Colorado-based Voormi is rapidly evolving from a craft start-up to a major player in outdoor apparel because of pieces like the Confluence ($249), which cleverly blends the insulating properties of merino wool with durable nylon and a water-repellent treatment. The Confluence packs reasonably small and serves double duty as both a technical mid-layer on the water and as a stylish après-paddling sweatshirt for warming up at day's end.
Therm-a-Rest, the venerable inventor of the self-inflating sleeping pad, has raised the bar with the NeoAir XLite MAX SV ($190-230), a luxe, 2.5-inch pad that's truly easy to inflate. This three-season worthy mattress inflates by way of a "speed valve"—an innovative, one-way valve that combines a few breaths with a vacuum effect to fully inflate in 30 seconds or less. In our tests, the system has proven itself on over 20 trail nights, with no air loss and no more light-headedness due to emptied lungs. Also impressive: the regular-sized model packs the size of a 1-liter bottle and weighs an even pound.
The Therm-a-Rest Questar HD sleeping bag ($240-270) is a perfect companion for the NeoAir mattress. Therm-a-Rest produces reliable, no-frills sleeping bags that fit well and include functional features like straps that lock the bag to your sleeping mattress and water-repellent down. Our shoulder season outings proved that the two-pound, five-ounce Questar lives up to its 20-degree F rating.
Quality at a fair price: That's the motto of online retailer Monoprice, which sells a range of tech and household items, as well as a line of camping gear. While most of its offerings are best suited to car camping, the label's Pure camp chair ($39.95) caught our eye. For the miniscule price tag, we were impressed. The Pure weighs just under three pounds—granted that's double the weight of a high-tech camp chairs, but it's not a major penalty for paddlers. The chair sets up easily, offers good support and packs the size of a loaf of bread.
Ultralight, straw-style water filters have become de rigeur in recent years, especially from upstart manufacturers. Now a versatile, durable and reliable entry from backcountry veteran MSR has joined the mix. The Trail Shot microfilter ($49.95) tips the scales at a scant five ounces and works equally well for on the go source-to-mouth hydration for filling water bottles (it's output is a respectable 32 ounces per minute). The Trail Shot fits in a pocket, operates with one hand and removes bacteria and protozoa. MSR has dialed in the field maintenance options, too, with easy back flushing to maintain flow in murky water.
With a blend of technical fabrics and good ol' organic cotton, Outdoor Research's new La Paz Sun Hoody ($85) is cool, breathable and protective on the hottest of days. This UPF 50+, stretchy, long-sleeve hoody dries quickly and wears well underneath a PFD.