‘Best in Show’ Awards, Part II: Gear for 2013!

Our second article on the best new gear as seen at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City last week covers an inflatable backpack frame, a unique running shoe, a pump-up tent, and a camera positioned to take on GoPro. (See part I of our “Best in Show” awards here.) Take a look below. We’ve crowned these products, most of which will hit shelves in 2013, as some of the top picks seen at OR this year! —Stephen Regenold

Backpack Air Frame — Klymit is known for its inflatable sleeping pads and jackets that use argon gas as insulation. This summer, the company unveiled a backpack product, the Klymit Air Beam, which adds rigidity to a frame-less pack via a small hand pump.

Companies including Granite Gear and Ultralight Adventure Equipment (ULA) have partnered with Klymit on the launch. You put the Klymit air frame inside a pack. The frame sheet weighs only 2.4 ounces. An included hand pump is used to customize air pressure in the frame.

Granite Gear pack + Klymit air frame

As a bonus, after a hike the frame sheet can double as an insulating seat or even a minimalist sleeping pad if you’re going extra light. The Klymit Air Beam will be available in stores this fall for about $50.

Ultralight Adventure Equipment pack with Klymit frame inside

GoPro Killer? — Electronics giant Sony had a sleek but humble booth at the show with a secret room in back. The company was there to introduce its to-be-released “action camera,” which is a mini video camera that looks made to take on current industry mainstay GoPro.

Our reporters were intrigued. “Sony believes that no one else in the industry is coming anywhere close to where they are with this camera,” said reporter Sam Salwei. “If it delivers what the product people in the booth were coyly promising, it will be a game changer.”

Sony ‘action camera’ mounts on helmets, fits in hand

Those “game changing” attributes include a tiny build, a high-quality glass Carl Zeiss lens, Sony’s Exmor R CMOS image sensor, digital image-stabilization features, shooting settings for 120fps at 720 resolution (and 30fps at 1080), external mic hookup, and (probably) a remote control. The little camera will come with multiple mounts for helmets and other places as well as a waterproof case. We watched a highlight reel of video captured on the camera. “The slow motion high-res footage was unbelievable,” a GearJunkie reporter noted.

The Sony camera, which does not yet have a product name (the company simply calls it the “high definition wearable video camera”), is scheduled to ship this fall. Price is TBA.

Pack Jacket — SeasonFive is a company known for its water-oriented apparel. But this summer the brand brings a neat new jacket to market. The Crestone 2.5 is a minimalist waterproof/breathable hardshell made of a Japanese 12D nylon with a rip-stop pattern. It weighs just more than 7 oz. and packs small.

The kicker is a pass-through zipper behind the hand pockets. Zip these open and you can clip your backpack hip belt through and inside your jacket. This setup keeps a jacket from riding up, and it makes a pack fit more streamlined with a hardshell on.

SeasonFive jacket features hip-belt pass-through for syncing with a pack

Said SeasonFive CEO Mike Fischer, “The Pack-Pass system was conceptualized by experience and observation. During summer hikes, I always got a heavy sweat band around my mid section from my rain shell being compressed on my body from the backpack waist belt, then when I was just around town, or not wearing a backpack, I always thought current shells with raised hand pockets moved around the issue or problem, but never really tried to solve it, so I know there had to be a better solution.”

Schematic of the Crestone jacket

SeasonFive said its IP lawyers have not found anything similar to the belt pass-through. It’s a simple solution but a neat upgrade for people who often wear a backpack over a shell jacket. A bonus: The Crestone jacket, for sale next year, will cost only $160.

Breathability Upgrade — As we reported last week, a new fabric from eVent, called DVL, is touted as the company’s most breathable to date. After further research and inspection at the OR Show, we concluded this new fabric to be one of the stand-out items from the week.

We also took it for a pre-release test. Last month we got a sample DVL jacket to test, the Rab Viper model, and rode a bike during a muggy, 75-degree day in the rain. The DVL fabric did indeed seem superbly breathable on that first go. Raindrops beaded up and rolled off the water-tight face, while the fabric was airy and light with noticeable air permeability even on a summer day.

Rab jacket (left), close-up view of eVent membrane (center), and Westcomb jacket with DVL fabric on right

The secret is in the eVent DVL’s waterproof membrane, which resides under the face fabric and is an ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene) like Gore-Tex. But it is different, the company states, because it allows for more air flow. This is accomplished in DVL by a protective print applied directly onto eVent’s waterproof membrane that makes a “repeating web of outlined triangular shapes” to add durability to the highly-porous membrane material. (There is no inner fabric, just the eVent membrane and the printed-on protective “web.”) Air from body heat can pass through, while water drops from the outside bounce off.

Sphere-Heel Shoe — Bucking the minimalist trend, the TevaSphere Speed shoe accounts for the fact that many runners land on their heels. Its radical design, including a “spherical” heel piece and midfoot outrigger pods, manipulates stride to force a smooth transition from heel to forefoot. It is an unusual creature and one of the truly original shoes we saw at the show.

TevaSphere women’s build

Says the Teva press material, “The TevaSphere design stands in stark contrast to bulkier, squared-off heels and over-cushioned insoles of other athletic shoes. It also addresses the poor support found in minimalist footwear that encourages consumers to change their stride to adapt.”

Heel area is slightly ‘spherical’ on shoe. Also, note stabilizing ‘pods’ in arch region

We ran in the shoe for a few minutes at the show. It is definitely a different experience. The arch presses into the bottom of your foot. The heel is unstable when standing still. But on each stride the heel lands smooth and forces you into a stable position on the midfoot for the next stride. Like Newton Running shoes, the stride-manipulating Teva shoe will undoubtedly cause some controversy in the running world. We look forward to the tests and conversations around this radical design. Ships in early 2013 for $120.

Inflat-a-Tent — Though Nemo Equipment years ago popularized “air pole” tents, this year Kelty infused some new innovation into the category. On the show floor we watched as people worked a small foot pump connected to the Kelty Mach 6 tent and inflated the structure in less than 30 seconds. Yep, under 30 seconds!

Inside the blow-up Mach tent from Kelty

The family camping tent, which comes in 4- and 6-person builds, is not light or compact. But with its integrated inflatable shafts it might be the quickest setup you’ve ever seen. No word yet on how the big shelters stand up in high wind. But if Kelty has a similar design to what Nemo long ago put out these new inflat-a-tents should hold up fine. $389 and up next spring.

Sets up in less than 30 seconds once laid out and connected to pump

—Reporting by Stephen Regenold, Sean McCoy, Jason Magness, Chelsey Magness, and Sam Salwei. See part I of our “Best in Show” awards here. Additionally, GearJunkie’s latest OR Show reportage is on our new special section, “Outdoor Retailer Coverage,” and in the articles “Future Gear Extravaganza! 2012 Outdoor Retailer Preview” and “Coming to Market 2013. . . Peek at Future Gear.”

Gear fest! The show floor
Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.