Sheri & I recently went to the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City to scout accessory gear, etc. I thought I'd do a post on some of the things we saw:
Helmets were big on our list. We’ve been trying to find a really light paddling helmet. According to the people we talked to, a lot of paddling helmets down to the point where the only ways to make them lighter are to make the shell thinner reducing strength, to do cut-outs removing areas of protection and/or strength, or to shrink the headspace, removing padding.
Of course, that doesn’t seem to take into account the possibilies of doing possibly a more complex structure of the shell itself (ribs & grooves, etc.) or going to more exotic materials than are currently used. Our impression was that there’s not the drive in the industry to make this kind of helmet yet. Maybe as packrafting grows, interest will stir. (I still like Brad’s titanium helmet – cookpot idea, which I believe is dear to Hig’s heart as well.)
Shred Ready. Nobody at the booth knew its weight but we swear one of the Shred Ready helmets was the lightest paddling helmet we handled. They're worth checking out.
Pro-Tech. The Pro-Tech ace came in at about 300 grams. This seems to be about par for the light end of the field.
We came away from OR without any PFD revelations. One of MTI's PFDs (the Livery?) is indeed very light, but I didn't get a chance to see how it meshes with the spray deck. The body-armor-like Extrasport B27 was the only PFD I found with the floating-rib-level groove which I personally like for my spray deck waist. Nothing we saw really rivaled the Stormy Seas vests on the light-weight non-technical end.
The EXUM RIVER is being discontinued. The guys at LaSportiva told me the Exum River is being discontinued due to lack of consumer interest. However, it sounds like the factory still has some so, if you want them, now might be a good time to give LaSportiva a call.
The Vibram Five-Fingers was certainly intriguing. Lots of pros and cons to these things. The "Flow" model has neoprene upper and might be good for some packrafting ventures, but the built-in toes preclude the versatility & modularity of shoes & socks. I just bought a pair of these guys online and I'm going to try them out (partly for packrafting, partly just because I like to wear flip flops or go barefoot in daily life).
Sea to Summit, OR, and someone else I'm forgetting have come out with light drybags that have waterproof-breathable floors in them, making it easy to squeeze air out the bottom – a pretty neat feature. Sea to Summit is also producing an impressive midweight ripstop line with Hypalon Lashpoints. If you want your pack in the drybag instead of a drybag in your pack, this is worth checking out.
That said, PacOutdoors has brought their Pneumo line's weight down by several ounces ( belive they're 7-something oz., as opposed to 10-something for the tougher Sea-to-Summit bags). Right now, it looks like the Pneumo bags the lightest option without going a sil nylon, and as long as they’re kept inside a pack, we’ve seen very few problems with them.
That said, PacOutdoors, Sea to Summit, and OR (and others?) are producing sil nylon drybags with urethane kiss-coats on the inside for waterproofing. If you're careful & gentle with these, quite a few folks report them lasting a long time. They're the lightest option we've seen.
As a guy who took a bicycle tail-light flasher down the entire grand canyon, both red lights and strobes are dear to my heart, and I find them handy at times. Pelican is producting a small, immersible red multi-directional LED flasher red light with a 130 hour burn time. At half an ounce it’s very light. The truly weight conscious could take a few more grams off it with a hacksaw or a pair of clippers. How far does the light travel? I don't know. This is one I'd like to play with. Although not something I'd carry in the backcountry, I wouldn't be surprised if there's some front-country application... such as using it as a rafting light / bicycle tail light that isn't trashed by the river portion of a bikerafting trip. Anyway, worth looking it, it might strike someone as handy for a niche use.
Petzel E-Light. I liked this one so much I bought one, only to find Sheri already has & loves one herself. The E-light is a headlamp with LED options of solid white light, white flasher, small solid red light, and small red flasher. Their new version will also have a small whistle, which they say is an ear-splitter but I haven’t tried it & have no idea. The E-Light comes off its headband and has a clip-on function, but doesn’t handle thick webbing, etc. terribly well (the light seems to end up canted out at an angle). Nonetheless, it's small, light, and has a long burn time. The light is advertised as fully immersable. Personally, I like colored lights, esp. for nocturnal navigation.
Those were the biggest things that jumped out at us. As far as waterproof containers, Witz still appears to make the best tiny ones, and Pelican was rulling of the field of great but much larger, heavier, more beefy containers. I didn't see a single pre-packaged survival kit that didn't make me wish for just a garbage bag, a cigarette lighter, and knife, but I may have missed something really cool there. O.S. Systems is making some very cool powerstretch fleece garments (vest, top, pants, jumpsuit) for use under a drysuit, and as the proud owner of a hand-made fleece "oompah-loompah bodysuit", they looked worth trying out under raingear etc. for heinously wet, cold riverine/rainforest travel.
For anyone who knows Chris of the PJs, he was looking at gear to, and I wouldn't be surprised if he has some detailed & salient thoughts. Overall impression? Big, loud, a whole lotta stuff... Our high point was driving home: thundercells were raging all the way back to Durango, desert streams were going big, and we were weaving around the road like we were drunk, looking at the creeks. It's probably good we didn't have river gear, because Sheri's daughter would have gotten a call at 11 p.m.: "We're in the desert... somewhere. Water went bye-bye. Send helicopter."