The Gear Junkie team is back home and in the office after our twice-annual sojourn to Salt Lake City and the Outdoor Retailer trade show. Over six days, we paddled kayaks, laced up new boots, met with product designers, and walked for miles on the trade show floor in search of the best new outdoors gear on the planet. This is part I of our “Best in Show” awards (see part II here), a spread of to-be-released products for 2012 that represents true innovation in the outdoors industry and some of the neatest new gear ever made. —Stephen Regenold
Minimal Tent — When a company begins measuring its tents in grams, not pounds, you know the term “ultralight” has accomplished a new realm. Such it is with two new shelters from Sea to Summit. The company’s one-person Solo tent, made of a thin waterproof/breathable Pertex fabric, weighs a miniscule 625 grams — with its poles! The two-person Duo, which we tested in the Uinta Mountains this past weekend on a climb up King’s Peak, is a similar setup but slightly wider to accommodate two campers. It weighs 846 grams with poles. Bonus: Either Sea to Summit shelter can be set up with trekking poles, letting you leave the company’s alloy tent poles behind and shed further grams from your already super-light system. $429 (Solo) and $499 (Duo). Available in March, 2012.
Fast Filter — “Super intuitive and easy to use; screws onto any plastic Coke-like bottle, too.” Those words are from our reporter’s notebook, and they describe the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter system, a squeeze-to-purify product that includes three collapsible pouches and a threaded filter to screw on top. The company calls it the “lightest and most versatile filtration system on the market,” and we’re thinking that’s close to the truth: To use it, just fill up a pouch with lake water, screw the filter onto the pouch, and squeeze straight into your mouth for instant filtered H2O. The small Sawyer filter attaches to standard bottle-top threads, too, allowing you to leave the pouches behind and filter water via common plastic bottles found around the planet. Available now for $59.99.
Elite Carbon Race Boot — With a price tag of $1,799 and made with a carbon-fiber cuff, only 25 pairs of these elite racing boots will be sold in the United States this year. But for those lucky few — mostly participants on the rando racing circuit, a European sport that’s gaining traction in the U.S. — the Alien 1.0 from Scarpa looks to offer an incomparable package. Carbon fiber and “select polyamides construction” balance flex, rigidity and weight. A single buckle and a twist-to-tighten Boa system cinch the boot on, and a quick-release walk/ski lever lets you switch from uphill motion to downhill turns in a blink. The Alien 1.0 weighs 680 grams per boot, and it will be available this autumn in time for the 2011/2012 rando racing season.
Odor-Killing Bag — Ever wonder wear to stuff your wet and stinky apparel, socks, and gear after a day outdoors? The Stuffitts Dry Bag has a patent-pending “moisture and odor containment system” built-in! We have long used this company’s Stuffitts Shoe Savers to aid in the “recovery” of our smelly shoes. Now the Stuffitts bag, available in November for just $20, uses the same formula — namely a packet of natural woods and oils — to “draw in moisture and odor and keep it sealed within the bag.” Can’t wait to put this bag to work!
Salty Energy Bars — “These are the bomb, a super high vote in my book!” Words from our reporter Jason Magness, a climber and member of Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers who has eaten loads of energy bars over the years. The difference here? Salty flavors! Nothing sweet. The line of Journey Bars includes flavors like Coconut Curry, Parmesan and Romano, Barbecue, and Wasabi. Says the company, “If you want something that tastes like a candy bar, this bar is not for you.” For anyone who has been outdoors for a long trip or during an endurance race, you know the body craves salty things. This line of bars looks like it’ll fill a much-needed gap in the way-too-sweet field of energy bars currently on the market. $19 for a box of 12 bars.
Open-Wide Backpack — A long, S-shape zipper snakes its way from the upper right corner of this pack and swoops down and across the body to the bottom. The result is a backpack with ultimate accessibility to the items inside. Unzipped fully, the pack, called the Salute 34, lies almost flat and open, letting you stack a climbing rope or sort through gear in a hurry. The alpine-oriented pack, made by Denver-based Mile High Mountaineering, includes smart attention to detail and a litany of small nice touches. In our quick wear test in Utah last week, the pack felt supportive and comfortable loaded up and ready to go. $199.
Barefoot-Running Sandal — Designed and sold by “Barefoot Ted,” a well-known early proponent of the barefoot-running movement, the Original Luna sandal is handmade in Seattle. They are made for running, and they are touted to represent “gleanings from insights that we have gathered from both our ancestors and our customers.” Barefoot Ted himself has run the Leadville 100, a tough, 100-mile mountain trail race, in these minimal, huarache-style sandals, which have a leather footbed and a 6mm Vibram neoprene sole. Elasticized laces, hemp cords, or leather laces are options to tie them on your otherwise completely bare feet. $50 and available now.
Nylon Yurt — This design is advertised to create the “largest usable space possible with a minimum of materials and weight.” No doubt, the Hoopla 4, made by Mountain Hardwear, is a four-person tent that weighs just 1 lb. 10 oz. (An optional floor adds a bit more weight.) It sets up with stakes and a single trekking pole in the middle. The secret is in the Hoopla’s namesake “hoop,” which is a suspended ring that pitches the tent walls outward to make for more headroom. The company calls the tent “an emergency shelter for day-trippers or a minimalist backpacking option for thru-hikers.” $350.
All-Mesh Bug Jacket — A mesh hood and a mesh body — all coated with an insect-repellent treatment — make the Bug Shield Jacket from Columbia an apt tool for campers, canoers, and anyone else who ventures into bug-infested environs in search of fun. Simple and smart. $90.
Send-and-Receive GPS Device — Treading in uncharted technological territory between a satellite phone, a GPS unit, and a SPOT device, an upcoming product from DeLorme promises two-way communication via satellite-based signals. The DeLorme inReach device is a small unit made for use with the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w GPS device or, most impressive, smartphones that run the Android operating system. (Sorry, no iPhone support as of yet.) You can type in a message in the wilderness via your phone and then it will wirelessly pair with the inReach device to send a satellite communiqué. The inReach will send and receive text messages outside of cell phone range. (Gear Junkie’s full preview article on this product is here.) Available this fall for $250 plus a required annual subscription fee.
Magnet ‘Biners — As we wrote last month in our blog, the Magnetron carabiners from Black Diamond Equipment will use magnetic fields instead of screw gates or spring-loaded sleeves to lock shut. The company touts the ‘biners as “more secure versus other spring-locking mechanisms on the market” and “a stronger and more reliable system than possible with springs.” We tested the magnet ‘biners on the trade show floor, and we immediately “got it.” Nice job, BD! Available in 2012.
Future Bags — A line of to-be-released sleeping bags from NEMO Equipment are a long ways out from market availability (they won’t ship to stores until 2013!), but the bags were innovative enough at the trade show to garner an award. There are multiple bags in the line, and the patent-pending designs include features like removable hoods, waterproof foot-ends, camp-pad sleeves, and waterproof/breathable fabrics on the outer face. Perhaps most unique, a “tunnel hood” breathing hole is found on the winter model, which is a cylindrical tube stuffed with synthetic fill to “keep a pocket of warm air in front of your face” on the most bitter of winter nights. The extensive line will include models ranging from $169 to nearly $800.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. Gear Junkie staffers and contributors Jason Magness, Pat Petschel, Steve Hitchcock, Chelsey Magness, and Daniel Staudigel contributed to this report. Watch for part II of our “Best in Show” awards from the 2011 Summer OR trade show later this week.