OTS 2023 - Our Best of the Show Show Report

© UKC/UKH Gear

This year's Outdoor Trade Show has just wrapped up. Staged in a tropical Liverpool, the show brought practically all the brands with a UK presence - both big and small - under one roof. The country's only major outdoor trade shindig, in the post-lockdown world OTS has grown to become a viable alternative to the enormous international conventions, a handy place to see it all without clocking up air miles in the process. Our trade show team spent a busy three days catching up with folks in the industry and checking out all their shiny new stuff, most of which is intended to hit the market in 2024.

The Merseyside riviera - a great place to hold a show  © Dan Bailey
The Merseyside riviera - a great place to hold a show
© Dan Bailey

While a lot of the gear on show looked good, as always there were a few pieces in particular that stood out for us. From a mostly-recycled harness to a modular headtorch, to an almost-unfeasibly light jacket, this is our pick of OTS 23:

It's 55g, it's highly breathable, and the fabric is 100% recycled: what's not to love?  © UKC/UKH Gear
It's 55g, it's highly breathable, and the fabric is 100% recycled: what's not to love?
© UKC/UKH Gear

Ultralight overnight packs - BD Beta Light and Rab Muon

Packs drawing some inspiration from running vests were a bit of a feature at this year's show, as the industry increasingly seems to be recognising that everyone - walkers, backpackers, even climbers - likes a light, well-vented and shoulder-hugging fit. We might not all have bought into the term fastpacking, but it has to be admitted it's a convenient handle for a particular school of backpacking, which combines the ultralight ethos with a bit of running attitude (though, as ever, the pace is entirely up to you).

First up, the Black Diamond Beta Light. While it wins no points for looks, with its cool, close-fitting vest-style harness, this mid-sized roll-top pack - which comes in 30 or 45L size - promises to bring a new level of durability to the ultralight backpacking niche, where weight saving has often come with some cost to longevity.

The key is in the fabric. Something called Ultra 200 from a company we'd not heard of, Challenge Sailcloth, this has a surprisingly tough feel for its weight and, it's claimed, boasts something like 3-4 times better abrasion resistance than fabrics commonly used on similar products, without sacrificing tear strength. Fully taped seams add to the pack's take-a-beating feel, and should prove particularly handy in the UK (current weather aside).

You get the usual bungys and stretchy external pockets, with a nice extra touch in the form of a 'satellite bag', a spacious 4L zipped pocket (often annoyingly lacking on roll-tops) that can detach to be used as a bum bag. Stripping out components like the frame pad and hip belt will give you something radically ultralight, but at just 890g for the 45L version or 695g for 30L, the all-in weight is already unlikely to trouble most users. What's the catch? Well that funky fabric doesn't come cheap, as reflected in prices that look likely to be well north of £300 in either size.

Out for spring/summer 2024, Rab's Muon pack treads (lightly) over very similar terrain. Another backpacking crossover to offer a running vest-influenced harness, the Muon feels close-fitting, unrestrictive, and really well-ventilated.

Coming as a roll-top in 40L, or a lidded alternative in 50L capacity, the Muon should be a real contender for anyone looking to shed weight without massively compromising support, comfort or features. Maybe it's not sail cloth, but its 100D ripstop fabric (85% recycled) still feels plenty tough enough for serious use, while components such as slimmed-down webbing and buckles help keep the overall weight to a very respectable 995g in 50L, or just 895g for the lidless 40L alternative.

Bungy cords, stretchy side pockets accessible on the go, extra pockets on the hipbelt and shoulders: all the bases look to have been covered, in a clean and unfussy design, while the price tags of £200 and £220 respectively look more than fair for what you're getting here. With its larger capacity better suited to realistic overnight trips, the Muon should complement Rab's existing Aeon Ultra running-influenced day packs.

Petzl Neox

With the massive success over decades of the GriGri, perhaps it was only a matter of time before this much-loved belay device got a brother, and that brother is called the Neox.

The Petzl NEOX looks at first glance a bit like a Grigri...   © UKC/UKH Gear
The Petzl NEOX looks at first glance a bit like a Grigri...
© UKC/UKH Gear

At first glance the Neox looks almost identical to a GriGri, but once you slide open the cover and look at the internal workings the difference is clear - like Wild Country's Revo, there is a moving wheel inside.

...but it's not  © UKC/UKH Gear
...but it's not
© UKC/UKH Gear

The Neox is aimed at giving the belayer smoother rope handling over the GriGri, with the ability to feed out rope quicker to a lead climber, give a softer catch and take in slack faster when needed. It's less 'grabby' than a Grigri, so its ideal uses will be slightly different. For anyone who prioritises smooth and fast rope handling over the other features in a standard GriGri, the Neox would definitely be worth a look when it lands in retailers next spring.

