Thursday, 24 July 2008
The 2008 OutDoor Show, Friedrichshafen
Last week I spent four days tramping the giant aircraft hangar-like exhibition halls in Friedrichshafen in Southern Germany looking at outdoor gear, old and new. It’s a strange activity, spending all day inside in noisy, echoing, crowded halls under glaring artificial lights examining products designed to take you away from just such places. On previous visits to the show the weather had been hot and sunny, which made the exhibition halls unpleasantly warm and sticky. This year the weather was cooler and wetter with frequent downpours and one spectacular thunderstorm, which at least meant the halls were cooler. Relief from the unnatural environs of the show was provided by the footwear company Merrell who for the second year running set up a tipi village in a meadow surrounded by woodland just ten minutes walk but a million miles in feel from the exhibition. The tipi village was a great place to unwind after the show and talk to writers from other magazines and other outdoors people. Last year the tipis were fitted with rather unstable camp beds. This year Aerobeds were provided, which I found the most comfortable camping mattress I’ve ever used. You wouldn’t want to carry an Aerobed far though (and it wouldn’t fit in an Akto!). The tipis are wonderful to sleep in, even if they did prove less than fully waterproof in torrential rain.
What though of the gear on show? With over 800 exhibitors there was much to see, not all of it very interesting. Here’s a quick run-through of some of the items that attracted my attention.
In packs there’s some good looking lightweight models from Lightwave – the 55/60 litre Wildtrek – and Osprey - the 46/58 litre Exos. Elsewhere there were a surprising number of similar packs with long water resistant front zips.
In shelters Integral Designs has a curious winter bivy bag called the Penguin Reflexion, which is made from a heat reflecting silver reflective version of Sympatex, and a tarp with a single hoop called the SilDome that begs the question as to what is a tarp. To me the SilDome looks like a tent flysheet. Terra Nova also has a shaped tarp that comes with an insect netting inner. This pitches with trekking poles and looks a bit more like a tarp than the SilDome. In tents the emphasis seems to be on large and light with Terra Nova showing a 2.7kg tent in which I can practically stand up and The North Face a roomy tent with almost vertical inner walls called the Minibus 23. MSR had some light tents with carbon fibre poles called the Carbon Reflex that look interesting too.
The luxuriousness of the Aerobed may not be portable but there were some comfortable-looking inflatable mattresses that you can carry in a pack. Cascade Designs showed an airbed called the Neo Air with a reflective barrier inside and an internal structure claimed to overcome the problem of cold air circulating. At 260 grams in the small size the Neo Air could be the most comfortable backpacker’s mattress yet if it really is warm. Alternatively there is Pacific Outdoor Equipment’s Peak Oyl Lite (so called because it’s made from palm oil rather than petroleum) which is said to be the lightest 1 inch thick self-inflating mat. The 2/3 length one weighs 360 grams.
An unusual device – it can’t be called a stove – is the Heatgear Heatstick, a gas-powered water heater that fits inside a water bottle. It’s not light – 329 grams for the 0.5 litre version including bottle – but there’s no flame and it’s said to work in any temperature. Maybe a replacement for a vacuum flask?
More conventional lightweight stoves come from Primus, with the 596 gram remote canister EtaPacklite complete with heat exchanger, windscreen and 1.2 litre pot, and Snow Peak with the 56 gram Lite Max, the lightest canister stove yet.
In clothing Rab has a new eVent jacket, the Momentum, at a light 340 grams, while Marmot had a very light Paclite jacket, the Nano at 228 grams. Not exceptionally light at 482 grams Patagonia’s Stretch Ascent N2NO jacket is interesting because it’s made from 100% recycled polyester.
There was much else of interest of course but these are a few of the highlights. Along with other items detailed test reports will appear by me and others in TGO magazine and on the Backpacking Light.com website over the next year.
The picture shows the Merrell Tipi Village in one of the brief bursts of sunshine. Photo info: Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 18-55 mm IS@ 33mm, f8@1/500, ISO 100, raw file converted to JPEG in DxO Optics Pro