Note: The products you see and read about here will be available for the Spring/Summer 2019 season — generally hitting stores around March/April of 2019. Exceptions to this are noted in the text.
Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2018 came up quickly and sped by in a blur of sore ankles, somewhat too much self-medication to sidetrack the pain, and then on the last day that odd mind-fuck of extra strong, sleep-inducing, painkillers (think oxycodone) combined with copious amounts of caffeine (six shots of coffee and two Redbulls before 930am is normal, right?) to offset the overwhelming desire to just close my eyes and lie down for a nap.
This year’s market felt a bit quieter and decidedly less busy than than previous summer versions, and again the absence of industry heavy-weights Arc’teryx and Petzl was very apparent. Both of those brands have some cool new gear coming for Spring/Summer 2019 but I’ll cover those in a later post — for now, here are my top five picks for the best New Gear Awards of OR Summer 2018 edition.
This is the one product that you never know you need in your life until you see it. I mean, they’re just, like, bigger and tougher grocery bags, right? Well, yes, and no. And they’re so much more than that. Made with the same burly fabrics as other CiloGear products, the totes come in a few different sizes.
There will be a no-frills regular grocery bag version, along with a wider grocery bag style, but the ones that really blew me away are the larger sizes. There’s a milk crate version (11-inches x 11-inches x 10-inches high / 28cm x 28cm x 25.4cm), one that fits two boxes of beer (14-inches wide, 17-inches long, 10-inches high / 35.5cm x 43cm x 25.4cm), and a ski-boot sized one (13-inches wide x 16-inches long x 14-inches high / 33cm x 40.5cm x 35.5cm), that all have the signature CiloGear compression/utility strap dongles on the sides. The dongles can be used to compress the tote into a relatively flat and fairly compact rectangle, or you can attach the straps to them and actually compress the contents or — and this is my favourite — you can attach them together to make a double-tote or triple-tote or whatever have you.
All that loose crap that lives in our trucks — the recovery straps, chains, work gloves, shackles, bits of rope, pieces of firewood, piles of dog hair (your truck might be more organized than mine) — will finally have an easy-to-move and lightweight but tough and versatile storage solution. And did I mention that the totes have inside side-pockets for organizing even smaller stuff AND they also have zippered pockets for keys or lighters or all those random screws that I always seem to find whenever I clean out my truck that I don’t want to throw out but don’t know what else to do with. They’ll be available starting August 15, 2018 (prices TBD), in the usual assortment of random CiloGear colours. You’ll need at least two in your life, trust me. I’ve already asked for a dozen (ok, maybe only half a dozen).
Mammut Taiss Light Mid GTX
Three-season boots are going to be all the rage for SS19, apparently, with at least eight different models shown at the show but the lightweight champ is going to be the Taiss Light Mid GTX from Mammut. Weighing a claimed 530-grams for a size 42.5 boot, the Taiss looks to undercut every other boot in its category by at least 30-grams. That isn’t insubstantial weight savings, and that’s assuming you already own the current lightest possible boots. (By way of comparison, one of the most popular mountain boots, and one that I see a lot of even on summer glacier trips, is the La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX — that boot weighs around 1020-grams in the same size, or almost twice as much!)
So, the Taiss is going to be very, very light, but it’s also a high-tech three-season climbing machine. The Vibram Lite Base sole has a dedicated climbing zone at the toe and deep, well-spaced lugs for efficient clearing of debris and multi-directional traction. A Gore-Tex Performance Comfort membrane provides light insulation and waterproof protection, while the outer fabric is mostly scholler Soft Shell for abrasion resistance.
I am not quite sample size but still managed to squeeze my foot into the Taiss and can report that it feels exceptionally featherweight though still supportive around the ankles. The toe section felt wide enough for my over-size feet, and the cuff/tongue has a one-sided opening for easy entry while providing comfortable wrap-around support and increased debris protection. There will be both Men’s (black) and Women’s (white) versions and the MSRP is $399 USD or $549 CAD.
Garmont G-Radikal GTX
At the other end of the three-season boot spectrum lies the G-Radikal from Garmont: whereas the Taiss is the pinnacle of ultralight performance, the G-Radikal is a heavier boot better suited to long days on scree, guide use, or those who just want a longer lasting boot.
Coming in at 745-grams for a size 42, the G-Rad is not only lighter than comparable boots but also offers some very unique features that make it stand out from the others. Hidden away inside the cuff and heel is the boot’s most interesting feature: the Foot-Sleeve. Constructed of stretchy, padded, 3D-mesh, the Foot-Sleeve creates tiny air gaps between the foot, the outer boot and the liner and is attached to the boot with a (very strong) strip of Velcro. These minuscule air spaces increase airflow within the boot reducing heat and condensation, and blisters as a result of overheating. Thanks to the removable construction the Foot-Sleeve can be machine-washed at home, and additionally reduces drying time for the whole boot.