Funky new tents - Salewa Puez Trek and MSR Hubba Bikepacking

We can't resist a good tent, and among the mountains of camping gear on show this year two in particular caught our eye.

Salewa's new Puez Trek 2P strikes a useful balance between weight, living space and sturdiness. Its solid semi-geodesic construction and effective-looking guylines should ensure that this smart tent is more than up to 3-season use in the British hills, perhaps even nudging into fair weather winter camping (we'll have to report back later on that), while its ability to pitch all in one will be a clear advantage in the rain.

An extra-deep groundsheet ought to keep the elements at bay even on a Scottish bog, and while the fly comes low to exclude draughts, ventilation can still be improved if needed by pulling it up, a manoeuvre performed from inside the tent via a clever drawcord arrangement. Within, there's plenty of room for two, plus generous headroom and loads of storage pockets. The small porch seemed a bit of a drawback, until we figured out that the inner can be unclipped and pulled back, to give you a more spacious covered cooking space if it's wet outside.

Weighing just over 2kg, the Puez Trek looks a great option for backpacking and climbing trips, and there may be a bit of a fight among the gear team to decide who'll get to review it.

For something a bit different, check out the MSR Hubba Bikepacking

If the number of bike-related products at OTS23 is anything to go by, offroad cycle touring must be going through a boom at the moment, and some brands more usually associated with climbers and walkers seem keen to jump on the saddle. An adaptation from MSR's familiar and very popular Hubba tent, the Hubba Bikepacking is designed to meet the quite particular needs of the bikepacking set.

Coming in 1 or 2-person models, this lightweight tent (min weight .93kg or 1.4kg depending on size) has been given shorter pole sections than the hiking-focused original, making it more compact for stowing on a bike frame or handlebars. To help with a neater fit, the stuff sack comes with (removable) rubber mountings. Lighter and more meshy than the standard Hubba, it looks particularly suited to summer bike trips. Niche? Definitely, but if it's a niche you're into then this tent ought to be a worth a look.

Silva Free collection

An eye-catching concept from Swedish navigation experts Silva, who are the first brand that we know of to come out with a fully modular headtorch system. The idea of Free is that you can mix and match between different-powered battery packs, and light units of various outputs, to give you the optimum balance of weight, range and burn time for the particular activity you're doing.

An additional innovation comes in the headband, in which by some cunning wizardry Silva have managed to integrate the wiring in a way that gets around the issue of vulnerable cables. You could wear the smallest battery pack on the back of your head, while in the larger sizes - and they get pretty chunky as capacity goes up - the power unit would be best connected via the remote cable attachment.

Of course there's nothing remotely free about it, and with even the basic setup coming in at £169.99 it's clear that stocking up on various options would become quite an investment. But if you do a bit of this and a bit of that, from night running to hillwalking to climbing to biking, then the Free collection is a really interesting and versatile idea.

Montane Featherlite Nano Jacket - how light...?

An evolution from Montane's existing Featherlite Trail Jacket, a windproof top that we've got on really well with for running and hillwalking, the Nano - out next year - takes a product that was already pretty darn light, and more or less halves its weight to just 55g in a size Medium. This thing feels so nearly-not-there that the swing tag is literally heavier!

With highly breathable 10D Pertex Quantum Eco fabric, this super stripped-down full-zip wind shell stuffs away into a tiny sleeve sewn into the collar (think small clementine) giving you something that's small enough to pop in a waist pack or even a pocket on a lightly-equipped run or a weight-conscious backpacking trip, yet still perfectly weather-worthy when needed.

The best bit? The fabric is fully recycled, and PFC-free too, so it's lighter on the planet as well as your pack.

Ocun Twist Tech Eco Harness

Recycled, sustainable and green-sourced materials are beginning to make their way into technical climbing equipment too. A notable effort has been made by Ocun on their new Twist Tech Eco harness.

With 82% recycled content, it's an impressive effort from Ocun   © UKC/UKH Gear
With 82% recycled content, it's an impressive effort from Ocun
© UKC/UKH Gear

This is a perfectly decent three-buckle harness that looks ideal for all-round climbing, from sport to trad to mountains. What sets it apart from the crowd, though, is that it's made from 82% recycled materials. This includes the main body of the harness, the leg loops, gear loops and even the belay loop which is made with a bio dyneema created from, of all things, wood pulp. All in all it's an impressive display of material sourcing and design from Ocun, and hopefully a sign of more green and environmentally friendly climbing products to come in the future.

