Light and fast -- perhaps the two most ubiquitous and sought after words in the outdoor industry -- is obviously a desirable concept for camping and backpacking. But too often those words often also mean minimalist and, well, not very comfy. This year's Outdoor Retailer Summer Market showed us that tents and sleeping bags can now be "light and fast," while also maintaining some semblance of comfort -- or "livability," to use the popular industry term. With innovative pole arrangements, tent walls on even the lightest models are higher and ever more vertical, allowing for more headroom and less claustrophobia. More are also featuring dual doors and vestibules, so campers don't have to climb over one another. And family or car-camping tents are getting downright luxurious, with cavernous vestibules and sitting areas, storage and organizational accessories, and practically enough room for your favorite basketball team to shoot hoops!
"If we want to encourage more people to spend time recreating outdoors, we need to design gear that takes (livability) into account," said Russell Rowell, director of product development for equipment with Kelty and Sierra Designs. "Hence, we're seeing tents with more volume, roomier sleeping bags, and a wide variety of lighter weight gear options."
Sleeping bags and pads are indeed roomier, but there's more. With lighter outer materials, warmer and more compressible insulation, and creative and ergonomic shapes, stitching, insulation distribution and accessories, bags are more comfortable than ever, while getting ever-warmer (with fewer cold spots) and more packable. Other trends include more combinable and double-wide high-tech bags so couples can snuggle together and feel more at home (and warmer!) even on the most rugged backcountry trip. We also saw increased use of fused or "welded" seams, again aimed at lowering weight while increasing warmth and water resistance.
And, of course, as the green revolution continues, both bags and tents are using more recycled and recyclable materials, without sacrificing performance. And we're not just talking about random patches of recycled material, to ease the buyer's conscience -- some bags and tents are now entirely made of eco-friendly materials.
The livability trend is most apparent in family or car-camping tents, and none exudes a homey feel like Eureka's Suite V 6. With its innovative three-pole configuration, bringing the highest point to the entry, this $300 camp castle boasts 6-feet 9-inches of headroom at the front, behind the full-size, dual, walk-thru doors (one for each room). Even toward the rear, the headroom is plenty for most campers to stand fully upright and get dressed. There's also over 80 feet of floor space, plenty for six plus their gear, in two similar sized rooms (separated by a removable curtain), with lots of ventilation and mesh compartments for storage. But it's the shape of this tent that makes it stand out: The two rooms form a slight "V" (hence the name) around 50 feet of combination vestibule/sitting area. And just stake up the middle section of the dual-zip fly and you've got an open-air rain shelter, tall enough to stand under and big enough for a camp table and chairs. A four-person model is also available. www.eurekatent.com
On the other end of the spectrum, even ultralight tents are seeing more vertical walls and livable space. Sierra Designs got funky with its "Eye Pole" design on the new LT Strike. The top pole on this two-person, fastpacking tent is oval-shaped (like an eye) opening up the roof and pulling the walls to near vertical in the area where each camper's head would be (in yin-yang position), enough to sit up comfortably. And, at just 3 pounds, 6 ounces, there are still two large doors and 9 feet of vestibule space outside each one, along with great ventilation. The $380 non-freestanding tent has 29 feet of indoor floor space. www.sierradesigns.com
Employing a trend common in waterproof outerwear, Kelty welded the fly and floor seams -- critical spots for moisture problems -- on its Gunnison 2 tent, making it a true all-weather tent that the company said can withstand the most extreme mountain conditions. While saving some weight, Kelty noted that this technology is also more waterproof and durable, by eliminating the tiny but numerous holes traditional stitching creates. Again, the two doors and vestibules make for more usable space and easier access. At just over 4 pounds, the $250 tent offers 37 feet of floor space and 20 more in the vestibules. There's even a welded fly window to watch the storm while staying warm and dry! www.kelty.com
While perhaps not quite as green as the company's new sleeping bags (see below), GoLite combines livability with a bit of eco-friendliness on its new Arcadia three-person tent (MSRP $500). The tunnel-like, three-season tent uses the company's proprietary anodizing process on its poles, which it claims limits chemical, water and dye use during production by up to 90 percent. We like that -- and we like the roomy feel inside, with near-vertical walls providing over 4 feet of head and shoulder room, along with its full-mesh body for increased ventilation. And true to the company name, the total fly weight is just over 4 pounds. Plus, a roomy, removable vestibule (sold separately for $150) adds 20 square feet of totally covered space, and can easily be zipped off for those ultralight fastpacking trips. www.golite.com
