For a few days last week I was in in Salt Lake City for the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer tradeshow, where there were a dizzying number of new, updated, and proven old products for hiking, camping, running, climbing, and paddling. The focus of the summer show are items that will hit store shelves in Spring 2016.
For show-wide news coverage, consult Backpacker, Gear Junkie, and Section Hiker. I want to simply focus on the four things that I’m most excited about from Sierra Designs:
Long-sleeve Pack Polo
Regular readers will recognize this shirt from previous posts (this one and this one). It’s my go-to for 3-season backpacking in the West: the warp knit polyester fabric offers exceptional air-permeability and abrasion-resistance, and the long sleeves and high collar protect my skin from the intense sun. The SKU was sadly dropped from the 2015 line-up, but due to some internal and external urging, there’s been a commitment to keep it in the line for 2016.
If you live in the shady East or Northwest, instead consider the Short Sleeve Pack Polo, currently available.
While other manufacturers continue their pissing match over whose rain gear is more breathable, Sierra Designs has taken a decidedly different tack. The simple truth is that no waterproof/breathable fabrics are sufficiently breathable to keep pace with a backpacker’s rate of perspiration, especially in warmer and more humid conditions.
The comfort of Sierra Designs rainwear instead relies on airflow: hip belt velts, chaps instead rain pants (with the crotch protected by long jacket lengths), and always-open underarm vents protected from precip entry with an awning. Most of the current line — including the UL Trench (my favorite), Elite Cagoule (now in 3-layer fabric), the fully featured Pack Trench, and Elite Chaps — is being carried over into 2016, with some refinements. A Storm Poncho and slick-looking Pack Anorak have also been added.
Retractable rain flies on single-wall tents
Many single-wall tents are condensation-prone due to lack of airflow through the shelter. Oddly, the airflow allowed by many designs is least when you need it most: during a storm, when ambient humidity is high. Mid-shaped single-wall tents are especially bad — to protect what’s inside, the doors or vestibules must be zipped shut, leaving just narrow venting strips at ground level. Sierra Designs addressed this problem in 2014 when it overhauled all of its shelters: by having overhanging sidewalls and/or awnings, ventilation and storm protection is not an either/or feature with the Tentsegrity, Flashlight, Lightning and Flash collections.
For 2016, three SD tents — the Flash 2 and 3, and the new Nightwatch — will offer an enhanced ventilation option, via a Retractable Fly that can be rolled back in nicer weather, making them even more condensation-resistant than they are in normal storm mode.
Let me be clear: these bags are heavy and bulky, and not nearly as optimal for backpacking as the award-winning Backcountry Beds. But the super generous sizing and attractive price points (starting at $199) make them perfect for outdoor camping when the effort to transport them is inconsequential, e.g. car camping and front country backpacking. There will be a solo version, plus two 2-person models including a Queen.
That airflow rain wear flap over the hiking belt seems rather ingenious – one of those ‘why didn’t I think of that’
Thank you for this detailed post, Andrew. Sierra designs is turning into my go to company for outdoor gear.
And this is the best backpacking blog on the internet. No, I am not just saying that because I like you 😉
“Best” is subjective, and there are a few other bloggers that I think are really good, e.g. Dave Chenault and Philip Werner. Thanks, though, I appreciate hearing that my increased focus on the website is being noticed.
Indeed “best” is very subjective.
I think the superiority of this blog is that you talk about ALL conditions in many different areas of the USA.
Dave Chenault and Philip Werner’s blogs are very, very good and I read them regularly.
They however are focused on their parts of the country (for the most part). And that is a plus too, i.e. I get a lot of northeast ideas from P. Werner and D. Chenault is awesome for anything Montana related.
I really like how general your blog is; it covers a lot of ground (not a pun lol).
The beauty of it all is that every person has their niche and all the blogs are highly valuable.
Any idea if/when Sierra Designs gear will be available in Europe 🙂
I’ll get someone more official than me to answer that. Hold on…
Well, some Sierra Designs products are available in Europe.
Bever, a Dutch outdoor retailer, stocks some products.
Sierra Designs gear is available at Bever in The Netherlands. Alternatively you can order Sierra Designs from online retailers located in the US.
The pit vents on the Cougale seemed small to me the last time I saw a photo. I’d like to see large underarm/pit zips.
Pit zips are problematic from a design perspective, and large ones are worse in this regard than small ones. First, they must be protected. Traditionally, this means a long (and stiff) zipper. SD uses a zipper-less awning system, but I think pit zip size is more limited with this solution. Second, their effectiveness is debatable: airflow through the pit zip is greatly reduced by a pack’s shoulder straps and by normal walking posture (i.e. arms against the body). I think it’d be more effective to invest weight in bicep/arm vents, plus the hip belt vent that SD already has.
Still working on a backpack too, I hope!
Indeed, we are. I think we’re on the 8th generation prototype, but we’re getting very close now. I’m pushing for a Spring/Summer 2016 release, probably direct to consumer since we don’t have the time to get it in the normal sales cycle. By doing it this way, we’d also hope to generate enough core interest that retailers pick it up.
There’s a shelter, too, on a parallel design schedule.
The new rain gear sounds good, especially with burlier fabrics. I worry about more waterproofness as opposed to more breathability (in the fabric).
Looking forward to the pack also.
