2012 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Sheds Light on New Tech, New Gear, New Opportunities

As a member of the outdoor industry, I receive a few perks from time to time. I get to see a lot of new gear and technology before it all hits the shelves. Not only that but I also get to test and review a lot of this stuff. But, the twice-a-year Outdoor Retailer Show is more than just backpacks and pocket knives; it’s also about a community of people who all believe in the spirit and power of the outdoors.

On Aug. 2-5, we all gathered in the name of Mother Nature and kick-ass gear.

Hanging out with hundreds of like-minded individuals is not a bad way to spend a few days in Salt Lake City. I usually attend the winter edition of OR—for obvious reasons. Interestingly enough, the summer edition’s buzz and energy is vastly different. Of course, there was talk surrounding the past season’s poor snowfall, but outdoor pundits are generally very positive about what’s to come. The past is the past and the future can be amazing–the consensus around the halls. So, how did I fair at my first summer OR show?

The good news: I met with more than 40 companies—all manufacturing great products and generating creative ideas.

The bad news: I only scratched the surface. Most of my time was monopolized by business meetings (for good reasons) and not enough wandering the convention halls looking for cool, new wares.

Nonetheless, I got a lot done and I’m looking forward to a great snowshoe season outfitted with all the latest gear.

Snowshoes for all

Easton Mountain Products and MSR displayed their snowshoes for show-goers. While overshadowed by the persistent sting of last season’s dismal snow conditions, the industry seems poised for a productive 12/13 season.

Even better, I had an excellent meeting with Atlas and Tubbs to discuss the current state of the industry. All in all, the future looks bright, but it would be detrimental to the winter sports industry if it had to endure another bad snow season.

Nonetheless, all signs point to a healthy snowshoe turn out for the upcoming winter.

Paddles, paddles everywhere

From the looks of it, the summer sports industry is flourishing. While climate change is wreaking havoc on winter sports, it’s the “sports on water” that are driving the buzz at the OR show. About half of the trade show’s floor space seemed to be dominated by canoes, kayaks, paddles, wetsuits, and stand up paddleboards (SUPs). Seems like a good opportunity to launch River Sports Magazine—a sister publication to Snowshoe Magazine.

Spotlight on hydration systems

The OR experience involves drinking lots of water in the morning and early afternoon… followed by a trade-show-size beer garden. It never hurts to sample some local beers at the end of the day as some companies order up kegs and invite drinkers to their booths. Good times.

Many companies had hydration products in the spotlight—and not just the usual suspects.

Osprey featured a new hydration reservoir that has a panel that conforms to the user’s back and has a handle for carrying (plus a few more bells and whistles).

In addition to its MSR brand et. al., Cascade Designs had its Platypus products on display: packs, bottles, hydration systems, filtration, store, accessories, and most importantly… wine preservation.

Hydrapak actually supplied me with the all-time best “trade show name tag holder,” which was designed like a mini hydration reservoir (it even had pen holders on the back and pockets for business cards). Beyond the marketing genius, Hydrapak had its reservoirs in the limelight: a product you can turn inside out to help with washing and drying. Pretty sweet.

Always a crowd pleaser is Hydroflask’s line of bulletproof water bottles that keep things cold and hot for days. Of course, they displayed their line of water filter systems that cap their bottles—all very cool, as usual. I’ve got my eye on their new coffee mugs and wide mouth growlers.

CamelBak’s All Clear product is reminiscent of the SteriPEN—using UV light to kill water bacteria.  However, unlike the SteriPEN, the CamelBak solution is a cap with a UV light underneath that can then be screwed onto a water bottle (60 seconds later, you have drinkable water).

CamelBak is now offering a different reservoir system design; instead of the reservoir system resting on the user’s back, it can now wrap around the lower-back/lumbar area. This is a product ideal for cyclists and mountain bikers.

Trekking with poles

The big news in the trekking pole world is Easton’s total redesign and its new lineup of offerings. Perfecting the art of manufacturing anything and everything aluminum, Easton is now offering a more diverse line of trekking poles that fit any sport: snowshoeing, Nordic walking, hiking, etc. Plus, they’re lighter than most offerings on the market. Take my word for it, I used a pair while hiking in Glacier National Park and they performed flawlessly.

MSR placed its trekking poles—better known as SureLock poles—next to its snowshoes in the booth. It’s always a nice complement to a line of products that have increased in popularity among the snowshoe community.

I also had some time to visit Masters Trekking Poles North America—a company located in the bustling New Exhibitors Pavilion (and headquartered in Italy). Luckily, I got to sit down with the president of Masters, Miles Munger—a super nice guy and very well-versed in the world of trekking poles. It was a great conversation.

The munchies

Attending OR is always a high-speed, full-day burn from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s rare to sit down and enjoy a nice breakfast and lunch at any point during the day. However, many companies have free samples of energy bars and drinks available, which is more than helpful when you’re trying to kill the hunger.

While I’m always impressed with Clif Bar, Honey Stinger, and PowerBar, I had the chance to meet with a couple of my personal favorites, GU Energy and NUUN.

I’ve used GU products during several snowshoe treks and summer biking and hiking excursions. GU has several energy and hydration options—all very tasty and wonderful on the trail. I’m a big fan of GU’s flavors in energy gels, particularly the Peanut Butter and Jet Blackberry. GU also has a Chocolate Smoothie Recovery Brew that rocks my world. It’s pretty tasty! But nothing is better than GU’s energy chomps for the trails. They’re the ultimate gummy bears.

NUUN offers a very sophisticated way of turning water into an “optimally balanced electrolyte drink.” Their branding is solid and the product is simple. With recent attention from Oprah Magazine, NUUN’s new product is the “All Day” tabs in multiple flavors. And that’s the beauty of NUUN: it’s a self-dissolving, sugar-free electrolyte tab that turns water into a flavorful sports drink.

