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 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


  1. Thanks Chris

    Any details / pictures of the Cascade Designs Neo Air? Sounds amazing!

  2. I'm afraid I don't have a picture of the Neo Air. It doesn't look very exciting! It's a rectangular mattress with narrow tubes. Perhaps the most noticeable feature is that it's yellow.

    It's described as 3-season, which presumably means it won't be warm on snow. The reflective barrier could probably be duplicated by wrapping a space blanket round an ordinary air bed but the small internal cells make it unique. This cell structure is also meant to stabilise the air bed so you don't get the wobble and bounce of ordinary air beds (a feature I found with the Aerobed I slept on in the tipi).

    There are four sizes with weights of 260, 370, 410 and 550 grams. All are 6.3cm thick and have an R value of 2.5.

  3. Thanks for that info Chris. I have been using an Exped Downmat 7 (primarily for the comfort, not the warmth) so this new thick airmat (Neo Air) from Cascade Designs sounds just the ticket.

    The Prolite 3 has an R-value of 2.3 so this will have the same sort of insulation but will be far more comfy, which is important for a good night's kip when you have bony hips!

    Looking forward to your review when it becomes available.

  4. The Osprey Exos looks extremely well thought out

    Any first thoughts on it Chris?

  5. Chris get your hands on a Exos 46 fom Osprey and do a review. I saw some information on them from the show and I am thinking I want one. Just need to wait for two things - Jan 09 when thay come out and a review fron you would help.

  6. John and Martin, the Exos looks very good. I am getting the 58 litre size to test.

    The Lightwave Wildtrek pack also looks good and I should be getting one of those to test too.

  7. Looking forward to trying that mattress...

  8. Chris,

    I've found this more detailed post on your blog... I've slept in an equally rare Integral Designs MK1 Lite eVENT tent... But unlike the tipis, it was fully waterproof in that torrential rain. ;-)

    What do you think about gathering all BPL contributors / users at the Friedrichshafen show next year?

    There's you, there's Roman ACKL from Munich... and there's me. I've published an article at BPL a while ago, about professional photography and lightweight backpacking.


  9. Alan,

    You can take a look at some of the pictures of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir on my web site, if you wish.

    Mind you, the ProLite 3 is going away and is being replaced by a slightly less insulating (but lighter) ProLite.


  10. Anatoly, thanks for your comments. I think meeting up at Friedrichshafen is a great idea. I met Roman last year but didn't bump into him this year.

    With photography the new Olympus/Panasonic micro 4/3s sounds interesting.