With its more traditional dome-style "Allak," Hilleberg rounds out the list with its all-season, two-person, free-standing tent, at under six pounds (MSRP $765). Though the company was quick to point out it doesn't follow "trends" per se (the Allak is an ultralight version of its Staika -- around since 1992!), this tent still offers much of the same "livability" as the others, with dual dry-entry doors and vestibules, and a three-pole system that provides lots of volume inside, along with 32 feet of floor space. Made from its proprietary Kerlon 1200 material (which company representatives claim is five times more rip resistant than traditional expedition tent materials), the walls have a minimum tear weight of 26 pounds. But it's the unique linked tent/fly system that sets the Hilleberg tents apart: The tent and fly are pitched together, saving time and energy, and assuring the inner stays dry if pitching in the rain. www.hilleberg.com
Mountain Hardwear also represents, with the Raven 2, an all-purpose tent (MSRP $250), weighing 5 pounds, 9 ounces, made from 68-denier polyester ripstop DWR that doesn't skimp on toughness or luxuries. The three-pole setup is sturdy and reportedly easy to set up, and its fully taped fly and perimeter seams and welded corners provide wind and weather protection. This pole configuration also provides the tent with features like roomy vestibules over each of the two doors for easy (and dry) entry, and near-vertical side walls for extra living space. The headroom allows people to sit up in the tent, and the placement of the door and vestibules makes it easy to access gear from a sleeping bag. www.mountainhardwear.com
Terra Nova (www.terra-nova.co.uk) claims to break the existing Guinness World Record with its Photon Elite tent, which the company said is the lightest commercially available tent (with a body and rainfly). Its weight is just 1 pound, 7 ounces.
Nemo (www.nemoequipment.com) unveiled its Nemo Meta 2P and Meta 1P. The Meta 2P is a single-wall tent with 36 square feet of interior space plus another 13 square feet available in two vestibules. Made of SilNylon, the tent tips the scales at just over 2 pounds, 9 ounces. The Meta 1P (pictured right) only weighs 1 pound, 8 ounces.
Marmot (www.marmot.com) caught our editors' eyes with its Mesh Bivy because, frankly, we're getting tired of swatting mosquitoes and at a mere $99 MSRP and only 1 pound, 4 ounces, it's a perfect add-on sale.
GoLite keeps things light and functional, while pushing the green envelope with its recycled RS Series. The shells, liners and fill in these bags are all 100-percent recycled (everything but the zippers), using GoLite's own Tier 1 recycled polyester (50 denier ripstop in the shell), which it said provides the same performance as traditional materials, and can even be recycled indefinitely itself. The $160 Vario semi-rectangular bag (2 pounds, 12 ounces, photo to left) is spacious enough to roll over in, and it's the most versatile of the series, including a full foot zipper, allowing the bag to also work as a three-season quilt, or be zipped to others for a double. Plus, the two sides have different loft, allowing it to work as a 25-degree or 40-degree bag depending on which side is up. There are also three-season mummy and three- or one-season quilt-style models.
Welded seams can also be found in bags, and Mountain Hardwear introduced the technology in its Lamina bags in '06. Now it's offering the Extra Lamina, zero-degree or 20-degree bags with a hybrid shape for one-third more room, which can also zip together for cozy couples. What makes these bags special is not just the welded seams, which, of course, increase water-resistance and strength: MH actually welds the synthetic hollow-fiber fill right to the seams, eliminating "pinching" that creates cold spots along the piping in stitched bags. The company also said this increases overall loft and compressibility. Both bags are available in short and long, weighing from 51 to 71 ounces, and priced from $170 to $205.
Using its new "Flow" technology, Big Agnes fills the new Tumble Mountain 20-degree down bag (photo to right) with 725-fill goose down in vertically stitched piping. Flow gates inside the chambers regulate shifting of the down, which it claims increases warmth and minimizes cold zones. And, along with the whole Divide Series, it boasts a 100-percent recycled ripstop, water-resistant shell and taffeta liner. And to keep things comfy, Big Agnes' signature integrated pad sleeve runs only from the hips up on this one (and accepts most 20-inch pads), keeping you securely on the pad but allowing free movement in the legs. The 2-pound, 12-ounce backpacking bag retails for $290. www.bigagnes.com
If it's more of a bargain you're looking for, but still light and techy enough for serious backpacking, try the Implosion series' Kotey 35 from Eureka. At only $89, this 2-pound mummy bag features a 50-denier ripstop poly shell, and its proprietary "Rteq" fill inside S-shaped vertical piping that the company said increases insulation distribution. An integrated stuff sack keeps weight down and convenience up. Also available in hybrid and rectangular, all well under 3 pounds.
