Winter Outdoor Retailer Show Report Part Two - Boots - Base Layers - Insulation Layers - SPOT Satellite Messenger

Here is the second and final part, thank God, of my report from the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City.

Polartech is a great success story and a place I like to spend some time.  No, it is not because of the Haagen Dazs ice cream they hand out, they have a lot of very cool things going on.  This time I was finally able to catch up with the people who are working with the military to produce the MCPS Aviators Jacket.  This is a waist length NOMEX fleece jacket with Wind Pro and pit zips that is made for high speed operators.  It is a very difficult piece to get but I am hoping to snag one for T&E.   

Wild Things has been producing solid gear for the mountaineering crowd for more than 20 years.  I would describe their products as high quality, lightweight, practically functional, and no nonsense.  My favorites from their line are the Primaloft SweaterBelay Bibs and Gen III ECWCS Jacket .

OK. One of my big goals this trip was to really get my head around the whole synthetic insulation issue, once and for all.  There are a lot of big names in this area, much confusion, a myriad of facts and figures, some very interesting stories and a fair amount of ego involved.  Well, I don’t care about any of the rhetoric and I know my readers don’t either.  I simply need to know that the synthetic insulation in my sleeping bag, jacket, boots and gloves is the best that I can get...because my life depends on it.  Now, I am going to spare you the intricate details and just tell you what I am going to be using from now on.   

I still like Primaloft for gloves and mid-weight liner jackets.  It is soft, warm, lightweight and highly compressible.  Primaloft is a chopped staple polyester insulation that was developed to be a synthetic alternative to down and I have had good experience with it.  I have noticed recently though that a few boot makers switched from 3Ms Thinsulate to Primaloft.  Why?  Is it a superior insulator, cheaper, just different or is the Primaloft salesperson better than the one at Thinsulate?  I don’t know.  I am working on the answer but I will continue to use Primaloft where I can until I find something better.       

I like Lamilite from Wiggy’s in my regular and heavy duty sleeping bags.  It is thicker, courser, loftier and there is more of it so it is warmer.  It is also extremely durable.  It is not the lightest stuff you can get but when you are wet and trying to keep from freezing to death those extra ounces pay off big time.  Lamilite is the best insulation for hard use or extreme (sub-zero) cold applications.  Now, in anticipation of your emails, let me save you some time and answer the obvious question.  If Lamilite is so good, why don’t we see it out there on the retail market?  Why can’t we walk into a shop and buy something insulated with Lamilite?  Well, the best answer I have for you is that Jerry Wigutow, the owner of Wiggy’s, is a tough guy to deal with.  He believes and makes a pretty good technical case that Lamilite is the best insulation on the market but he does not seem to play well with others, especially if they don't know much about insulation.  He is one of those my way or the highway guys and I think that the manufacturers that could use his product most have simply decided that it was easier to work with somebody else, even if it means using an inferior insulation.  So, the result is that if you want Lamilite sleeping bags, jackets, mitts, boots or whatever, you have to get it from or drop by their store or factory.  And a whole lot of people do just that, including a slew of guides, outfitters, schools, government agencies and the military.  Wiggy’s products are not the pinnacle of fashion but what they lack in style they make up for in functionality and that is what really counts with me.  I own 9 Wiggy’s sleeping bags.  It is the bag I personally use most often and it is the bag I purchased for my wife and children.

Climashield is a continuous filament polyester insulation like Lamilite.  In fact, the raw material for both comes from Western Nonwovens.  The real difference between the two is in the weights and configurations of the end products.  Maybe this is an over simplification but I think of Climashield as the lighter, more refined of the two.  Climashield has been received well by the market and is now being used in many different garments and sleeping bag models from name brand manufacturers.  I believe, based on performance, that this trend will continue and that the Climashield series of products will become a mainstay in the industry for synthetic insulation.  I am gonna try to start switching out my Primaloft insulated items for ones that have Climashield insulation as they become available.  Am I splitting hairs?  Maybe but I want the best and so do you.  In the world of synthetic insulation, continuous fiber is superior to cut staple in most applications.        