The G-Rad’s next most noticeable feature are the two separate lace systems: one for the lower foot, and the other that locks in the heel and cinches down around the ankle. The lower lacing system is actually attached to an internal rib system called G-Wrap which is separate from the outer boot and cinches down more closely around the foot for a superior sock-like fit. This dual-zone lacing system makes so much sense I’m surprised this is the first time we’re seeing it — perhaps there’s a durability (or cost?) reason other brands use various types of lace-locks and eyelets, but I’m curious to try these boots out and find out. Additionally, the laces are high-strength woven cord with push-button one-way plastic locks: a lot easier to manage with gloves on!
The Vibram Apex outsole has a climbing zone under the toes and deep, aggressive, lugs for durability and all-terrain traction. The upper is constructed of Lenzi Putek — a material I haven’t encountered anywhere here in North America, so am naturally curious how well it will hold up to sharp Rockies’ scree. The G-Radikal will be $400 USD or $495 CAD when it comes out in Spring 2019.
Alpine Luddites Custom Alpine Packs
Alpine Luddites is a small company (it’s really just one man, plus a part-time intern) based in Ouray, Colorado, that has been making custom retro-styled packs for a few years now. John’s claim to fame is that he’ll recreate any old-school pack in the most modern materials, with any custom features you’d like to add. My previous experience with similar home-based (John works out of his basement) makers has been a pronounced difference in the fit-and-finish of their products as compared to the large commercial manufacturers — but not so with John. He’s spent years perfecting his craft and has invested thousands on modern sewing equipments.
His dedication show shows: this is the most obsessively thought-through and completely finished pack I have ever seen. Every cut of fabric, every seam, every reinforcement, even the length of the straps, has been thought about and tested and John will proudly tell you exactly how he cuts each piece, why it’s done that way and how he sews it all together. This is less of a pack and more a functional work of art.
I could probably write thousands of words about this pack (and someday I will) but for now, instead, just check out some of the photos to get an idea of the detail and amount of work that goes into this pack. The model we saw at the show is a 60-litre Alpine Machine in full woven Spectra, including the shoulder straps and back panel, which weighs around 1300-grams and can be stripped down to just under 800-grams (that’s for a 60-litre pack!). John says the most functional weight is 1150-grams, which is the whole pack but without the lid, which remains fully weather-sealed thanks to the roll-top closure.
I don’t think I have ever seen this level of finishing on any pack — even the zipper ends are stitched down to eliminate loose threads and potential failure points. The level of detail on this pack is phenomenal.
Great art doesn’t come cheap (and neither does this fabric — it alone costs more than most packs of similar size!) so for the privilege of hanging one of these on your wall you’ll have to wait a few months and pay around $650 USD (John says it’s not yet available in full woven Spectra, and there’s already a waiting list for custom versions — so get in line!). And, like any timeless art-piece, this pack will most likely outlast you and be handed down to your grandkids.
RAB Kinetic Pant and Alpine Jacket
My favourite thing about soft-shell pants is their stretchy fit, quiet hand and inherent tear-resistance. But, even the best DWR finish wears off over time, and hard-shells are usually loud and fairly easy to tear holes in. Plus Gore-Tex is just damn expensive.
Last year RAB introduced the Kinetic Jacket, which uses their proprietary Proflex fabric which is stretchy, breathable and waterproof (and yes, it really works). Essentially, Proflex combines the best of both worlds — the user-friendly stretch, tear-resistance and quiet hand of soft shells with the waterproof and windproof protection of hardshells (review coming soon!). New for 2019 is the addition of a printed-on, ceramic-bead overlay that increases abrasion and tear resistance without impacting breathability or stretchiness.
The Kinetic Pant is a simple, climber-focused piece with that ceramic-print reinforcement on the seat, knees and instep. There are two zippered hand pockets, and a zipper at the cuff for easier fitting over large boots. The fit is trim, and designed for climbing. They’re lightweight (280-grams) and quite inexpensive, especially when compared to typical waterproof pants: US retail will be $180 and they’ll cost $260 in Canada.
An evolution of the current Kinetic shell, the new Kinetic Alpine adds the new ceramic-print treatment onto the shoulders, sleeves and side hem. The hood also gets larger for better helmet-compatibility (the current jacket’s hood isn’t the best with larger helmets) and there are stretch-cord pulls in the hem to seal out those wind drafts. Weight is 390-grams and retail prices will be $280 USD and $380 CAD.
Both the Kinetic Pant and the Kinetic Alpine Jacket will come in Men’s and Women’s styles (though Women won’t get the awesome blue colour of the Men’s Pants in the photos!).