Nothing makes a campsite more livable then, well, an old-fashioned roll in the sack (or in this case bag!), and Alite designed its new Sexy Hotness bags (photo to left) for just that. These 20-degree, hooded mummy-ish (but much wider in the middle for ease of movement) bags are specifically designed to facilitate easy access to one's partner -- there are zippers down both sides to free the arms, and up the front and back of the legs to expose the … ahem … target zone. And, of course, they zip together quite creatively. There are two sizes, both just over 3 pounds with DWR-treated shells ($129 and $139). They come in fun, colorful prints with reinforced booties (no, not that kind you sick people) to walk around the campsite, and lots of pockets. These aren't designed to summit Everest, but your customers just might reach other heights and love you for it! There's even a Kama Sutra print liner … in case anyone needs a little reminder. www.alitedesigns.com
While even Cascade Designs admits its new sleeping bag system might not be for everyone, there is no doubt that the Therm-a-Rest Haven Top Bag turned more than a few heads. Essentially, this innovative top bag relies completely on a sleeping pad to provide insulation and comfort between the user and the ground. It features box-baffled 700-fill goose down wrapped in durable 20-denier nylon with a full hood and enclosed foot box for warmth and draft control. At 1 pound, 6 ounces, the Haven Top Bag integrates with any insulating mattress, delivering an EN-13537 rating of 20 F. It has an elasticized opening for entry and exit; a built-in chest pocket for storage of headlamps, hats, gloves or music; and stows into a 6-x-9-inch stuff sack. The bag secures to a pad with straps if desired. The Haven Top Bag comes in two sizes, regular and large, for $240 and $250, respectively. www.cascadedesigns.com
Of course, no matter how amazing a bag might be, retailers still need to sell it. And according to PrimaLoft, it's developed a new insulation, Infinity, that helps do just that. Fine denier continuous filament (FDCF) fills tend to lack the loft of its down and synthetic brethren, making it less appealing on the shelf, according to the PrimaLoft folks. So it developed Infinity, which is 20 percent more compressible than other FDCF's, and provides more loft, thereby allowing more "shelf appeal." These advances also allow for increased warmth-to-weight ratio and water-resistance. And companies are taking notice: The North Face has seven new bags with Infinity fill for 2010. www.primaloft.com
No bag can truly handle extreme weather without a great pad, and Pacific Outdoor Equipment'snew Peak Oyl Elite can handle the worst, and still remain green. This four-season, self-inflating pad is covered with a recycled PET shell, and filled with foam made from 40-percent palm oil (as opposed to the mainly petroleum oil commonly used in the industry) harvested from non-GMO palm trees -- a renewable resource the company said is similar to bamboo. But it's still plenty techy -- with bermed side rails and non-slip top, you'll stay comfortably on the mat, and its proprietary "Aspen Aerogel" insulation strategically placed only under the torso keeps the warmth in the critical place. All this, and it weighs only 27 ounces and packs to 6.5 by 9.5 inches. The pad is available in long and short mummy shapes, a two-thirds length rectangular, and two women's-specific sizes priced from $115 (with stuff pad and repair kit). www.pacoutdoor.com
Finally, Klymit's new all-season Inertia pad follows some trends, but, more importantly, may start a new one with its inflatable and adjustable gas-insulated design. Its proprietary "Noble-Tek" insulation system (also used in its upcoming outerwear) uses an Argon gas inflator, through an aluminum valve, to fill the bag to whatever level you need -- the more, the warmer. So the $150 pad can be fully inflated for winter or lightly for summer. With no solid insulation, the pad is super light at under 20 ounces. But it's still highly insulating, because, the company said, Argon is 30 percent more efficient at trapping warmth than the normal air/fibers inside traditional pads, and is unaffected by cold. And it's strong too, using a Mono Weave shell -- think automobile air bags -- but still so compressible it claims it will fit inside a 16-ounce water bottle! www.klymit.com
--Scott Boulbol with Michael Hodgson
The SNEWS® team of seasoned reporters covers a trade show to seek out product highlights, indications of a trend (to a product category, a company or the industry) or products that are new to the market. In our post-show reports, we do not write about every last piece of gear or equipment we have seen, although, promise, we have most likely seen nearly everything. Even if not in a show report, you never know how information may be included in a future report, trend watch, product review or story. If you have any comments or questions, please email us at email@example.com.