Beta EVO climb 

Good things come in small packages with the Evo Climb. A slimmed-down version of the popular BetaStick EVO, this nifty little number takes the familiar robust metal telescopic shaft and shrinks it a bit, giving you a clip stick that's lighter and more compact for travel, or bolt-to-bolting, but one that still extends to a useful 147cm. Looks like a handy wee addition to many sport climbers' arsenals.

Smaller, but just as effective  © UKC/UKH Gear
Smaller, but just as effective
© UKC/UKH Gear

La Sportiva Aequilibrium range

Thanks to its striking outsized heel and modernist feel, the original Aequilibrium turned heads on its launch a year or two ago, and our 2022 review of the Aequilibrium ST was pretty glowing:

For 2024 La Sportiva will take this concept from its light-and-fast mountaineering routes to a more general audience, with the Aequilibrium Trek and Aequilibrium Hike.

Both sporting the trademark massive heel lugs, which offer mega traction and readily shed mud and snow, these toned-down versions are lighter and more walking-oriented, but retain the foot-hugging fit and soft, flexible ankle cuff of the original. We see a lot of the crampon-compatible range on Scotland's winter hills, so it seems likely the summer versions should prove a hit too.

Sea to Summit collapsible kitchen ware

Camping gear was everywhere at the show, but though it's nothing overtly fancy we were quietly keen on Sea to Summit's revamped folding cookware. The original collapsible silicone bowls, cups and pans have been a firm (or rather, soft) favourite in the UKH/UKC Gear team for many years, and while cheaper alternatives are now readily available the quality of Sea to Summit's range has always seemed a cut above.

Though it's great to have a saucepan or a bowl that squashes down for easier packing, the first generation weren't really all that light. But thanks to the use of thinner materials, the new fully revamped range has shed a lot of weight - bowls, for instance, are now 30% lighter than the originals, yet hold more food. With the addition of extra reinforcing rings, the new Frontier Collapsible range is also less floppy than the originals. And we love the addition to the range of a mini folding coffee filter. Sometimes it's the small changes that matter.

Mammut's new Trion pack

We've been fans of Mammut's Trion climbing pack for ages, and it may in fact be our Gear Ed's most-used summer mountain pack. When you love a product it's always a nervous moment when you hear that a brand has made changes. What if they spoil it? Well in this case it looks like we've nothing to fear.

Mammut have taken the essence of the original, and run with it. Key to its success is, we feel, the use of a running-inspired back system, with a close, cool, and unrestrictive fit that minimises both bounce and sweat - two things you really don't want when climbing or scrambling - and offers useful vest-style chest pockets. The upgrade preserves this essential feature, while adding a smaller but removable lid, and an interesting closure that combines both a zip and a roll-top. Tough, well-fitted, and coming in a range of sizes from a minimalist 15L to a Scottish winter or overnight-friendly 50L, the updated Trion range promises to be anything but a letdown.

Grüezi bags

Totally new to the UK, but apparently already proving a bit of a thing in their native Germany, Grüezi make a range of sleeping bags using a novel hybrid fill that blends two natural products, wool and down.

By some so doubt clever process they have spun 30% alpen wool into 70% down, giving you the temperature regulation of the former along with the still-unmatched warmth-for-weight of the latter. Is it heavy as well as worthy? Well, seemingly not. The light option in the range, the Bio-Pod Down-Wool Summer bag, comes with a comfort level of around 8C (we believe this may be conservative) at a respectable weight of just 550g. Grüezi bags use recycled fabrics too, which always seems something worth applauding. This is clearly something we'll want to test for ourselves in a review... if Rachael will let go of them for long enough.

Well this is weird...

For the first time in a long, long time I'm reading these reports as an 'end user', as I couldn't make the show due to getting COVID.

Lots of interesting stuff. Particularly curious about the Petzl Neox, as that sounds like it has the potential to address the biggest issue that the GriGri has in terms of handling, which is its ability to pay out slack quickly. The updated Silva Free collection is particularly exciting too, as I loved the Trail Runner Free, but thought it'd benefit from a bit of a boost in terms of its output. This addresses that, as well as providing a whole host of other options, and a level of adapabiltiy that hasn't (to my knowledge) been available previously. It's nice to see the Aequilibrium range expand too, as I think La Sportiva are really onto something with that heel - particularly from a UK perspective - where those massive lugs are an absolute gift on mud and grass.

Rachael - I owe you big time for standing in for me at such short notice!! Thanks so much for covering...

23 Jun, 2023

On the material used for the BD Beta Light, i believe Challenge is UHMWPE, similar to Dyneema/Spectra

Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email