SALT LAKE CITY, OUTDOOR RETAILER SUMMER MARKET 2011 – When 25,000 outdoor enthusiasts gather in the downtown of a major city to talk and test gear, you get an overflowed Salt Palace Convention Center, street corners crowded with slack liners, roads swarming with runners, a field full of tents, and a few blocks hopping with exhausted but inexplicably energized, party-ready athletes. Outdoor Retailer is where more than one thousand exhibitors, including nearly 200 new exhibitors, showed off their latest and greatest products last week in hopes of interesting the retailers and journalists scoping out gear and loading up on swag.
This is where key players make decisions, newbies make connections, and manufacturers make sales. Stories develop here, and alliances flourish. OR is where twice-a-year friendships build enough momentum to last until the next show. (Some of that camaraderie can be attributed to the beer that flows freely starting at 4 o’clock on the dot each afternoon.) It’s where innovations years in the works are finally revealed and where perfected products evolved from older designs become market leaders.
But this year—and I’m not saying this just because I’m a woman—OR was more about the girls than ever. For example, more-feminine-than-beer bubbly, wine, and mixed drinks made happy hour appearances; many companies added dresses or skirts to their 2012 lines; and women’s specific versions of packs, harnesses, and climbing shoes became standard instead of the “unisex” models available in the past. Maybe it’s due to the major influx of women in the industry or perhaps the industry is more concretely recognizing women’s presence and influence in the outdoors.
Function in Disguise
The number one trend I noticed: technical fabrics worked into fashion-y styles with crossover appeal, starting with lifestyle lines from companies like Sierra Designs, Woolrich, and Patagonia. The Sierra Designs Shenandoah Parka, for example, is a technical fabric in a city style that will function just as well in Manhattan as in a campsite. This clothing is made to last so, to match the durability and versatility of the apparel, many company’s classic styles incorporate timeless influences that won’t go out of fashion soon. But vintage fashions are here to stay too. Take Kelty’s 60th anniversary pack, or rather the entire line of vintage bags, featuring exposed zippers, old-school Cordura fabric, and travel-friendly low-profile designs.
Fashion and function also go hand in hand when it comes to commuter clothing. The North Face offers dress-code friendly ensembles that work in reflective details and wicking properties to ensure comfort and safety on the road. That trend extends to footwear and includes Merrell’s Evera MJ with a reinforced arch especially for durability during bike commuting. Teva continues its line of hip lifestyle shoes for active people, and Chaco added boots and close-toed hiking shoes with traditional Chaco foot beds to their fall and winter lines. Even the Project OR student competition jumped aboard the “functional fashion” train and assigned the contestants to design a women’s lifestyle outfit.
Inherently cooling fibers woven into running garments that will be just as acceptable on the trail as in a coffee shop especially made a cannonball-sized splash though. Take Sherpa Adventure Gear’s running wear made from Ice Fil fabric, infused with cooling Xylitol, which also offers UV protection. Its anti-bacterial and wicking properties guard against smell too, so your odor isn’t a giveaway you just transitioned from work out to night out. S Café, made from ground coffee beans, is another of those intelligent textiles sneaking its way into outdoor apparel.
Speaking of smart fabrics, I’ve got to mention waterproof breathable, which won’t go out of style any time soon. Many companies are inventing their own proprietary waterproof breathable fabrics to bring down cost so the technology is affordable for the masses.
Green materials continue turning up everywhere too. From socks made of recycled plastic water bottles to textiles derived from eucalyptus wood, like the one in Buff’s new euro-inspired scarf, the Infinity Lyocell.
High fashion apparel with not-so-hidden function brings to mind the high-profile compression tights, tops, and sports bras by CW-X that offer benefits of kinesio tape without the hassle of a weekly taping routine. Targeted support, enhanced recovery, ventilation, and UV protection combine in colorful, seamless designs for endurance athletes.
Light and Fast
These days, we all have less free time for recreation but still want to cover the same distances—only faster. That means we need lighter gear that’ll enable quick treks. So companies are catering to the “light and fast” market and have created gear for minimalists who want to go fast and go far.
Hydration vests from Camelbak, Go Motion, Salomon, and Mountain Hardwear offer nutrition pockets and room for spare water bottles, media players, and GPS units, while stripped down packs include lightweight suspension systems that offer rigidity and ventilation necessary to efficient, comfortable hiking. Salmon’s “Run Your Hike” theme sprung from Jennifer Pharr Davis’ record fast AT thru hike and includes the Synapse shoe, constructed to accommodate the natural movement of hiking but with features that allow running too.
Multipurpose gear includes dual temperature sleeping bags with stuff in or snap off insulation panels, lanterns that double as stereos, and Swiss Army knife tools that are disguised as jewelry.
From trekking poles to tent poles, Easton Mountain Products has lightweight nearly perfected. For example, Easton’s new Kilo 1P is a 3-season, 1-person tent that weighs 1 lb. 14 oz. But, even the Kilo 3P, fits three hikers plus gear and weighs only 3 pounds. Divvy up the poles, tent, and fly, and its burden on each person’s back is insignificant.
Hot camp food isn’t a burden anymore either. The Primus Omni Lite stove weighs less than 9 ounces, minus the also ultra-light bottle with on-off markings that indicate when the hose is up out of the fuel to burn up all the gas in the line or down in the fuel to suck every last drop out of a partially empty bottle.
For car campers, Primus offers a double burner stove with more bells and whistles than are ever expected in a camp kitchen. It’s called the FireHole and includes an overhead light, wind walls that double as mini countertops, a push-button ignite feature, plus a complete utensil set that fits perfectly in a grove on the stove’s lid.
There’s no question technology is making its way into the woods, and I’ve never seen so much gear for gadgets. I picked up at least three iPhone cases. Biologic’s bike mount case allows me to more easily use my iPhone as a bike computer, while Aquapac’s submersible case waterproofs my phone down to 5 meters. It’s touch-sensitive and claims to enable perfect audio too.
Seemingly every pack features a soft or padded pocket for tablets, phones, and GPS units, while many companies offer solar chargers and power storage units to keep electronics working in the backcountry. I got a kick out of Goal Zero’s power storage unit that could power a fully-equipped basecamp, the fridge and all. Brunton’s creative lighting systems, like the Link lights that string together with USB cords and hook into a power storage unit, and super packable solar chargers take the cake.
Lastly and not for the faint of heart: the Outdoor Retailer P-A-R-T-Y scene. It literally rocks. Music and beer fueled the industry party on the grass outside the Salt Palace Thursday evening, Friday night’s Teva 80s Party, and Saturday’s All Star Industry Jam. But, the atmosphere of the show itself is more party-like than your average tradeshow. The people at OR emit an energy that exemplifies the “work hard to play hard” approach that propels this thriving industry in a world that often puts an active lifestyle and outdoor recreation on the backburner. It’s this energy that sustains the outdoor biz and drives the innovation that we see revealed twice a year but use daily on the trails, in the water, and—as proven this week—everywhere in between.