The pack is right up your alley. Tough, appropriate load volume, and good load carrying. You’ll like the fabric too — it has not been finalized yet, but we’ll likely go with a new DP fabric that is more abrasion-resistant and less expensive than Cuben laminates, but still waterproof, light, and tough.
I’d like to hear more about the Flash 1. Is it replacing anything in the current lineup? Or is it supplementing the current 1-man offerings. I really enjoy my Flashlight 1 (regular version) and am interested in what else Sierra Designs is innovating!
Oops, a typo, and now fixed. It’s the Flash 2 and 3. There is no Flash 1 planned.
I’m leaving for the Laugavegur trail tomorrow and will be giving the Elite Cagoule and Chaps my first real run in the wild. I can’t wait to see how they perform.
We’d be interested in hearing. Please report back.
Nice to see you have some time to write for your blog, although that means less time hiking!
Sierra Designs is a company I’ve always had an affinity for, as they were truly innovative decades many decades back in history. I still own several pieces I bought around 40 years ago.
Looks like you and Galvin have regenerated those innovative chromosomes from the original Sierra Designs DNA. Bravo!
Good job on the rain gear. I have long been a believer in airflow and my trysts with WPB garments have not been love affairs, but dismal failures ending in divorce. Just goes to show that if you truly want to know what works, go ask the people who actually do these things a lot.
Although I am happy with my current “airflow” system, I will keep an eye on the new products… who knows, might be worth a try.
Been getting out more this year than past years, actually. I greatly reduced my guiding schedule, which has given me more time for the blog and for personal outings — last month I did my first solo trip in 4 years, and I’m running about 100 miles per week right now.
SD’s history was a big draw for me — I know there are people out there like yourself that still remember when it was something (and then lost its way). Glavin has injected excitement back into the brand and I think people are starting to recognize that.
It sounds like a measure of our success is if we manage to sell you a new piece of rain gear. Mission accepted!
How does the Velcro on the UL Trench jacket perform in windy conditions? And isn’t the weight-savings of using chaps counteracted by having a longer than usual rain jacket? Maybe there’s a comfort factor in there somewhere though.
1. Limited experience with it in high winds, mostly in the Southwest in April believe it or not. Seemed to stay put. Even so, I’m lobbying for zippers or snaps for future iterations.
2. The long jacket + chap system is not a weight-reduction argument. It’s a comfort argument. With chaps, the crotch remains free to air out. With a long jacket, I find that I can wear shorts deeper into bad weather (before needing lower leg protection) and the hem line does not ride up above my lower leg protection.
Taking the UL Trench out for the first time this weekend. Rain is in the forecast.
Will report back!
The retractable fly on a tent is a very cool design. Thanks for the show report.
Used the Elite Cagoule in the Winds this last week on two occasions and would pack it again for similar conditions – warm Rocky Mountain west with afternoon storms which can include hail and strong winds.
On both occasions we were moving off trail with packs on; up with lots of internal heat being generated and down on technical talus which still generates lots of body heat. The ability to regulate on the top front of the cagoule and at the bottom flap over a pack hip belt worked much better than the normal rain jackets I wear which are “breathable”.
Because it is so light and vented it was also my go to wind jacket when temps made that necessary. It was on the top of my pack ready to pull all week.
The only improvement I would suggest though is larger wrist openings, I don’t have big hands or wrists but found even with the velcro undone, it was hard to get over my Suunto watch. A great piece of gear though that is in my basic backpack gear bin.
Thanks for your feedback, Dave. Any issues with it wetting out, or was the precip too short-lived for this to become an issue?
I posted some photos detailing changes made to the 2016 Cagoule and Rain Chaps over on BPL. The thoughtful improvements show me that SD is paying attention to their customers. I’ve seen some good prices on what appeared to be the original model, but I didn’t mind paying more for the current version.
Nice looking tent. I have been holding out for a bit and am now ready to pull the trigger on a new 2 person tent. It looks like the flash changed the pole attachment system. They use a sleeve now instead of clips which isn’t as appealing to me. What convincing do I need to get the new? Love the green better than the yellow or the blue too. Thanks!!
I am also noticing the pole attachment system. I recently borrowed a friend’s old-model Flash 2 and really loved the it, and the snap-on pole system really works great. Now I’m looking closely at the new-model flash and wondering what the sleeve system will do for efficient setup, and durability. Thoughts?
From the designer:
“For 2016 we updated the design of the Flash 2 tent to include an integrated retractable rainfly. In order to achieve this we had to use pole sleeves to create gutters to prevent water from getting in the tent. (The fly actually wraps over the waterproof pole sleeve.) It’s true that set up is more difficult than the previous version which had external poles, but once you get the hang of it, it goes up quickly and the benefit of being able to roll up the fly for better ventilation and better views was worth it.”
This is great information that I really haven’t been able to find elsewhere, thank you!!
The UL Trench really has my attention, but I’m hesitant to buy the 2015 version (now on sale) without knowing what “refinements” are being made to it for 2016. Can you elaborate a bit on how it will change–features, weight, etc? And what will be different on the Elite Chaps? Thanks for the insight.
I don’t believe the UL Trench has changed significantly for 2016. In comparison, the Cagoule has been upgraded to the 3-layer fabric (used in 2015 for the Trench). I believe the aprons on both jackets have been tweaked for 2016.