the industry’s semi-annual tradeshow, showcases brands' latest and greatest gear. Most products on the floor in Denver last month will hit shelves in fall 2018, but some summer-centric brands were still highlighting items that were announced last August and are arriving at retailers now.
I walked the entire show and found these seven standout new hiking and trail running products.
Osprey Levity and Lumina Packs
For years, Osprey’s best solution for ultralight and long-distance backpackers has been the men’s Exos and the women’s Eja. But at 41-plus ounces for the 38-, 48-, and 58-liter versions, these packs are, in today's pack market, pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to weight.
The new men’s Levity and women’s Lumina, which both come in 45- and 60-liter sizes and retail for $250 and $270, weigh less than two pounds—and are a full 12 ounces lighter than their Exos/Eja equivalents. Sacrifices were made to achieve these weights, but Osprey’s Airspeed suspension, All Mighty Guarantee, and widespread local distribution remains.
Altra Lone Peak 4.0 Trail Shoes
The Lone Peak is now the best-selling trail shoe in run specialty stores and the most popular thru-hiker shoe on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails.
The next-generation Lone Peak features an improved outsole that's more aggressive, stickier, and long lasting. (It’s more expensive, too, although Altra kept the shoe’s retail price at $120). Altra also tweaked the upper: the midfoot is more secure and the new fabric closely resembles the proven mesh used in the Salomon Speedcross.
Big Agnes AXL Air Pads
The Therma-a-Rest NeoAir XLite has owned its weight class since the late-2000s. The category is now more competitive, however, with the arrival of the Big Agnes Insulated AXL Air Pad. It matches the XLite specs almost exactly: 12 ounces, $180, and an R-value (or insulating power) of about 3.0. But it ups the ante with its 3.75-inch thickness (versus 2.5), oversized peripheral tubes for a cradle-like shape, and more stable quilted construction.
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 and 3 Tents
In a spec war among premium lightweight double-walled backpacking tents, the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL wins. But it’s rife with inadequacies, including an awkward front entry, constricted living space, and limited ability to ventilate in a storm.
The new Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL tent achieves Fly Creek-like weights and prices (2-person: $350, 2.2 pounds; 3-person: $400, 2.7 pounds) but avoids most of those shortcomings. It cross-ventilates with two side-entry doors and has a horizontal pole to create vertical walls and more space.
Western Mountaineering Nanolite and Astrolite Quilts
For over 30 years, Western Mountaineering has been manufacturing premium down-filled sleeping bags and apparel in its San Jose, California, facility. Western has now applied its expertise to sleeping quilts—a niche category currently dominated by cottage brands like Enlightened Equipment and Katabatic Gear—and this spring will release the Nanolite ($330, 38 degrees, 11 ounces) and Astralite ($400, 26 deg, 16.0 oz). Both quilts have 850-fill power European down, seven- and 10-denier face and liner fabrics, and a “passive top collar” that reduces drafts around the neck.
Salomon S/Lab Ultra and Ultra Pro Shoes
The first-generation S/Lab Sense Ultra—which Salomon designed with the world’s most dominant ultra runner, Francois D’haene (that’s right—he beat Kilian)—was the brand's best-selling S/Lab trail shoe ever. To capitalize further on this success, Salomon updated the S/Lab Sense Ultra, renamed the S/Lab Ultra ($180, 10.6 ounces), and developed a more commercialized version, the Ultra Pro ($150, 10.3 ounces). Both models have Premium Wet Traction Contragrip outsoles, hydrophobic uppers, a PU-based forefoot insert, and 8 millimeters of drop.
Sea to Summit Alpha Series Pots
Cookware is not a category where I expect innovation, so I appreciated the thoughtfulness in the new Alpha Series Pots and Cooksets. The hard anodized aluminum Alpha Pots feature a swiveling handle that functions as a pot grip and that secures the lid while in storage. The pot lid has a steam port, water strainer, and siliconized rubber grip. The Alpha Cooksets include settings for up to four people, each consisting of a mug (with an insulating cap) and eating bowl with shallow corners for easier calorie-scraping.