Weighing in at a whispery 12.3 ounces, the new Spark is a 850-fill waterproof down sleeping bag that’s primed to become a minimalist’s favorite outdoor resting place.  The bag is rated to 46 degrees and packs down to the size of a softball. It’ll be out this August in both regular and long lengths. The 10D Pertex Quantum shell is treated with DWR water repellency, with a soft-touch nylon interior. Through-hikers, adventure races, and dedicated minimalists will love the bag’s awesome weight-to-warmth ratio.

www.bigagnes.com, two pounds, 13 ounces
When you’re camping in winter, a nice warm place to rest can be hard to come by. That’s why I love the Big Anges Blackburn SL down sleeping bag. As the temperature dropped into the single digits I found myself happy to crawl into this zero degree-rated bag. The Blackburn utilizes vertical baffles that run the full length of the bag to great effect. Only moments after crawling into this bag you feel toasty warm. Big Agnes does some clever things here, starting with the integrated pad sleeve; instead of adding insulation to the bottom of the bag that just ends up getting compressed and becomes useless, the Big Agnes system relies on the sleeping pad to provide lower insulation while you sleep. This also cuts down on the weight and packed size of the bag. But if you go from a 1.5-inch-thick, self-inflating foam pad to a three-inch pad, you’ll definitely lose room inside the bag. This bag has a few other trick up its sleeve. The drawstring around the face closure is stretchy shock cord, so as you move around inside the bag the opening can flow and move with you. The top of the bag boasts a pillow stuff sack, perfect for their $30 inflatable Air Core Pillow, or for a rolled-up fleece. And the horseshoe-shaped draft collar tucks comfortably around your neck to keep the warm air in and the cold air out. You can choose between two lengths (regular and long) and which side on which you prefer the zipper. The rectangular fit further enhances the loose feel of the bag; if you hate feeling trapped in mummy-style sleeping pads, but worry about sacrificing warmth by introducing “empty spots” in a more traditional rectangular bag, the Blackburn is the perfect solution to truly comfortable cold-weather slumber.
-Chris Boyle

cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest, 3 pounds, 12 ounces
The understandable compulsion of car camping is to bring everything—which should inspire at least one savvy manufacturer to make a portable kitchen sink.  And since we also pack more than we really should, our vehicles becomes a disorderly collage of gear that we seldom use while sleeping in the sidecountry.  But from now on we’ll be sure to pack the new LuxuryLite Mesh Cot from the outdoor sleep professionals Therm-a-Rest.  Unlike the old school army cots that haunt the minds of more than one tester, this 26-inch-wide, 72-inch-long bed offered some of the best sleeping we’ve had while camping.  The cot employs what they call “bowframe” technology; instead of using crossbars that inevitably bite uncomfortably into your back, the cot uses a series of stretch-free, anodized aluminum poles (much like those used in a tent) that flex and bend, which are slotted into circular nylon feet that attach to the cot to create airy flex without any obstructions across the width of the cot.

Set-up is pretty straightforward: two long bars create rigidity along the length of the cot, and then you assemble the cross bars by mounting poles in each foot and marrying them together (male to female) before attaching them to the cot by stepping on the back panel, bending the poles to create that flex, and then hooking the feet into the pre-cut spots. The whole thing takes about five minutes the first time—and about three minutes to take apart. And, because it’s built from a series of poles, it breaks down to a package that’s 16 inches long and six inches in diameter, which makes it easy to pack in your overstuffed car. It’s also suitable for rides into the backcountry on horseback and bike, and can work with just four of the six crossbars, cutting down on weight. With all the legs included, it weighs a fairly hefty three pounds, 12 ounces; you wouldn’t want to carry this on a multi-day backpacking trip (for that, check out the comparatively featherweight, two-pound, 12-ounce UltraLite model). We used this cot in a small backcountry two-person tent, and it stretched the limits of the tent’s floor space with another person in the tent, so check the dimensions of your tent and plan accordingly.  The all-mesh fabric also means you’ll want a traditional sleeping bag in the fall, winter, and spring. We also support pairing the cot with Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir for plush, warm outdoor sleeping comfort.

For every camper and backpacker who start off fully zipped in their sleeping bag, only to wrestle half your body out an hour after you fall asleep because you’re just too damn hot, Brooks-Range hears your struggles.  Their Cloak—hitting markets in spring 2013—is a smart hybrid of a sleeping bag and a down blanket. A generous pocket at the feet lets you slide in your sleeping pad (your feet and body weight keep it in place). Then you just pull the rest of the Cloak over you, much like a blanket. An extra baffle at the neck keeps things snug and your sleeping pad will keep you sheltered from the cold, cold ground.  The pack is insulated with 850-fill waterproof Down-Tek (the same tech as DryDown), and comes rated at 15, 30, and 45 degrees. The 30-degree pack weighs 16 ounces and will retail for $300.

Brooks-Range will also be introducing a full line of insulated jackets this fall utilizing Down-Tek.  Stay tuned this autumn for from-the-field reports.

Therm-a-Rest’s Antares sleeping bag (front and back, with the NeoAir sleeping pad), and Platypus’ new Duthie 12 day pack

Cascade Designs, the parent company of such venerable outdoor brands as MSR, Therm-a-Rest, Platypus, and Seal Line, have a bunch of interesting new products slated to hit the retail shelves this winter and spring 2013.  Here’s a few highlights:

This January Therm-a-Rest will get into the sleeping bag game with three models, the zero-degree Altair, the 20-degree Antares, and the 25/45 Navis Convert Bag, a hoodless, ultralight 1-pound, 9-ounce bag that’s meant to be used while wearing a down jacket (hence the double temp rating).  All the bags are designed to pair with their Gearzilla All-Star Therm-a-Rest NeoAir pad, utilizing flexible bands that reduce cold spots.

Platypus is redoing their entire line of hydration packs in a variety of sizes and configurations, from everything to ultralight fast packs to overnight expedition rigs.  The all-mountain Duthie 12 pack boasts nine liters of gear storage and a three-liter reservoir, with external body armor attachments (for the gravity-fed biker), as well as organization pockets for tools, clothes, and food.  And we love that all the pack names come from cross-country trails around Seattle, Cascade Designs’ home.

And the cache of products that once fell under Sealine is branching out. Dubbed E-Case, these waterproof gadget pockets offer a refreshingly streamlined spin on their Sealine counterparts that’ll help these products reach beyond the paddle-centric set.  We predict these will become essential must-haves for the tech-conscious traveler and outdoor-lover.