“The Internet of Things” was a big, buzzy phrase at last year’s CES, as online accessibility continues to become part of our daily lives. And while the outdoor industry probably won’t ever go full-cyborg on us, we have seen some smart tech-centric products over the last few years, from avalanche airbag backpacks and outdoor-focused apps to smartphone cases with batteries and high-def videos of…everything. And in fall 2013, Osprey’s Portal line of packs (pictured) will continue this trend, targeting traveler and touch screen-dependent subway riders.  The seven packs, like the Tech Commute, will have touch screen-friendly see-through windows and padded sleeves for tablets and smart phones, in both messenger bag and backpack styles, starting at $99.

They’re also making packs for the more active commuter (read: the cyclists, runners, and in-line skaters—hey, we see one in DC every once in a while!).  Designs like the Radial ($159) and the Spin ($139) will have a nicely vented back panel, a padded laptop sleeve, an integrated rain fly, and bike-friendly features like a dedicated U-lock pocket.

We also look forward to the new line of snow packs.  The Reverb ($89), for example, will target the lift-access resort set who might also want to do some in-bound (or sidecountry) hikes. It’ll open via the back panel (so it lays in the snow with the shoulder straps facing up, thus keeping them dry), let you carry your skis diagonally (or your board vertically), and has space for all the essential backcountry tools as well as an extra layer and a hydration reservoir.  The Kode ($129) ups the ante with more storage (including a stowable helmet  pouch on top), the ability to carry the skis A-frame or diagonally, side-zip access, and a hydration sleeve in three different pack sizes.


Already highly praised by the backcountry crowd due to the R.A.S. (Removable Airbag System) avalanche airbag packs, Mammut looks to make things even lighter for backcountry skiers and riders in fall 2013. The company is introducing the P.A.C. backpack—this fully R.A.S.-compliant, lightweight pack boasts better cushioning in the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back panel than the old R.A.S. packs, so the carry is more comfortable. Mammut has upped the performance quota by providing more trauma protection for the upper torso with a design that’s intended to keep you floating feet-first in the snow in the event of an avalanche.  It’ll come in five new sizes, but  in order for the airbag to offer full protection, wearers must have at least a 16.5-inch-long torso.

$299 for the pack, $699 for the pack and kit.

When Mountain Hardwear was acquired by Columbia Sportswear a decade ago, loyalists were worried that the brand would lose some of its top-of-the pyramid functionality. But, if the product  evidenced at Winter Outdoor Retailer is any indication, MH seems to be getting better and better. And in fall 2013 they’ve renewed their focus on gear for skiing and snowboarding.

Products like the new men’s and women’s Thermostatic Jacket ($200, oictured left) make use of their new Thermal.Q technology, a proprietary, synthetic insulation that uses a down-inspired matrix of rigid stems and soft fibers to create a ridiculously light, ten-ounce jacket that’s very packable. Once for ounce, Termal.Q is 20 percent warmer than other synthetic insulation, it dries fast, and the jacket itself has a sly street-friendly fashion sense which makes it a good go-to for traveling in colder climes. The Snowtastic 3L Jacket ($550, pictured right), meanwhile, ups the ante for female skiers, with waterproof-breathable fabric treated with Dry.Q Elite technology to help vent excess heat when skinning while still keeping you dry and warm when riding the lift. The men’s Compulsion 3L Jacket ($650) stands as the male counterpart to the Snowtastic, with a soft, comfortable three-layer face with Dry.Q waterproof breathability, pack-compatible pockets, and a removable powder skirt. Mountain Hardwear will also start working with merino wool in fall 2013 with base layers like the Integral LS Zip T ($88), made of a wool/polypropylene blend that wicks, dries quickly, and keeps you warm when you’re wet or dry—and it’s machine washable.

OutDry waterproofing (a technology MH shares with Columbia) pairs with Q.Shield insulation in the Snowrilla Glove ($110), a warm, fashion-forward everyday ski/winter glove made of hybrid leather and a cordura palm.  MH is also stepping up their game with winter-specific packs. The Snowtastic 18 ($100) fulfills the need for short back- and sidecountry trips, with 1,100 cubic inches of storage for safety gear, a hydration sleeve, and a single piece of connected weaving to carry your skis diagonally—one of the most secure ski-carrying systems we’ve seen.  For all-day backcountry tours, step up to the Powzilla 30 ($190). This ABS Base Unit-compatible pack (the “avalanche airbag” made by various third-party vendors) has a zip-off back panel so can access the pack interior without removing your skis or board from the pack, the same continuous webbing found in the Snowtastic, a hydration sleeve, big compression wings, and plenty of room for your shovel, probe, extra layers, and food.

www.deuter.com, one pound, three ounces
When you’re squeezing yourself through a narrow, ice-covered chute, the last thing you want is your pack or one of its appendages to get stuck—which was exactly what our tester was thinking while putting this pack through its paces on an icy day hike in Shenandoah National Park this winter. No such problem with Deuter’s Speed Lite 20, which seems to combine the design ingenuity of a BMW with the robust handling of an Audi (those German gear eggheads even managed to stitch illustrations for making distress signals to an airplane inside the pack). The sleek profile of this 20-liter pack includes a tapered design to allow for greater arm freedom while hiking, trail running, or ski touring; and the chest and hip belts are pared down to add to the pack’s minimalist aesthetic. Inside, the main chamber provides a surprising amount of room for spare layers, gloves, hats, lunch, even an extra pair of shoes. A cavernous top pocket swallows and protects more expensive items like your camera and phone, nestled close to the small of the wearer’s back rather than in an exposed area of the pack that might get knocked by branches or rocks. Two mesh side pockets easily house water bottles and snacks, while big, easy-to-grab fabric loops on all the zips make a mockery of those fiddly little metal zips found on other packs on the market. The pack itself feels refreshingly light, but the ripstop 210 nylon held up to significant abrasion tests, and the compression straps helped keep things truly svelte the tight squeezing that became a necessity during the test trials. They can also double to hold skis or hiking poles in a pinch. The U-shaped frame can also be removed for truly ultra-light outings, or when compression is essential.

www.rei.com, 11 ounces
The REI Flash 18L takes simplicity to the limit at a great price, without sacrificing too much functionality. While REI introduced the original Flash 18 more than a year ago, a couple of upgrades make this pack worth a second glance. A zippered mesh pocket inside the pack is roomy enough for a headlamp, sunglasses, wallet, keys, and electronics. Also inside is a hydration bladder pocket that now includes a connection loop at the top, so there’s no sagging. For people unfamiliar with the ultra-light Flash 18, it’s a simple, lightweight bag with lots of well-considered features. The framesheet is a piece of dense foam that can be removed and used for a seat on snowy or wet days. Or turn the pack inside out and use it as a stuff sack (the ripstop nylon coating repels water, but the drawstring, lidless closure is definitely not designed for wet conditions). We carried the bag to the climbing gym, library, and on day hikes—the 18-liter capacity easily swallows a lunch and water bottle, or climbing shoes, chalk bag, and harness, but not much more. The hip belt and sternum strap are easily removable, but they are so lightweight, we don’t see why anyone would ditch ‘em. The shoulder straps are an airy cut-out foam and mesh that breathe well and didn’t pinch on a day hike up Tumalo Mountain with about ten pounds of food and rain gear. This sub-one-pound pack is ideal for short day hikes in the front country, carrying as a stuff sack and day pack while backpacking, or loading up with your kit for a day of gym climbing or outdoor bouldering.
-Chris Boyle