Cloudveil is another high end, high quality shop and they make something called the Enclosure Jacket.   It is a very nice, lightweight liner, 16 ounces, insulated with Primaloft.  It is a very clean, short waisted piece and the only thing that would make it better is the addition of a set of pit zips.  I thought I took a picture of it but I can’t find it.  Sorry. 

Mont Bell is a strong player in the ultra lightweight insulation market.  Their products are consistent performers.  They are innovative, well made and very light.  For example, the X Light has no pockets, is insulated with 900 fill goose down and weighs a scant 5 ½ ounces.  It is just about as light you can get.

The Mont Bell X Lite. 

The improved U.L. Thermawrap from Mont Bell.

The U.L. Thermawrap, which is insulated with synthetic Exceloft, comes in at 8.7 ounces.  I own an earlier version of this and can attest that it is very warm for the weight.  The new version, as with the others in the line, now have straight hems with draw cords and flex cuffs.  They have done away with the irritating, cheap looking elastic gathering material and I am very happy about it.  I am the one wearing the jacket so I want to be able to decide if the hem is gathered or not and by how much.  Thank you Mont Bell, on behalf of short waisted outdoorsman everywhere.  I had a nice conversation with Scott at Mont Bell about adding pit zips to these beautiful liners.  Hopefully he can make some head way with the brass for next year. 

I found the new Odin line from 
Helly Hansen interesting.  The Mountain Jacket and Pants are nice entries in the upper end shell market but after a quick size up, it was the Insulator Jacket and Base Layer High Neck top and pant that held my attention.  The Insulator Jacket is a lightweight, packable liner insulated with Primaloft.  As I said, I am a fan of Primaloft for this application.  However, this jacket doesn’t have pit zips so it rates as an also ran with a bunch of others on my list.  

The Helly Hansen Insulator Jacket under their new soft shell.   

I am a big fan of
Scarpa, I own a couple pair of their plastic mountaineering boots that have performed well for me.  Their non-plastic mountaineering line and hiking boots are also very nice, substantial boots.  Here are a few of my favorites. 

The Scarpa Liskamm GTX.

The Scarpa Chamoz.

and the Manta from the new Scarpa line.

The German boot maker Lowa has a long history of putting out super high quality foot ware for those that are climbing big mountains and humping heavy loads.  The military has used their boots on and off for mountain troops and special ops people.  Here is a photo of their tactical/military line.  My favorites are the three on the right, top to bottom:  The Primaloft insulated Outback Winter Mountain & Woods boot, the Mountain Boot GTX and the leather lined Super Camp.  All three are sturdy, heavy duty boots made for hard work in the wilderness.  The excellent Tibet Expert GTX and Tibet GTX TF models are not pictured, sorry, but the CW-X running tights models walked by and I got distracted for a little while.

The Lowa Boots military line.


I really like the Helly Hansen Odin Base Layer.  The top has a high Merino wool t-neck with a deep zipper for ventilation and the sleeves are made of Hollow Lifa T3 which is a nice wicker but it is the body material that I am excited about.  Lifa Mesh.  Yes, mesh, more commonly referred to as fish net.  This is big.  Mesh in a base piece is extremely efficient at eliminating perspiration from the skin.  The only other mesh base I know of is from Wiggys but I don’t like his rendition nearly as well as this one.  I can’t wait to get my hands on a set of these and I hope to see more mesh in other base layers, say REIs MTS line.  Hint, hint guys.

Mesh fishnet hybrid base layer from Helly Hansen.  Nice!

Petzl has a new LED headlamp called the Ultra that puts out a maximum of 350 lumens, which is a bunch.  For example, the Surefire 6P with the high output lamp puts out 120 lumens.  Petzl claims a burn time of 34 hours standard or 68 hours using the optional belt borne battery pack.  It is big and bright.  Seems like a special use item to me.  I still like the lightweight Tactikka Plus and helmet mounted Duo LED models.

