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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Report

Here’s a few of the new products that captured my attention at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City this past week.

While PLBs aren’t new, it was gratifying to see the ACR booth busy (McMurdo didn’t attend). Industry perception of PLBs is improving and there’s a lot more interest. ACR’s signing of Aron Ralston, he of the cut-off arm, as a spokesperson definitely improved their exposure in this market.

I also did a brief podcast with Backpacker Executive Editor Peter Flax discussing some of the latest, greatest survival gear, including PLBs. Go to http://rodale.typepad.com/backpacker_podcasts/2006/08/index.html and scroll down to “Matters of Survival” (and my really bad photo). Click on the arrow button to hear the podcast.

Now, on to the new gear:

Adventure Medical Kits Essentials

AMK Bivvy II and Heatsheets BivvyAdventure Medical Kits has now upgraded their standard 1-person Emergency Blanket to the new “special low-density polyethylene” Heastsheets material previously introduced this spring only on the larger “1 or 2-person” Heatsheets Survival Blanket. This is a vastly superior material compared to the typical Mylar version most everyone is familiar with.

Anyone who has read up on this subject on ETS knows how much I dislike the traditional Mylar emergency blanket. “Hate” would not be too strong a description. They have all sorts of problems, the most serious being that they are extremely fragile. They puncture easily and once punctured rip to shreds. In addition they are a real pain in the you-know-what to unfold and noisy as all get out. How effective any of these reflective blankets are in the real world at reflecting heat back when wrapped around you is a subject of much debate, but they could serve well as windproof and waterproof personal shelter, as a vapor barrier and they could be improvised into various emergency shelters. Which would be great, except for the fact that the Mylar versions usually fail pretty quickly in wilderness survival situation, making them somewhat less than useless.

The new polyethylene material makes an emergency blanket which solves most of the drawbacks of the typical Mylar blanket. The poly is much tougher and more resistant to puncture and once punctures does not shred. It unfolds easily and can even be refolded with relatively minor agro. It is also pretty quiet. Not quite as quiet as cloth, but many times quieter than the Mylar. The only down side is that it is tenths of an ounce heavier than the conventional Mylar blanket of the same size, but that’s not much of a penalty. Once side is coated in bright orange which allows it to also function better as a survival signal when needed. Click here to view a photo of my finger stretching this new polyethylene material.

AMK Heatsheets BivvyThe Heatsheets Emergency Blanket ($3.99) is 56 x 84 inches and weighs in at 2.5 oz, compared to 60 x 96 inches and 2.8 oz. for the Heatsheets Survival Blanket ($6.00). It’s very difficult for me to justify carrying the smaller version considering how much more functional and versatile the larger one is. Unless your budget is severely cramped, it is well worth the 0.3 oz. and 50% upcharge in my opinion.

AMK also developed the Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy out of this same material. The seams are taped and laid flat it is 36 x 84 inches, the same size as the Thermo-Lite Bivvy, but weighing in at only 3.5 ounces. MSRP is $15. The Bivvy is packed into an orange sil-nylon stuff sack that is large enough to stuff the bag back into. As originally packed it is 2.5 inches in diameter and 3.5 inches long.

The AMK Thermo-Lite II Bivvy will replace the popular first generation Bivvy with some notable improvements. It features what AMK claims is 30% stronger material on the bottom half of the bag and the bottom is now tapered to save some weight. Weight is down to 6.5 ounces, 1.5 ounces lighter than the current version. The yellow sil-nylon stuff sack is now orange, reportedly because it better signifies “warmth.” MSRP is $33.

These should be appearing in stores around January, 2007. I’m looking forward to testing the two new Bivvys.

Petzl e+LITE

Petzl e+LITEPetzl introduced their e+LITE “emergency headlamp,” the smallest headlamp in their line. There are a trio of 5mm white LEDs and a 3mm red LED. Weight is 0.9 oz (26 g) with its pair of 2032 3v lithium coin cells (10 year storage life). Packed in its storage case, it weighs 1.6 oz (45g). There’s a lever action switch to the side of the LEDs with 8 positions. In the lock position, the switch handle is almost flush with the case to help prevent inadvertent switching, Rotating counterclockwise (when looking at ti form the front) the switch positions are: Off, Economy (low brightness), High, Flashing White, Flashing Red, Steady Red and then another OFF position. The switch is easy to operate one handed and once moved off the Lock position, can be operated with heavy gloves on.

To give you an idea of scale, the circular switch portion of the e+LITE is almost exactly the size of a quarter.

