If you haven’t checked out Part 1 yet, start there. Otherwise, read on!
No other small outdoor gear company has, in my mind, built a community around its brand the way Gossamer Gear has. Mostly known for their backpacks, they’ve not only created very recognizable products (not just generic looking sacks with webbing stitched to them), but they’ve cultivated a following with their newsletter and trail ambassador program as well. The brilliance of this is that where some companies amass a loyal following through innovative products alone (letting their customers do all of the social networking), Gossamer Gear actually hosts the community and does so in a way that doesn’t shamelessly promote their products. Sure, there’s plenty of product placement throughout the newsletter, but it’s one of the few emails I get that doesn’t just read like an ad flyer. They include articles about trails, skills, thoughts about outdoor philosophy, etc., while also promoting the personal blogs of their trail ambassadors.
Like ULA, I’ve never actually seen their backpacks in person, but the Gorilla pack would probably fall pretty high on my list if I were to find myself in the market again. Also, their C-Twinn and Q-Twinn tarps look comparable to the MLD Grace tarp, with a shorter wait time.
Yama Mountain Gear
Yet another designer of trekking pole supported shelters. The first time I saw a picture of their Cirriform tent with the fly fully closed, I had flashbacks to my old Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight. Without the fly it looks more like the A-frame tent that it is. So, if you like A-Frame or tunnel tents with a front vestibule and want one that uses trekking poles, this might be your choice.
More shelters! Their focus is a little more on the alpine/mountaineering side of things, with some of their tents even using eVent fabric and pretty much all of their bivys using some form of waterproof/breathable membrane (eVent, Pertex, etc.) as opposed to being simply water-resistant. They have tarps/bug nets too.
Like the name implies, Feathered Friends specializes in down-related gear (sleeping bags, jackets, vests, etc.). I came across them in my search for a pair of down booties and actually went with their model after comparing them to about 5-6 other brands. I really wanted something that had a separate sock/outer shell so I could use them around camp and still be able to wear them in my sleeping bag without getting it dirty. Another advantage that comes with the ability to separate the two components is that I can leave the shells behind for trips where I might want the extra insulation to supplement my lighter sleeping bag, but don’t necessarily need the extra warmth when I’m outside of the tent. These were definitely a game-changer for me because my feet get cold easily.
If I recall correctly there were only 2 brands I could find that had this 2-part system for their booties, and Feathered Friends came out on top (but it was close).
Mostly sleeping bags, with other insulated apparel (jackets, pants, etc.). Another brand I came across during my search for down booties. Their model gets good reviews but they didn’t meet my criteria of having a removable shell.
GooseFeet Gear is the other brand I found that met my requirement for down booties that have a separate shell. The thing I liked about them is that you have far more control over the end product because they offer the ability to customize your order. Choices include 4 different fabric types, different quantities of down, multiple colors, etc. The only reason I didn’t end up with a pair is that the shells are sold separately, and the price for both components ended up being higher than what I got as a single product from Feathered Friends. A very close runner up, though.
Another company that sells insulated footwear. I heard about their Light Energy overboots when I was reading about the concept of using neoprene shells over trail runners in extremely cold, snowy environments, vs. using a heavier standalone boot. They also have a pair of insulated booties, but they’re synthetic and didn’t meet my “removable shell” criteria. Interesting products though.
Another trend that’s catching on in the world of lightweight backpacking is the use of quilts vs. traditional sleeping bags. There are 2 main advantages that are said to be gained when going from a sleeping bag to a quilt:
1) In a traditional sleeping bag you compress the insulation underneath you, so it doesn’t serve its purpose as efficiently; therefore, it makes more sense to only have it on top of you. It doesn’t save much weight on material since it’s still the same basic shape (just turned around bit) but it supposedly makes for a more comfortable sleeping experience because you have more freedom of movement underneath it.
2) Since you no longer need to close the sleeping bag beneath you (the quilt wraps around the sides of your sleeping pad), the zipper becomes unnecessary. Removing it does save weight.
I’m not 100% on board with quilts just yet, but only because I already have 2 sleeping bags (0 and 45 degree ratings). There is currently a gap in the 28-32 degree range that leaves me a little cold in my 45 degree bag (when supplemented with a down jacket & insulated pants), and I’ve been experimenting with ways to fix that. In the event that I’m unable to come up with a satisfactory solution, I may consider a bag in the 20-30 degree range, and I’ll likely include quilts in my search.
What does all this have to do with Enlightened Equipment? Well, I’ve pretty much decided that if I do go the quilt route, I’ll be getting one from them. There are other companies that make quilts too (http://www.jacksrbetter.com, http://katabaticgear.com) but for the price and options you get with EE, it becomes an easy choice. The 2 main products EE offers are the Enigma and Revelation quilts; the main difference between the two being that the Enigma has a fixed foot box whereas the Revelation can open up to be completely flat. Beyond that, each model comes in a Standard, Pro, and Elite, version, but the only real difference between each is the type of down used (800 vs. 850 vs. 900 fill). In my opinion, the amount of weight saved when using 850 or 900 fill (vs. 800) doesn’t justify the additional cost, so the Standard version not only winds up still being a great product, but a very competitively priced one at that.
The other nice thing about EE is that they offer a completely customizable experience with multiple size, color, and temperature rating options for each model. Definitely a brand to keep in mind.
I prefer to hike in sandals, so 99% of the time gaiters just aren’t useful for me. The one exception to this is winter hiking, when I prefer to wear Goretex trailrunners (note: I don’t advocate waterproof footwear for standard 3-season hiking). At that point, especially in light snow, gaiters become necessary. There are plenty of options out there but I wanted something that didn’t use under-shoe straps. Dirty Girl gaiters (http://dirtygirlgaiters.com) are extremely popular and they meet that requirement, but I wasn’t sure about the whole “glue a piece of velcro to your shoe” process. I also prefer the idea of being able to remove them without taking off my shoes. Enter Simblissity, which uses a strip of velcro to join the two ends of the gaiter around your foot rather than using a continuous piece of material that you have to pull over your foot.
They’re a little finicky when it comes to getting a perfect fit, and I do find that I have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t slide up over the back of my shoe, but for the most part they work well. If I used them all the time I might be a little more picky about the fit, but as it stands they’re exactly what I needed.
Homemade titanium cathole trowels. Need I say more?