After wandering into the New Exhibitors Pavilion, I found a smorgasbord of brands that were hungry for attention and opportunity. A few stood among all the others, which included Krave Jerky, Hot Can, and Grower’s Cup.

Krave changed my life—as it concerns my view on jerky. Flavors like Smoky Grilled Teriyaki, Chili Lime, Sweet Chipotle, Basil Citrus, Lemon Garlic, Garlic Chili Peppers, Pineapple Orange, and Curry offer a whole new perspective on this classic treat. To say the least, Krave Jerky is delicious and sheds light on an otherwise dull market within the outdoor industry.

Hot Can is a rather interesting concept that dares you to enjoy a hot drink or soup anywhere. Through a natural heat process involving water and limestone, the can heats itself (up to 150 degrees) in three minutes. Choose from coffee, cocoa, tea, and soup.

Grower’s Cup is an exciting company from Denmark that puts a spin on enjoying coffee in the backcountry. To best describe the Grower’s Cup product, think of it like a disposable French press. Inside each pouch is a filter with 26 grams of freshly ground specialty coffee—each brewing three cups of coffee. Ditch the Folgers for something more elegant and flavorsome.

They go together like shoes and socks

KEEN always has an amazing booth at OR; it’s elaborate but exudes a certain rustic ambiance (and that’s the trick). It also appropriately serves the company’s brand and the personality of its workforce.

Nonetheless, KEEN is always spot on with its shoes and sandals—they know what outdoor enthusiasts want when pursuing a variety of activities. Enter KEEN.CNX. While serving the current minimalist shoe and sandal trends, KEEN didn’t give up functionality and style to meet lightweight desires. Each CNX shoe and sandal weighs 10 ounces or less.

Here’s the KEEN difference: While most minimalist shoes offer little protection for feet (in most cases), KEEN still offers all-terrain protection and stability.

Everybody enjoys a solid pair of shoes, including me… because I take my footwear seriously, especially in cold environments. Further enhancing my love affair with amazing shoes for the outdoors, I visited the good people at Chaco, Hi-Tec, Merrell, Patagonia, Pearl Izumi, and Bogs Footwear. Having some experience with all these brands, I was given a brief overview for each of their current line and some tidbits for the winter products.

It’s safe to say, all is good in the world of footwear. Our gear testers and reviewers are going to be busy this season.

Socks are big business, too. Meetings with KEEN, Injinji, and Darn Tough all proved to be beneficial to my arsenal of active lifestyle socks. To be honest, all three brands represent the best of the best in the sock-maker category. There are few that rival these three (Salomon and Thorlos come to mind).

I have used all three brands’ products in the field—in all four seasons—and have no complaints. It was good to see these companies succeeding in their pursuit to make great products for outdoorspeople.

Cool technology

“It’s easy to keep people warm, but offering a product that cools while being active is an entirely different ballgame,” explained Scott Trepanier, senior manager of public relations, promotions and social media for Columbia Sportswear.

There’s more innovation from Columbia, but in the reverse for the OR summer edition: From Omni-Heat to Omni-Freeze. And for spring 2013, Columbia is launching Omni-Freeze ZERO. Basically, ZERO reacts to perspiration to lower the temperature of the fabric to effectively provide a cooling effect. And it works really well. After a demo, I was immediately sold. Columbia never ceases to amaze.

While Columbia’s Outdoor Retailer presence is definitely drenched in some glitz and glam, they have reason to celebrate in the wake of innovation. SnowshoeMag reviewed some of Columbia’s Omni-Heat products during previous snowshoe seasons and there are numerous benefits (and no gimmicks). Of course, we’ll now have to get our hands on some Omni-Freeze gear to help battle the effects of climate change. Sadly, we’re serious.

More icing for the cake

Ambler Apparel – They have winter hats galore and we plan to review soon. The great thing about this company is its story and the path it took to launch a successful, all-season Canadian apparel company.

DownTek – Stopping by the Brooks-Range Mountaineering booth, I got to see a jacket using DownTek’s water repellent, anti-microbial, and anti-bacterial down material. Goose down has come a long way, but it’s still warm and lightweight—the more than necessary basics.

Piggyback Rider (pictured) – One of my favorites from the OR show: “The Piggyback Rider kid carrier is a mutually enjoyable, effortless way to carry a child (2.5+ years) on your back, replacing bulky backpack carriers and strollers. It functions like a backpack, utilizing a shoulder-mounted foot-bar to distribute the child’s weight (up to 60 pounds) at your core, which enables a natural upright walking posture. The child stands firmly on the wide foot-bar, holding integrated grab handles and secured by a safety tether.”

DeLorme – I usually don’t advocate the reliance on GPS devices, but DeLorme’s two-way satellite communication device allows for real-time hiker/snowshoer tracking and messaging. A monthly subscription provides all the means to safety and the power to communicate where cell phone signals can’t reach—perfect for snowshoers.

Grabber Hand Warmers – Hand warmers are always a go-to item on the snowy snowshoe trails. Grabber now provides Air Lock Warmer Bags to extend the life of the warmers, which means you can get 18 hours out of each… instead of two or three.

Kahuna Creations – The SUP madness has crossed over into the snow sports world. Kahuna Creations now has the Snow SUP paddle for snowboarders. I acquired one at the show and plan to use it as a glorified walking stick to provide the ultimate in balance and traction through obstacles. (Please note: The airlines don’t like the Snow SUP as part of carry-on luggage—considering its weapon-like appearance.)

For more information on the Outdoor Retailer Show, visit http://www.outdoorretailer.com.

About the author

Ryan Alford

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