The single elastic headband has a plastic cord-lock style slide for quick adjustment. The plunger on this also does double duty as a tool to open the battery compartment. The light can be removed from the headband easily via slotted attach points and then can be clipped to a cap or clothing using a broad spring clip that’s integrated into the backplate. This spring clip will only accommodate relatively thin surfaces; a cap visor would be about the maximum. Using the clip, the easy way is to slip it onto a stiff mounting point, such as a visor, because it was a bit difficult to manipulate manually (think: paper clip). It does not squeeze open like a conventional clip.

For storage the backplate is folded up against the face of the light. For use, it rotates behind the case using a ball and socket attachment on the bottom of the light, presenting a smooth surface to your head. This ball and socket allows a wide range of adjustment both up and down and side to side.

It comes in a translucent red hard plastic storage case with its slip-on cap held in place with an o-ring that wraps around the perimeter of the case. The light itself has a black body with red switch and backplate. It’s rated waterproof to 1 meter.

At $30 MSRP, the e+LITE costs twice that of my current favorite micro-headlamp, Essential Gear’s eQ Hands-Free Multi-Light (which is also available as a Doug Ritter Special Edition with a yellow case). With three LEDs, on high setting battery life is rated at 35 hours, but would inevitably be at least half to one-third compared to the eQ with a single LED and the same batteries. Petzel claims 45 hours on the “economic” setting.” Petzel claims 16 lumens on high in a flood pattern, no focusing lens, but it’s difficult to compare output since there is no industry standard. Subjectively, it is certainly brighter than the single LED eQ at short ranges, with wider illumination, but the difference is much narrower at longer range when the lens comes into its own. On economy the e+LITE is quite a bit dimmer than the single LED eQ, but plenty adequate for reading and finding your way down a trail or around camp in the dark. Options are nice.

Bottom line is that it performs quite a few more tricks, at the expense of the KISS principle and a much higher price. Still, the price is quite reasonable for all that’s there. Any way you look at it, it appears to be a very nice package and very well thought out. Availability is listed as January 2007, though the Petzl representative indicated there may be limited availability for the 2006 Holiday season.

Brunton Storm Lighter

Brunton Storm LighterBrunton introduced their aluminum bodied “Storm” waterproof and wind-resistant (80 mph claimed) lighter, a cylindrical piezo-electronic ignition, refillable butane lighter with a screw-on waterproof cap. On the down side, the cap and body can be separated and one or the other lost. There’s a lanyard hole in the cap, but it’s the body you definitely wouldn’t want to lose. On the up side, by having the cap completely out of the way it should be lots easier to get the lighter down where you need it to light a fire. On most waterproof lighters, the hinged cap is in the way.

On balance, I think I like it; we’ll see how it works when we get a sample. There’s a removable pocket clip on the body. Both the body and cap are black type 3 hard anodized. MSRP is $50 with availability of Fall 2006.

By the way, in case you hadn’t heard, Gerber (Fiskars) is in the process of buying Brunton, with the sale expected to be finalized shortly. A Gerber spokesperson said there are no plans to move the company from its longtime location in Riverton, Wyoming.

McNett Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets

Aquamira Water Purifier tabletsMcNett joined Katadyn and Potable Aqua with their own chlorine dioxide water purification tabs, “Aquamira Water Purifier Tablets,” joining their Aquamira two-part liquid chlorine dioxide treatment they have offered for some time. Unlike the two-part liquid, these are EPA certified. These chlorine-dioxide tabs are all exactly the same product, just a different name on the packaging.

One seemingly minor difference that actually helps a lot is that the packaging is printed with a blue background that makes the instructions easy to read, as compared to the others with aluminum backgrounds which makes it difficult to read. Unfortunately, the instructions still say wait four hours, which is only the case with cold water water with high organic content, the most difficult test. So, many shy away from these excellent products because the EPA is being stupid.

In many instances you can use the shorter contact times in the table below from the official EPA registration test results.

Contact Time
EPA Water #1 (clear, 20°C/68°F) EPA Water #2 (dirty – high organic content, 4°C/40°F)
Bacteria 15 Minutes 15 Minutes
Virus 15 Minutes 15 Minutes
Protozoa / Cysts1 30 Minutes 4 Hours
1 includes Giardia and Cryptosporidium

McNett is offering theirs in packs of 12 and 24, vs. 10, 20 and 30 for their competition. MSRP is $7.95 and $13.50, respectively.