The Petzl Ultra.

National Geographic has finally relented to my comments, and I assume others, about adding a highlight feature to their State TOPO Series.  I am a big fan of this program and have spent thousands of hours using it for both recreational and law enforcement purposes.  My gripe has been when tracing a trail or road onto a section of map, the line you were laying down obscured what was underneath.  A highlighter option would allow you to see what was underneath but still color the route.  According to the technical gurus that attended the show, the fix is in the cue and may be available by summer.  But the bigger news is that they have a new program coming out called TOPO Explorer.  I was able to see a beta version of it at the show and it is pretty impressive.  It combines the already excellent topographical maps with enhanced satellite photography.  I especially liked that the National Geographic developers superimposed terrain contour lines on the satellite photos giving the user an enhanced, visual understanding of the lay of the land.  The program will initially be internet based and require connectivity but will eventually be down loadable to a laptop for field use which is what I am really looking forward to.  I have been using  an HP TR3000 Ruggedized Tablet PC with Virtual Drive, National Geographic State TOPO and a Garmin GPS18 for real time location tracking.  I developed this system while I was a crew member on the Sheriff’s Helicopter and now use it on my Polaris Ranger.  The addition of relatively fresh satellite photography would be huge.  I can think of a lot of different applications where this will be welcomed but it will benefit search and rescue teams the most.     

Actually introduced last year, SPOT is a satellite messenging device which has been getting quite a bit of attention lately.  I am typically an early adopter of such things but I held back on this one for a while to see how things progressed.  While I thought the concept was great, my concern was that SPOT is related to Globalstar and uses their satellites.  Globalstar as you may know is a satellite telephone service provider and up until a year ago, a very good one.  I have been using their GSP1600 and 1700 phones for about four years.  The problem is that their satellites developed an issue that caused the voice service to degrade progressively and forced the company to drastically accelerate the deployment of it’s second generation satellite constellation.  That will bring the telephone service back to 100% but it will not be completed until sometime in 2009.  SPOT however, uses an entirely different antenna then the one that is failing on their first generation satellites. 

Dude!  Survivorman Les Stroud with his SPOT.  Gotta like a guy that humps his own camera gear.

The result is that the SPOT device communications work just fine.  In fact, so far, my experience is that they work very well.  I am very impressed with how well the system works.  I am going to continue testing the device and will devote an article to it soon but I can tell you now that I am already recommending SPOT to my friends and family.  SPOT successfully bridges the gap between the one trick pony PLBs and the much more expensive satellite telephone.  In fact, I could argue that the Google map plotting feature of the SPOT device is more important than the voice capability of a sat phone because with SPOT you get a GPS location plotted on a map.  With the sat phone you don’t.  In any event, the folks at SPOT should be commended because they came up with a way to salvage a very bad situation and produce a very useful product in the process.  If the S-band antenna amplifiers on those satellites had not gone bad we probably wouldn’t have SPOT.  More on this later.  Here is how SPOT works in a nutshell.

SPOT illustrated for the technically challenged.

Mystery Ranch continues to put out high end packs to the military and specialty users.  I was pleased to spend some time with Dana Gleason at the show.  I have been a fan of his work for many years and still consider my Dana Designs packs to be my best riding and most durable.  You can check their website to see what they offer but they have a lot of new things in the fire based on their ongoing work with a long list of government agencies.  I like their Manticore and Hot Top models with the new Auto Locking fastex buckles.  Dana has not cleared me to talk about it yet but he is working on a new feature that the trigger pullers will appreciate.

That is everything that is fit to print from this years Winter Outdoor Retailer show, or at least the things I found interesting.  And just for you, I will also be attending the Summer show this year to get the rest of the story for next year.


Wade Nelson

Sorting through the fads and fashion of the outdoor equipment industry to identify and promote the very best wilderness gear for high end recreational users, backcountry professionals and government agencies.

Hardcore Outdoor is dedicated to those who won't or can't turn back.


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